I don’t remember where I read it, but a group of researchers did an experiment where they put a bunch of children in a room and placed a marshmallow in front of them. The kids could eat the marshmallow, or if they waited, they would get two.
What do you think happened?
The researchers learned that the children who were able to delay gratification achieved a greater quality of life over the long run than those who went ahead and ate the marshmallow.
With new cases of COVID declining, we’re in the middle of an experiment like that now, and we need to wait to eat the marshmallow.
By the time this column hits the streets – I’m writing this the Friday before the Labor Day weekend – we’ll know how many people cannot delay gratification for something better.
It all boils down to willpower.
Some people say willpower is a finite resource and others compare it to a muscle that can get tired but can grow with a little exercise.
I don’t know which is more accurate. All I know is some days I have it and some days I don’t.
People make thousands of choices a day allocating that willpower.
If you put a marshmallow in front of me and I’m hungry, I’m probably going to eat it. If I’m not hungry, but it’s just been a long day, I’ll probably eat it then, too, because my reserve has been spent elsewhere.
It’s never about eating the marshmallow.
What gets lost right now is that living under a pandemic is a constant strain on your willpower, even if it’s not in the front of your mind, it’s taking up space in the background.
It’s like that ghost you swear is hiding out in the corner of your office or bedroom. You turn to look, and it’s not there, but you can feel it watching.
Thanks to this extra strain, we’re starting to see other decisions lose out to a lack of willpower like when you get on one of the many long, straight stretches of road on post and decide to hammer the pedal a little bit.
You know you shouldn’t, but you’ve already spent your willpower doing things you didn’t want to do.
The problem is that once you do that, then you get a ticket.
Then the police on post find the handgun you forgot you left in your middle console.
And, the next thing you know, you’re looking at a federal weapon charge just because you ran out of willpower that day.
It’s always the little decisions that get you, the ones that are about the size of a marshmallow.