Marshmallows and Marathons

They say life is a marathon, not a sprint. This phrase refers to the mindset of thinking about the long term when making decisions and being cautious of overly expending energy too early in a process. Lena Rubisova remarks, “A key mindset present in both endurance athletes and business professionals is the ability to visualize the end goal and the ability to achieve it.” This December, I participated in the California International Marathon in Sacramento, where I took on 26.2 miles for the first time. Many people have asked me how I’ve gotten to this point in my running endeavors, so I would like to share a little about marshmallows.

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The concept of delayed gratification was first introduced to me when reading about The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment back in high school. The experiment “laid the groundwork for the modern study of self-control.” This longitudinal study presented pre-school children with a choice. The experimenter would walk into the room with a single marshmallow. They would tell the child that they had to leave for a few minutes, and were welcome to eat the marshmallow in the meantime. However, if the child waited until the researcher returned, he or she would be given a second marshmallow.

The experiment followed up with the same participants as teenagers. Those who were able to wait until the researcher returned “were more likely to score higher on the SAT, and their parents were more likely to rate them as having a greater ability to plan, handle stress, respond to reason, exhibit self-control in frustrating situations and concentrate without becoming distracted.”

Simply put, endurance running has taught me how to wait for a second marshmallow. When life presents the choice of instant gratification versus delayed gratification, I have cultivated the discipline to habitually choose the latter most of the time. After all, two marshmallows is better than one. Knowing that time and effort is an investment for a greater reward later makes waiting worthwhile.

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However, the notion of life being a marathon rather than a sprint also indicates the importance of maintaining stamina. Always choosing to delay gratification can make us impatient and presents the possibility of burnout. Once in a while, it’s okay to just eat the darn marshmallow. 

Although the correlation between marathon running and marshmallows may seem far-fetched, the point is that achieving big goals requires an ability to invest in time rather than spend it.