Behavioral Development: How to Create Lasting Change That Will Stick

Copyright Steve Moore – 1999


In the late 1960’s, psychologist Walter Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbesen conducted a study popularly known as the “The Marshmallow Test”, in which children were presented with two choices.

The purpose of this study was to understand deferred gratification, the ability to resist the temptation of an immediate reward and wait for a later reward (that is usually larger or more enduring).

Over 600 children were put inside of a room, without any distractions, the researcher would enter the room and give the children the following choices:

  1. They could immediately eat 1 Oreo cookie, marshmallow, or pretzel stick that was placed on a table.


  1. If they waited for 15 minutes without giving into temptation, they would be rewarded with a second treat (Oreo cookie, marshmallow, or pretzel stick)

The results were shocking.

Correlations were made between the results of those who delayed their gratification and how successful the children became.

The first follow-up study, in 1988, showed that “preschool children, who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent. [1]

In later studies, throughout the years, it was found that those who could delay gratification resulted in the following:

  • Had higher SAT scores, on average 210 points higher. [2]
  • By adulthood, children in the highest self-control group were significantly less likely to have multiple health problems (11%), compared with kids in the lowest self-control group (27%). [2]
  • They were also much less likely to have addictions to multiple substances (3% vs. 10%, respectively) [2]

Overall the studies revealed that those who fought off their initial response to take the first treat and delayed their gratification resulted in higher SAT scores, lesser health problems, lower Body Mass Index, and usually a greater success in their respective fields.

He that can have patience can have what he will

We live in times where just about everything has been instafied (my definition for making something instant), and are capable of being gratified within seconds.

We can order a full course meal in under a few minutes, make instant coffee, transfer money across the globe within minutes, call someone in another country within seconds, have something delivered to your front door the day of, and communicate with friends and family instantly.

But the moment we’re told we have to wait, or it will take some time, we become frustrated and seek service elsewhere, or get upset and possibly angry at why we have to wait.

For example, a study showed that movies have been progressively becoming shorter in length.

The study measured the change of 160 films released from 1935-2010 and found that shot lengths have gotten shorter, a trend also reported by others. [3]

Even our source of entertainment and storytelling has been drastically reduced.

We now have apps such as Snapchat and Vine, which allow you to send pictures or create videos in short time frames of 1-10 seconds.

We’re moving into an era of instant-everything and as a result our ability to say no and resist any immediate temptation or gratification will only become worse.

All great things take time

Idioms are a short way to express a complex idea or thought and sometimes offer a different and colorful perspective that may be illogical (grammatically speaking).

“Rome wasn’t built in a day” dates back to the 12th century, where it was published first in “Li Proverbe au Vilain” [4]

This idiom expresses the message that all great things take time – something we want to give less and less of, especially in an era of instant gratification.

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

Rome wasn’t built in a day

There are similar idioms that have been expressed in other languages.

  • In Bulgarian the idiom is expressed as “A pool is filled drop by drop
  • In Chinese as “You don’t get 3-feet-deep ice in one day of freeze.”
  • In Romanian as “One flower does not bring spring.

These idioms all share the same underlining message – all great things take time to create.

We shouldn’t expect to accomplish something great or achieve success overnight.

Developing a certain behavior, creating a habit, or even mastering a skill can take months, sometimes even years.

Rome is the result of laying one brick at a time

Robert Collier said, “Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.”

Rome is a great example that it doesn’t matter how small you start.

For example:

  • If you’re a writer, you have to write.
  • If you’re a runner, you have to run.
  • If you’re a painter, you have to paint.
  • If you’re an athlete, you have to train.

Whatever your craft, skill, or accomplishment you want to achieve, you have to do that repetition day in day out; regardless of how small - you just have to start.

Rome isn’t the result of an end goal; it was created with a process that involved doing the work every single day.

And to accomplish your goals, you aren’t required to complete everything in one day, or even a year.

However, you are required to put in the work every single day.


Over to you: What goal do you want to accomplish? What have you been doing every single day to make that goal happen? Is there anything I can help with? Let me know in the comments below.



Thank you to Holly, Nadia, and Jennifer for helping throughout the article.


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