…discovered something interesting when he studied the tiny percentage of kids who could successfully wait for the second treat. Without exception, these “high delayers” all relied on the same mental strategy: they found a way to keep themselves from thinking about the treat, directing their gaze away from the yummy marshmallow. Some covered their eyes or played hide-and-seek underneath the desk. Others sang songs from “Sesame Street,” or repeatedly tied their shoelaces, or pretended to take a nap. Their desire wasn’t defeated — it was merely forgotten.
…Mischel refers to this skill as the “strategic allocation of attention” and he argues that it’s the skill underlying self-control.
Too often, we assume that willpower is about having strong moral fiber. But that’s wrong — willpower is really about properly directing the spotlight of attention, learning how to control that short list of thoughts in working memory.