Christian Long

Joachim de Posada: Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet

In TED Talks on April 18, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Reflection by KATHY B.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Joachim de Posada:  Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet

We all know what it is like to have to wait for something we desperately want at this instant. We also all know what it is like to see a greater opportunity arise once we’ve already succumbed to the initial temptation. Temptation comes in all forms. It is unavoidable, but it is capable of being overcome.

In his talk, Joachim de Posada discusses an experiment done originally at Stanford University and thereafter in other places around the world that presents children with temptation and gauges the effects of their choices to succumb to or overcome it.

A quick overview of the experiment (which is also discussed by Philip Zimbardo in his talk ) is as follows: young children were put in a room with a marshmallow in front of them, and told that if 15 minutes later they had not eaten it yet, they would get a second marshmallow. However, if they ate it before the 15 minutes was up, they would not get an additional marshmallow to eat. In experiments in both America and Colombia, two out of three children succumbed to the temptation and ate the marshmallow. 14 years later, when the children were in high school, the experimenters found them and discovered that, in general, the ones who had waited to eat the marshmallow were more successful than those who had eaten it before the 15 minutes was up.

So what does this mean?

According to Posada, it means that, generally speaking, people who are capable and willing to delay gratification are more likely to become successful. I completely agree with this. While we may not always follow our own advice, when most people procrastinate on anything, be it homework, work, working out, whatever it may be, there is a little voice in the back of their heads saying, “You should be working! Work now, play later! You’ll regret this!” And yet we still fall to the temptation of the television, phone, computer, pool, etc. We would rather play now and pay the consequences later than force ourselves to work now when we have the option of doing something more enjoyable. We only think about the present.

That needs to change.

The truth is, instant gratification is not nearly as gratifying as that which comes when you’ve had to wait or work for it. You don’t get the same feeling seeing an “A” on an important paper if you didn’t put much effort into it as when you put your whole heart into it and still aren’t sure if you will a good grade in return. You don’t feel as accomplished doing work halfway just to get it done as you do when it takes longer but you are truly proud of it. The general fact is, you won’t get into the college you want if you play all four years of high school and don’t work, you won’t get the job you want if you play all four years of college and don’t work, and you won’t have the rewarding, luxurious life you want if you spend all of your money as soon as you get it and don’t save it for what you truly want, when you can truly afford it. Some of us need to stop focusing entirely on the present, and start focusing more on the future and the indulgences to be enjoyed once the work is complete. That way, we can truly enjoy ourselves, because that voice in the back of our minds won’t be there to nag us to get to work.

That said, in my opinion no one should not focus entirely on the future, because life is short and you never know how long you have, so you should enjoy it while you can. You need to find your own healthy balance between focusing on present gratification and future gratification, so that you do enjoy life while you have it but you also are prepared for a very successful and fruitful future with no regrets.

Finally, I’d just like to say that I respect Mr. Posada, not only for his ideas and beliefs that he expressed in his TED talk, but also because he took the time to respond to every comment left on his video, both commending and criticizing.

Even when people twisted his words and mistook his meaning, he was still very respectful and always thanked anyone who commented, which I appreciate. His talk was not meant to be misconstrued to assume anything about anyone, nor was it meant to completely disregard exceptions. It was simply meant to show that, in general, people who can delay gratification will be better off for a multitude of reasons later in life, which is sensible and true. There is always an exception (except when there is not).

  1. Dear Kathy:

    Thank you so much for your words, for taking your time to watch the talk and writing about it in your talk.

    Your comments are very interesting, in fact, we are now working on the third marshmallow book and we are including your argument in this new book.



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