Marshmallow test gone wrong

As a kid I was quickly conditioned to ace the marshmallow test (not with actual marshmallows mind you, that could be considered cruel). So much so that I still experience the after effects as an adult, more on that later. By the logic of the scientists that developed the test, I should be killing it in this society by now. I have been proving them wrong for decades. Here’s what happened…

Did not eat the marshmellow, do not have it either.
Did not eat the marshmellow, do not have it either.

The original Marshmallow experiment found that children more apt at delaying gratification and therefore getting a higher reward were healthier, smarter and more accomplished as adults. The test was complicated but in tl;dr form: a person presented a marshmallow to a subject (a toddler), with the promise that if the subject would not eat it for about 15 minutes, it would receive a second treat in addition to the marshmallow. Person would leave the room, subject would proceed to try to distract themselves from the one marshmallow in order to receive more treats later.

I have found that being top notch at delayed gratification, or maybe actually diverting ones attention, can develop into a certain disconnection (disengagement?) from reality. Because in reality you have to keep at least some attention on the ‘now’, and react to it, to appear alive. Or to stay it.

Picture me sitting on a terrace when a scuffle breaks out. Some guests join in, other run away. I would still finish my coffee savouring every last sip without concern before getting up and walking away, or get beat up, whichever comes first. (Near) car-crashes, falling or burning trees, police running through my street, never excited me up to the point of raising my head out of my book or putting down my drink. On the other hand: I have lost sleep and wake up sweating sometimes, heart pounding, just from the notion that I might be out of a job. You see: I get into fight / flight / freeze mode from ideas, but stay chilled to the max when the actual lion comes running at me.

In the mean time, while I was diligently waiting for the second marshmallow, ignoring the first marshmallow. Ignoring the sweet taste it must have. Ignoring the saucer the marshmallow is on. Ignoring everything around the marshmallow. Not only the saucer, but the table, the whole room, everything in it. Ignoring the production of saliva in my mouth and oh, that sweet promise. I can feel the dry softness in my hands, the stickiness when you bite a piece off. No! Ignore. Ignore. Ignore.

Society changed somewhat. It is no longer the 1970’s dear folks. While you wait for your second marshmallow, the first one gets taken by someone quicker, more agile, more competent than you. And the second marshmallow was not going to be anyway, because, news flash!, promises don’t last forever.

So here I am, without my marshmallow. But there’s an upside. Now that I am almost 50 years old, I have discovered I genuinely don’t need the marshmallow. Of course, I still love it, and would roast the hell out of it on an open fire before savouring it to bits, tiny sweet sticky bits. But when presented with one, I would much rather distribute it, without fear of death by hunger, to someone who really needs it. Slowly learning to do that. Have a merry marshmallow Christmas.

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