There is a very famous study that was conducted with child participants. It is called the Stanford Marshmallow Study. In the 1960s and 1970s, a Professor at Stanford University wanted to investigate delayed gratification. Each child was offered the choice between one marshmallow immediately, or a larger reward of two marshmallows if they waited 15 minutes. Watch this adorable Youtube video of kids engaging in this experiment. Through longitudinal analysis, the researchers discovered that those children who were able to delay their gratification and wait for the two marshmallows, had better life outcomes.
Moral of the story – good things come to those who wait for more marshmallows.
I have often considered that the key to creating healthy habits in life and delaying immediate gratification for future happiness, is awareness. We overcomplicate things – there are numerous online resources teaching us how to lose weight and how to save money. Yet, the most powerful tool is to look closely at what we are putting in our mouths and what we are spending our money on. I got the idea after a friend was completing a food diary – he was happy to see that his diet was actually relatively healthy, but was able to see that his alcohol content over the past week had been a little high. Without recording those beers, he would have continued with one of the deadly success sins, denial – “I didn’t really drink that much this week”.
The food diary gave him an awareness of his drinking and he decided that the following week would be booze free. The evidence of his drinking in front of him was too great for his denial mechanism to be effective. With this knowledge on board, I decided I would analyse my money in a similar fashion. Except, rather than seeing what was coming in, I wanted to look at what was going out and where it was going. I had a sinking feeling that my Silver Status at Witchery was in jeopardy.
I created a spreadsheet and split it into multiple categories: food, transport, clothes, make-up etc. I then separated food out again into coffee, bought lunches, supermarket shops and café stops. I then assessed my bank and credit card statements over two months, entering each transaction into the spreadsheet under the appropriate heading.
It is no coincidence that I have chosen both diet and money as an example above. What horrified me was that my clothing addiction paled in comparison to how much I was spending on food! I know what you are thinking – food is good, it is fuel and we need it to keep us from collapsing in a heap on the floor. And some of you might also be thinking – she could do with a pie or two. This is true, but what horrified me was the amount I was spending on food that did not serve my body in any way shape or form. Coffee, sugary hot chocolates, café stops to pick up greasy paninis between meetings, that sugar-filled muffin from the café across the road because I didn’t get time to go to the supermarket and get fruit on the weekend. The damn snack man at work is getting $20-30 a week of my hard-earned cash. And this break-down doesn’t even include food that I consume while socialising! This went under the title ‘Entertainment’. I worked out that I could be saving myself up to $300 per month by taking nuts and fruit from home and making a ham sandwich for lunch. That is nearly a Louis Vuitton handbag a year!!
So, am I going to stop shouting myself out to lunch or for a coffee? Um, well, no. As I write to you I am eating a sandwich at Scarecrow and having a mocha…
But am I going to rein it in? Oh yes. I made all my lunches last week and could not believe it when I got to Friday and had only spent an extra $30.While I battle with self-control on a personal level, Paul Roberts tackles this issue on a global scale.
“This industrial-scale impulsiveness isn’t confined to the business world. The media, academia, nonprofits, and think tanks—the very institutions that once helped counter the individual pursuit of quick, self-serving rewards—are themselves obsessed with the same rewards. Most troubling, our political institutions, once capable of mobilizing resources and people to win wars, solve problems, and drive real progress, now settle for rapid wins while avoiding complex, perennial challenges, such as education reform, climate change, or preventing the next financial meltdown.”
So it appears that instant gratification is something that affects all of us. According to Joachim de Posada, self-control is the single most important factor in success (his short TED talk at the bottom of this post). Those who are driven by instant gratification are more likely to take on debt, be obese, have behaviour problems and drug addictions by the time they get to high school according to this very comprehensive Harvard Business Review article . If you require more insights on how to curb your own lack of self control, see this article here called A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification by Zen Habits – it also focuses on awareness and mindfulness. Also, Jennifer Cohen from Forbes.com explains that self-discipline can be improved by removing temptation. For me, this means unsubscribing from the marketing emails telling me there is a spend and save at Witchery. And it means giving Dunkin Donuts a wide berth.
Jennifer also suggests that we take steps outside of our comfort zone. She writes the following for all my fellow neuro nerds:
“Improving your self discipline means changing up your normal routine, which can be uncomfortable and awkward. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, explains that habit behaviors are traced to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia – a portion of the brain associated with emotions, patterns, and memories. Decisions, on the other hand, are made in the prefrontal cortex, a completely different area. When a behavior becomes habit, we stop using our decision-making skills and instead function on auto-pilot. Therefore, breaking a bad habit and building a new habit not only requires us to make active decisions, it will feel wrong. Your brain will resist the change in favor of what it has been programmed to do. The solution? Embrace the wrong. Acknowledge that it will take a while for your new regime to feel right or good or natural. Keep chugging along. It will happen.” – Jennifer Cohen – Forbes.com
Hi my name is Katie and I am an instant-gratification-oholic. I am the kid who wants the marshmallow now, Daddy! But times they are a changin’. If I want to reach my financial goals and life goals of starting multiple businesses, I have to live in the moment without always spending in the moment and I have to put down the marshmallow.
Much love xx
Photo credit: La Moustache at Deviant Art