Famed 'marshmallow' author Joachim De Posada urges TRMCHS students to cultivate self-discipline

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Oct. 7, 2013
Dr. Joachim de Posada makes a point about self-denial for his audience at Three Rivers Community College. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Dr. Joachim de Posada makes a point about self-denial for his audience at Three Rivers Community College. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Three Rivers Middle College High School played host Oct. 2 to the author whose motivational book “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow… Yet!” has been a guiding force in the new school’s philosophy and approach to learning. Dr. Joachim de Posada spoke to a near-capacity crowd that included high school and community college students, faculty and members of the public, extolling the role of self-discipline and self-denial in achieving long-term goals.

Persistence and self-control “are the key to transforming our country and the key to transforming the whole world,” he said. "It’s the future that we’re banking on. You go through the pain of discipline now or later on in life you will suffer the pain of regret.”

De Posada based his philosophy of life on a 1960s-era Stamford University study, which began by testing more than 500 nursery-school children for their level of self-control. The children were left alone in a room with a single marshmallow and told they could have an additional marshmallow if they didn’t eat the first one before the tester returned. On average, one out of three children managed not to eat the first marshmallow. Subsequent follow-up demonstrated that those children who refrained from eating the first marshmallow grew up to achieve higher levels of academic and life success. 

The ability to forgo the marshmallow requires both patience and determination, said De Posada. “Those are the most important elements of success and the basis of what society needs from its people,” he said. Subsequent studies have demonstrated that far fewer children will develop these traits, and far more will succumb to sweet temptation, if they don’t trust the tester and don’t believe they will actually get the second marshmallow. “For all of this to function, you have to have trust. We must create environments where children can develop social trust.”

De Posada pointed out that today’s students have unprecedented access to the world’s knowledge, and the information bank is expanding exponentially over time. “When you graduate, the world will know double what it knows now. It means we have to constantly continue learning,” he said. But it’s what they will do with that knowledge that matters. “Applied knowledge is power. A new attitude means nothing unless it is tied to action.”

The most important communication skill is seeking to understand before trying to be understood, de Posada said. The recent shutdown of federal services was caused by government leaders reversing the order of that directive, he said.

Middle college students said they welcomed a chance to hear de Posada’s talk. “It’s about psychoanalyzing yourself and looking at what’s genuinely holding yourself back, and changing,” said junior Gabe Umland.

His classmate, Portia Taylor, called the talk “a bit of a reality check. It’s a struggle” putting off something desirable for long-term good, she said.

“His points are actually simple, but a lot of people take them for granted,” said TRMCHS senior Charles Haylock. “Applying this knowledge can really improve your life. You can either suffer now and enjoy later, or enjoy now and suffer later. Youth is 20 percent of our lives, and those who think about what they do are those who will make it happen.”

TRMCHS Principal Brad Columbus said that the “marshmallow” philosophy is now tightly woven into the middle college program. Students are urged to identify their goals, as well as the “marshmallows” that could get in their way, and work towards keeping their eyes on the long-term prize.

“Even as adults, we struggle with this,” he said. Columbus said he and the other faculty planned to establish “grit days,” focused on challenges like mountain climbing, to “challenge [students] physically and mentally. That’s going to lead to more success when they leave us.”


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