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  • Writer's pictureGreg Graber

Anti-maskers and the Mashmallow Test

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

As I write this, the cornavirus pandemic is in full swing. Putting all hyperbole aside, it is savagely laying waste, as the number of cases reported and ensuing deaths are at an all-time high across the United States. Despite this, many individuals refuse to wear masks as a precautionary measure. While it can be argued that masks alone may not completely stop the spread of the virus, medical and infectious disease experts tell us that wearing them is one simple thing that we can do to help slow it down at the very least.

I will concede that wearing a mask is inconvenient at times. However, this is a small price to pay if it helps to slow the spread of the virus and eventually saves lives. I find it disheartening to see videos of "adults" having meltdowns and throwing fits in public places like petulant children when they are asked to put on a mask before entering a grocery store or restaurant. Other countries have been able to beat the virus at a much faster rate as their citizens have abided to mask wearing and social distancing seemingly better than we have in the U.S.A. Please note, I am not taking umbrage with folks who have legitimate breathing issues and have a hard time wearing a mask. I am focusing on individuals who refuse to wear them for more inane reasons.

Case in point, I recently saw a meme posted that stated: "Only 56 million cases to go until we reach H1N1 (Swine Flu) cases from 2009!! Remind me again, how long were schools shut down for? What types of masks were popular back then?' This type of statement is ridiculous when you consider that at this point there are roughly 140,000 deaths from the coronavirus in this country compared to the approximate 12,000 that died from H1N1.

I believe there are a myriad of reasons why some refuse to wear a mask. Some foolishly think that the pandemic is a hoax or a political stunt. Others claim that being mandated to wear a mask infringes on their civil liberties. I am under the strong contention that a large part of this issue is that we live in a society where many are unable or unwilling to delay instant gratification. Let me unpack this a bit....

In today's world, everything happens at the rapid pace of a button being pushed or a screen being scrolled. Simply stated, we exist in fast times. We tend to perpetuate a “glorification of busyness,” where instant gratification is the default mode of our collective consciousness. Patience is obsolete. We want what we want when we want it, and we receive it right away from our pocket computers (smart phones) and other artificial intelligence machines. Everything moves at warp speed: information, food, delivery drones, express check-out, driving directions, streaming entertainment, constant connection, likes on social media, sharing, texting, emoting, and communication. It all happens so fast, and there’s no down-time.

In other words, many are conditioned nowadays to be impatient. Even though most of us can comprehend that social distancing and wearing a mask (sacrificing in the short term) will pay huge dividends in terms of us crushing the virus, we have all seen the photos and videos on social media of those among us not wearing masks and/or social distancing at huge gatherings, frolicking in large crowds at beaches, and even attending coronavirus themed parties. These people seem unwilling or unable to forgo instant gratification for the greater good. I am pretty sure what side of the equation these folks would have fallen on if they were given the mashmallow test.

The Stanford marshmallow test was an experiment on delayed gratification that was conducted in 1972. In this study, children were offered a choice between one small immediate reward (a marshmallow or pretzel stick) or two small rewards if they could wait for fifteen minutes, thus delaying gratification for a bigger reward. In follow-up studies years later, the researchers discovered that the children who were able to delay instant gratification and wait longer for the rewards tended to have better life outcomes in terms of things like: better educational attainment, lower BMI, lower divorce rates, better emotional coping skills, lower rates of addiction, and higher SAT scores. Like most landmark research studies, some have questioned the validity of these findings in recent years. Nonetheless, I still think it holds up as a reminder for us not to underestimate the importance of our ability to delay gratification when necessary or beneficial.

There are certain things that we can do to teach the children in our lives the skill of delayed gratification. In doing this, they learn to be more patient and exhibit better impulse control over time. A few suggestions:

  1. Teach them how to set and plan goals and how to attain them over time.

  2. Show them how to prioritize, IE, tackle the most difficult or most important task ahead of them.

  3. Teach them to to use positive self-talk.

  4. Illustrate the importance of "getting stuck in the process," and the benefits of exhibiting a growth mindset.

  5. Celebrate with them with they reach a goal.

  6. Teach them how to save money over time to purchase things they want.

  7. Explain them the concept of "getting work done before having fun."

  8. Model self-control for them.

  9. Reward them when they display self-control.

  10. Teach them "positive distraction techniques" to employ when they are waiting (Singing a song to themselves, counting backwards, reading, etc.).

  11. Engage them regularly in long-term projects.

  12. Consider saying grace (or giving gratitude) before family meals.

  13. Help them learn from their failures and successes.

  14. Teach them the mindful "pause" before acting out of emotion (taking a deep breath before responding to difficult situations).

  15. Explain the reasons behind rules.

Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL & Mindfulness at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website:

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