The Power of Delayed Gratification
In the 1960s, Stanford researchers designed a simple experiment. They put a marshmallow on a plate in front of a child. The child was told they could eat the marshmallow right away, or they could wait 15 minutes and have two marshmallows. According to Psychology Today, “the children who were able to wait for the second marshmallow without eating the first one scored higher on standardized tests, had better health and were less likely to have behavior problems.”
This decision-making seems elementary to us as adults; we save for vacations and dutifully stash money away in IRAs and 401Ks. But how often do we settle for sleeping in under our cozy covers (one marshmallow) instead of getting outside and putting the miles in (two marshmallows)? Or eating a handful of cookies (one marshmallow) instead of a tangerine (two marshmallows)?
Those two-marshmallow alternatives are the ones that help us achieve our long-term goals even though the one-marshmallow category brings immediate pleasure. From a species survival standpoint, it makes sense to reward eating calorie-rich foods and staying warm. But we’re not trying to just survive; we’re trying to thrive. It can be all too easy to settle for the path of least resistance and hunker down on the couch for the day unless those big goals are kept front and center.