A lessen learned about delaying gratification.
Back in 1960 at Stanford University they started a series of experiments that would collect data for over 40 years.
It was known as the marshmallow experiment.In a nutshell, they would sit a child in a room with a single marshmallow with the promise of a second if they didn’t eat it until instructed. It was a test to see how many of the kids could resist temptation with a bigger reward down the road.
You may be thinking “THAT took them 40 years!? I’m in the wrong job!” But that was only the first part; the second and more fruitful part of the experiment was monitoring the same children as they grew into teenagers and again into young adults to see what difference, if any, would arise between the children who couldn’t wait and ate the marshmallow immediately and those would waited and got the second marshmallow.
The results were amazing. The children who were willing to delay gratification ended up, on average, having better grades at school, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress and better social skills.
Now this doesn’t mean if you ever see a marshmallow don’t eat it! But what it does tell you is that those willing to delay satisfaction have a much higher chance of success.
Secondly, if you would have been a marshmallow taker, don’t think your fate is predetermined, as there is more to the experiment than you think.
It was later repeated by a different University but with a few tweaks to the programme. Firstly the children we separated into two groups, with group ‘A’ being given a small box of crayons with the promise of a bigger box – but were never actually given it and group ‘B’ being given the same offer but actually receiving the bigger box.
Essential they reprogrammed the two different groups to either expect disappointment, resulting in a higher probability of eating the first marshmallow or to see the positive in delaying gratification and waiting for the second marshmallow.
Also how do you get good and doing something? Practice. The second group also got better at their capacity to wait.
So what does this all mean?
You can reprogram how you think!
The next time you find yourself thinking:
- I will start exercising tomorrow
- I will start eating healthy on Monday
- I am a little tired now; I’ll go to the gym later!
- Just one more Chinese takeout before I start…
- …Just 5-more minutes
Do you know what you’re really doing? Yeah that’s right; you’re eating that first marshmallow!
If that sounds like you, don’t worry, I have been there too. I have delayed starting something because… well… why not, it’s easier to just put it off until tomorrow!
So where does that leave you
- Start small.
- Build success from behaviour goals*.
- Start so damn small it’s almost impossible to not take daily action.
*Wanting to loose 10lbs in 6-weeks is an outcome based goal; meaning that if I take action A, I should achieve outcome B. The problem is that it’s not a 100% guarantee. If you work hard but don’t loose that 10lbs it can be viewed as a failure (remember group ‘B’ with the crayons) and could lead to disappointment and giving up.
Behaviour goals are different; we want to set up an outcome that you have complete control over. For example you may still want to loose 10lbs but your focus and goal is to get to the gym on average 3x a week for 6-weeks.