Did you pass the marshmallow test today?

I’m finding that the deeper into this COVID-19 isolation we get, the more focused I’ve been on educating my children. This week, my wife and I decided to try the famous Stanford Marshmallow experiment on our triplets.

The experiment was first done at Stanford University as part of a study on delayed gratification. The researchers would offer the children the choice between one immediate marshmallow, or two marshmallows if they waited a period of time. The researcher would leave the room, so the children were alone with the marshmallow for a good 15 minutes or so.

We wondered how this would play out with our little ones, so we gave them each a giant marshmallow, with the promise of a second one if they were able to wait five minutes without eating it. The two boys did pretty well and waited obediently, even though they were tempted to take a nibble. My daughter, however, could not contain herself and enjoyed every bite before the five minutes was up, even with one of her brothers repeatedly reminding her not to!

Our experiment was all in good fun, but if you think about it, we all face the marshmallow test every day.

Ask yourself, what’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you grab your phone to check what’s new, or do you take the two minutes to wash your hands and say Modeh Ani? The satisfaction of checking your phone may be immediate, but if you can delay that gratification, training yourself to thank G-d first thing every morning, you’ll see that your life will transform in the long term.

Before you dive into your work emails, take the time to wrap tefillin and pray. You won’t see the results immediately, but over time you will develop an invaluable connection with the One Above.

And consider teaching your children to eat only kosher. The temptation to eat the non-kosher candy may be tremendous, but the self-control they will learn by delaying that gratification will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Keeping the laws of mikvah means you cannot be with your spouse until she dips in the mikvah, but the reward for the wait is a strong and vibrant marriage!

In fact, so many aspects of Judaism are about delayed gratification, it even has its own term: Itkafya.

For the last two months, we’ve all been in a large-scale marshmallow test. Our health experts and government officials have told us we need to remain in social isolation. It’s the only weapon we currently have in our arsenal to fight COVID-19. If we exit our homes we risk becoming sick and infecting others. And it’s hard. We want to go outside. We want to enjoy the beautiful weather, see friends and family, get back to work, go on with life. But if we can just hold on a little longer, we will reap the rewards of a much safer world.

Researchers in the original study followed the children’s progress over the following decades and found that those who resisted the instant gratification turned out to be more positive, self-motivated, and persistent, better able to face difficulties and achieve their goals.

Now, I think my daughter will be just fine even though she technically “failed” the test.

But ask yourself this — did you pass the marshmallow test today?

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

About the Author
Zimbabwean-born Rabbi Uriel Vigler has been directing the Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side of Manhattan together with his wife Shevy since 2005. In addition, he founded Belev Echad which helps wounded IDF soldiers. He has a weekly blog on current events. He is the proud father of eight children (including triplets) and leads a very young, vibrant and dynamic community.
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