Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Marshmallows and Impulse control
One day, many years ago, I was sitting in a Starbucks, and I had a coffee with the reading I wanted to do. I saw a beautiful display of a book I wanted to buy a friend as a gift.The book was new, and an instant bestseller. This was ideal timing indeed.
Even as I looked at the display, I knew I would visit the local monster, corporate bookstore in a few days. My knowledge was greater still. I know that hardback bestsellers have a sizeable discount at that store. I knew in a couple days I would most likely be in a place where I could buy the exact same book at a five dollar saving.
I drank my coffee, and I stared peacefully at the book I just bought. I do not want this to be a celebration of impulsiveness I believe my goal is to transcend impulsiveness, and remember whatever it is my mother told me about deferred something or other. I can't remember everthing she says. Buying that book, there and then, felt good. I wanted to do it. That display was there for me. I felt it. I felt as if the stars were aligned. This was my harmonic convergence. Buying that book at that moment felt wonderful.
It feels better than my past choices to use an ATM card at the nearest bank , ignoring the up to five dollars in tolls, when -for th price of a pack of gum- I could stand in line at a grocery store, and claim the same amount of cash back at no penalty. Earlier in my life, impulse control was a much greater problem for me than it is today.
So, now I am thinking about Walter Mischel, a psychologist who while working at Stanford University in the 1960's told children in a controlled study that he will give them a marshmallow. The child was informed that if they do not eat the marshmallow before he returns, the child will get another marshmallow.
Mischel, apparently not an impulsive man, proceeded to follow the children's development over the next fifteen years of their lives. The children that waited the twenty minutes without eating the marshmallow were students who in later life were well adjusted, performed better in school, and scored higher on SAT tests.
I never cared much for marshmallows, but even then I would probably have fallen in the impulsive group. Still, I ask myself what could I accomplish in life if I continue to practice reasonable restraint. So far I am just getting more grateful, and more peaceful each day. I remember a man telling me , "Keith, if you absolutely need to buy something today, wait."