I found myself in an intriguing psychological conundrum this morning as I walked home from Starbucks with a coffee and doughnut in hand. The doughnut was from the supermarket, and the only reason I had this jam-filled, caramel-coated, sprinkle-dusted treat, was because I received an instant win token from the store the previous day and was collecting my delectable prize.
Now, as I exited the store, I debated about when to take my first bite. There were seats outside facing the parking lot, but my pastry deserved a better view than that. I began walking home with my doughnut in a napkin, salivating at the thought of biting into its colourful, sugar-glazed flesh. But halfway home, when I figured a view wasn’t necessary, and I didn’t need my feet up to enjoy my delicious treat, my heavy-handed conscience stepped in and chastised me for my lack of restraint.
There’s an insightful TED Talk called, Don’t eat the marshmallow! from a few years back, which presents research conducted on a group of young children. The experiment was aimed at measuring each child’s ability to exercise delayed gratification, meaning, to see if they were prepared to ‘suffer’ in the short term for future gain. In summary, from what I remember, the kids are left in a room with a marshmallow on a plate and are told if they hold off eating the sweet for fifteen minutes, they’ll be given another marshmallow as a reward.
Some kids eat the marshmallow before the time is up and some don’t. The ones who display self-control and wait, are proven to have experienced greater success in their later years compared to the ones who ate the marshmallow straight off. Take this evidence with a grain of salt, but if I were one of those kids, not only would I have left the marshmallow on the plate, when a second marshmallow was offered to me, I would have stuffed it in my pocket, and taken them both home for dessert.
During Easter, when I was a kid, I used to save my chocolate eggs like a squirrel preparing for winter. At times, I kept them for so long the chocolate turned white and became inedible. So here’s a question for you TED, is it possible to delay gratification for so long it actually turns out to be negative?
Most of us are terrible at celebrating success and enjoying what’s in front of us in the present. When we reach a milestone, we shift the goalposts and focus our attention on the new target before even taking a breath. I wondered if this principle applied to my doughnut. Should I be enjoying a bite while the desire is there, or would the temptation destroy my self-discipline for the future?
I know I have a tendency to overthink things, but it’s my nature to be curious and regimented. At least now I’m home I can put my feet up and look out the window because my doughnut’s still waiting to be eaten.