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E.I. Part 6 | Would You Eat the Marshmallow? Managing Impulses

Guiding Question: Are you able to manage, leverage and channel your emotions in a positive and productive way?

Key Takeaways: To be successful, we have to have challenging but reasonable goals, we have to be able to manage our impulses, and we have to be able to persist through the challenges and obstacles in our way. We can do that if we have hope, optimism, and a belief that we can learn how to do hard things.

We all have goals that we want to achieve, and we all have barriers in our way. Our emotions and the impulses that come from those emotions are two of our biggest barriers.

In chapter 6 of his book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman writes, “There is perhaps no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulse. Because all emotions lead to an impulse to act, resisting impulses are the root of self-control.”

Would You Eat the Marshmallow? Before we talk about having the persistence and motivation to stick with and achieve our goals, we have to talk about impulse control. Impulse control is being able to make a decision today that your future self will thank you for.

In 1972, Walter Mishel, a professor at Stanford University, conducted the Stanford marshmallow experiment, a study on delayed gratification.

A young child was offered a choice: they could eat one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows if they waited for a period of time.

The researcher then left the room, leaving the child with the marshmallow for about 15 minutes. When he returned, if they hadn’t eaten the marshmallow, they were given two.

Would you eat the marshmallow?

In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait for the researcher to return tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body weight, and other life measures.

Knowing the results of this study, would you eat the marshmallow? Would you eat the marshmallow knowing that those who wait - those who can delay gratification - tend to have more success in life?

Impulses come and go all the time. Emotional Intelligence is our ability to manage those impulses and the emotions that cause them or leverage them so that they help us and not hurt us.

Fear is a powerful emotion that can trigger an impulse that can take over our minds and paralyze us or motivate us to act. Fear of failure can motivate us to work harder, grind longer, or prepare better. But fear can also keep us from doing the things we need to do so that we get to do the things we want to do.

Emotional Intelligence is being able to manage fear so that it helps us and doesn’t hurt us.

Goleman writes, “Students who are anxious, angry, or depressed don't learn; people who are caught in these states do not take in information efficiently or deal with it well.”

You can be the smartest, most skilled, most talented person in the room, but if you can’t manage your emotions because they override your concentration, none of that will matter. Your emotions will have you in a grip so tight you won’t be able to think or perform.

So what can we do?

We can consider the role of positive motivation in success and achievement. Studies of Olympic athletes, world-class musicians, and chess grandmasters find that they all share the ability to motivate themselves to pursue relentless training routines.

He writes, “What seems to set apart those at the very top of competitive pursuits from others of roughly equal ability is the degree to which, beginning early in life, they can pursue an arduous practice routine for years and years. And that doggedness depends on emotional traits—enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks—above all else.”

The best don’t stop and they don’t quit.

The Power of Good Moods

When we are in a good mood, we are all able to think more flexibly and with more complexity and creativity. Being in a good mood makes it easier to find solutions.

There is one study found that people who had just watched a video of television bloopers were better at solving a puzzle long used by psychologists to test creative thinking.

Before going into a big moment, find a way to laugh or smile, or make somebody else laugh or smile.

The Power of Hope

C.R. Snyder, a psychologist from the University of Kansas, says hope makes all the difference.

He said, “Students with high hope set themselves higher goals and know how to work hard to attain them.” When you have two students who are equally smart, or when you have two athletes who are equally talented, hope sets them apart.

Snyder says hope is “believing you have both the will and the way to accomplish your goals.”

Having hope means that you will not give in to overwhelming fear, anxiety, or depression in the face of difficult challenges; you will find a way!

You can build your hope by being around other positive, hopeful people, and by earning small victories.

What is something small you can do today to create some positive momentum in your life and increase your hope?

The Power of Optimism

Optimism, like hope, means that you believe that things will turn out alright, despite setbacks and frustrations. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman did an experiment with a group of Olympic swimmers in 1972. In a special event meant to showcase their best performance, they were given a false, bad time that was worse than their actual time.

The swimmers who were optimistic performed better when they were given a second opportunity, and the swimmers who were negative and pessimistic performed worse the second time.

Optimism can predict success. It can buffer you from having a negative attitude of fear and hopelessness, and keep you from falling into despair and quitting.


Both optimism and hope can be learned skills. Self-efficacy is the belief that you have mastery of the events of your life and that you can meet challenges as they come. Your self-efficacy, hope, and optimism grow every time you learn something new and do something successful.

This makes you willing to take risks and take on more demanding challenges.

Towards the end of the chapter, Goleman quotes Albert Bandura, a Stanford psychologist who has done much of the research on self-efficacy:

"People's beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property; there is a huge variability in how you perform. People who have a sense of self-efficacy bounce back from failures; they approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong.”


1 - Are you able to manage, leverage and channel your emotions in a positive and productive way?

2 - When do your emotions negatively affect you the most?

3 - How would you measure your ability to manage and control your impulses?

4 - When do you feel the most hope? What brings you hope?

5 - When do you feel the most optimistic? What brings you optimism?

6 - What are some small victories you can have today or this week to build your hope, optimism, and self-efficacy?

Much of this information was taken from the introduction of Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence. You can find more about the book here: Emotional Intelligence

- Part 5B

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