There’s a study that was back in the 60s and 70s where an experimenter brought had a group of children sit down individually at a table in a room by themselves. He put a marshmallow (or something equally delicious) on the table in front of each child and told him or her that they were free to eat the marshmallow, but if they waited 15 minutes, they could get two marshmallows. He then left the room and observed them through a double-sided mirror. Some of them ate the marshmallow immediately. Other said they would wait for the second marshmallow, but couldn’t handle it and gave in. Only a third of them were able to wait the whole 15 minutes.
Originally they were trying to test when the control of deferred gratification develops in children. It wasn’t until years later that the study became famous, though. The same experimenter that conducted the experiment went back and surveyed the children he had used a couple of decades earlier. He found that those who were able to wait had better education, were healthier, and more successful in general.
If you think about it, it’s kind of funny. I mean, what would happen if they did the same study with adults? I’d like to think that 100% of them could wait the whole 15 minutes, but I’m not so sure. I bet you could think of at least one person who would snatch that marshmallow up without a thought. What if it were a brownie? I’d fail for sure, although mainly to save myself the extra calories of eating two 😉 Obviously. But really, we adults think to ourselves, “It can’t be THAT hard!” But a lot of us are just as bad at it, you just have to change the variables. For example, what if I gave you $50 and tell you that you can spend it now or you can get $100 in a year. What would you do? A year is a long time, you say. So is 15 minutes for a 4-year old.
All of us are guilty of this at some point or another, but some are better than others. It really just comes down to your goals. If you don’t have goals, there’s nothing to defer gratification for, so you’re screwed from the get-go. But if you do have goals, they’ve got to be worth the delay and
When I succeed at delaying gratification financially, it boils down to the question, “Can I live without this?” The answer is yes most of the time. If you do that, I promise you that most of the time, you won’t even remember it a month later. If that’s the case, you obviously didn’t need it in the first place. On certain things, the question is just, “Can I live without this until Christmas or my birthday?” If I can do that, I allow someone else to use their money to buy me what I want 🙂 I did that this year with two books that I was dying to have. Just that itself saved me $30. The same goes for movies. We very rarely see a movie in the theater, opting to wait until it hits Redbox and saving $15-20 in the process. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but you make decisions like that often, if not on a daily basis. Eating out vs. making your own lunch is one daily decision I still struggle with sometimes. I always opt for making my own lunch, but the idea of just stopping by Wendy’s is like a giant, melty marshmallow s’more just staring at me.
So the next time you think you need something, ask yourself, “Do I need this right now?” Do it, and you can thank me later when you’re living it up. It’s the little things, the little decisions, that end up making a huge impact later on.