Food from your favourite restaurant can arrive at your door in under 30 minutes. A new wardrobe or favourite book can be shipped and received in the same day. A last-minute vacation or weekend getaway can be booked in seconds.
Let’s face it – in today’s day and age we want it all – and we want it delivered.
These modern-day advancements in our society have made our lives so much easier, and let’s face it happier. But the question is – is this ‘instant gratification’ world that we’re living in, with these ‘at-your-fingertips’ solutions setting us up to fail in other areas of our lives as well? My belief – yes.
In fact, in the 1960’s and 70’s Stanford University researcher Walter Mischel was also interested with the effects of instant gratification and conducted a well-known study with 4-year-olds using marshmallows.
The children were left alone in a room with one marshmallow and told that they could eat it, but if they didn’t, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Mischel tracked the results of his marshmallow test across the decades, and made some startling discoveries. The children who were persuaded to be patient, using various “cooling” strategies to keep them from grabbing the marshmallow, were said to have the resources and skills to plan ahead, to conceive of the greater (doubled) reward, and to offset the brain’s greedy demands for instant gratification. These children also exhibited positive traits later in life, showing higher self-esteem and self-worth and had lower rates of obesity, drug use, divorce, and depression.
Ultimately, this study shows us that our ability to delay gratification and demonstrate patience when faced with a choice can impact our life in a variety of ways including our diet, mental health, and careers. I have found this to be especially apparent when it comes to weight loss.
Those who lack the ability to delay gratification tend to operate based on pleasure-oriented habits, or impulsiveness. These impulsive behaviours can lead to overeating, excessive drinking and self-sabotaging habits that move them further and further away from their healthy desires.
Sadly, because so many of these people don’t realize that this is the root cause of the issue, they don’t invest the time in developing their ‘delayed gratification’ muscle, and instead preferring to seize upon these rewards immediately in a habituated, almost automatic response, which ultimately stops them from reaching their goals.
HOW TO HOLD OFF ON GOING FOR THE MARSHMALLOW
So what can you do if you’re trying to lose weight, but struggle with delaying your instant gratification?
Understanding your habits, observing your moments of impulsivity and learning how your brain operates is a good first step. A great exercise to do this is to spend a week observing whenever you have an impulse related to unhealthy eating habits, alcohol or lifestyle behaviours that aren’t serving you and noting them down in a notebook or on your phone. At the end of the week review your results and see where, when and the frequency in which these habits happen. This valuable exercise will be able to give you some valuable insight into your habits and help you make some important life decisions in terms of how to break them.
A good next steps is to teach you how to delay those ‘monkey mind’ reactions. You can reach for that second helping of ice cream, or you can check in with your desires, breathe in and out five times, and see if, after checking in with yourself, you truly want it.
1. Be Mindful of the Monkey Mind
Mindfulness (especially in response to stress) has been found to be incredibly helpful and yield wonderful results when it comes to eating and making better choices for your health. A great and simple strategy is to put your knife and fork down between bites and take a longer time to chew your food than normal, all the while, paying attention to the act of chewing and swallowing. This will also help you to check in and be more present when eating with others.
Another great tactic is to avoid eating in front of a screen. Research has found that eating meals while watching tv or on your phone can result in a greater caloric intake, as well as make it more likely for you to reach for a second helping. Not paying attention to your meal results in an unsatisfying, eating experience which is typically what causes you to continue to go back for more.
2. When You Know Better, Do Better
Oprah’s favourite quote is, ‘when you know better, do better’ and it’s in this instance that it rings so true. When faced with a situation that has come up for you before, remember to check in with yourself and examine what happened the last time you faced this kind of choice. Remember the guilt after that late night bingeing session? Recall the bloated, disappointed feeling after you ate that entire package of cookies? Bring yourself back to those moments and relive the sensations and emotions. Then ask yourself if you want to feel that way again?
3. Set Yourself Up For Success
If you’re a late-night snacker, have a healthy alternative on hand like a bowl of kale chips or berries. Be sure to enjoy them in the moment and away from the television. Each time you feel the urge, grab a small handful, and eat them with slow, focused intention and enjoyment. These small, personal acts strengthen our resolve against giving into our instant desires and making bad decisions that don’t serve us.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that you can, in fact, have your marshmallows and eat them too — you just need to be patient. And lucky for you, the anticipation will only make them twice as sweet.
With love and nut butter,