(A Marshmallow Test Suggests It is Possible!)
Clinical Psychologist Walter Mischel 50 years ago did a “Marshmallow Test” on kids to test their self-control. He left them alone in a room with a single marshmallow sitting on a plate in front of them. If they could wait 20 minutes without eating it, they would get 2 marshmallows. Kids who managed to wait 20 minutes without chowing down on the marshmallow were also the ones most likely to excel in school, get better jobs, maintain better physical health (lower BMI) and have more positive self- esteem then their peers as adults.
Practicing delayed gratification seems to be a teachable skill that can be learned at an early age. Successful delayers can use cognitive skills like distracting themselves by little games, singing songs, or inventing games. Our potential for self-control does get stretched by stress and fatigue. Make “if-then” plans and stick to them. “If I go to the neighborhood cookout, I will bring a couple healthy dishes that I can eat.” “If it is after 7:30 pm, I do not plan to eat and will only have low calorie beverages.” “I will eat ice cream only away from home rather than keeping it in my freezer.” Psychologist Susan Pierce Thompson calls these “if-then” rules “Bright Lines” or rules you don’t break that set up guard rails to keep you focused on your goals.
Kathy Barrows, PhD, RD