In April 2010 General Conference, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared the following story of the marshmallow experiment:
In the 1960s, a professor at Stanford University began a modest experiment testing the willpower of four-year-old children. He placed before them a large marshmallow and then told them they could eat it right away or, if they waited for 15 minutes, they could have two marshmallows.
He then left the children alone and watched what happened behind a two-way mirror. Some of the children ate the marshmallow immediately; some could wait only a few minutes before giving in to temptation. Only 30 percent were able to wait.
… as time went on, he kept track of the children and began to notice an interesting correlation: the children who could not wait struggled later in life and had more behavioral problems, while those who waited tended to be more positive and better motivated, have higher grades and incomes, and have healthier relationships.
Self-mastery includes the qualities of patience, overcoming the natural man, controlling our thoughts, developing power over our body, obeying the commandments, and becoming like Christ.
We have already developed self-mastery in many areas including taking care of our physical body by living the Word of Wisdom, obeying the law of the fast thus having control over hunger and thirst, honoring the Sabbath day, and learning each day to be spiritually minded.
President Russell M. Nelson has taught that self-mastery is different than “mind over matter” … it is “spirit over matter.” He continued “… not an age in life passes without temptation, trial, or torment experienced through your physical body. But as you prayerfully develop self-mastery, desires of the flesh may be subdued. And when that has been achieved, you may have the strength to submit to your Heavenly Father, as did Jesus, who said, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” (General Conference, October 1985.)
Adjusting to Missionary Life, page 39, offers suggestions and tools for developing self-mastery related to sexual or romantic feelings:
- Develop self-mastery.Sexual and romantic thoughts and feelings are normal and God-given. As we keep our relationships and behavior within the bounds the Lord has set for us as missionaries, we will grow in strength and gain great blessings. Build your motivation to do so by prayerfully studying Doctrine and Covenants 121:45; 1 Corinthians 9:24–27; Mosiah 3:19; and Alma 38:12.
- Replace the thought.Instead of becoming preoccupied with sexual or romantic thoughts and feelings, distract yourself; relax and get involved with something else.
- Avoid temptation.Avoid places, circumstances, conversations, or people that provoke temptation.
- Continue in hope and faith.If you are struggling to manage your sexual feelings appropriately, the Lord wants you to know He still loves you. Never abandon your relationship with God because you feel unworthy.
- Don’t get too hungry, lonely, tired, bored, or stressed.All of these things can make temptation more difficult to resist.
- Keep yourself safe.Remember to always stay with your companion and never be alone with a member of the opposite sex. If you feel yourself being attracted to someone or someone is flirting with you, contact your mission president and seek his counsel.
- Fast and pray for understanding and strength. When we fast, we ignore our normal, healthy hunger for food for a period of time in order to seek spiritual strength and develop skills like self-control, empathy for those who are hungry, and sensitivity to the Spirit. These same skills can help us ignore normal, healthy sexual or romantic feelings as a missionary. Fasting will not eliminate sexual feelings, but monthly fasting may help us gain strength, self-awareness, and motivation to manage these feelings appropriately. (See Preach My Gospel, 93–95.)
May the Lord bless us as we patiently and persistently continue to develop self-mastery in following and becoming like our Master, Jesus Christ.
[Note: The ideas and suggestions contained in these articles are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional. In addition, if you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please seek medical or mental health assistance immediately. In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat at 988lifeline.org/chat/. Services are free and confidential.]