Why Wait? (#921)

There is a famous research study originally performed by Walter Mischel at Stanford University commonly known as “The Marshmallow Experiment”. Essentially, children aged 4 – 6 were put in a room with a research assistant and offered a marshmallow. However, they were also told that if they waited until the research assistant came back 15 minutes later, they would be given two marshmallows.

Less than 1/3 of the children were able to wait long enough to get the second marshmallow. When followed up nearly 15 years later, the children who had delayed their gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow were reported to be significantly more competent than their wait-less peers and scored significantly higher on their SAT examinations.

Conventional wisdom is that the experiment points to the value of self-discipline and willpower in creating success in life. The idea is that when we can overcome our “baser instincts” towards immediate gratification, we will thrive – physically, mentally, and financially.

For example, my wife has more willpower than anyone I know.  She’s the kind of person who would actually get more pleasure from overcoming the desire to have that first marshmallow than she would from eating either of the second two. For her, the ability to delay gratification is its own reward, like a bodybuilder who enjoys the challenge of the daily workout as much or more than the body they build.

And this has served her well in life. She’s fiercely fit, eats well, and takes great care of our children, our home, and our lives. I, on the other hand, have the self-discipline of a somewhat mature amoeba. I’m sort of fit, eat OK, and just about manage to get through my email every few weeks and pay my taxes on time most years.

But I’d put myself up against anyone, including my wife, in the marshmallow challenge, Not because I’ve got willpower, but because I know a secret about life which means I never have to wait for anything.

Here’s the secret:

Nothing happens next.

Now, at the risk of getting a wee bit esoteric, here’s what I mean…

The whole idea of “waiting” is a subset of the idea of linear time. In linear time, night follows day, Winter follows Fall, and at least when I was growing up, “Match of the Day” follows the Ten O’Clock news.

But linear time is a made up concept – it only exists in thought. As the author Gay Hendricks writes in The Big Leap:

When we switch [from linear, Newtonian time to relative, “Einstein time”], we take charge of the amount of time we have. We embrace this liberating insight: since I’m the producer of time, I can make as much of it as I need! By getting the truth of this statement, we make a major adjustment in ourselves. We heal the dualistic split embedded in the Newtonian relationship with time. We are no longer in a us-versus-them relationship with time. We’re the source of time, and by realizing that fact we become the truth of it.

In other words, since time is a made-up concept, it turns out to be far more elastic than we think. And since our thoughts can change in any moment, our experience of time can change in any moment as well.

Here’s an even simpler way of thinking about it:

“Waiting” = Being + Thought

Without the thought of the second marshmallow, there’s nothing to “wait for” – we can simply hang out in a room that happens to have a marshmallow in it until we decide we’re done.

Does this have any practical applications for those of us not engaged in marital marshmallow competitions?

To explore this question for yourself, the next time you find yourself waiting for anything – a coffee, a friend, a train, or the love of your life – notice that the experience of waiting is created via the power of Thought. And notice that before whatever thinking you have of what is yet to come, there is a simple feeling of being that is ever present and always available.

It is eternal. It is infinite. It is the very essence of what it is to be alive.

It is your true nature – and it is right where you are sitting now.

Have fun, learn heaps, and if you’re wondering if it’s time to start living from your true nature… why wait?

With all my love,

Michael

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