“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” – Goethe.
In the late 1960s, a psychologist called Walter Mischel presented a challenge to around 650 four-year-old children over a period of several years.
In what has since become known as the famous “marshmallow test”, each was offered two options: to eat the one marshmallow sitting in front of them on the table immediately, or, have two marshmallows to eat if they were willing to wait until the researcher returned after stepping out for an unknown number of minutes.
For those who couldn’t wait, they were able to ring a bell to aper the researcher to come back to the room. The majority gave up in under three minutes, rang the bell and settled for just the one marshmallow. 30% however, managed to hold out for 15 minutes until the researcher returned.
The key difference here in this fascinating study on “delayed gratification” between those the 30% who held out and the majority who couldn’t, comes down to ATTENTION and FOCUS.
Those who gave in easily couldn’t keep their eyes off the marshmallow, with their willpower eventually crumbling under the temptation.
Those who held out however, came up with ways to shift their attention and focus away from the marshmallow (i.e. the source of temptation). This involved such things as covering their eyes, turning their chairs around to face the other way, or creating distractions such as singing out loud or playing a game with themselves.
Regardless of what talents we are born with, we can all achieve excellence in almost any field with enough single minded focus and practice.
The first step in doing so however, is being more consciously in control of our attention and focus, and recognising what happens when we don’t.
Because when we don’t, we become less productive and effective at whatever it is we are doing.
Take a moment now to reflect on the following question:
What one thing could you do, which you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would be game changing in the positive impact it would have on your personal life?
It’s like what Stephen Covey says in his ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ book: put first things first.
What he was trying to get at here is that we need to focus our attention on doing the most important things first on a given day by deciding in advance what those things are.
By doing so, we create greater energy and momentum for the rest of the day, because you know what?! No matter what else happens, you’ve already accomplished something significant!
However, if we have no focus for the day, week, month or year ahead, chances are high that things will generally be the same as yesterday, last week, last month and the last year.
How will you be using your evenings and the beginning of each week to plan your days and week ahead?
Your ability to focus on what needs to be done and to overcome distractions – both internal (i.e. the internal chattering of your thinking) and external (i.e. what’s happening around you such as demands on your time, social media and trivial tasks) – will be one of the greatest determinants of your success.
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