Back in the 1960s there was an experiment that looked at impulse control in children. Four year-olds were left in a room with marshmallows and told they would have TWO if they waited 15 minutes but only one if they ate it straight away. About two-thirds managed to wait. You can find out more about that Mischel study on the Science Blog.

14 years later they checked out how well the greedy ones had done in life compared to those who waited. They found that the second group had done far better in college, had higher SAT scores and were a lot more confident with people. I don't know whether they had better sex lives, but maybe not.

Now it is certainly true that people who plug away at long-term aims tend to be more successful than people who grab at short-term satisfaction. For the simple reason that it takes time and hard work to get a degree, amass money, climb the ladder and build a business. Or write War and Peace, paint the Sistine Chapel and establish the theory of Relativity (Tolstoy, Michelangelo and Einstein were all failures at school - what does that tell us?). And that means deferring immediate satisfaction in favor of long-term aims.

Does this mean that people who suppress their desires are more successful? That the greedy ones with 'addictive personalities' are doomed to end up as obese, trailer-trash candidates? That some of us were born to succeed and some not?

Well, no. What it means is that successful people have learned to use their imagination better than people with poor impulse control. They see and feel the long-term outcomes they want and stay on track. Their desires are greater, not less, than people who opt for the ice-cream bucket. It's just that they have trained their cravings on something that is not immediately in front of them. Nearly all of us can do this with practice. Otherwise, few of us would ever take on a mortgage.

Studies like this are based on the assumption that human beings have unruly emotions and cravings that only Reason can control. But, in fact, the opposite is the case. It was the children's thoughts that were the problem. They had not been taught how to distract their thinking so all they could think about was the marshmallows. The children who held out told themselves stories, sang, did sums on their fingers and went to sleep.

The moral is the same as for my last blog on Worry. If you are being plagued with negative thoughts, or the idea that you just have to have something you don't really need - then go for a run.

'I can resist everything except temptation'. Oscar Wilde

Author's Bio: 

John Eaton is the Founder of Reverse Therapy, an organisation that has achieved phenomenal success in the treatment of stress-related conditions such as Depression, Anxiety, Trauma, Addictions, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Tension Myositis and IBS. Reverse Therapy is now practiced in the UK, Spain, Norway, Ireland, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

John originally trained in Ericksonian therapy in 1988. Since 1996 he has been steadily developing the ideas, techniques, principles and methods that, collectively, he named 'Reverse Therapy' in 2002.

He has brought together a unique blend of insights anf techniques drawn from Bodymind healing approaches, Symptom-focused therapy and Psychobiology that forms a powerful application to many different types of symptom.

John is well known in the UK as a Therapist, Healer, Writer, Coach, Speaker and Trainer and has in fact been training other professionals for 18 years. He graduated with a doctorate from Lancaster University Department of Psychology in 1998 and is a member of the British Psychological Society. Since 1988 he has delivered over 20,000 therapy hours to clients.