It all began with the Marshmallow Test.
Present a child with a single marshmallow, tell them that they could have instant gratification by eating one there and then, or wait until an adult returns, and receive two instead.
This test, carried out in the 1960’s spawned a raft of experiments designed to promote the benefits of self-control. Those children who waited for two sweets, were reported as less likely to succumb to obesity, and more likely to succeed at college, among an array of other positive outcomes. Interestingly, few other studies were able to replicate psychologist, Walter Mischel’s results.
From then on, behaviour modification became more popular than ever. It was essential to manage expectations, rein in our tempers at work, become martyrs for the good of society, forsaking our own happiness in the process. These draconian measures are so entrenched, almost anyone who strays even a little from the path of self-control is instantly labelled as a deviant.
But who wins in this cycle of restrictions?
Self-control as a behaviour management tool is a successful construct, since it relies on an individual’s fear of failure, societal shaming and the retention of a favourable reputation. People go to extreme lengths in this limiting environment, working 18 hour days, multitasking until health collapses and exhaustion erodes every synapse in the brain.
Instead of pointing the finger of blame at the line manager imposing impossible work conditions, the broken individual is culpable for not managing their time better, or finding more efficient ways to complete Herculean workloads.
Which person in this scenario has suffered at the hands of self-control?
The boss delegating 90% of their own work, while kicking back on the golf course evenings and weekends, or the diligent but shattered employee, who is letting everyone down?
What if the Marshmallow Test had never been adopted as a model for reform at all?
What if the average person cared nothing for the opinions of others?
I suspect one of two things would happen. You would still get children who want instant gratification, who grow up to be domineering, overbearing and dictatorial personality types. Similarly, you would also get delayed gratification children developing into hard workers, but would the extremes be so prominent?
Why is it that judgement should be poured on those who are already burdened, yet none on those who broke the camel’s back?
We are conditioned to believe that this is simply the way things are, but aren’t we all complicit in bring this society about?
Will we reach retirement and regret the times when we had the chance to swipe the marshmallow and run?
Will we look back on our lives and remember with fondness, all the times we pulled a one-hundred hour week to complete a project, only to discover the entire endeavour shelved the following day? It’s more likely that we will look back and discover that our healthy and most active years were spent achieving someone else’s dreams. A boss’s commendation or promotion, a company’s profit target, an accolade that was won at the expense of our sanity.
We embrace society’s restrictions as the only way to live. Each generation is taught that these values are the route to success; work hard, keep your mouth shut, accept that life is drudgery.
Obedience to this paradigm is damaging.
The longer each of us suffers, biting our tongues and accepting unfair conditions, the more taken for granted we feel. Society rewards dependability with heavier workloads, more often than not, without the recompense for the unequal division of labour. No one notices the personal sacrifices made to remain dependable.
This situation is borne out by researcher, Christy Zhou Koval, at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. While at Duke University, South Carolina, in 2015, she conducted a perception study around the notion of dependability and workload allocation. Her findings were that, “they became a repository for other people’s goal pursuits.” She also found that this led to people with high self-control, taking less pleasure in their own achievements as a result.
What happens when a dependable person snaps; when they point out their dissatisfaction and unfair treatment?
Society has a this covered too. They are given a new label. Now they are branded as unreliable and led down a path of pseudo-psychological assessments until they accept that they are the source of the problem. The underlying message being, accept your fate or be drummed out of your career.
Now I am not suggesting that the marshmallow man is wholly to blame for societies ills. Nor am I saying that everything would be different had his experiment been less publicised, but the continuous reinforcement of self-control and the exploitation of the dependable is a concept which needs replacing.
If we lived in a truly a meritocratic society, we would not have a misogynistic buffoon, barely able to string a sentence together, running a western superpower.
Can society sustain these inequities in the workplace?
How has it come to be, that the office layabout, the perpetually tardy and the workplace incompetent, gets a free ride at the expense of others? Surely it pays an individual to be less dependable? Have we already reached a tipping point?
Are we not creating a generation of whining, work shy youths, who believe that a hard day’s work is to record a YouTube clip for their vlog? Every extreme eventually swings back to the polar opposite. Perhaps our economies will take another tumble, when the new wave of less dependable people hit our banks, schools, offices and warehouses.
The age of self-control is dead. Long live instant gratification.
Sam Nash is the author of the thriller series, The Aurora Conspiracies, available from Amazon at http://mybook.to/AuroraMandate You can find her at https://www.samnash.org or on Twitter @samnashauthor or Facebook.com/samnash.author. Alternatively, you can download her free prequel novella series from: Kindle: mybook.to/T-A-J-P01 ePub: books2read.com/u/4jwjJo