When my sister and I were young, we asked my parents to buy us a Nintendo player.

We didn’t think they’d say yes because they were expensive, but we thought we’d ask anyway.

Our dad agreed they would buy us one, but first we needed to complete a 30-day challenge. He told us we needed to do our chores for 30 days, and only then would they buy us a Nintendo. If they had to remind us to do our chores, even once, the offer was off the table.

Ecstatic, my sister and I committed to this 30-day challenge. We didn’t think they would say yes and now we had a glimpse of hope.

We worked hard. Every day we completed our chores. We brought our dishes to the sink and made our beds. We kept our room clean and helped our parents around the house.

Three weeks later, my sister and I were sleeping, and we woke up to the sound of the Super Mario jingle. Could it be? Did they buy us a Nintendo already? It hasn’t been 30 days yet!

Entering the living room, we found our Dad in front of the TV playing Super Mario. It took my sister and I a few moments to register what was happening, but once we did, we burst into shrieks of happiness.

Our hard work paid off and we finally had our own Nintendo!

My dad told us we did so well over the last three weeks that he decided to reward us early.

As an adult, I understand what my parents were trying to do with the Nintendo challenge. They were teaching us an important skill we would eventually need to have as adults: the power of patience and delayed gratification.

Just because we wanted something, didn’t mean we could get it right away. We needed to earn it. We needed to work for it and we needed to be patient.

With focus and determination, we would be rewarded, and the reward would be greater because of our hard work and patience.

A well-known study was done in the 1960s at Stanford University. In the study, children were placed in a room with one marshmallow on a plate. The children were told they were allowed to eat that one marshmallow, but if they waited 15 minutes, they would get two marshmallows.

If you haven’t seen the YouTube Video – it’s worth the watch. Google “Marshmallow Test Stanford.”

The children who had the self-discipline to wait the 15 minutes for that second marshmallow ended up scoring higher on tests. They had better health and were less likely to have behavioural problems.

We live in a world of instant gratification. We want things now and don’t want to wait. Instant gratification gives us pleasure and waiting gives us pain. We will avoid this pain as much as we can.

So, we buy the TV we don’t need, go on the trip we can’t afford, and eat those chips we shouldn’t eat.

How many of us have already forgotten our New Year’s Resolution goals? Or better yet, how many of us avoid making New Year’s Resolutions altogether?

It’s too painful to be disciplined and patient to see results.

The good news is we can improve our self-discipline. We can train ourselves to get better at delayed gratification like we can train our muscles at the gym.

We just have to start small.

I do a lot of challenges in my life for this one reason.

I save up for things I want instead of using a credit card. I’ve trained and participated in a triathlon. I’ve learned how to play an instrument. I’ve given up unhealthy foods for a period of time. I do sometimes fail, but I pick myself up and start over. With patience and a little grit – I reach my goal and the reward is always sweeter because of the wait.

How are you with your self-discipline? If you were one of those kids in that Stanford study, would you have been able to wait? Are you someone who can delay gratification, or do you thrive on instant gratification?  How can you start small and work on that muscle?

Playing Super Mario with my sister that morning felt much sweeter because we knew we earned it. We played for hours.

The Nintendo challenge story comes up in our family every now and then. My dad always reminds us – once they gave us that Nintendo, the chores stopped because we got what we wanted.

He also says it with a smile on his face because I know he was proud of us for working so hard.

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