Oh Ye Tender Plants Learn To Crawl Before Attempting To Sprint

When I was young (and perhaps even now) I had one problem � impatience. My level of impatience was quite high to the extent that my mother had to separate my attires for occasions from the casual wears. She knew her son could wear to the farm the clothes specifically bought for Eid and other occasions. But even with that, I managed to make waste some of my occasional wears anytime they were in my possession. I just could not prevent myself from showing to others how awesome my wardrobe was. Little did I know that these nice clothes would soon become useless and I would not get anything to wear for occasions because I had turned all such clothes to ‘working gears’.

My mother taught me and my siblings well about how to defer gratification in several ways. She did not buy for us what many parents bought for their children and made sure we understood that those were needless (which is why we were not fans of our mom). She would mostly say wait when you grow and have your own means then you buy those. As young as we were we did not see any sense in most of her decisions and actions but myself and all my siblings are what we are today thanks to mom’s hard lessons.

The need to defer gratification is inherent in how humans are conceived, born, nurtured and socialised. The process is a complex one that unimaginably takes long to complete and which appears subtle and unnoticeable in most cases. By our nature, we are meant to crawl before walking and eventually having the ability to run. I cannot fathom how it would appear if the moment you were born you had jumped from your mother’s birth canal, run out of the delivery room to wherever announcing to everyone that you had just been born.

This is a hilarious imagination, but that is a perfect description for the attitude of most young ones today. They simply want to do the unimaginable. Babies are not just born with the abilities to walk and talk, let alone to know the dynamics of self-advertising. Growth and development is a process which takes long to complete. If this process is not left to take a natural course it will result in several mishaps most of which are catastrophic. Not only are the consequences catastrophic; the end result would be undesirable because the means was deficient in some crucial components.

Interestingly, most young ones today want to possess things they do not need and cannot afford themselves. Most parents today, in a bid to ensure they provide for the needs of their wards, offer free of charge to their wards what should be strived for. In consequence, these young ones grow believing they should get everything they want. Many things we want and wish for are not needed. And the time when such wants eventually become needful awaits us in the not too distant future. Why then would anyone want to have now what could be had (even more) later? I have not been exactly surprised by the recent abysmal performance of students in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).

Is it not ridiculous how JHS leavers tout themselves as having completed schooling after writing their BECE (as if that is the only exam they would ever write or that is the end of education)? Before they write their exams and fully complete schooling they carry themselves as though they were already graduates. For those in the senior high schools they carry themselves as though they were parents already. They skip the life course and always want to live in the tomorrow. The result has been that when the tomorrow finally comes there is nothing left there to live except regrets, frustrations, disappointments, and failures.

Indeed, many discoveries have been made; but what has not been discovered yet is how to turn back the hands of time and relive yesterday. Societal impacts and current media trends have had the effect of teaching children to expect instant gratification. But if you live today how you would want to live tomorrow what will be there to live for tomorrow? If you want to start on top, where else will you go after that except down? When you live your life like a thirty year old adult although you are only fifteen, what will be left to live when you are thirty? Nothing!

The idea of waiting for a good job, earned through working from the bottom up, frequently upsets and frustrates emerging adults in today’s society. They want to do at twenty two what their parents did at forty two. They want to live as students similar the life of those working and earning. They want to possess at twenty what is owned by adults in their forties. They want to achieve within a year of working what their senior colleagues have (not) achieved in ten years.

They want to know everything about anything immediately they start work. They fail to understand that some things can only be learnt through experience. And they believe that those who supposedly could not make it in life did not work hard enough. It is not surprising that most organisations do not want to employ fresh graduates! The cost of their impatience, exuberance, and failure to delay gratification are just too much for many organisations to bear.

The famous marshmallow experiment conducted by Walter Mischel puts delayed gratification in a better perspective. Mischel and his colleagues presented four-year-olds with a marshmallow and told the children that they had two options: (1) ring a bell at any point to summon the experimenter and eat the marshmallow, or (2) wait until the experimenter returned (about 15 minutes later), and earn two marshmallows. The message was straightforward: small reward for instant gratification, or bigger reward for delayed gratification. Some children broke down and ate the marshmallow, whereas others were able to delay gratification and earn the desirable two marshmallows.

When re-evaluated as teenagers and adults, the children who waited longer demonstrated a striking array of advantages over their peers � they had higher SAT scores, social competence, self-assuredness and self-worth, and were rated by their parents as more mature, better able to cope with stress, more likely to plan ahead, and more likely to use reason. They were less likely to have conduct disorders or high levels of impulsivity, aggressiveness and hyperactivity. The high delayers, as adults, were less likely to have drug problems or other addictive behaviours, get divorced, or be overweight. Simply put, the high delayers were more discipline than their counterparts that could not defer gratification. Hence, the ability to resist temptation early in life translates to persistent benefits appropriately later in life.

If babies cannot naturally run but may ideate doing so, what could be done to make them understand that they need to learn to crawl before thinking of sprinting? In follow-up experiments, Mischel found that children were able to wait longer if they used certain cool distraction techniques (covering their eyes, hiding under the desk, singing songs, or imagining pretzels instead of the marshmallow in front of them), or if they changed the way they thought about the marshmallow (focusing on its similarity to a cotton ball, rather than its gooey, delectable taste). Of course this was just an experiment; it however contains compelling lessons for the youth. Success in nearly every field requires you to ignore doing something easier (delaying gratification) in favour of doing something harder (concentrating and doing the work).

It should be understood that there are potential costs and risks in delaying gratification. First, there is interruption risk � another person might get to the opportunity we are delaying to seize. Second, there is a termination risk � whereby the chance to get the reward will be cut short, perhaps by a competitor. Overall, however, the potential benefits derivable from delaying gratification have been found to outweigh the costs and risks. Hence, though the decision to delay gratification might be a tough one to make, it beats the alternative.

The lesson here is simple! You have to crawl before you can ever sprint. Although crawling appears (and indeed is) more difficult than walking or sprinting, the former requires less efforts and anatomical features. More so, the ability to walk comes with other tasking responsibilities. No right thinking adult will, for instance, send a crawling baby on errands. Therefore if a crawling baby yearns to run errands, he or she should not forget that his/her anatomical composition basically disqualifies him/her. This exactly is the lesson the youth needs to learn.

It is a fact of life and a foundational necessity to learn to crawl before walking � to delay gratification until the appropriately apportioned minute. As Lila Empson and Jayce O’Neal point out in their book 100 answers to 100 questions every graduate should know: Do not live now the way you want to live tomorrow. Live now so you can live how you want tomorrow. What I want to say to my fellow youth is that learn to crawl before thinking of running so that when the time to run comes, you would have acquired all the knowledge, skills, and experience required to do so. Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction.

Source: Modern Ghana