A Good Predictor of Academic Success

In a short talk from TED.U, Joachim de Posada shares a landmark experiment on delayed gratification and how it can predict future success.

It stands to reason that well-motivated students who really put in time on task studying can out perform smarter students who are less motivated and don’t get their schoolwork done.  These researchers believe that self-discipline and delayed gratification might be the key to success.  Duckworth and Seligman say, “We believe that many of America’s children have trouble making choices that require them to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain, and that programs that build self-discipline may be the royal road to building academic achievement.”

According to University of Pennsylvania researchers Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman, self-discipline is a better predictor of academic success than IQ.  They reported their finding in a recent issue of Psychological Science, the journal of the Association of Psychological Science, formerly the American Psychological Society (  The report was summarized by Jay Mathews for the Washington Post, who quoted the researchers as saying, “Highly self-disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive peers on every academic-performance variable, including report card grades, standardized achievement test scores, admission to a competitive high school, and attendance (, 17 January 2006).

Here are five tips for teaching self-discipline:

  1. Develop reasonable schedules.  Many children have trouble organizing their time and knowing which activities, whether studying math or practicing the violin, to give priority.  If parents and teachers work with students to set reasonable study schedules for school and home, students will be better able to identify priorities and to set their own schedules as they mature.
  2. Provide adequate support. Children need to know where to go when they need help.  Match study schedules to when parent support is available.  Make sure that students have the tools they need, such as a dictionary or a calculator, at hand.  Teach children to gather everything they need to study before starting, so that they don’t waste time hunting for missing materials.
  3. Emphasize persistence. If children always let something interfere with getting their homework done the night before, it is important to require such tasks a priority and sticking with them until completion.  These are teachable indicators of persistence, a necessary skill for school and life success.  many teachers and parents establish a “homework first” pattern early.  Later on, students will be more likely to follow the pattern on their own.
  4. Encourage delayed gratification. Help children see that not everything is like it is on a tv show with a neat conclusion in only 30 minutes.  In many cases it takes time to accomplish a satisfying end.  But many long-term projects can be broken into bite-size pieces to produce small successes on the way to a larger success.  Setting priorities, organizing student or work. and enjoying a sense of accomplishment at points along the way to a larger goal are the building blocks of delayed gratification.
  5. Celebrate success. There’s an old saying that nothing succeeds like success.  Complement your child’s feelings of accomplishment with meaningful praise and real rewards, such as free time with friends, attention and time with you, or one of their favorite activity.  These coupled with finishing their work and the drive to succeed will encourage self-discipline and delayed gratification.