There was a famous study done a long time ago called the Stanford Marshmallow Test, and basically what is was supposed to help determine was a child’s ability to delay gratification and how this outlook […]
There was a famous study done a long time ago called the Stanford Marshmallow Test, and basically what is was supposed to help determine was a child’s ability to delay gratification and how this outlook impacted their lives in a larger sense. The test basically put one marshmallow on a table in front of a kid and they are told if they wait 15 minutes to eat that one, they will get two marshmallows later. It is an impulse control test of sorts, and some kids did actually wait while others simply could not control themselves and/or see the benefit of waiting to have two marshmallows. The outcome of the test supposedly showed better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment,body mass index (BMI), and other life measures. As a side bar, this test was challenged recently and was not able to be replicated to the same degree as previously thought.
However, this does not mean that delaying gratification doesn’t have its merits. Allow me to explore this in a more adult application:
Short term or Long term Benefits
Think of the benefit analysis as very similar to the marshmallow test, do you want to have a nice set of abs or do you want to drink the beer or eat the cake? As you get older, you do actually have to choose, as your body no longer gives you the option to do both. You have to exercise the discipline to not eat the cake, or to put down the beer(s) and stick to your workout routine. I am not a drinker but anything with sugar as a main ingredient is fine by me. But I know the downsides of consuming too much sugar. My biggest vices are soda and breakfast cereals…oh man, sign me up! I love both of them to my own detriment, and therefore I have to hedge my bet by not purchasing these items to have in my house. If I do, I will indulge in them frequently. Luckily for me, my wife is the same way, so we help each other by not having much of this kind of stuff on hand. We want to global benefit of good health over the immediate benefit of the sugary vices.
The global benefit of a healthy lifestyle outweighs the instant pleasure of a soda or other treat. We love to go hiking together, and being fit is obviously a cornerstone of the ability to go on hikes and enjoy them. If I was terribly out of shape and every hike felt like it was a life and death struggle, I certainly wouldn’t voluntarily go on hikes. And if I felt like every hike we did was a struggle, it would be difficult to look around and enjoy the scenery. By living my life with this in mind, I focus on the long term approach instead of the short term.
Like a lot of your habits and thought patterns, you probably adopted some things from your parents and/or household. There may have been punishment involved if you didn’t control your impulses to a high degree. If so, you were taught a lesson early on that most likely served you well throughout life. As a kid, I was given full license to raid my grandmother’s cabinets and eat as much sugary based crap as I wanted. I wasn’t taught to wait and be patient for a better option later on, I ate whatever I wanted now and I came back for more later. There are a bunch of health issues related to this kind of lifestyle that has plagued my Dad’s side of the family, and I was likely headed down that path too if I didn’t make some changes. Luckily I found personal discipline in a few other places, such as fly fishing and wrestling.
Wrestling is a unique sport in a couple of ways, but the toughest part by far is losing weight to compete in a lower weight class. The odd thing is, everyone else also loses weight, so you literally lose weight to wrestle against the same guys. If we could all agree to not cheat the system, everyone could live normally and compete against the same people. But that is not how it works, and if I wanted to give myself the best chance for success (wrestling against guys my own size), I had to lose weight as well. No picnic when I weighed 110 pounds as a freshman in high school, but I made it to 98 pounds to have a shot at a spot on the varsity team. Bye bye sugary candy, oatmeal cream pies, cookies, soda and everything else I loved. My desire to be a wrestler and to please my Dad, who’s footsteps I was following in, was stronger than the draw of the sugar high pleasure.
Fly fishing is a sport of patience, and it is a test of will in many cases. In a recent example, I was targeting a fish on a trip in Colorado, and I threw no less than 250 casts at the same fish until I got him to take a fly. It took several changes of the fly I was using, standing and casting from different spots, and a little luck to finally get the fish to grab that fly as it drifted by him in the current. The fight lasted 10 seconds, and he got off my line before I could get him into the net. But the memory of that was priceless, and so that thirty minute endeavor was well worth the “cost”. There is no such thing as instant gratification when it comes to fly fishing, you know going in that you may fish all day and not catch anything at all. This is what makes the success you do have that much more desired and so much more worthwhile. If it was easy everyone would do it, and the value of the experience would diminish. Between this and wrestling, I learn the ways of discipline that have served me well in my adult life.
When I chose the title of this blog to be Pick your Outcomes it was because I knew that I had started in one mindset but switched to another. I made the choice to operate differently. If I can do it, so can anyone else. I wasn’t born special, nor did I have any specific advantages, I was as regular as they come. I learned how to become a disciplined person. With this skill set as a key piece of my life, I was able to accomplish all of the things I have done so far. It appears I would have failed miserably in the Stanford Marshmallow test as a young kid, but when I got to about my teenage years I slowly started to figure out the benefits of living differently. Others in the family did not, and they have lived lives that reflects that poor impulse control.
Personal discipline is such an important skill to acquire as you move through life. Hopefully you grow up in an environment that promotes this kind of thinking, but if you didn’t, it is not too late. The human body and mind are so powerful and malleable (moldable) that at any moment you can start living differently. You simply have to lock in on a new way and stay committed to it. You need a compelling “why” to outweigh any short term indulgences. If you falter a bit, don’t give in. Get up, dust off and try again…immediately. Don’t beat yourself up and certainly don’t quit just because you didn’t break an old habit on your first try. It might take some practice and a few runs at it, but eventually you’ll get it figured out. And after you’ve done it once, in any capacity, you now KNOW you have the ability to apply this new skill to any other facet of life. As one of my favorite quotes goes: