How to Stay Puft

foot What can a marshmallow teach us about ourselves? Back in the 70s researchers at Stanford set out to quantify the level and source of children’s ability to delay gratification. The famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment offered subjects aged between three and six a single marshmallow and a choice. Researchers promised to leave the room, and when they returned, if the first marshmallow were still there, the children would receive an additional marshmallow. If the initial marshmallow were eaten, that is all the child would receive. Six hundred children took part in the experiment and while some were able to beat the 15 minute test and receive that elusive second marshmallow, many were not. Test subjects were tracked for years after the test and those who beat the test as children ended up with quantifiably better outcomes as adults. They attained higher SAT scores, better educations and were less likely to be overweight. The study has been repeated more recently and now includes videos on YouTube that chronicle the agony of waiting. It is interesting that the children seem to know what the right choice is, but can’t always seem to make it. While the outcomes from the Stanford study are interesting, perhaps the more interesting takeaway is what characteristics the successful subjects shared. When delaying gratification, what characteristics matter? First was predictably age. Older kids simply did better, advanced age bringing with it more patience and willpower. The second characteristic however was less obvious. Another group also consistently beat the test. That group was made up of the kids who distracted themselves by turning their chairs, closing their eyes or covering the marshmallow. Apparently temptation is driven by many things, but visual cues, proximity, and having a plan to deal with it played a huge part. Trick yourself into forgetting it is there and you have a chance to beat it—at least in the short term. Why should you care? Because we are all wired exactly the same as those kids; we simply can’t help ourselves. We may have better coping mechanisms as well as mortgages now but we’ve all eaten our version of that marshmallow, and we’ll continue to eat them unless we work at it. The marshmallow is sin and to beat it, we’ve got to emulate the successful kids. Avoid temptation altogether– cancel Cinemax, hire an uglier secretary, get classier friends, check into rehab, invest in your spouse– whatever it takes. Simple, not easy. It is fashionable in our culture to do what feels good. We are told that personal fulfillment is the key to life and nothing to be ashamed of at all. If you feel like smoking weed, you hammer the bong– nothing wrong with it. If you fall out of love with your spouse– seek an emotional connection with someone else.  You want to fudge your taxes? If you think you won’t get caught, go nuts. No harm no foul. And it is all total crap. You may get away with it, and Lord knows the human mind can justify anything. But there are two people you can’t fool– yourself and your Creator. The good news is that the former is finally coming around and the Latter is waiting with second chances …possibly thirds …probably fifteenths. Deny that marshmallow. • Do you think kids today would be more likely to pass the test (vs 70s kids)? Why or why not? • What would your kid do? • What tips do you have to help others deny their marshmallow?

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Christian. Father. Hawkeye. Pursuing truth... frequently in a minivan.

3 thoughts on “How to Stay Puft

  1. I’d like to think Gen X’ers would fare better than the youth of today (darn kids!) but in truth the numbers probably aren’t that far off. The main difference being the millennials, in need of instant feedback, would be able to fire off 200 texts to their BFF about what they would do IMHO.

  2. Another great reminder of how important it is for us, as parents, to teach our children the importance of honesty, patience, and the understanding of not always taking the easy route.

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