I have an 11″ long tattoo on the inside of my left forearm. It reads (wtm2s) and it’s a frequent and unintentional conversation starter. I tend to wear my sleeves rolled so as a result someone will asked what it means at least once a week. And while I love to talk with people, I don’t have a short canned explanation that can be delivered in the time it takes to pay for my tall dry nonfat cappuccino.
It translates as “will this make me stronger” but it’s largely a reminder about long term thinking. I’m an unshakeable believer that the root of most unhappiness and failure comes from people trading what they want most of all for what they want right now. And ‘wtm2s’ is an easy question I can ask myself before making almost any decision. Do you want to eat that plate of cookies or do you want the body that stops traffic. Do you want a $60K car or an early retirement.
Way back in middle school I was shown the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment which was about marshmallows of course but also children and the idea of delayed gratification. You can certainly guess the details of the experiment but what I remembered most was that the children who were able to delay the immediate pleasure of eating just one marshmallow for a greater reward later if they waited, were better students, had the higher marks and generally were more successful and adjusted as they were also tracked many years beyond that experiment. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you how much I obsessed over that film, wondering how I’d do under the circumstances and even envious of those kids, so lucky to play a role in this ‘scientific breakthrough’.
We take that marshmallow test everyday, more like several times a day. Every action and decision we make collects, compounds and contributes to our future health, wealth and relationships.
So I look at and consult this oracle everyday because it never fails me as a compass of good judgement, because I dig tattoos and because I have never ever liked marshmallows.
My daughter is seven years old and I occasionally give her this test in one form or another to see how she does. I’m happy to say she is going to do just fine at life – and will probably attend Stanford.