In another short and funny six minute TED talk called Don’t Eat the Marshnmallow Yet by Joachim de Posada, the advantages of delayed gratification are tested with four year old kids and marshmallows. If the kid could wait 15 minutes without eating a marshmallow in front of them, they got another one. The original Stanford study with the kids did a follow up when the participants were around 20. They found that 100% of the kids who waited the 15 minutes and got the 2nd marshmallow were successful later in life! Now, this is interesting but raises some questions….
Some difficulties with this study are that the children were taken from Stanford’s child care system, so we can make some assumptions about their family’s income level and to some extent, perhaps even their ethnicity. Would a child who is quite hungry be able to last as long as a well-fed child? This is just one question to be asked. There are other factors that we should consider before assuming that the cause of students’ later success is entirely dependent upon their ability to delay gratification. But despite all the questions about the validity of the study, it couldn’t hurt to have delay-of-gratification skills, right? It seems reasonable.
dePosada decided to test this with Hispanic children and got the same results, though we’ll have to wait fifteen years to see if the kids who waited to eat the marshmallow are 100% successful as those in the Stanford study.
What does this mean for practicing music? Well, if you take the long look, you can think of practice now as not eating the marshmallow. This is difficult to do, though. So you might be better off using the delay of gratification in a more short-term fashion. After you finish your practice, give yourself something that you feel is a reward. It could be a nap, a cookie, a latte, a soak in the tub, a slow walk on the beach with no distractions, a bike ride… Something that you find quick and gratifying. Pavlov was right!
Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.