Willpower is more important for success than intelligence. The famous Marshmallow experiment challenge a group of young children to resist the temptation to eat a marshmallow. The kids were told that if they were able to avoid eating a marshmallow in front of them for some time, they would get two marshmallows.
(Here’s some extremely entertaining footage of the experiment):
The kids were tracked down later in life, and the researchers found something extremely surprising. The kids that resisted the temptation to eat the one marshmallow to get two later, were substantially more successful in life educationally and financially. In fact, the correlation between the marshmallow test and success was stronger than the correlation between IQ scores and success.
Now, this is just one study, but the incredible power of self-control has been researched in great detail by psychologists. If you want to learn more I recommend the book, Willpower by Roy Baumeister.
We have no idea what will make us happy.
Psychologist have found time and again that we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy in the future. In fact, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert made an entire book about the topic called, Stumbling on Happiness.
One of many examples he gives is from a study about a college football game. Students of a college were asked how they would feel the next day after their team won or lost the game. Students said they would feel elated if the team won, and upset if the team lost.
It turned out, the game had no significant effect on the students’ emotions the next day. Sure, the moment after the game they felt good about the win or bad about the loss, but two hours later and they had an exam to worry about, or they were to drunk to remember the game. When we think about how something will make us feel, our brain just pictures ourselves and that event- it has trouble seeing the bigger picture.
This is troublesome because it doesn’t just effect us in regards to small things like Football games, it affects our major life decisions. We imagine that we will be happy in a certain marriage, or a certain country, or with a certain job, but our brain is basing this thought on a very slim amount of information. Research has shown that when people actually get the job, the marriage, etc. That they thought would make them happier, they tend to be no less or more happy than before.
Simply put, we don’t know what will make us happier, but that’s okay, maybe we should focus more on being happy now instead of hoping some accomplishment or change will make us happy.
We are not as rational as we think we are. It’s easy to see how people are irrational if you watch their behavior.
We can watch other people’s decisions and wonder why they act so strangely. But here’s what we don’t do, we have trouble seeing how our own decisions are so irrational too. This is because we have something called a bias blindspot, it means that most people think they are less biased and irrational than average.
We can easily see irrationality in others, but it’s much more difficult to see it in ourselves. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman put it well, “We’re blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.”
Because of this, I always question whether my beliefs are as rational as I think they are, and I’ve realized that many of the beliefs that I had that limited me, were in fact arbitrary and irrational.