Have you ever heard of the marshmallow test? Back in the 1960s researchers presented hundreds of 4 and 5 year olds with a marshmallow. The researchers then explained that they would leave the room for a little while and if the child did not eat the marshmallow while the adult was gone, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child ate the treat, there would not be a second one. Can 4 and 5 year olds exercise self control with the thought of getting a better reward? The answer was yes and no. Some did and some didn’t. Researchers tracked these children over the next 40 years and found some interesting results. Turns out the kids who had the self discipline to hold off for the bigger treat became more successful in life!
“The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures.” Quote from James Clear
The article goes on to explain that more experiments were done to see if this was a trait that could be taught or if it was simply nature. Reliability of the researchers played a huge role. If a treat or reward was promised and not produced, children ate the marshmallow with hardly any delay. If the bigger and better goodie appeared, more of the kids could hold off on eating the marshmallow. The take away is that, yes, we can teach ourselves to defer gratification as long as we have a reliable outcome after the delay.
From the same article: “You and I can do the same thing. We can train our ability to delay gratification, just like we can train our muscles in the gym. And you can do it in the same way as the child and the researcher: by promising something small and then delivering. Over and over again until your brain says, 1) yes, it’s worth it to wait and 2) yes, I have the capability to do this.”
I have always been someone who saves the frosting on the cake for last, because I think it is the best part! I eat muffin tops last for the same reason. In a way that is delaying gratification. It also ties into something I mentioned last week; making deals with myself to get things done that aren't necessarily fun (for me) in order to get to what I really want to do. This is a great way to start developing habits. You can start small, repeat every day and reap the rewards! For example, if you have a goal to lose weight, start by delaying eating one bad food or drinking one soda. Your eventual reward will be a smaller number on the scale and you will want to cut back even more. If your goal is to get more exercise, start with a short walk or fifteen minutes of resistance training or a short yoga class. Your eventual reward will be feeling stronger and an increased ability to exercise longer. If your goal is to have organized closets, start with one section and work for 15 or 30 minutes. Your eventual reward will be seeing one area neat and organized and you will feel dedicated to continue. If your goal is to cook more healthy foods, start with one night a week. Your eventual reward will be the satisfaction of eating food you made yourself that tastes great and you will want to do it more often. You get the idea. Whatever you would like to accomplish is manageable when you start small and don't expect immediate gratification. You know the saying, all good things are worth waiting for!
Since I am taking about rewards today I thought I would share a cookie recipe. I love the combo of salty and sweet and these cookies fit the bill! Making your own cookies is a great way control ingredients and portions. There are many subs for ingredients that are not so healthy, such as using applesauce for butter or subbing in whole wheat flour. Also, if a recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of batter for each cookie, use one. You get twice the number of cookies and half the calories! Just be sure to eat one at a time! Your delayed reward will be having cookies to enjoy for a longer time!
Salted Caramel Cookies
1/4 cup vegan butter, softened
1/4 cup applesauce (I subbed half the butter with this)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons non-dairy milk
1-1/4 cup flour
Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using an electric hand mixer, mix vegan butter, applesauce and sugar. Add baking soda, cornstarch, vanilla, almond extract, salt, and milk. Mix well and add in flour.
2. Using a tablespoon-sized scoop, place 24 level scoops on two, ungreased baking sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring to cooking rack or plate. Sprinkle with salt.