Krav Maga Classes can Improve Success and Self Control

“Don’t eat the marshmallow yet” is a common refrain in KIPP schools across the country. KIPP is arguably the most successful charter school program in the United States, with well over 80% of their low-income student base accepted to 4-year university programs. Students learn the aforementioned statement as part of their character development in reference to delayed gratification, or self-control.

Beginning in the 1960’s Walter Mischel conducted a series of experiments at Stanford University using marshmallows, and a variety of other treats, to determine the extent to which children could delay gratification. One or two children were put in a bare room with a table and chair(s). A researcher placed a marshmallow on the table in front of the participant(s) with the instructions that if they could wait for an undetermined amount of time while the researcher left the room, they would receive a second marshmallow. At any point, the participant(s) could ring a bell and the researcher would return and allow them to eat the single marshmallow.

The majority of the children waited for three minutes or less. Some didn’t even wait for the researcher to leave the room. However, there was a portion of participants that waited as long as 30 minutes, ensuring they received the second marshmallow. When these same participants were analyzed 30 years later, the high-delayers had higher S.A.T. scores, better relationships and better careers than the low-delayers. In fact, they rated better on basically every life outcome one could measure.

When Mischel questioned the children who were high-delayers he found that they deployed strategies to distract themselves from the enticing marshmallow. There were two strategies that worked the best when it came to resisting the temptation, mental distancing and re-framing. Mental distancing involved imagining the marshmallow in a picture frame, for example. One child who was asked why this worked for him said, “Well, you can’t eat a picture.” Re-framing involved imagining the marshmallow as a cloud. Ultimately, according to Mischel, “the crucial factor in delaying gratification is the ability to change your perception of the object or action you want to resist.” This is addressed in point three below.

One challenge when performing the mental backflips involved in self-control is that it is a bit exhausting. According to Roy Baumeister of Florida State University, the exercise of self-control results in “ego depletion,” making it less likely one can manage to control themselves until reserves are restored. The primary fuel of willpower? Glucose. One benefit of exercising control is that you become more efficient over time and use less glucose in the process. So, if you anticipate encountering a situation in which a high level of self-control will be essential make sure you consume some glucose ahead of time.

Like KIPP schools, Krav Maga Houston’s Youth Program reinforces a set of character strengths essential for success in Krav Maga and beyond. Self-control is one such character strength and can be reinforced in the following ways:

  1. When class begins and before the bow in, have your students line up shoulder to shoulder. Expect them to maintain attention stance with their feet together and hands to their side for 10-60 seconds at a time. If anyone in the line moves before time is up, start the time over
  2. During transitions have the students sit on one knee in the center of the room with both hands on the front knee. Teach them that when their knee is on the floor they are to remain silent and controlled.
  3. When given an exercise performed at high reps, teach the students to break the reps into more manageable chunks. Instead of doing 100 sit-ups, do five sets of 20 sit-ups. Another way of re- framing rep schemes is to count down instead of up. If a student has to perform 40 reps, teach them to count to 20 for the first set of 20, then count from 20 to 1 for the second set.
  4. Rarely give them what they want right when they want it. For example, if a child asks for water outside of our regularly scheduled water breaks I tell them they can get water after they sit quietly for one minute.
  5. Incorporate mindfulness training into your school. Mindfulness meditations involving counting breathes or counting steps increases executive functioning skills, including self-control.

The next article in the success trifecta series will cover the concept of “growth mindset” and will cover the work of Carol Dweck.

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  1. Pingback: Krav Maga, Pareto, & Self Discipline | Kravology

  2. chinh

    This is pretty amazing. Good article Trea.