The Marshmallow Test – They Got It All Wrong

Have you ever heard of the marshmallow test? If not, let me start by saying that this is a famous experiment. Allegedly, the experiment aimed to identify the ability of becoming successful in small kids. In short, four year old kids were given a marshmallow, they were put in an isolated room and they were told they’re going to get another marshmallow in a few minutes IF they won’t eat the first one. But a movie is worth a thousand words:

After a few years, the kids were evaluated and researchers found out that the kids who waited for the second marshmallow were more successful than the kids who didn’t. Out of this experiment, a concept called “delayed gratification” (or deferred gratification, according to Wikipedia) emerged. According to this concept, people who are able to delay gratification for longer periods of time are more likely to become successful in life.

While I do agree to some extent with this concept, I don’t really see how the marshmallow test supports this. I gave it a lot of thought in the last few weeks, and, to be honest, I don’t think the marshmallow experiment is about delayed gratification. I think they got it all wrong.
The Decision

First of all, the test took for granted that the kids would really want the second marshmallow. Like this was something that every kid in the world would do. Something compulsory. Well, I don’t think all the kids are wanting 2 marshmallows in a chunk. They may crave one marshmallow and just won’t care about the second one.

Kids have the ability to decide. If they decide they would really want the second one, then the experiment will challenge their ability to delay gratification. Without this decision, the test is not clear. So, by just implying the kids are all wanting 2 marshmallows, the test is becoming a little blurry to me.
The Promise

Let’s say part of the kids agreed to want the second marshmallow. Now, they got a promise that if they follow a certain path, they will get it. This promise is in fact a prediction. The future was described in a certain way. I think we’re talking about the ability to see things that aren’t there yet.

Last time I checked, this was called vision. The capacity to create the future out of nothing. The kids were promised something that wasn’t there and I think this is amazing: those kids were actually seeing the second marshmallow in their heads. They pictured it before it was manifested.
The Trust

And finally, they had absolute trust that the promise will become true. Trust is fundamental in this experiment. If they wouldn’t trust the promise, they will never waited for the second marshmallow to come. Without believing the fact that the second marshmallow will manifest, they wouldn’t wait.

I think the test would have yelled completely different results if they would have repeat it several times and every other time the second marshmallow wouldn’t manifest (for whatever reasons: they forgot about it, the world crisis, a dishonest business partner, etc). I think the results would have been surprising, to say the least.
What Makes You Successful?

To the core, the experiment proved something fundamentally true, but the general conclusion was wrong, in my opinion. Delayed gratification has little to do with becoming successful. Delayed gratification is a mild form of asceticism: let’s deprive ourselves from some really good stuff now, because we will get some great stuff later. The only way this could work is by helping you maintain focus on the target. By staying alert and keep the goal in sight. Nothing more.

But I don’t think this is what really makes you successful. The key to that is something that the experiment revealed, but nobody acknowledged so far. The key to success is the ability to take decision (decide you really want a second marshmallow), to predict the future (picture the second marshmallow in your head, before it’s manifested) and trust the future will give you the second marshmallow (if you follow a certain path). In this specific experiment, the path was a restrictive one: just don’t eat your first marshmallow, and you’ll get a second one. But that doesn’t automatically mean you have to restrain yourself in order to become successful.

I find this experiment really fascinating, once you get over the simple layer of pleasure and gratification. The core of the experiment is: decision, promise and trust.

How many times you decided you want something? How many times you pictured in your head that something before it was manifested? And how many times you trusted your own power that you will get that thing, if you follow a certain path? This is what makes you successful and, with all due respect, this has very little to do with delayed gratification.

If I would believe this theory, that would mean every successful man is a type of ascetic. Keep delaying the gratification until they get more. But in my experience successful people are almost always people who enjoy life more than the average. Most of the time they’ll taste life with much more intensity than everyone.

Now, scroll up and look at the video again. What are you seeing? What is your second marshmallow right now? A house? A relationship? More money? If you decided you really want the second marshmallow, make a promise you will get it. In the near future, you will have that thing. It will manifest. Just keep it in your head. Now, just keep your focus on it. Don’t focus on something else, do whatever you have to in order to manifest your second marshmallow. Follow your path. Stay there.

In less time than you think, the door will open and somebody will give you the second marshmallow.


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