In 1965 Mischel collaborated with the father of influence study, Dr. Albert Bandura in a study designed to test kids ability to delay gratification.
It was a simple test, as all great studies are. They put a kid in a room, gave him a marshmallow and told him he could eat it if he wanted. But, if we waited he could have two marshmallows.
I am not sure how this will come out in email, but they have done a number of reenactments of this study and posted them on youtube.com. Here is one:
What followed over the next 20 years shocked the researchers. “Children who had been able to wait for the second marshmallow matured into adults who were seen as more socially competent, self-assertive, dependable, and capable of dealing with frustrations.” And get this: those who waited for the second marshmallow scored an average of 210 higher on their SAT scores than their marshmallow chomping friends. Seems I read somewhere (can’t document this one) that this marshmallow experiment more accurately predicted future success than any other factor the researches could identify–I.Q., social background, intelligence, race, etc.
You might conclude from this that the marshmallow chompers are just doomed to a life of mediocrity. You might conclude that, but you would be wrong.
A follow up study revealed some encouraging news: self-control can be learned. They placed children who had not exhibited self-control and put them in a room with adults who modeled self-control for them. (Note: the model; they did not use words to influence.)
The kids watched as the adults they put their head down for a nap or engaged in some distracting activity. (This is not too different from what I do when I am eating some chips and have had enough. I know I can’t just stop, so I will hand them to my wife and say, “Put these far far away from me and don’t tell me where they are.”)
Did the modeling work? It did! Kids who earlier hadn’t delayed gratification became stars at delaying. And here is the real kicker: In follow-up studies conducted months later, children who had learned to delay gratification retained much of what they had learned months later from a brief modeling session.
Here is the take away: behavior can be learned. Self-control can be learned. Having a consistent daily quiet time can me learned. Skills necessary to double a class every two years or less can be learned.
People tend to think they can’t do something because they have never one it. They have never doubled a class so the believe they can’t double a class. They have never tithed so they believe they can’t tithe. They have never forgiven in the past so they believe they can’t forgive. These are skills that can be learned. No one was born knowing.
No one was born knowing how to teach so that disciples are made.
No one was born knowing how to put a PowerPoint presentation together.
No one was born knowing how to control their finances.
No one was born knowing how to control their anger.
No one was born knowing.
But, people learn these skills every day. Every day people who are no smarter than you, more talented than you are, or more advantaged than you are learn these and many other skills. Some learn them quickly; for some the skill development comes more slowly, but people learn these things every day–and no one was born knowing.
You gotta believe!
As I write this, Joel Osteen’s band is warming up across town for a night of worship and inspiration. I am not sure you can call it preaching. Most wouldn’t call it biblical preaching. Not that it contradicts the Bible. It doesn’t mention the Bible all that much.
Can I confess my sin to you? We sometimes make fun of Joel. Not that I don’t like Joel. I am actually a bit of a fan. I used to TIVO Joel and watch him every week. (After a few months it did start to feel like I had heard this stuff before.) I have attended his church twice. I think most preachers and teachers would do well to be a little more Joelish. The problem with Joel is he has too much of Joel!
Too much, “If you just believe it will all work out.” It doesn’t just all work out. Not in my world.
But, much preaching and teaching is too much the other way. Too much gloom and doom. Too much, “Behave or God is going to get you!” Too much condemnation. What place does condemnation have in the Christian faith again? See Romans 8.1.
Truth is, it was Jesus that said, “It will be done for you according to your faith.” My paraphrase: if you think you can or think you cannot either way you are right!
Here is the challenge. The opposite is also true. Lack of faith keeps us from doing a myriad of things. And, because we have not done them, we don’t believe we can do it. This is why effective witnessing training programs actually have the people out in from of people sharing their faith.
It is not as hard as learning to handle snakes, is it?
Albert Bandura is a legend in the field of Influence. He once did a series of experiments where he sought to influence snake phobics to handle snake. He ran an ad in the Palo Alto News asking people who had a paralyzing fear of snakes to volunteer for a psychology experiment. This were not garden variety phobias. These were people who required hockey goalie gloves and a baseball catcher’s chest protector and mask–even when they were watching from the next room. They watched through a glass window and still required this kind of protection to be able to stay in the room. How would you influence these people to change? How long do you think it might take?
Have I mentioned that words are our least effective form of influence?
“Bandura did not start with the method most of us would have chosen—he did not lecture. When it comes to confronting people who hold unrealistic fears (or just plain stupid ideas), we’ve all done it. We figure that words, well chosen and expertly delivered, can set the record straight. Bandura knew that the best way to overcome a phobia is to confront what one fears and then to be enabled to exercise control over it, but he also recognized that lectures and coercion would only reinforce the phobic’s dread and inability to act.”
Here is what Bandura did. He allowed phobics to watch from the next room as a snake handler pulled the snake out of the terrarium. He petted the snake and placed it on his lap as the phobics watched. Then, gradually, one step at at time, the phobics walked into the room. (Many of them still had protective gear on.) The watched. After several tries, they worked up the courage to open the terrarium cover. They looked inside.
Then they ran out of the room.
After a few minutes, the came back in. They again removed the cover. Later still they touched the snake without gloves and so forth. Eventually subjects sat in the room by themselves with the six-foot constrictor draped across their lap.
“And now for the real miracle: The entire process took only three hours! People who had been debilitated most of their lives by a paralyzing fear were completely “cured” in a single morning. And the results lasted a lifetime.”
Snake handling applied
What is the lesson? If you want to teach your people to double, get them in touch with some snake handlers–I mean–get them in touch with some teachers who have doubled. Snake handling is a metaphor. Get your teachers around teachers who have doubled. If you are in North Carolina, call John Sprinkle at Indian Trail Baptist firstname.lastname@example.org . If you are in Florida, call Chad Keck from Sarasota, FL CKeck@SarasotaBaptist.com If you are near St Louis, call Marv Stapleton email@example.com If you are not near any of these, contact your state convention Sunday School person for a recommendation. By the way, I have videos of the three listed above on my Facebook page.
People will not see until they believe. They will not believe until they see.
If you would influence people to do anything you need to infuse them with faith. You need to lead them to believe they can. This is not just telling. It is often showing and allowing them to experiment. Think about how Jesus sent the disciples out. He knew that they were not born knowing how to minister. They would learn by doing. He had to send them out so they could learn and so they could believe that they could go and make disciples of all nations. Faith comes from hearing. It also comes, in part, by doing.