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The Marshmallow Strategy ... delaying gratification

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Old 05-15-2009, 04:53 PM   #1
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Default The Marshmallow Strategy ... delaying gratification

I was listening to NPR yesterday and they were talking about a study involving young children that I believe has some application to our lives.

The children (I think they were 4 years old) sat at a table and a marshmallow was put in front of each of them. They were told they could have the marshmallow, but if they waited until the adult returned (in 15 minutes) they would get TWO marshmallows.

The adult then left the room, and the children were observed through one-way glass. The key finding was that the kids that waited (and got TWO marshmallows later) acted differently than the ones who couldnít wait. They turned their backs to the marshmallows, they played games, they distracted themselves somehow.

So, I think there is somehow a lesson here, and something I have been trying to incorporate in my own life. For example, I just got back from my weight training and I know I have a cooked chicken thigh in the refrigerator just waiting for me. In the past, I would just have eaten it, itís perfectly acceptable on the Atkins plan. But today I logged into my CalorieKing what eating the chicken thigh would take away from my dinner menu and decided I would rather have a flaxseed muffin (Iím on Atkins, but also counting calories, what can I say) tonight than a chicken thigh right now.

So now Iím distracting myself -- writing this post, finishing up some work, going through all my mail, making some phone calls. And -- you know what -- that chicken thigh has quit calling to me.

I going to try this strategy more in the future. Wish me luck!
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Old 05-15-2009, 05:08 PM   #2
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There are so many different reasons that people are obese. But you gotta think that a part of it for many is just that basic difference in personality that has more difficulty with delayed gratification, already apparent in some children vs. others.

It's not a judgment. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. The kids who have a harder time with delayed gratification might be the same kids who are more skilled at enthusiasm and compassion But recognizing the differences might mean parents can raise kids with less food issues, by recognizing different traits.
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Old 05-15-2009, 05:11 PM   #3
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That is quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.

I do quite a bit of distracting myself at times. I *try* to eat on a schedule. If I find myself wanting something and it's not quite *time* AND I'm truly not hungry, I will try and delay it.

Also, if I'm really craving something - I DEFINITELY use the distracting method. I'll get busy with something else and before you know it, that craving is history. No damage done.

Sometimes my distraction will be a glass of water, or a cup of hot tea. Sometimes it's straightening up the house, the computer, work, laundry - anything.

This strategy has helped me immensely and I know it will continue to do so.
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Old 05-15-2009, 05:59 PM   #4
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I sometimes set the oven timer to *ding* 10 minutes after I get a whopper craving and then I go do something else. 99% of the time I don't even hear the timer go off and my craving is gone.
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Old 05-15-2009, 06:11 PM   #5
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This works as long as we change the ending.

Too many times in the past I DID wait, and then reward my virtuious behavior with TWO marshmallows
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Old 05-15-2009, 06:20 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CountingDown View Post
This works as long as we change the ending.

Too many times in the past I DID wait, and then reward my virtuious behavior with TWO marshmallows
hehe...me too! I would have waited it out for the 2 marshmallows for sure! It would be interesting to do a follow-up study on these children in 5 years and see which ones become over weight. The instant gratification kids, or the kids that held out for more.

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Old 05-15-2009, 06:30 PM   #7
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Quote:
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hehe...me too! I would have waited it out for the 2 marshmallows for sure! It would be interesting to do a follow-up study on these children in 5 years and see which ones become over weight. The instant gratification kids, or the kids that held out for more.
I hadn't thought of that. Should have. So no, I guess I don't use that particular strategy.

These kids were willing to give up the instant gratification in exchange for more gratification. No, that's not gonna work out very well in the long run as far as weight loss goes.
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Old 05-15-2009, 07:39 PM   #8
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I just read a bit about that experiment in this great book I just finished called "How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer...which is basically a pop psychology book about how the brain makes decisions. Really curious stuff, if you're interested in that sort of thing!
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Old 05-15-2009, 08:10 PM   #9
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You raise an interesting point, CD. Maybe it's the wrong message to say, if you wait longer, you get twice as much.

The best thing would be not to eat the marshmallow at all...

(And I hate marshmallows, so they could just keep 'em! )

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Old 05-15-2009, 08:15 PM   #10
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What if I don't like marshmallows?

I could walk away from one in a heartbeat...no problem.
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Old 05-15-2009, 08:16 PM   #11
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I don't think it matters what the reward actually is. It can be anything we value. I think the real point was that even as children, even knowing a reward (whatever it may be) is coming that's better than what they have now, some can wait and some can't, and the ones that do, act differently.
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Old 05-15-2009, 09:36 PM   #12
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Haha, I love nice fluffy marshmallows, especially the ones that are colored and are meant to be eaten as a sort of candy (rather than the normal ones that are more of an ingredient for smores or to be put in hot chocolate). Anyway, OT.

Yeah, just because this deals with marshmallows it makes me wonder about the motives of the kids. It would be easier if the motivation was more toys or more play time or something. I wonder which kids would be more prone to being overweight in the future. It might be the kids that chose to have the one marshmallow now did so because they were like "Who cares if I can have two later? I don't need more than one." I guess I'm channeling a little of my boyfriend now, who wouldn't hold out just to get more treats. I am so jealous of that 6' tall, 131 lbs soaking wet loverboy of mine.... haha.
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Old 05-15-2009, 09:43 PM   #13
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I know of the study, and I believe the study was to assess a link between the ability of a child to delay gratification and future success in life. The theory is that those who can delay immediate gratification early in life are more likely to be able to complete long term training programs that eventually lead to high paying jobs, for example, instead of seeking immediate jobs that pay significantly less...
http://www.sybervision.com/Discipline/marshmallow.htm
Not sure how this relates to weight loss, other than the thought that distraction techniques may prevent you from eating on a whim...
Kira

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Old 05-15-2009, 09:56 PM   #14
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for weight loss, delaying whatever it is we want to eat, the reward is being thin or at our goal weights.

Kira, I didn't think of it the way you explained though! Do they do a follow up study on these kids later in life?
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Old 05-15-2009, 10:00 PM   #15
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Well, the article sums it up well as this:

In a longitudinal study which began in the 1960s, [the researcher] offered hungry 4-year-olds a marshmallow, but told them that if they could wait for the experimenter to return after running an errand, they could have two marshmallows.

Years later when the children graduated from high school, the differences between the two groups were dramatic: the resisters were more positive, self-motivating, persistent in the face of difficulties, and able to delay gratification in pursuit of their goals. They had the habits of successful people which resulted in more successful marriages, higher incomes, greater career satisfaction, better health, and more fulfilling lives than most of the population.

Those having grabbed the marshmallow were more troubled, stubborn and indecisive, mistrustful, less self-confident, and still could not put off gratification. They had trouble subordinating immediate impulses to achieve long-range goals. When it was time to study for the big test, they tended to get distracted into doing activities that brought instant gratifciation This impulse followed them throughout their lives and resulted in unsucessful marriages, low job satisfaction and income, bad health, and frustrating lives.

Kind of interesting, no?

Kira

Last edited by kiramira : 05-15-2009 at 10:03 PM.
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