RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Tag: Distraction

One Marshmallow or Two? The Lost Art of Delayed Gratification

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A desire indulged spontaneously offers little more than momentary, fleeting pleasure – a treat, whose value is briefly inflated before it melts with a small sigh across our memory.

That which has been anticipated, struggled over and procrastinated against carries within it our best efforts in the shape of an earned understanding.  The resulting fulfillment is part of us, radiating a deep and lasting satisfaction that the sugary goosebumps of a treat can never hope to imitate.

It is more than 5o years since Walter Mischel’s social experiment with four year olds, in which they could enjoy the instant pleasure of eating a single marshmallow or wait twenty minutes and have two. Each child was left alone to make the choice. It was a battle between desire and self-control; gratification and delay.  A seemingly simple tussle and yet the ability to resist impulse is a fundamental emotional skill, the foundation stone of self-control.  The children who managed to wait did so by distracting themselves, demonstrating perseverance towards fulfillment of a future goal.  Follow up studies showed that those who managed to resist temptation went on to lead happier and more successful lives than those who gave into it.

Our capacity to resist is under threat.  Modern life teases, tempts and torments, seducing us into believing that not only must we have the latest phone, the most exotic holiday or the best job, we need to be the first.  We expect to achieve with limited effort on our part – because we deserve it, don’t we?  We have conformed to – and now embrace – an era of instant gratification and our ability to satiate our constant demands has become the currency by which we value ourselves and judge others, the scale by which we perceive our success.  It is the market by which our economy thrives or dives, the treadmill updated from industrial 20th to digital 21st century. Gone are the days when saving up for, or working towards the object of our desire was not only necessary but character building, strengthening resolve, patience and the ability to endure discomfort and disappointment.

 Patience is a word out of sync with our modern society.  We are so used to our desires being  instantly met, that a certain complacency sets in and we struggle to endure the discordant sensations of wanting and lack.  Waiting feels an unreasonable request, we expect it not of ourselves but of others;  so we complain and demand like a two year old whose needs are not attended to.  The planning and  anticipation of fulfillment has become the new addiction, the skin deep ‘high’ satisfying little more than a momentary whim before we’re seeking the next fix.  Lasting satisfaction comes from striving, embedding our heart and soul within our endeavours, elevating the pleasure and value way beyond the instantaneous.

The art of balancing treat and toil is fast disappearing. Let’s refuse to settle for indulgent underachievement and strive for the infinitely more satisfying depths of delayed gratification.

And then enjoy a treat!  One marshmallow or two . . . .

. . . . and a peaceful New Year . . . .

Peace . . . is something we rarely experience.

Our daily lives don’t provide for peace.  We are surrounded by sound, from piped musak in shops and cafes, to advertisements which blare from screens large and small, to the discordant shrill of a lawn mower and toys which create more noise than the children who play.  An undeclared competition for our attention, it is a background stress we barely notice –  until we remove ourselves from it.  So accustomed are we that the mere thought of silence has become quiet dis-arming.

   Silence separates us from our daily lives and all with which we are familiar; it confronts and challenges us with the uncertain, allowing in thoughts and conversations with ourselves which we have previously conspired to keep at bay.  Quietness is the gateway to the unknown, initially a fearful place to be and just as an addict craves a fix, we look and long for distraction.  Our defense mechanism is to drown out the external commotion by immersing ourselves in a cacophony of our own choosing, a personal aural diet selected from an i-menu of endless options and drip fed through earphones barely visible.

Faced with exchanging sonance for silence even for an hour, many will experience the alarm of impending detoxification.  But as the edge of our discomfort starts to dissolve and abate, so we begin to allow ourselves to enjoy the settling quietness and embrace a sense of relief from the incessant clatter of everyday life.  To be silent is not to become still but to go about our tasks in full awareness and re-discover forgotten pleasures as other senses come alive and we begin to notice details previously shouted down.  Quietness is where we can hide: it is not the tortuous prison many fear but rather a release from a world where our sense of self is constantly diluted and homogenized.

To seek out peace once in a while from an exhaustive world, is to nurture and experience the joy of renewal and growth.  It is an act of independence, a bid for personal freedom and a place of privacy to be cherished and treasured .

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