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The Power of Long-term Thinking

April 28, 2020

Have you ever heard of the Stanford marshmallow experiment?

Here’s the gist. The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a study on delayed gratification conducted in 1972. They studied a group of children by giving them one marshmallow at the start of the experiment and two options for what to do with this treat. The first option was to go ahead and eat it. The second option was to wait fifteen minutes and receive another marshmallow. So if they could just wait a little while, they could enjoy two treats, instead of one. Follow up studies on this group of children suggested that the ones able to show restraint and enjoy delayed gratification were much more successful later in life—scoring higher on the SATs, achieving higher degrees of education, and even engaging in healthier lifestyles.

However, this same experiment was replicated years later with a much more diverse population of children, and essentially, these earlier findings were debunked. 

And that is actually good news for all of us—especially me. I know for certain that out of all the kids participating in this experiment, I would have been the first one to shove the marshmallow in my mouth! Wait 15 minutes? No way.

This debunked experiment shows that discipline isn’t just an innate skill that certain individuals are born with.

Discipline can be developed over time.

And one of the most important disciplines we can develop is our capacity for delayed gratification.

This unique season is pushing all of us to grow in this area. There are things that we all want right now that we can’t have. We can see them in the distance and know we will have them eventually, but we don’t know when that day will come. Are you able to see this quarantine as an opportunity to work toward the future rather than a time to simply get by?

This week, I want to encourage you to exchange the immediate for the ultimate in your present circumstances. This means that today (in the midst of global pandemic) intentionally invest in things that will yield a greater reward tomorrow.

So what are you doing in this season that will add value to the next?

Think about your family. With extra time at home, what investment can you make in your children that will create compound interest down the road? 

Think about your work. How can the things you’re doing remotely inspire you to innovate and make your corporate workflow more efficient when you’re all in the office again?

Think about your finances. How can being forced to trim your budget help you spend money more wisely in the future and find more room to give?

Think about your relationships. How can growing in empathy through shared disappointments and sorrow today help you develop real, lasting friendships?

Let’s not waste this quarantine. Sometimes being forced to wait is fertile soil for us to grow in ways we never expected.


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