Friday, May 20, 2011

Can you wait for your marshmallow?

A while back, our pastor showed a video at church that was hilarious and adorable and very, very insightful.  Children were each given a marshmallow and told that if they waited until the adult came back, they'd get another marshmallow and they would get to eat both.  If they wanted, they could eat the first marshmallow immediately, but they would not be given the second one if they did.  They were essentially given the choice of instant gratification vs more payoff in the end.  Of course, nearly every child was unable to keep themselves from eating the marshmallow and losing out on the second one.

My apologies to our pastor, Saleem, if he's reading this, but I don't for the life of me remember where exactly he went with that sermon. I do, however remember the video very well.  For starters, the kids were straight up adorable and you just don't forget something like that.  More than that, though, this video makes you think about when we do this in our adult lives.  In a culture where everything we want is instantly available, we tend to forget the benefits of waiting.  In a culture where we are encouraged to do what we want when we want it, we also forget about the benefits of doing things the harder way now in order to reap the  greater benefits later on.

I have been dealing with awful tendinitis in my leg for the past month or two.  It's really painful and has made running (and sometimes even walking) difficult.  There seem to be two responses to this when I'm talking about it with someone.  There are the other athletes/former athletes/other "exercise nuts" who deeply sympathize and groan with me in my pain, but encourage me that it won't last forever and I'll be running 24 minute 5K's by the end of summer.  Then there are the people who say, "That's why I don't run/work out/do sports.  It hurts too much." and/or, "You're crazy."  This video is a great explanation of why I'm willing to work through the temporary pain of sore muscles, sports injuries and mental conditioning and keep on running and cross training when it would be easier to just say, "Oh.  I'm injured.  This hurts too much.  I'm done."

While so many people around me are eating their marshmallow now, I'm saving mine so I get another one later on.  By working through temporary pain and pressing on, I'm decreasing pain of joint and bone problems later in life and increasing the quality of life I'll have later one when I'm in my 60's, 70's and beyond.  By spending the time and will power to get to the gym 4-6 days a week, I'm adding that time and more back on to the end of my life.  Yes, I'm aware that I could be hit by a truck tomorrow, but keep in mind that if I am hit by that truck and I survive, I'll have a better and faster recovery because of the shape I'm in.  I might have to chose a run over sleeping in today, but tomorrow I'll have greatly decreased the odds of my getting diabetes, heart disease and a whole host of other health problems.  And if I do get cancer or something else bad and unavoidable, having lived a physically disciplined and healthy lifestyle now will help me with recovery and survival later on in life.  My risk of a life altering injury due to being an athlete is tiny compared to the risk of my having heart disease or becoming diabetic later in life if I'm not athletic now (trust me. . . my family medical history is not pretty).

There are also health benefits in the here and now.  The marshmallow analogy fails to demonstrate this aspect of where I'm going with this, but it's true too.  It's hard to explain to someone who is used to not being in shape what kind of difference you feel when you are in shape, but once you're there, you notice.  I have never been overweight.  I'm not bragging or trying to make anyone feel bad.  I admit that I'm just lucky and have good genes somehow.  But I was NEVER in shape until two years ago when I started running.  I was a flabby thin.  These past two years, I've felt more mentally and physically able to do anything I set my mind to than I ever imagined was possible.  I'm more relaxed, have better stress management and can have more fun with my family.  My hips that my 2nd child destroyed during pregnancy are stronger and work better.  I sleep better.  Some of the benefits of marriage even benefit from being in better shape too.

I think that this "marshmallow now" psychology accounts for much of what we see in our culture.  Why, when the evidence is clear and overwhelming that there are dire health risks involved with smoking do people continue to smoke?  Why is pre-marital sex so prevalent in our society?  There are so many things that we could draw parallels to.

I have to say, it's sort of tiring to hear people around you tell you you're crazy for waiting to eat your marshmallow.  It doesn't matter how much you yell, "You'll get more marshmallows in the long run if you don't eat that one now!"  You're still the crazy one.  What's so crazy about thinking the second marshmallow makes it worth taking the slightly harder road now?  Why are people so defensive about their choice to eat the marshmallow now that they have to make you feel bad for waiting?

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