Self Control and the Marshmallow Test

A Blogger by the name of Retired Syd recently talked about Marshmallows. She discussed some interesting research that was done  by Stanford University on Delayed Gratification. A  review of this was done by The New Yorker in an article titled Don’t! The Secret of Self Control. The meat (or mallow) of the research was that young children who are able to delay gratification (by not eating one marshmallow now in order to get two marshmallows later) exhibit a trait called self-control. This trait is considered to be highly advantageous because it improves a persons ability to learn.

Fast forward through life to adults planning for retirement. The Car Guy’s Dad always said that if a person saved (and carefully invested) 10% of their earnings from the day they started working to the day they quit working, they would have enough money to live on in retirement. While we didn’t follow his advice completely, we tried to:

-Never use a credit card unless we could pay it off at the end of each month.
-Aggressively pay off our mortgage.
-Never borrow money to buy goods.
-Live on one income only – bank the other.

The Car Guy took an early retirement 7 years ago, well before he reached the age of 60. We believe that delayed gratification helped us to achieve that goal. Finishing school, choosing a career, advancement in the work place, raising a family, lifestyle choices – they were all tied to the ability to think about what we wanted now and the impact that would have on where we wanted to be in the future.

The simple Marshmallow is a good example, I think, of Delayed Gratification. At least, the way we cook them is. I’m thinking of marshmallows and campfires. A bag of marshmallows can sit in my cupboard for a whole winter without seeing the light of day, but take the bag outside to a campfire in the summertime, and they are sure to disappear. But it isn’t an instant process, like whipping the paper off a candy bar, or downing a handful of nuts. There is a slow ritual involved in preparing a marshmallow.

The ideal stick has to be found, and then whittled to the exact right point. Someone has to build a fire – probably a number of someones – the paper bringers, the match finders, the log splitters, the kindling scroungers. Then there is the discussion of how best to stack the paper, wood and kindling.

Once the fire is off and running, the ritual of telling stories, adding more wood, and poking the fire with a big stick, has to take place. When the coals are just right, the marshmallow is skewered and slowly browned until it is golden on the ouside, and drippy goo on the inside. Alternately, the marshmallow can be burned to a crisp in just a few seconds.

Regardless of method, Marshmallows are still a simple and cheap way to demonstrate the value of Delayed Gratification, yes?