You can have the marshmallow and eat it too

A guy put some children in a room and told them: “Kids, the decision you make in this room today will determine how awesome you will be later in your life.” Those may not have been the exact words, though. He simply put a marshmallow (soft candy that tastes like fluffy cotton) in front of them and told them they could either eat the marshmallow right away or eat it after 15 minutes. If they waited, they would get another marshmallow as a reward for the wait. Some kids said, “screw this (not the exact words again)” and ate the marshmallow immediately. Some ate it after 5 minutes. Some closed their eyes in agony – opened eyes – promptly ate. About one-third waited.

If you have stared into the abyss of a warm chocolate cake, you know how agonizing that wait can be. But, you also know the chocolate-smeared shame that accompanies wolfing down the cake. And that is just one of the 35000 decisions we make every day. That number seems unnaturally large because there are a number of  small, insignificant decisions we don’t remember but have to make nonetheless. It’s overwhelming to consider how each of those decisions leads to one another and affect our lives. Our days, in short, become a collection of decisions we make.

But, none of these decisions matters on the big day. Because the stakes are high. Your choices aren’t a Yes or a No. There’s the agonizing choice of waiting. This is what makes one decision far greater than the others: those extra choices that could determine how awesome you will be later in your life. But, often, the complexity of a decision is not in the choices as we often believe, but in our imagination of the outcome of the choices. And the problem with hard decisions is that our imaginations run wild telling us how this one decision could make or break our life, leaving us in an indecisive paralytic state. So, we stare at the marshmallow that’s our big decision. Chances are that you are staring at more than one marshmallow. There are various ways to determine your marshmallow: Pro-con lists, asking 95 different people, reading about what others did, and finally throwing your hands up in the air and saying: “I am more confused than ever now so, screw it, any marshmallow will do (mostly exact words).”

We fail at this because we believe one decision controls the rest of our future. But, when you look back, this decision rarely features in the one you remember fondly/regretfully looking back. What you remember is one of the 34999 random insignificant decisions you took on a random day – the decision you hardly gave a second thought. We are at a time when we are inundated with choices and these choices make it difficult to make decisions. But the paradox of that is every big decision’s outcome is only as good as the number of choices it creates for you. You can’t determine how awesome your future will be – only whether you will have enough choices you can connect looking back.

The marshmallow experiment went on to show how the children that waited the 15 minutes had better scores at school and overall did well in their lives. The children didn’t know that when they started. The ones that waited only knew they would get another marshmallow if they waited. And that’s the first thing you should try to find out about your big decisions: which ones create the most number of choice for you – which one gives you a second marshmallow.

One thought on “You can have the marshmallow and eat it too

  1. The Convert brought me here.
    As I was reading this I thought about “Waiting for Godot” and how all of us are waiting and only a very small percent realize it. Waiting for what? All good questions without any real answers. (If only god were a marshmallow at least we would get to enjoy him or her or it.) In my case I am waiting to die. I have decided to focus on that…by living as much as possible…live puts death in very sharp contrast. Time is short, this I know. My hope is that my death is not drawn out. I’d like to be one of those guys gone before he hits the floor. I’d like to write one more book. The title is “Spider in My Mouth”. I watched a bootleg copy of “Fury” last night and it reminded me of how very thin life is and how easily it is for death to slice through our skin. Maybe I’ll never finish the book, but it won’t be for lack of trying and I can not longer wait. I need to say one last word. There is one last word and I want it to be complete. Thanks SNAR and it I enjoy reading your stuff. Duke

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