You know that phenomenon when you learn something new, purchase something new, or try something new and then you start to see it or hear people talking about it everywhere?
It’s not really a phenomenon as much as it is observing the world around you based on what has caught your current interest, but that’s not the point.
The point is, in the last week or two I have read a lot about the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.
I saw a comment about it first on Facebook. Two days later, I was reading Bringing Up Bebe and there was a portion dedicated to it there, and then I think Sweet Mother referenced it in something I can’t find now so I’m linking to her site.
If you haven’t heard anything about the marshmallow experiment, it is a study of pre-schoolers and their ability to delay gratification. It has been around for 40 years or so and was created by Walter Mischel.
During this experiment, children are put in a room with a marshmallow. The person conducting the experiment tells the child that they are going to leave the room for a while. The child is told that if they can wait until the person returns without eating the marshmallow they will get two marshmallows to enjoy. I didn’t research this heavily, but I did read that the average time a four-year old could last in a room alone with a marshmallow without eating it was 1 minute. Of the 653 children who participated in the original study, 1 in 3 were able to wait the full 15 minutes and receive their reward.
The children who were able to resist the temptation were said to be good delayers. Bad delayers focused on the marshmallow until they eventually succumbed to the temptation and good delayers distracted themselves from temptation by singing songs or making a game out of it.
The Broccoli Test or The Fish Taco Test would have yielded vastly different results in children.
When I hear about the marshmallow test, I immediately think of a game that I played a lot as a kid at church functions or birthday parties called Chubby Bunny.
The object of the game Chubby Bunny is to shove marshmallows into your mouth one at a time and say Chubby Bunny after each marshmallow. You continue this until you can no longer say the words, or asphyxiate. I’m not kidding, at least two people have died playing this game. The person who can hold the most marshmallows in their mouth and still say the words or not die wins.
The association between the two marshmallow games made me think about addiction.
I think most people can identify with addiction in some way. Whether yours is caffeine, alcohol, drugs, nicotine, food, blogging, social media, your smart phone, attention, etc. we all have a marshmallow that would be difficult to resist in this setting if it was placed before us. Put an adult who is in week one of trying to quit smoking in a room with a cigarette and a lighter, and I would bet that most of them would not last the full 15 minutes, even if they were promised two cigarettes at the end of the wait.
With addiction, we pervert something simple that gives us pleasure into a compulsion that ends up controlling us. Detoxing from whatever your addiction might be requires time and attention, and a lot of treating yourself like a bad delaying toddler with a marshmallow until you finally put some distance between yourself and your compulsion.
But it’s easy to slip into an addiction without really realizing it is happening. You go from having a pretty easy time sitting in a room with your marshmallow to playing Chubby Bunny with it until you choke on it.
My brother said something to me about addiction once that stuck with me. He said, “Of course I still want to, even ten years later (I think we were talking about nicotine at the time), and then…I don’t do it.”
If this statement offends you (as it offended me when he said it while I tried in vain to break my own addiction to nicotine) or sounds like a grossly oversimplified way of dealing with addiction, then I’ll let you in on a little secret. You probably aren’t ready to give up whatever it is you’re trying to give up.
For those who are successfully recovering from an addiction, this little nugget of wisdom is probably a big part of your ongoing success. It has certainly been true with the addictions that I’ve overcome in my life and the ones that I still wrestle every day.
I have to treat myself and my mind like that of a bad delaying child. I have to make a game out of it and distract myself. Maybe some day, I will work my way through all of my marshmallows and I won’t have to replace one addiction with another like WordPress stats. That’s the dream anyway, and while I can’t really know how well I would have fared with this test as a four-year old, I think I can safely assume based on my adult behaviors that I would have landed squarely in the bad delayer group.
Do you have an addiction you are struggling with today? Have you fully made up your mind to stop this behavior, or are you still alternating between “being good” and playing a nice game of Chubby Bunny with your marshmallow?
I’m struggling with something today that I really don’t want to give more power to by writing about it specifically.
But immersing myself in writing around it this morning is a personal delay tactic to avoid the other compulsion.
Hitting publish on my post now.