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What I'm reading #48: Eat your marshmallows, but keep some too

By Sam Instone - December 02, 2021

This is a long weekend and camping fever has taken the UAE by storm.

I plan to take my sons to the desert to cook marshmallows on a fire.

What life lessons can we all learn from marshmallows?

In the 1960’s, researchers at Stanford University led by psychologist Walter Mischel conducted a series of experiments in which children were asked to sit alone in a room with marshmallow.

If they could refrain from eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes, they were promised a second marshmallow to go with it.

The studies found that children who could resist the urge to eat the first marshmallow were found to have better outcomes later in life, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.

Now, I don’t completely agree with the outcome of these experiments - having seen many impatient kids grow up into patient, successful, happy, and healthy adults (plus, a person’s future cannot just be determined by a marshmallow).

But perhaps I agree with the broader findings that delaying gratification – resisting the temptation of a smaller but more immediate rewards, in preference for a larger or more enduring reward later – is one of the keys to long-term success in life, business, investing, and almost everywhere.

In my own experience, the ability to delay gratification and adopt a long-term, client-centric business model with a 25 year+ business plan, has certainly helped me differentiate from the traditional financial services industry who are hell-bent upon short-term reward.

A person’s ability to delay gratification relates to other similar skills such as patience, impulse control and willpower, which are all required for success.

Contrast this with the general culture of today that teaches us ‘the more the merrier.’

We typically want (or at least our limbic/chimp brain wants) progress and we want growth quick and fast.

However, with this comes a heavy price to pay.

We give up our time on unnecessary items, we spend our resources on things that we don't need, and we accumulate mess for the next generations to handle.

We live selfishly and seek what we're living for today – instant gratification, or the need to experience fulfilment without any sort of delay or wait.

But as Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon said, “Seek instant gratification – or the elusive promise of it, and chances are you will find a crowd there ahead of you.”

The biggest problem with instant gratification is it doesn't grant lasting satisfaction to us.

Its entire purpose is to substitute the deep pleasure of earned enjoyment, with the fleeting pleasure of instant enjoyment.

It's easy for us to be blinded by what we really want now, versus what we need over time.

We forget that there's a mountain of ‘marshmallows’ waiting for us – and when we may need them the most – if we can just keep our heads down, do the work, and resist the immediate reward of, say, spending our money on things that offer us instant gratification but do not fit into our category of needs.

Tying this in with the ideas of frugality and compounding, we must save money and delay some gratification, if that doesn't compromise on our living today.

At the same time, it's always good to remember the counter idea about ‘how much is enough?

Here, I am reminded of what Warren Buffett advised a 13-year-old in 2019, when the latter asked him how kids can develop the delayed gratification skill.

Buffett replied:

“If you aren’t happy having 50 thousand dollars, you’re not going to be happy if you have 50 million…a certain amount of money does make you feel better, just in terms of being more secure. I probably know as many rich people as just about anybody…I don’t think they’re happier because they get super rich. I think they are happier when they don’t have to worry about money…you don’t see a correlation between happiness and money, beyond a certain place. So, don’t go overboard on delayed gratification.”

The long and short of this, is that you must learn to delay some gratification, just not all.

Strike a balance.

If you have ten marshmallows, save five or six for tomorrow...

But enjoy the rest today.

P.S. Balance: How to invest and Spend for Happiness, Health and Wealth is the title of my friend Andrew Hallam’s new book, due to be released on 18 January, 2022.

You can pre-order a copy here or receive a free copy if you become an AES client between now and January 31st 2022. 


A question for you

Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life. What choices will you make today?



“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” - Aristotle

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago” - Warren Buffett