Here’s a yummy marshmallow. You know you want it. Of course you want it. But if you can resist its charms for 20 minutes, I will give you double marshmallow. Or something even more delicious that you actually like. Can you wait?
This was the Marshmallow Test, an experiment administered to 4 year old children by Walter Mischel. Many gave in almost immediately, the lure of the mallow was too strong. But some prevailed. They did things like not looking at the mallow, or giving themselves quiet peptalks, or distracting themselves from thoughts of the mallow by singing or making funny faces. And they got through. They followed the tested children’s progress for 40 years, and it seemed that children who were more successful at the Marshmallow Test were more sucessful in later life.
Whatever the validity of the research, the Marshmallow Test highlights the inner struggle we all have to face between the interests of our present selves and the happiness of our future self. Now-Me wants a triple gin and tonic, but Future-Me tomorrow is going to wish Now-Me hadn’t had it. How can the faint calls of Future-Me from tomorrow win against Now-Me’s intense desire for gin? The same goes with late night cheese eating, pensions, and procrastination. How can Future-Me reach into the past, grab Now-Me by the shoulders, and convince Now-Me that going to bed before 1.30am will make everyone happier all round? (And put down that Gruyère, Now-Me!)
Either Future-Me needs a top-notch time machine, or Now-Me needs a more conscientious imagination to make poor Future-Me more tangible.
But we’ll leave Now-Me and Future-Me locked in their eternal struggle and turn instead to The Global Marshmallow Test.
To Be Continued: coming next: The Global Marshmallow Test – watch out for it, Future-You!