WAITING FOR BETTER Many of the greatest achievements require present sacrifice By: Troy Murphy | November 2013
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During the 1960’s, Walter Mischel conducted a famous study at Stanford University. He placed a marshmallow in front of young children, explaining that they could eat the single marshmallow now, or wait and be given a second marshmallow later—one marshmallow now or two later. The wait was too challenging for some, they quickly gulped down the single marshmallow, sacrificing the possibility of a high return in the undisclosed future. Other children, however, waited to receive the promised reward. Typically, they busied themselves with other activities, instead of sitting and starring at the yummy temptation. As promised, they were rewarded for their patience and self-discipline. Decades later, the children from the marshmallow study were recontacted and questionnaires completed. How did life unfold for these children? The new study found that the children who waited for a second marshmallow had stronger adult relationships, more education, and more successful careers—on average than the impulsive children who indulged early.
The impulsive personality faces major obstacles; not because they are bad but because they are impulsive. The impulsive continually withdraw value from their futures. The golden harvest occurs at the end of the season, after plowing, seeding, weeding and nurturing. The gentle stalks of the future require kindness and patience to mature. No matter the inclinations, we are subject to these natural laws; better futures demand some sacrifice of present enjoyments to achieve the bountiful harvest.
The dreadful wait for an unrecognized future becomes less problematic when we can enjoy the process in the present. Constant displeasure in the present gnaws on self-discipline, blurs dreams, and eventually leads to seeking simpler paths. Many eventually tire of waiting, focused on the treat before them; they eat the single marshmallow and worry about the future later.
The further we drift from the obtainable goals; the more unsubstantiated magical promises tempt us. When our debts loom and continue to grow, we buy lottery tickets; we make risky investments; or distract ourselves with purposeless amusements, escaping the torment of the anxiety ridden present. Our utter disregard for the importance of the present to invite a more beautiful future unfolds in disappointment. The more deplorable the present the more apt we become to act without consideration of future consequence. We are sucked into a destructive cycle.
The present isn’t that bad. The present, with all its limitations, doesn’t need to be a padded and bolted dungeon. Searching through human history, we discover most people worked hard to survive. Most our ancestors were not living in the majestic courts, supported by the labors of the commoners. Most our ancestors worked and worked hard. The bountiful harvest wasn’t found but earned. But we do more than simply work, seek shelter, eat and die. There is richness to life—a liveliness to the emotions bursting inside our chests. We experience joys, sorrows and pleasures. We find meaning. The present is formed and shaped in our heads to be desirable or deplorable.
We shouldn’t dread the required work of the present. We can love the process of becoming. The extent of the harvest remains unknown. We prepare, we work, and do the right things. The consequences (harvest) eventually materialize.
The children of the study who waited for the second marshmallow didn’t miserably sit staring at the forbidden treat. The children succeeded by busying themselves with other activities. We can benefit from this lesson. Instead of lusting over what we don’t have in the present, we must get up and get busy. Be purposeful in action, engaging in creative and constructive behaviors. The purposeful action then transforms the future.