The marshmallow test was first conducted in Stanford in the 70s and later replicated by Harvard.
In this test, young children were given two choices: eat the given marshmallow (or other preferred treats) now or wait for 15 min before eating their treat to be rewarded with a second treat.
The children who could wait and delay their gratification were found to have a higher tendency to succeed later in life.
Instant gratification is impulsive, it creates immediate pleasure and satisfies the animalistic part of our brain, while delaying the gratification requires the higher function of the prefrontal cortex. The marshmallow experiment shows the important role of controlling our attention and managing our emotions in determining our success in life.
The marshmallow test is not confined to the children who had undergone the experiments, this scenario is being played out every single minute of our adult lives. It shows up in the form of how we choose food and how we take in information. It seems that these “marshmallows” were simply put in front of us effortlessly, tempting us to consume, right now.
Every day, and every minute, we are facing the choice of, do I eat the “marshmallow” now or can I wait or even better, not eat at all? We are put into extreme tests of directing our attentions and managing our emotions, which many of us fail miserably.
We are faced with the temptations of sugary foods since they are so readily available. The tasty junk food is right in our face everywhere we go. Do you eat it or are you able to say no?
Worse than those kids in the experiment, we don’t get rewarded with anything tangible if we delay gratification or turn down those high calorie, high sugary foods. So, the choice is totally up to you. What are you choosing?
We consume not only food, but information.
We are bombarded with “news” that consumes our attention, we are swamped by the bottomless information from social media, text messages, emails, and countless other sources. It seems the information is just right there in front of us every time we turn to our mini portable computer, aka our phone. Can you help not consuming them?
Since the entire world is webbed by the internet and WiFi, the amount of information that can be put right in front of us is enormous without physical barrier, we felt urged to consume that information, regardless how little it is adding to the value of our lives.
- Do you check your email even though you just checked not even an hours ago?
- Are you constantly interrupted by beeps and buzzes that alert you a new message has arrived?
- Have you ever pulled out of your phone in the middle of a conversation?
- Have you ever engaging in a conversation while your eyes are glued to your phone?
- Do you scan your social media news feeds every few minutes?
- Do you browse irrelevant information here and there whenever you can while at work?
- Do you sometimes feel emotionally charged while reading some crazy stories?
We are constantly interrupted by “new” information.
“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” ― Herbert Simon
The constant disruptions by poor quality information makes it hard for us to concentrate on our work, make us unproductive, and not being about to put out the best work we can. We feel overwhelmed yet we are accomplishing little to nothing.
The “marshmallow” is there, and there can only be even more as we put our brightest minds and billions of dollars to develop new and ever more enticing “marshmallows”. So, what you are going to do?
There is only one thing you can do really, CHOOSE.
Choose instant gratification or NOT.
Choose consciously and deliberately.
Choose to become a master of your attention and emotions.