How often do you set a goal, create a plan, and then…bow out early rather than hold out for the long-term success? When it comes to achieving our goals, some of us are better than others at sticking to our plans, especially when the payoff seems far away.

While older studies seemed to show that our ability to put off gratification was based on our DNA, new studies are finding that our environment is even more significant in determining success.

Marshmallows and Self-Control

Back in 1972, Stanford University released its findings for a decades-long study on deferred gratification. It has come to be known as the Marshmallow Experiment.

For this experiment, a marshmallow was placed in front of a child who was given the option of either having that one marshmallow immediately or waiting 15 minutes to receive two marshmallows. When left alone, some were able to wait while others gobbled it down before the time was up.

The researchers followed the children as they grew older and found that the ones who were able to wait and defer gratification as children led better lives based on multiple life measures including overall education and body mass index (BMI).

The Marshmallow Experiment was replicated by the University of Rochester, but with one crucial element added. This study split the children into two groups and prior to offering the marshmallow deal, they offered other items and either followed through or disappointed the children first.

Could you sit in front of a marshmallow but not eat it? In a study, children were told that if they could wait, they'd get two marshmallows. Some kids couldn't hold out, and we can't blame them!

One group of children was given crayon boxes and offered larger ones that never came while the other group received the larger boxes as promised. The researchers continued this pattern of offering things, but only fulfilled the promise to one of the groups. When it came time for the marshmallows, the children who had developed trust with the researchers outperformed the group that had not.

The Company You Keep

Our environment helps shape our mindset and in doing so affects our ability to interact within it. The Rochester study highlights how self control is impacted by the relationships we hold and why our connection to others is so important to our own success.

When I first learned about this study, the information clicked. It makes sense, right? No matter how capable we are at achieving a goal, we only achieve success when we are able to control our initial urges to stick with it until we cross the finish line. What helps us control those urges is the trust we have in our surroundings.

Think back on the decisions you’ve made in your life and all of the times you were successful. What was your mindset during that time? How did your environment and relationships impact you? How do they continue to impact you?

Find Your Footing, Then Keep Your Eye on the Prize

If you’ve struggled in the past with finding reliability in your surroundings, know that it isn’t too late. The plasticity in our brains allows us to reprogram our mindset with the behaviors we currently practice. You can start small, but work to incorporate reliability and consistency in your life in order to effect lasting change. 

Having people in your life you know you can count on can also help to make you feel safe, secure, and supported to take chances and pursue your goals. 

If you feel you don’t have anyone in your life who currently fits that bill, no worries! Support groups are available for most every situation and can be found in person or online.

Affirmations are a great practice to help you build confidence and stability, too, especially when it isn’t possible to leave your current environment. Focus on creating a loving and safe space within your head and nurture it with positive speech. 

You are capable of achieving more than you know and will uncover this truth the more you train your brain to see it. Focus on incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine, seeking out an environment that you feel safe in, and building relationships that help to further your goals. You’ve got this.