In the 1960s, a Stanford professor named Walter Mischel began conducting a series of psychological studies now known as the marshmallow studies. During his experiments, Mischel and his team tested hundreds of children — most of them around the ages of 4 and 5 years old — and revealed what is now believed to be one of the most important characteristics for success in health, work, and life.
A child is brought into a room and presented with a reward, usually a marshmallow or some other desirable treat. The child is told that the researcher had to leave the room but if they could wait until the researcher returns, the child will get two marshmallows instead of just the one they were presented with. The researcher would then leave the room for a specific amount of time (typically 15 minutes) and then return. The researchers watched to see if the child would eat the marshmallow in front of them or wait for the researcher to return.
As the years continued and the children grew up, they conducted follow-up studies and tracked each child’s progress in life. (Unfortunately, there was no differentiation if the parents were Christian or not.) But what they did find was surprising. The children who were willing to delay gratification and wait to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures.
That study showed that, in this life, if a person wants to be successful at something, they need to find the ability to be disciplined enough to delay the different forms of immediate gratification. Delayed gratification is a key to many of the good things that anyone wants in life and it also has an impact for your coaching. As we work with our clients, we all want what is best for them, but often what is best does not happen quickly. As a coach, you might be just the help someone needs to delay gratification and wait for the proverbial second marshmallow.
Everyone has choices to make. Perhaps a client (or you) needs to make a decision about something where they can take the easy solution right now or work for something better in the future. Perhaps your client comes up with a quick answer, but you know that you need to dig a little deeper because that easy solution is not truly what they are looking for. Good coaching is not getting the client to the easy answer but taking the deeper dive with some powerful questions to get the right answer. As Gary Collins writes in his book, Christian Coaching, “Coaching is about asking powerful, thought-provoking questions that stimulate fresh thinking, lead to new insights, clarify issues, and challenge clients to explore innovative possibilities.” That is definitely not the easy way.
Far too often, the quick fix or the easy solution is not the answer the client needs. That is the time when your trust for guidance from the Holy Spirit and take the time to help your client to explore more deeply. What a privilege we have as Christian Coaches.
Nearly every success in life requires ignoring the easy way, (delaying gratification), in favor of doing things the right way, the way of discipline, God’s way. God has a plan for you as well as all our Christian brothers and sisters, but there is nothing in the Bible that says that the plan is going to be easy. However, the Bible does say it will be worth it! God’s plan for someone’s life might take some time to explore and it almost certainly will not be a plan that comes from our current culture of instant gratification. Knowing the truth of how you are helping others to find their plan that fits with God’s plan is another blessing for you as a Christian Coach.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Let this idea of delayed gratification challenge you to start thinking about the second marshmallow and the reward that comes later. The best things that happen in life are seldom the things that come easy, but the things we had to work for and earn.
Lastly, successes in life may not always look the way the world measures success but that does not mean that you have not been successful. As a Christian Coach there may be times when you will want to stop being busy and look at success from God’s perspective. Every time you work with a client and help them to delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow, you have made an impact that changes their life. Perhaps not everything you do as a Christian Coach will yield you rewards in this life, but as you look forward to the appearing of Christ, he may just present YOU with that second proverbial marshmallow called eternal life and a Crown of Righteousness.
Dr. Rich Weigel, Ed.D, MA, MM
About the Author: Rich has an extensive background in leadership with over twenty years leading school districts. In addition to establishing his new business as an Executive and Leadership coach, he is an adjunct professor for Olivet Nazarene University providing instruction for Strategic Leadership at the doctorate level. Rich is currently serving as CCNI’s President.