Marshmallows and you.

A friend forwarded me a recent article about Walter Mischel.
Inventor of the legendary Stanford marshmallow test.
A 1960s study on self-control where 5-year-olds were offered a choice.
An immediate reward of one marshmallow (or cookie or pretzel).
Or twice that amount if they waited 15 minutes for the researcher to return.
Most children tried, yet failed to resist the temptation.
Only one third lasted the agonizing 15 minutes.
I’ve known about this test, and I believe in Mischel’s subsequent conclusions.
Namely, that children’s ability to delay gratification correlates with better life outcomes.
But the writer of the article, or perhaps Mischel, got something glaringly wrong.

“He [Mischel] explains that there are two warring parts of the brain: a hot part demanding immediate gratification (the limbic system), and a cool, goal-oriented part (the prefrontal cortex). The secret of self-control, he says, is to train the prefrontal cortex to kick in first.”

Indeed, we are of two minds.
The feeling mind, the elephant.
And the conscious mind, the rider.
But don’t fool yourself.
The elephant will always “kick in first.”
So either keep the elephant away from stimuli that provokes it.
Put blinders on the elephant.
Or tame the elephant, train it how to react to various stimuli.
But here’s the really tricky part.
Knowing when to grab and savor the marshmallow.
Knowing when to let your animal run free.
Yes, it may take you off a cliff.
But you may also feel the wind in your hair and blood pulsing through your veins.
And isn’t that why we’re really here?