In 1972 Professor Walter Mischel at Standford University conducted a test that has come to be known as the marshmallow experiment. A four-year-old child would be put in a room that held only one table and a chair. Then, a marshmallow would be placed in front of them. The child was told that if they waited, they would be given two marshmallows. The adult would leave the room for twenty minutes and if the child waited, then they got the second marshmallow.
Only one-third (out of 600) of the children actually waited. But what’s even more surprising is what the test showed about the children later in life. Those children who were able to wait were more successful — these children were classified as having a higher competency rate, and had higher test scores. They often got better jobs and had more stability in their lives.
So what does this say about us as adults? I, for one, don’t think I could have waited a full twenty minutes for a marshmallow as a four-year-old. Today I see a problem in myself. I often want what others have, even when I can’t afford it. I admit that I am better than I was as twenty-year-old. But I still struggle. It’s a real fight for me not to want everything I can’t have.
The fact remains though, that I had to learn this the hard way. If only my twenty-year-old brain had known that I didn’t need a nice apartment with new furniture and electronics, I might have saved myself a lot of debt.
I got married at nineteen, my husband told me then it would take us seven years to pay off all of our debt (including school loans — and he was in the middle of school) my first reaction was that I didn’t want to wait that long. So we didn’t wait. I was married, and I wanted the appearance of a stable and well-to-do marriage. Today I’m paying the price.
It has been nine years since I got married, and my husband and I finally made the decision to delay our gratifications and start paying down our debt. We’ve gotten through one year, and we have four years to go (not including our house). All this, when we could have been debt-free three years ago by practicing a little patience.
Because I was un-able to delay my gratifications as a youth, I have to re-learn how to think about success. Rome was not built in a day. I am never going to win the lottery, nor am I going to be making six-figure sums overnight. I have to work for my success. I have to put off my immediate wants and look to a brighter future.
I couldn’t see the big picture before, but I see it now. If I don’t delay that gratification, I may never get out of debt. I will probably never get to retire, and my children’s future will be left at higher stakes than it is now.
There is something to that old adage, good things come to those who wait, because that’s the truth. Our patience will take us on the path to success.