Getting Rich Takes Willpower: Why Give Up When You Can Keep Going?

Getting rich is about willpower. Without willpower, you will likely never get ahead of the masses.

In the 1960s, Columbia University psychologist Walter Mischel conducted an experiment on children that is now often referred to as The Marshmallow Test.

Walter invited various aged children into a room individually and asked them to sit down in front of a table with one marshmallow. He told the preschooler that he could eat the marshmallow right now if he wanted. But if he waited for five minutes, Walter would return with another marshmallow and the preschooler could eat two.

Getting Rich: The Marshmallow Test

Here's a short video that highlights the delightful reactions these kids display as they do their best not to eat the marshmallow. Watch them close their eyes, tilt their heads, and come close to eating the dessert before pulling away.

Walter observed that of the kindergarteners (age 5), 72% caved in and ate the marshmallow. If they're in the fourth grade however, only 49% yielded to temptation. By the 6th grade, the percentage dropped to 38%. Such improvement is rational given five minutes is a short time to wait for double the spoils.

More interestingly, Walter discovered in subsequent studies that children who delayed gratification by 15 minutes scored 210 points higher on their SAT's than children who lasted one minute. And even more importantly, children who are able to demonstrate self-control have a higher Executive Function, which is responsible for controlling planning, foresight, problem solving, and goal setting. 

The Importance Of Willpower And Self-Control

I must have come across Walter's test back in psych 101 as a freshman in college. But I was probably too hung over to remember the details. I've been reading the national best seller, Brain Rules For Babies: How To Raise A Smart And Happy Child From Zero To Five, and the author John Medina brought Walter's test up on page 103.

Self-control is vital for building wealth over time because spending now involves giving up potential gains in the future. Here are some examples where delayed gratification can help build great wealth.

An Automobile

The classic example is spending money on a new car you don't need. The median price for a new car in the US is now $38,000 in 2021. $38,000 is equal to roughly the median household income per person in America after tax. Yet Americans are spending like no tomorrow on the latest and greatest vehicles.

As soon as I graduated from college in 1999, the first thing I did was buy a car in Manhattan. After I bought a car, I bought a racing motorbike! Talk about a wasteful spending after all those years of having no money. I should have just stuck with the subway.

After realizing the error of my ways, I came up with The 1/10th Rule For Car Buying. The rule encourage folks to either buy a cheaper car or make lots more money.

What I found was that if you are able to make 10X more than the value of the car you've been eyeing, you tend to no longer want to spend so much. You realize how much effort and taxes it took to get there.

Years later, readers are still justifying their reasons to me for spending way more than 1/10th their income on their current car (YOLO, bad public transportation, safety, etc). Meanwhile, they could have made a small fortune in the stock market and retired much earlier if they didn't spend so much on a depreciating asset.

A Home

Everybody knows that real estate has been one of the easiest ways to build wealth since the founding of our country in 1776. Just make sure to follow my 30/30/3 home buying rule.

A 10% increase in a median priced $500,000 house would require someone earning $50,000 a year to save an impossible 100% of their gross salary just to stay even. Therefore, it is only logical to try and buy real estate as young as possible. Prevent yourself from getting left behind.

The desire for owning real estate was why I lived so spartanly for the first four years after college. But I knew that buying in an expensive city like New York or San Francisco would require sacrifice. I didn't have the bank of mom and dad to lend me a downpayment. Therefore, I lived in a studio with another guy for a couple years. This way, I could save 50%+ of my after-tax salary.

The 20-something and early 30-year old folks today who've bought their first homes all either lived at home with their parents after school, took on side jobs to make more money, lived like monks for years, or figured out a way to convince their parents to hook them up.

If you're spending money on fabulous vacations, going out to the finest restaurants, renting your own apartment instead of renting a room, and insisting on buying your first property in the best neighborhood, you're likely going to have a very difficult time getting neutral real estate.

US And San Francisco Real Estate Home Price Index Case-Shiller
Graph by Paragon Real Estate Group

An Online Business

Do you know why most businesses fail after five years? It's because most people don't bother to grind for more than five years! Too many businesses shut down right before things start getting good. The secret to online business success is to grind for 10+ years. Only then, will you bee able to seriously make a lot of money.

For example, did you know that it sometimes takes two years for an article to be ranked on the front page of Google? Yet many sites run out of publishing steam after year two. It's always something that gets in the publisher's way: work, a baby, relocation, whatever.

I told myself before starting Financial Samurai that I would publish three times a week for 10 years, no matter what. And if after five years I saw no progress, then I would shut the site down. But after five years, there was progress. And even if there was very little progress, it didn't matter. It costs so little to keep the site up. I wanted to focus on the process.

Willpower means working for a couple hours on your side hustle before going to work at 7:30am for years instead of sleeping in. Self-control means not spending three hours watching TV or going down a social media rabbit hole and producing work instead. Do this for at least three years and flourish.

How much can a food blogger make
Who knew blogging about food could be so lucrative

Related: The 10 Best Reasons To Start an Online Business

Relaxing Is Fine Too

At some point, we've got to figure out when it's time to live it up. We can't delay gratification forever since we can't live forever. Therefore, I believe the time to start letting loose is after we've put in at least 10 years of intense work. I define intense work equivalent to giving 50% more effort than normal e.g. 60 hours a week.

After 10 years of intense work, you will have much more wealth and many more options to live your dream life than if you just did the average.

Related: The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Person

Recommendations For Getting Rich

1) Track Your finances

Sign up for Personal Capital, the web’s #1 free wealth management tool to get a better handle on your finances. In addition to better money oversight, run your investments through their award-winning Investment Checkup tool. It will show you exactly how much you are paying in fees.

After you link all your accounts, use their Retirement Planning calculator. It pulls your real data to give you as pure an estimation of your financial future. Achieving financial freedom is worth it! There is no rewind button in life.

Invest In Real Estate

Real estate is my favorite asset class to build wealth. It's understandable, tangible, and provides income. I like investing in real estate crowdfunding for 100% passive income.

The best two real estate platforms are:

1) Fundrise: Washington D.C.-based Fundrise was founded in 2012 and is the most innovative real estate crowdfunding platforms for non-accredited investors. They are pioneers of the eREIT and have launched an Opportunity Fund to take advantage of new tax rules.

2) CrowdStreet: Portland-based CrowdStreet was founded in 2014 and focus their deals in 18-hour cities, secondary cities which are cheaper and may have higher growth potential. CrowdStreet is mainly for accredited investors who are looking for ways to tap the mid-market, heartland of America real estate opportunities.

Finally, if you are buying a property, I highly recommend you shop around for a mortgage online. Rates have collapsed to near 6-year lows, which is one of the reasons why investing in real estate in 2020 and beyond is a good idea. Affordability has gone up, while many people have grown wealthier due to the stock market.

Refinance Your Mortgage

Mortgage rates are at all-time lows thanks to the pandemic. Refinance now if you haven't in the past six months or longer. Check out Credible, one of the leading lending marketplaces today. You can compare real rates and qualified lenders in one place.

Refinance your mortgage now when the yield curve inverts

About The Author

56 thoughts on “Getting Rich Takes Willpower: Why Give Up When You Can Keep Going?”

  1. Akhil Mishra

    Hi Sam
    I like your way of writing and data inclusion.
    I have read about marahmallow test earlier , but you refreshed my memory and I liked it.
    Also, you correctly said that people leave often before the results start to show up.
    As always, It was a great read.

  2. Sam,

    Super interesting post. I’ve been looking into how we can build willpower and one if the things I’ve found is that there are a lot of strong biological factors that can increase or decrease ones willpower. Many of the factors have quite simple except uses one can do to improve your willpower.

    Some examples are exercise, sleep, meditation, etc.

    But those are often things we won’t do, not without high levels of willpower, which most of us lack. The key is to reframe these things not in terms of what we won’t do, but in terms of what we want.

    So don’t say I won’t work out because I’m tired, rather say I want to work out to gain more energy.

    A great book is “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal. She’s a PhD from Stanford who has worked extensively on willpower and stress.

    The more I think about it the more I’m convinced that willpower, whether with marshmallows or money, is one key ingredient to life success.

  3. My willpower has been demonstrated by doing my side business nights and weekends for the past 3+ years while I build it up to replace my current job. It’s taken time away from friends, but will allow me to have more freedom and money in the future.

  4. Hi Sam – I always agreed with your 1/10th rule for buying a car however my latest car was 1/6th of my income. I did this because I now have a son and I made the decision to purchase a Tesla since it is one of the safest cars out there. I would have honestly paid more in order to keep my son as safe as possible. Since you’re now a father, I’m curious what your thoughts are on spending more money for safety.

  5. Absolutely, I just recently wrote a blog post about money and patience. Can’t do anything without the ability to wait. And that includes building wealth.

    I was laughed at years ago for signing up for the company 401(k) because we made so little at the time, but I was determined to save. I eventually grew that and additional money into over $100k in investments and started a PF blog. No one laughs at me now.

    Great post! Thanks again for your insight as always.


  6. Very thought provoking article. I think the marshmallow test study shows a lot about how self control and will power are linked to highly productive people. A lot of what we have to do in our financial life revolves around rewarding yourself now or planning for the future.

    There was a follow on study that is interesting. The same study was done for a small town in Africa. The interesting thing is that the 70 percent of these kids chose to wait patiently for the future reward (versus 28% of kids in developed countries they were compared to). I think there is a lot that goes into it but they were saying that the kids from the African town were taught at a very young age to trust people. So when they were told they would get two treats if they waited they trusted that would happen and waited patiently. Maybe this can help us understand how to teach our kids these traits. (See Children of Nso farmers in Cameroon Marshmallow study)

  7. Good rule about sticking out for 5 years before giving up. Though most people can probably only do a few months before they start losing steam. It’s easier to stick to something if you enjoy doing that thing AND you believe it’s important. That way you can overcome the obstacles. For something that’s getting some traction, if you’re doing it just for the money but don’t believe it’s important, you’ll quite before it’s not “enough money”.

    I also agree with the notion of “We can’t delay gratification forever since we can’t live forever.” Work hard, but realize when it’s time to reap those rewards. Working hard for the sake of working hard forever doesn’t make sense. Because as you said, we can’t live forever.

  8. I have also come across this before and would like to test this on my own kids (although one is still a bit small for this). The concept is however very true and the question is always how long to delay the gratification. Although I am a frugal prophet it is important to treat yourself with your money in-between as well.

  9. I actually did this test with my daughter at the age of 5. I had come across the study during my psychology class while getting my MBA. I remember being extremely proud of her for not succumbing to the pressure and delaying gratification. I even repeated the experiment 3 times with different treats which I knew she loved. She passed with flying colors!

    Whenever she gets some cash as a gift, she now takes it straight to her piggy bank, so the concept has definitely sunk in.

  10. Damn Millennial

    Online business one is tough. I am glad I blog about something I actually enjoy or else it would feel like an extra job. I love it 90% of the time. Only those days when I am really beaten down from the W-2 and don’t want to skip on putting out content that hurt.

    For the car and house I think that has always been easy for me. The sooner you can teach yourself that consumption doesn’t make you happy the better. You also end up enjoying items more when you get them because you avoided the instant gratification.

    I sure am glad you have stayed consistent with the blog as well as others. I feel like it is motivation.

  11. Everything is about balance. Life is a journey, enjoy the journey. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

  12. Everyone worries about their children. I have two kids and they could not be more different. I have told them that I will not assume all the credit if they turn out fantastically nor will I bear all the blame if they turn out poorly. Therefore from a very early age they knew that it was somehow up to them and my main job was to support them.

    I am not sure if willpower is more important or setting up your life with simple habits works better. I was never one for willpower but I knew to set my environment up properly. A simple example is that I NOT bring junk food into the house. I always know how that ends up.

    Great article. Those kids sure are adorable on the video!

      1. Sam,

        I believe you are wise to have developed a safety net for your son with real estate and an online business.

        We have planned for some real estate for our children. I only want them to become good people and do to something useful in the world.

  13. Love the intro on the marshmallow tests! I’m not the best with will power. Although I gave up caffeine three years ago and stuck with it. I also am determined to breastfeed for one year for my lo. Great info on the strong influence of nurture on babies development and intelligence!

  14. Ms. Conviviality

    “Hello, my name is Ms. Conviviality and I’m a foodie.” Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to eat but I’m not fat by any means since I ride my bicycle 10 miles to/from work and go to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) classes twice a week. However, I recently discovered that I’m not within the ideal weight range for my frame size and height. So, when I learned about an app called DietBet where I could win money for losing 4% of my weight I signed on! Coincidentally, 4% was the amount I needed to lose to get within the ideal weight range. The way the game works is I pay $30 to play and submit a photo at the beginning and end of the 4 week game. As long as I met the 4% weight loss, I would get my $30 back and the people that didn’t meet the goal would lose their $30 which would go into a pot to be divided among the winners. Unfortunately, I signed onto the game when there was only 2.5 weeks remaining and on top of this time crunch I was also on vacation where there was always delicious food around. The final photo weigh in was on a Monday so I had to use all my willpower to fast during that weekend. Ok, truth be told, I never did a fast in my life and maybe eating only fruit all weekend is not a true fast but hey it sure felt like I was depriving myself of real food! Anyway I ended up making a 44% return on my $30 investment. There you go, a good example that marries willpower, money, and health!

    1. Now that is a great game! I’ll check it out as someone who orders out most of the time, well.. orders in now b/c of food delivery that’s ubiquitous and affordable in SF, the best city for food in America!

  15. I love that experiment. The kiddos were cute too, such innocence!

    I don’t think we’ll (my family) ever be ambitious in pursuits. I try to force myself to be but run out of steam and add stress to other people’s lives. We do OK and we’ll try our best to remain good savers. Saving is the easiest part I think, if you are defining success with wealth. Saving is simple. Our willpower to do nothing is much stronger than our will power to make a call of action. I’m sure that would bite us in the butt soon enough though…

  16. It definitely takes some discipline and forgoing other things to become a successful entrepreneur. I’ve given up many a weekend and late night in pursuit of building a business that can create value. A lot of times (even currently) I fall short of my vision. But, I keep pushing because I know the rewards are 10x past the mass graveyard of failures… plus it keeps me busy. :)

    Sam, you seem to be someone with a great deal of self-discipline. Do you attribute this to your family upbringing or an event of self-awareness? What are some of your “marshmallows” that can actually make you slip every now and then?

    1. I think self-discipline is around ~50% genetic, the rest is from family upbringing, recognizing my opportunity, practice, and then a fear of going broke. Growing up in emerging countries gave me a firsthand view of immense poverty juxtaposed with immense wealth. I didn’t want to be poor, so I decided to work as hard as possible.

      Ironically, if all you see is a nice middle class lifestyle, you might not want to push yourself to the limits.

      I slip all the time when it comes to artisan thin cookies, lemon meringue pie, and a dry-aged ribeye steak with baked potato and all the goodies. I used to be a ripped 155 lbs, and now I’m a soft 170 lbs. I have no more willpower to hit the gym 3X a week. Once a quarter will do!

      Related: The One Ingredient Necessary For Achieving Financial Independence

  17. This reminds me of my days studying for the CPA. It would just be automatic on the weekends to get up, grab a coffee and a granola bar and head to the library. It was all about consistency. That helped to create the willpower a bit easier I suppose. And in order to avoid burn-out, it was about creative studying methods.

  18. Sam is right about staying in business more than a few years. You have to stay in business long enough to get repeat business (assuming you’re doing things right) AND to come up with more ideas on how to expand your business and run it better.

    My #1 tip to have a successful business is to figure out how to run your own life as CHEAP as possible, so you have more money to feed your business.

    It took me 20+ years working ~80 hours a week to become successful, but I made it. And it was worth the sacrifice.

  19. Enjoyed your post on different levels of financial independence, thanks!
    Thinking outside the box geographically can help one achieve FI much faster, e.g. move to Dubai and pay no tax, thus need way less $$ for FI.
    Flats are big and affordable compared to coastal cities (popular expat district is Dubai Marina, 500k for a nice big flat there). Get a maid for 1-1.5k USD p/m. Weather is nice in wintertime, too hot in summertime so can travel somewhere else. Being location independent and FI opens many possibilities! Gotta work to get there

  20. It is also a lot related to the discipline. You can see many guys who became tremendous rich but then by lack of discipline and financial knowledge lost most of their wealth, eg: Myke Tyson.

    And working efficiently is also very important as people with a low paid job even working 100 hours a week, ll struggle to be financially free at a young age.

    Regarding the willpower, is there not way / techniques we can use to improve it?

    1. Practice. Practice running a little farther each day, working a little longer, saving a little more. Practice, practice, practice.

      I’m 1 year, 3 months away from 10 years on FS. I WILL get to the finish line b/c of practice.

  21. Almost at my 10 year mark but no where as intense. I will ease up spending a bit in a few years though. We don’t live forever and savers tend to forget that after the same habit for decades

      1. Long ago there was a commercial about car maintenance with the punchline “pay me now or pay me later” (pay the mechanic now to change the oil & filter or pay him later for an engine rebuild.)

        Sounds like both of you are positioning yourselves to be FI and comfortable in the long run. Hang in there!

  22. I permanently worry about my kids ability to buy a house when they get older, especially if they end up in New York or San Francisco. I don’t want to be the bank of mum and dad, but feel like we should give some assistance. Just need to determine what the sweet spot is.

    1. It was my worry as well, and my biggest reason why I was struggling so hard to sell my rental house. In 22 years, surely the house would be more if it doesn’t get destroyed in an earthquake.

      But 22 years X $25,000 a year in property taxes = $550,000! I hope the reinvested proceeds will be OK 22 years from now.

      I’ve kept my SF 2/2 rental condo for my son, just in case. I figure, if the condo was good enough for me to live in my 20s with a mortgage, it’ll be good enough for him to live in his 20s without a mortgage, but payment to Bank of Mom and Dad.

  23. Brian McMan

    So a meaningful percentage of people do not have willpower, but willpower is important.

    Why give up when you can keep on going? Because they can’t keep on going without willpower, which they don’t have.

    Money is important.

    And for someone without willpower, the secret to achieving equivalent success as someone with willpower is to put in ten years of sixty hour work weeks.

    I’ve put in two of those years. People tell me not to despise the day of small beginnings.

    But oh my goodness how long does this day last? It’s like there’s no progress at all! (or very little progress that could be wiped out). And besides there are things that go completely neglected that I would WANT to be doing, like spending time with family or getting into shape.

    Sticking with something is so hard because as I grow older, wiser, and learn more about what the world has to offer the perceived opportunity cost just gets bigger and bigger, which is the exact opposite of reality because the older I get the less time I have so the amount of opportunities are actually less but doesn’t feel that way.

    Knowing that there is a time limit, in this case ten years, where you can work that amount and then live your dream life is encouraging. But at the end of the day I have to acknowledge that work comes first, and the amount of hours of healthy work is just a habit. No willpower required.

    1. Hmm, deep Brian. With 10 years of commitment, it can be done starting as late as 50 or 60 I would think.

      The days are long, the years are short is what I keep telling myself as a father to a baby boy. We are talking 6am – 10pm every single day for the most part. But he’s almost one, and now I don’t want him to grow up too fast.

  24. I think we all need to produce more and consume less. Most people consume a lot of media and waste a ton of time. I did too. It’s much easier to watch YouTube and read blogs than creating them.

    For kids, have you looked up grit? It’s toughness and will power. I think a lot of that is natural, but we need to encourage it too.
    Also, I don’t think the marshmallow is about will power when you’re little. If your parents didn’t teach you to hold off, then you won’t. I told my kid to have one Valentine’s Day candy per day and he is fine with that. It’s about practice. He is also saving gift money instead of spending it all.

    1. But if you are a kid with a parent who says have one a day and then you find out three days later that there is no more candy because Mom or Dad ate it themselves, next time they say eat one a day I can pretty much guarantee that the kid will sneak some because his experience is that if he doesn’t grab for himself the parents will eat it. Safety and Dependability are the bedrocks of a child’s emotional development, but far too many parents are undependable these days (as in absentee fathers, for example) so kids trust no one but themselves. We were foster parents for years and every single kid who came to us had trust issues because of poor parenting, and those issues impacted their ability to delay gratification.

      1. quantakiran

        Lol, I’m thinking sibling issues too!!! Unless you’re an only child, older siblings always eat all the food!!! I think they call it defensive eating.

      2. Thank you Mable for being foster parents! I’m currently a foster kid mentor and we’ve been working on trust and commitment. I’ve seen him for 12 weeks in a row now, and I think he likes the regularity.

        As parents, we must do what we say we will do. I hope my wife and I live long enough to show him we will always be there for him, at least until he graduates high school or college.

        I’d love to learn more about your foster parenting experience.

        Related: Adopting From Foster Care: Clarifying The Misconceptions

  25. When I’m making significant purchases I try to wait, whether it’s a TV, car, house. A lot of times I find that by waiting I ultimately decide it’s not important to me and I don’t want to spend the money.

    In terms of work, I’ve been self employed in internet marketing since 2008. For about a year and a half before leaving my full-time job I worked every evening and weekend building my business. It was a sacrifice, but I knew it would pay off. I had several friends who would have liked to do the same thing, but they just always made excuses for why they couldn’t do it. Basically, it’s just not convenient.

      1. I sure hope not Sam. You are the best out there.

        Sacrifice as you describe has paid off for me. If it is merely work and hours then that is so easy (e.g. second job, gardening in the dark to keep up, shopping at midnight, hosting foreign students).

        Giving up things and experiences short term is a bit of a sacrifice, but I read a book years ago entitled Having It All, and that got me thinking that I could have it both now and later with the right strategies. So I have goals that give me both in some way — it can be done with a little waiting and manuevering. I totally agree that people sabotage themselves with early spending — no matter how I preach the benefits of compounding they think I am lucky, and they can’t do it.

        Also, I found as Marc, that once I could afford any luxury car I wanted easily (in the last 5 years), I realized that it was very impractical for my lifestyle so I bought a Kia to replace my beloved 28 year old Mazda. Ditto, fancy kitchen renovations. Rather be travelling.

        In the “wish I knew then what I know now” category, I advise people to start in high school to get their first property and learn how to invest in the stock market, and never borrow money even for school except for real estate. My model for this is a young friend (my former trainer) and his wife. This is in the Vancouver property market. The wife’s parents encouraged her to put any lump sum windfalls (e.g. small inheritance of about $15000) while she was in high school into rental apartments on the east side (still very nice but cheaper), so she was a landlady in her early 20’s. The two met and bought a 1910 house together, renovated it and finished the basement into a rental apartment. So there they are today, in mid twenties, no non-mortgage debt, 3 properties in Vancouver. Everybody says it can’t be done but they did it just by not being afraid of work. They did not have high paying jobs (trainer, vet.assistant). They just had a baby and he started a construction business. They do take 1-2 trips overseas every year too. Yes, it can’t be done.

  26. I’m certainly an delayed gratification kind of guy.

    1) I’m 34 and married and we’ve never bought a car.
    2) I lived with my parents for two years after college to save for a down payment and bought a condo at 24.
    3) I’ve blogged to a tiny audience with no income for the past 9 months and have no plans to stop.

    I play the long game and intend to come out on top.

  27. I think the 2-year mark is important in many contexts. In my area, for example, I often see people join the local chamber of commerce in hopes of drumming up new business opportunities, show up for a year or two, then disappear after deciding that “joining the chamber doesn’t work”. In my experience, it typically takes at least two years to build quality relationships. Given that quality relationships are often the source of the very best business opportunities, its too bad that so many people give up after the first year or so.

    Another area that I’ve seen the 2-year phenomenon play out is with salespeople in my own business. Many times over the years, I’ve seen salespeople at all experience levels join my team, work hard for a year or two, then give up and leave the company right before the biggest fruits of their labor came to fruition. Crazy.

    Always enjoy your posts, Sam. I’m glad you didn’t give up after year 2.

    1. Not sure why folks don’t stick it out. 2 years is a short amount of time. Perhaps it’s the constant bombardment of the grass is always greener. So many folks I know join startups here in the SF Bay Area. Almost 10 years later, they are on their third or fourth startup with nothing to show for. Maybe we’re all just thrill seekers now.

  28. Mr. Freaky Frugal

    “After 10 years of intense work, you will have much more wealth and many more options to live your dream life than if you just did the average.”

    This makes total sense to me. And if you can find work that you like doing that 10 years will go by very quickly. I was lucky enough to find programming because I liked doing it, was good at it, and made good money. I did eventually burn out, but by then I could afford to retire early.

  29. Nicoleandmaggie

    Alternatively, kids in poor environments are taught not to trust that there will be two marshmallows or even the original marshmallow if they wait. Then it isn’t the self control that’s a problem but the omitted variable of the poverty that causes the uncertainty and lack of trust.

    1. Agree about trust. The book talks about creating a safe environment for survival and growth. Reward effort, not intelligence.

      Can you share more about the study? I’d love to look at the intricacies and see if I can write a post about this as well. Thanks.

      1. Hi Sam,

        The follow-up study being referenced is most likely this one at University of Rochester:

        In that study the researchers showed that how trustworthy the child believed the experimenter to be played a large role in whether the child waited. A quick summary:

        The children were given an art project and used crayons and told that they if could wait the researchers would get bigger and better art supplies. If the children chose to wait for the better supplies one of two things happened:
        1) the experimenter returned with the promised better art supplies
        2) the experimenter returned, apologizing that they did not have any better art supplies

        The children were then given a choice of 1 marshmallow now, or waiting while the experimenter retrieved more marshmallows and then you can get 2.

        Children who had observed the experimenter to be unreliable in delivering art supplies waited about 3 minutes and 2 seconds; while the children who had observed the researcher to be reliable waited about 12 minutes and 2 seconds.

        If you grew up in an unreliable environment you might learn that it is better to eat the 1 marshmallow now because:
        1) the 2nd additional marshmallow might not materialize
        2) someone else could come and take my 1 marshmallow while I wait

        Sam, Thanks for sharing your financial knowledge. I really appreciate you sharing specific numeric targets such as how much to have saved by age.

        1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing and summarizing. The results make total sense. And, the importance of being a reliable human being. Are you going to do what you say? Are you going to show up when you say you will show up?

          I’ve been looking for some babysitting help recently, and I am amazed at how undependable people are. The same goes for my fellow mentors for a foster kid. Something seems to always come up so many times it’s just been me. And then finally, I’m getting freelance help for some work. Sometimes I don’t get it what is promised on time.

          So as a father, I need to be dependable and always be there. That is my promise to him. And perhaps this is why I have continued to do the podcast no matter what.

          1. Mary Keenan-Sadlon

            It’s a matter of Honor, Sam! People simply do not understand the power of keeping one’s word and the negative consequences for Them farther down the road when they don’t.

          2. I knew someone in art school. The policy was “on-time, no excuses”.

            The school believed, if you’re working for a client, being late means losing the client and potential referrals.

  30. Keep going Sam.

    And let us know when you purchase that posh home in Hawaii. I have to live vicariously until I can get one myself.


  31. This is one of my favorite experiments! I wish they’d do a follow up to figure out why the kids had such willpower at a young age. Did the parents nurture them in a certain way? Was part of it genetic?

    What are your favorite books on willpower/self-control? I love Grit and The Power of Habit.

    1. The book goes on to elaborate that it’s important explain why something is the way it is, why one shouldn’t do something, and why one should do something. This makes absolute sense and something that I plan to do with my son.

      I remember my father explaining to me when I was in fourth grade why it was wrong to rip up his papers on his desk. I felt guilty he had to retype them. The explanation was far more effective than any spanking or grounding.

    2. Politics has made this nearly impossible to study, but in the past most hard evidence pointed towards genetics.

      Research in this area is quite stunted because any attempt to link genetics and personality (or worse, genetics and intelligence) is bombarded with accusations of racism.

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