An expert lays out key strategies for how to win at the game of life
A new take on the “marshmallow theory” by bestselling self-help author and much-sought-after motivational speaker, Joachim de Posada, was released earlier this year. The book, Keep Your Eye on the Marshmallow (2013), is a follow-up to two previous volumes, Don’t Eat the Marshmallow … Yet! (with Ellen Singer; 2005) and Don’t Gobble the Marshmallow … Ever! (with Ellen Singer; 2007).
If you aren’t acquainted with the phrase “marshmallow theory,” it refers to a famous psychological experiment that explored children’s ability to restrain the impulse to seek an immediate reward for the promise of greater future rewards. The study design was very simple: a marshmallow is placed in front of a child who is told that the researcher must go out for a bit; the child can eat the marchmallow if they want but, if they wait for the researcher to return after 15 minutes, they will get two marshmallows instead of just the one. Many years after the original experiment, the Stanford researchers found that those children who had refrained from eating the one marshmallow in order to get two had greater academic and career success than those who demonstrated less impulse control. The ability to delay gratification was a significant predictor of success.
In the “marshmallow” series, de Posada expounds on the importance of this key principle for achieving the life objectives most important to you. The ability to keep one’s eye on the prize and not be distracted by short-term triumphs can often trump other talents in ensuring goal attainment.
Keep Your Eye on the Marshmallow focuses on the special problems of trying to get ahead in tough economic times when our perceptions of risk, reward and opportunity often shift. De Posada and Andelman also tackle issues of how “success” should best be defined.
Situations and solutions are illustrated in Marshmallow by engaging parables in which series characters, centered on Arthur, a one-time chauffeur, play out plausible scenarios in which the consequences of various courses of action can be dissected. The book teaches the reader that understanding the psychology behind our economic choices allows us to avoid the pitfalls of following “gut feelings” and conventional wisdom, so that we are truly in control of our economic destinies.
Excerpt from Keep Your Eye on the Marshmallow
(from Chapter 2, pp. 21-22)
A month later, Arthur was again driving Mr. Slow to a talk. This time they were in New Jersey, on the way to an appearance before MBA candidates at Princeton University.
“Arthur, there’s a McDonald’s up ahead on the right. Stop in there for a moment, will you?”
Arthur, thinking they were going to have breakfast, smiled and nodded. Even though he’d had breakfast before he left the house this morning, he could always go for a little snack.
But when they got there, Mr. Slow got out of the car and said, “Arthur, I’m going to the men’s room. Come with me.”
“Just follow me.”
Once the restroom door closed, Mr. Slow started taking his clothes off.
“Mr. Slow,” Arthur said, trying to make a joke, “that’s not what you hired me for!”
“No, no, of course not!” he said, roaring with laughter. “No, today I am going to test you. They don’t know me in Princeton, so you’re going to do the speech.”
Mr. Slow kept removing articles from his three-piece, finely hand-tailored suit and passed them over to his startled chauffeur.
“You’re kidding, Mr. Slow, right? Come on, don’t do this to me. I will happily tell you the speech back in the car, but I will not stand in front of strangers and recite your speech. That’s ridiculous!”
“C’mon, my boy,” Mr. Slow said. “You said you knew my speech. You’re such a big shot that you think you can give my speech? Okay, you can do it today at Princeton University.”
“I cannot do that. No way, sir.”
Arthur was steadfast, determined not to budge.
“Well, if you won’t give the speech, Arthur, you’re fired.”
Mr. Slow sighed heavily and started putting his pants back on.
Arthur looked at his boss of the past decade for some sort of signal that this was all a gag, a big joke. But Mr. Slow wasn’t laughing.
“Mr. Slow, please! I need this job. I cannot be fired.”
Arthur realized he had no choice but to accept the challenge, uncertain whether Mr. Slow would actually fire him in the men’s room of a New Jersey fast-food restaurant.
Arthur dressed as Mr. Slow; Mr. Slow became the chauffeur, carrying on the charade to the point of getting behind the wheel of the car and telling Arthur to sit in the back as a VIP passenger would.
Reaching the university auditorium, Mr. Slow took a seat in the back of the room and nodded to Arthur to take the long walk to the stage. Arthur shook hands with the assorted business school students present; they assumed he was Mr. Slow and, while he never confirmed it, he didn’t deny it, either. Arthur took a seat on the stage as the program got underway.
As his turn to speak drew closer, Arthur’s heart was beating so fast he feared it might leap out of his chest. He had no trouble speaking in small groups, but before him were hundreds of graduate students and their professors. Why had he ever boasted that he could give Mr. Slow’s speech?
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the moderator said, “it’s a pleasure to introduce, from SlowDown! Inc., chairman and founder, Charlie Slow.”
Arthur went to the podium and began.
“Good evening. My name is Charlie Slow.”
There was a profound silence in the auditorium. Arthur felt a wave of horror hit him. They know! he thought. They know I’m not Mr. Slow! My career ‑ no, my life! ‑ is over!
He took a deep breath and remembered it was confidence that put him in this position and he would need some measure of arrogance to survive the situation.
He started talking, one sentence leading into the next, forming paragraphs of shared knowledge, all presented by rote.
In the back of the auditorium, Arthur could see Mr. Slow ‑ dressed as his chauffeur ‑ motioning him onward … and smiling!
Arthur felt his familiar confidence returning and noticed the students and professors hanging on every word despite what he, personally, thought was a rough start. It was like Arthur had the lead in the school play, emphasizing his points with the same dramatic movements that Mr. Slow used.
Everything that Mr. Slow did, Arthur did ‑ only faster. Two minutes faster overall, in fact.
When he reached the end of his prepared remarks, Arthur ‑ as Mr. Slow ‑ said, “Thank you,” and accepted a hearty round of applause, and then made his way back to his seat.
The moderator returned to the microphone, looked back at Arthur, and said, “Okay, now we’ll open the floor for questions.”
Arthur thought he would lose consciousness. He knew the speech, but could hardly be expected to answer questions as his boss!
“No questions,” Arthur said. “I finished my speech ‑ all done.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Slow,” the moderator whispered, his hand covering the microphone, making it clear this was not an acceptable response. “At Princeton University, our MBA candidates always ask questions of our paid speakers. It was explicitly written in your contract … So please, ladies and gentlemen, any questions?”
The first hand went up and the moderator bid a young man to come forward to the microphone.
“Mr. Slow,” he said, “you said that the skills needed to sell low-priced items are much different than the skills you would need to sell high-priced items or high-priced services. Could you expound on that theory?”
Arthur wondered if anyone would notice him throwing up in the potted plant on the corner of the stage.
He did not even begin to know the answer to that question.
Or maybe he did, but it was nowhere in his thoughts right now. He wasn’t even sure what his name was at this very moment. Was this something he knew? Could the audience see the sweat beading on his forehead? Did they hear his heart pounding in his chest? Was there any chance this was just a horrible, horrible dream after eating too many helpings of Akilah’s Cuban mojo chicken?
There was silence throughout the room as people looked at Arthur, who himself looked for the nearest exit. I have to get out of here. I don’t know what to say or do. He saw Mr. Slow’s face, which had turned from pride to anxiety.
As he stared at Mr. Slow for relief, Arthur had a simple idea.
He looked at the person who asked the question and said, “Young man, with all due respect, that is such a stupid question that I will have my chauffeur answer it. Come here, Arthur.” And with that he left the stage, his eyes begging Mr. Slow to save him.
Joachim de Posada, Ph.D., is a bilingual, international motivational speaker, radio and TV personality, author and newspaper columnist who has spoken in more than fifty countries about leadership, team-building, sales and management. His proven methods have crossed over into the sports world; de Posada has worked with famed NBA coach Del Harris, the Los Angeles Lakers and several Olympic teams. He has conducted programs for hundreds of major corporations and professional associations in the U.S. and around the world, including Verizon, Citibank, Pfizer, and Xerox. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Miami where he has been ranked the number one speaker 34 times. Find him on-line at joachimdeposada.com, and watch his TED U Talk at ted.com/speakers/joachim_de_posada.html
Bob Andelman is the author or co-author of 12 biographical, business, management, self-help and sports books. He has been a regular correspondent for BusinessWeek, Newsweek and the St. Petersburg Times, and produces and hosts the popular Mr. Media on-line TV/radio interview show.