I was reading an article today that had nothing to do with weight management – until it did. The article was an interview with an author of a book about confirmation bias and self-delusion. I find that interesting on its own, but then the author mentioned the Mischel Marshmallow test, which I hadn’t heard of but immediately googled after reading this:
You have to fight the desire for instant gratification. You’re always going to do it even if you know you do it. I wrote about Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow test, which asked kids to hold off eating a marshmallow placed in front of them. Children who were able to delay gratification ended up being the people who were more successful in life, in the way we consider people successful. They had better marriages, higher-paying jobs and more education. The correlation suggests that being good at delaying gratification means that you’re good at thinking about thinking.
The kids who succeeded weren’t the ones with the most willpower. They were the ones who didn’t even look at the marshmallow. Kids who failed the test were the ones who thought they were more in control then they really were. They’d stare at it. Smell it. They’d say, ok, I’ll just lick it and put it down. The kids who succeeded would bang their head on the table, slap their face, turn around and around in their chair. They knew they couldn’t trust themselves so they came up with strategies to outwit themselves.
The kids who succeeded were the ones who didn’t even look at the marshmallow – that’s brilliant! How did they figure that out so early? I had to manage my weight with an iron fist for years to finally figure that out in my 30s! And now, that’s exactly how I practice avoiding food I have no business eating. In a situation, such as a party or holiday event, where I find I can’t control the food environment (once I’ve made sure I haven’t sabotaged myself by being there hungry) I regularly pretend like the food either isn’t there, or isn’t food. I don’t play chicken with food I shouldn’t eat. No looking, longing, smelling, envisioning or bargaining, because I know I will never win if I start down that path.
Today I’m pleased to hear that all my effort might even be good for me beyond weight management. Deferred gratification – according to science, not just a key to weight management, but also to success in other aspects of life!