Pop quiz! How do marshmallows relate to achieving a goal?

HInt: it’s one of these…

A.They make a delicious reward after a tough week
B. You can throw them at people who annoy you, without inflicting (severe) bodily harm
C. They mix well with a crunchy cereal and easily cut into squares
D. None of the above

Trick question! It’s “D”!

In addition to their reputation as a campfire dessert eaten off a dirty stick foraged from the woods, marshmallows played a large role in a famous experiment called (surprise!) The Marshmallow Experiment.

Perhaps you’ve heard of it. And no, it doesn’t involved seeing how many marshmallows you can stuff inside a Volkswagen.

It’s far worse.

It involved depriving innocent school children of sweets to see if their ability to fend off their cravings by using “delayed gratification” impacted them later in life. (I’m twisting this around a bit, but I’m sure it’s how the kids saw it.)

In the study, which took place at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School in the 1960s, children were presented with the choice of a small treat like a marshmallow they could eat immediately, or for a larger reward (two marshmallows), if they waited 20 minutes.

    NOTE: Not the actual children

In a follow up later in life, the study showed that those children who waited for the second marshmallow ended up with higher SAT scores, lower body mass indexes, and an aversion to marshmallows 30 years later.

I made up that last part but overall, they were more successful in life.

Granted, this is a pretty big summation to glean from a single study, but it makes sense even when you think of things from a logical perspective.

Who’s going to lose weight faster, the person who caves in to temptation at the drop of cupcake, or the person who waits until a healthier alternative becomes available?

Who will get in shape faster, the person who starts slowly and sticks with a plan, even when the going gets tough, or someone who jumps in with both feet, gets injured, and declares they’re “not cut out for exercise.”

I’ll wait while you weigh these options.

Clearly, the ability to practice delayed gratification, a.k.a., willpower, will enable you to see your goals come to light faster.

But here’s a cool thing about willpower: It’s like a muscle in that you can wear it out if you use it too much.

In other words, if you test your willpower throughout the day, by the time dinner rolls around you’re more likely to cave in to poor choices.

Several other studies show this to be true. If you sit in front of a bowl of candy, all day telling yourself “no! don’t cave it! you can do this!,” you’ll give up sooner when temptations pop up later in the day than if you were in a cubicle without a calorie in sight.

To get ahead of the marshmallow, experts recommend these tips to keep your willpower muscle in tip top shape…

1. Do the hardest task first

Willpower fades with each decision you make during the day, research shows, in what’s called “decision fatigue.” You’re much more likely to give in to temptation after work or a day of making many decisions. So if you aren’t wild about exercise, do it first so you take that decision off your plate and can get on with your day.

2. Makeover current habits

Changing jobs, moving to a new city or otherwise making a drastic change to your environment creates a perfect scenario for changing a bad habit and starting a new one.

This changes the existing “cues” you associate with a particular habit.

Since you can’t pack up and leave every time you want to try to break a habit, the next best thing is to make changes in your environment.

Keep unhealthy foods out of sight, whether it’s in a cupboard behind a secret panel or in a sealed container. Better yet, don’t buy it in the first place.

3. Count to 15… or 254

Forget the old belief that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. In reality, the time it takes for a new habit to become permanent actually takes anywhere from 15 to 254 days, depending on the magnitude of the change.

Keep at it and you’re bound to succeed, even if it takes longer than you’d like. Consistency wins the race!

4. Create a link

Link your new habit to something you currently do on a regular basis, so the first action provides the “cue” to do the second. For example, I put my workout clothes near my bathroom sink. So each morning when I brush my teeth the clothes are ready and waiting for me to put on.

Of course, I can still ignore them, but my workout is such a habit that it takes a conscious decision NOT to do it.

5. Don’t tempt yourself

Keep sweets and other foods you’re trying to avoid out of the house so you’re not seeing them every time you open the pantry. This sounds like common sense, but we often think we’ll keep those chocolate covered cherries around (remember them??) “in case” you really get a craving. 

Problem is, that craving will come from having the treats within arm’s reach. 

Out of sight out of mind and out of mouth. At the same time, keep healthy foods such as cut-up veggies and healthy snacks easily accessible.

How’s your marshmallow discipline? Do you have a tough time with willpower? Will you try one or more of these tips? Let me know in the chat box below! I’d love to hear from you. 

Other posts you may like:

7 Ways to get started when you have a long way to go

3 Underrated, undervalued and unavoidable keys to reaching your goals

7 Reasons you’re not seeing results (and how to fix it)

P.S. What are ya doing May 31? Why not hang out with me at my LIVE webinar, 7 Proven Ways to Blast Belly Fat After 50. Check it out HERE!

Got questions or comments? If my advice/tips/humor has helped you in any way, please let me know! Your successes make my day linda@lindamelone.com  

Your Ageless Body Coach,