The Curious Leader
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The Curious Leader

Discipline, Marshmallows and Religion

“I’ve got to get in shape”, “I’ve got to stop eating this”, “I’m going to quit, just not right now” “I’m just not disciplined enough”, “I wish I was more disciplined about… (fill in the gap)” These are all things, that at one time or another, in one form or another most of us have said.

Even if we consider ourselves to be quite a disciplined person, there’s a good chance that there’s an area of our lives we wish we had more discipline about. But how can even the least disciplined among us build that mental muscle? [Hyperlink]

Let’s take a moment to talk about marshmallows… In the 1960s, Walter Mischel performed a famous psychological experiment with little children. These young kids were shown a treat (usually a marshmallow), then they were told they could either eat their marshmallow right then or if they could wait, they could have two later.

This seemingly simple experiment and the plethora of follow-up studies on the child participants significantly deepened our understanding of human self-control, or the lack thereof.

Does God Have Marshmallows?

Come with me for a moment and see if we can gain some insights from of all places, religion.

The central tenet of almost all religion is there is a “God.” This God is often seen as the accountant, judge, and jury of an individual’s deeds during his or her time on earth. When the deeds are tallied up on the leger sheet of eternity, the totals determine whether the person will be rewarded or punished, whatever that means to the individual.

This is where organized religion intersects with marshmallows. The belief in a God who keeps track of your behavior over a lifetime has trained human beings to understand and practice “delayed gratification” simply put: Being able to resists the temptation of an immediate reward in preference for a later one. The calculus is simple: be good in this life and in the afterlife, you’ll have everything you desire, including God’s love.

Now, let me say while our world might not worship a “God” or “gods” as we have in the past, we do have an object of adoration. We, as a society have come to worship at the altar of finance and pray to the god of money (even if we’d never admit that.) The desire for more money and what we hope it will bring are the dominant motivators in our world. The high priests of the religion of Neoliberal economics have many names, but for now we’ll refer to them under the umbrellas of financiers and economists. And while we have certain rules about how we worship, they’re quite different than the rules of religion that preceded them.

This is where discipline or the lack of it, comes to the forefront of modern civilization and many of the challenges we face both personally and globally. With two possible exceptions, the Commandments of the God of faith and the God of money are very different. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” remains the same. (It’s just the god that’s very different). While, “Thou shall not steal” has become pretty much

So, what am I getting at?

If “God” is now money, or at least the things money can buy then there’s no point in delaying gratification. And we have taken that to heart. As a result, the internal mantra of the masses has become; we should get what we want when and how we want it. As a consequence, the per capita debt in the United States in 2018 was 65,545 dollars.

Over time, many turned their back on the God of religion because they saw the gods of religions and their fanatical followers as cruel. But we have to ask; has worshiping the god of money made us any kinder?

Are we better now that we no longer value delayed gratification? Is the traditional religious value of looking beyond what gives us instant pleasure no longer worth pursuing?

Please be clear, I consider myself to be a capitalist. I have no problem with money or the making of it. In fact, I encourage you to do so in ways that deeply fulfil you. Money is not the issue; it is an illustration of how we have all been socially conditioned away from self-discipline. It is in our delegation of self-discipline that we may have lost touch with not only our greater sense of humanity and meaning, but our ability to create a clear distinction between needs and desires. Furthermore, if we truly wish to become more disciplined, that is only possible through the distinction of the two.

As stated earlier in this piece self-discipline is a muscle that must be trained, and like any muscle it will initially be weak. However, one huge benefit of training this muscle is that it gives us a way to see beyond our personal balance sheets and even more importantly, direct access to meaning. Finding someone or something to assist you in strengthening your self-discipline gives us a way to see the world the way we would envision it for our children and grandchildren.

Before I hand you the mic, let me remind you that every great leader has understood the strategic advantage of developing the muscle of self-discipline by delaying gratification. I suggest that you tattoo this on your brain:

The Mic is yours and I look forward to your feedback.



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