Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Would You Pass the Marshmallow Test? A Lesson in Deferred Gratification

There was a famous experiment that I learned about in Psychology 101 in college called the Stanford Marshmallow Test. I remember paying close attention because we had to participate in graduate student's studies as part of the class, and I always was looking for one that involved food.

The Test

The studies were a series of delayed gratification tests which were conducted in the 1960's where a small child was offered a marshmallow, Oreo, cookie, etc.. by the exam proctor, and told if they didn't eat the treat when the proctor left the room for a short period, he would then receive two treats as a reward for waiting and then could eat them.

The results for the children ranging in age from 4-6 were that a third ate the treat immediately, the second third tried to wait but couldn't last the full 15 minutes, and the final third was able to wait long enough to get the second one.

This what when I tuned out in class, and thought the takeaway was that young children do not yet grasp the concept of deferred gratification, as there were a lot more 6 year olds than 4 year olds who didn't wait. I considered if I would take the Oreo or not originally and decided I could wait 15 minutes to receive two However, the fact that the proctor didn't tell the kids how long he'd be gone, instead that he'd return in"a short period of time," I doubted that I could wait- my love for food and lack of patience creating the perfect storm.

Flash forward a few months later the final exam, there was a question about these studies on it and I was proud of myself for remembering. The question, however, was regarding a follow-up study about the tests. I picked an answer I thought sounded good, and looked up the answer after the exam while thinking if I couldn't get the one question about food right, I didn't do too hot on that exam.

The follow up studies, were much more interesting than the preliminary study- where the results showed the third of children who waited had better lives. These kids were more successful in almost every area of their lives one would think were important; they had lower Body Mass Index (BMI)'s in fitness, higher SAT scores, faster reaction times, better educational attainment, and several other life situations these kids came out on top.

Immediately backtracking on my previous answer, I reassured myself that of course I would wait for the second Oreo which also means I'm destined for life success... but 6 years after my freshman Psyc 101 class, I'm 99% sure I would have popped the first Oreo right away even at age 20. The sport I played had constant feedback and often instant gratification. If I ran as fast as I could right now, I can get to the ball. If I work as hard as I can in the weight room, next week I'll lift heavier. I talked about the team mentality in my last blog post, and how running a marathon only really benefited me, so I didn't care about my own well being- heck one Oreo is better than none in my book. However if I would have had a teammate, friend, or even stranger in the room with me, I know without a doubt I would have happily waited to share.

I realized on the way to work today I forgot to bring my lunch, so it was a nice surprise when there was an Apple sitting on my desk with a thank-you note for Support Staff Appreciation Week.... Obviously I ate the apple immediately, instead of saving it for lunch and I think we know the answer to if I could pass the Marshmallow Test.
The Climb Never Ends
Speaking to a friend about life after sports, the question was raised of how we know when we are doing enough. I don't think this is the right question. There will always be something more we can do, more challenges to overcome, and I'm not sure if it is possible to be completely satisfied.

Living is so much more than winning. It is about learning, failing, growing, reflecting, sharing, etc. Delayed gratification is what keeps us going because some of the most important things in life can't happen in a day. The trick is you have to appreciate and see each day for what it is too.

The idea of winning has been ingrained in us as athletes, and it's difficult to adjust to having this as the end goal. The Upward Climb begins trying to define your life after sports,  and finding measurable goals to strive for. Landing a first job out of college is not easy, and even once you are hired, most first jobs are meant to be entry level that will hopefully catapult you into a better career down the road. Two or three years at a position sounds like an easy amount of time to wait for a promotion- but there will be a lot of challenges in those early years that make living them hard.

And it's not just in jobs- it might be going for a run or working-out every day to better yourself when your older. Or going to grad school now for the dream job you won't have for another 2-5 years. Putting 5% of your paycheck into a 401k that you won't get for another 40 years. There's a lot of things we have to do now, that are not fun, but necessary for our long term success.

So instead of asking "Am I doing enough right now?" a better question is- "How can I enjoy what I'm doing now and what I have, while I work towards what I want."

The most hiked mountains in the world aren't conquered for the view at the top- but the experience along the way. It is this same moment-to-moment happiness that you can track daily to help identify the triggers in life. These triggers will be different for everyone- but the foundation will be the same. For example, anticipation for a future event and looking forward tomorrow is a big one for me. Or an interaction with another person, getting a lot done and feeling productive, and feeling healthy after working out or a good night's sleep make me feel happy. When you're happy it's easier to have more days of happiness, similar to how when you're sad it tends to come in bunches too. These triggers can easily be controlled by scheduling your day, and is important to remember when you feel like the upward climb is too much.

No comments:

Post a Comment