Book Review: Marshmallow Test

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Different people approach their career in different ways. My working assumption, all the time, is that I don’t know enough and I’m not good enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got an ego (way too big of one really). I just know that there’s room for improvement. It’s one of the reasons I read books like the Marshmallow Test.

The core concept is simple. You show a kid a treat, a marshmallow. You let them know that they can have that marshmallow right now, or, if they wait, they have two later. Kids who choose to wait, and succeed in waiting, generally do better in life, have better jobs, lower BMI, all sorts of things. It’s about discipline and self-control, and even more importantly, delayed gratification. “Yeah, I can something good now, but I can have something terrific if I wait.”

The book goes through where this experiment came from, how the data was correlated, and all the other types of experiments that sprang from this as a mechanism for managing self-control. Self-help books can frequently be either overly dry or horrifyingly preachy. The Marshmallow Test is neither.  The writing is engaging and the information is presented in a digestible fashion. If anything, I’d love to see more numbers and number crunching on how they arrived at their conclusions. That’s available, but it’s in scientific papers referenced within the book.

The best section of the book was the end where they talk about how you can apply this learning and understanding in teaching children and in managing yourself. Personally, my kids are grown, so any more damage I can do there is done, so it’s just down to me. The focus on the will power and self-control is largely around avoidance, stopping drinking or eating less, and I’m finding it effective (when I remember to do it). If there was one thing I’d like to see more in the book is positive will power. Not simply how to put off eating that last bit of chocolate that’s calling me from the cabinet, but the self-control to get this review written, to start working on another blog post.

If you’re interested in learning about how self-control develops in people, this is a great read. If you need to get some bad habits under control, this book will help. If you’re looking for something to get you up, off the couch, it’s not quite there.


OK, fine, but what do you think?