Is the Marshmallow Test, A Measure of Self Control, Relevant in This Age of Distraction?


What is the Marshmallow Test and Why We are Living in an Age of Distraction

We live in an Age of Distraction. Our Smartphones give us “never ending” pleasure and thrills, and dulls our senses and takes away our ability to focus on a task for more than a few minutes.

Research has shown that attention spans have been steadily decreasing, especially among the Millennials and the Gen Zers, or the Digital Native Generations, who typically cannot concentrate on a specific task and instead, are easily, distracted the point where productivity on the job is affected.

Therefore, we well and truly live in an Age of Distraction. Given this background, measures of Self Control such as the Marshmallow Test which prioritize Deferring of Gratification might not find favor among the present generations.

The Marshmallow Test is one where Kids are told that they can have one fruit now or complete the task and have two fruits.

Over the years, it has been observed that those kids, who forewent the easy choice of having one Marshmallow and instead, had two after the completion of the task, were found to have performed better in later years in their careers and personal lives.

Why the Need for Self Control and Focus are more important Than Ever

So, it is indeed relevant to ask whether such tests have any usefulness in the present age where the dwindling attention spans and reducing powers of focus are making Youth dumber and leaving them with very little self control.

To see how much the Gen Zers are losing focus, just notice anyone in the age groups of 20-30 who immediately start watching videos and other media as soon as they have a minute of spare time.

What more, despite corporates banning Facebook and other social media on the official internet access, still the present generation of professionals find ways and means to amuse and distract themselves?

What this means is that perhaps there is a need for more self control, more than ever, now and hence, it would be better for corporates to start taking the Marshmallow Test seriously and administer it to their employees.

Indeed, by inculcating discipline and self control among the workforce, corporates can up employee engagement and reduce attrition and what is increasingly being known as The Great Resignation, or the trend of Millennials and Gen Zers quitting jobs en masse. So, our argument is that the Marshmallow Test is relevant in the Age of Distraction.

What is Deep Work, Emotional Quotient, and Present Shock and Why They Matter

Having said that, it is also a fact that the Pandemic has made us all more edgy and impatient and hence, Emotional Intelligence aspects have taken a backseat.

For instance, Deferring Gratification that is the base of EQ and the Marshmallow Test is something of a luxury in these times when everything happens now.

The pressure of the instant, known as Present Shock, is so immense that the ability to focus and have self control are giving way to being in a state of permanent suspension all the time.

This leads to stress and burnout that accentuates the lack of self control, thereby creating a Vicious Loop from which there is no escape.

Hence, this is more the reason why even Managers and Senior Leaders ought to take the Marshmallow Test every now and then, so that they do not coerce or force their subordinates to be at their beck and call all the time.

The point here is that Deep Work or the term used by Silicon Valley veterans to denote focused work needs employees to be Mindful and In the Flow without Distractions.

This is where astute and sensitized bosses can get the best from their direct subordinates.

How the Post Pandemic Age Needs Us to Be More Mindful and Engaged With Our Work

We have explained EQ or Emotional Quotient, Marshmallow Test, and Deep Work. Now, we will explore how all three of them are very relevant in this Age of Distraction and more so, in the Post Pandemic Age.

It would be better for corporates to get trained experts and psychologists to sensitize their workforce to realize the importance of the above three concepts and apply them to the real world workplace situations.

For instance, all three terms are linked by the common factor of employees being free from distractions and disturbances.

For this, calls and other interruptions must be minimized as are “pings” and “texts” that irritate the employees and make them lose focus.

The employees too must reciprocate by being Self Controlled and work with Dedication and Focus.

Moreover, while many professionals do keep Social Media pages and Videos as well as Music channels open while working, they must plan their work and ensure completion in the best possible way.

Indeed, we are not against spending time on leisure, just that we recommend not losing focus and being distracted.

This is where the three concepts discussed earlier come handy as it is all about the Time Management and Pacing Oneself.

Lessons for Now

Last, with Work from Home being the norm, younger employees, who lack the maturity of older employees, would need some sort of hand holding and guidance.

This is where corporates can make them take the Marshmallow Test, administer EQ courses, and introduce them to the concept of Deep Work. Business Leaders too can step in with Pep Talks and other Motivational lecture\s to keep them engaged.

Therefore, as we argued earlier, the need for Self Control is more important now as the Age of Distraction is making us all unproductive.

To conclude, it is imperative to remain focused and productive.


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The article is Written By “Prachi Juneja” and Reviewed By Management Study Guide Content Team. MSG Content Team comprises experienced Faculty Member, Professionals and Subject Matter Experts. We are a ISO 2001:2015 Certified Education Provider. To Know more, click on About Us. The use of this material is free for learning and education purpose. Please reference authorship of content used, including link(s) to ManagementStudyGuide.com and the content page url.