To-Do #8–Do Not Eat the Chocolate Egg

I’ve seen the enemy, and it’s a pastel, candy-coated chocolate egg.

I’ve already had four and it’s only 7:00 a.m.  They were very tasty at the time, but right now, I’m wishing I’d shown the will to resist.

In a classic experiment, a researcher set a marshmallow in front of a four-year-old and told him/her that it was theirs.  However, if they were able to resist eating the marshmallow for a few short minutes, they’d get another one.  The study went on to link the ability to delay gratification to academic success, avoidance of risky behavior and higher SAT scores.

I would have eaten the marshmallow and used the five minutes to create a persuasive essay about why I ought to get the second marshmallow anyway.

I see my lack of will power as an evil twin undermining my efforts to eat like a grown up while I’m off taking care of everything else.  My husband cries bull.  I’m a powerhouse, he says, able to plow through a mountain of life’s detritus and get things done.  I’m a badass. (I’ve got to say, being a badass would have been useful as a 10-year-old carrying a violin case.)

So why does this badass become a four-year-old in the presence of a chocolate egg?

I went back to the original research, or at least articles about the original researcher, Dr. Walter Mischel.  What I learned was that when citing the study, the speaker generally references the initial conclusion–that children demonstrate innate differences in their ability to delay gratification.  What people often miss is the why.  Children who delay gratification create effective strategies to deflect their attention–covering their eyes, or the marshmallow, singing to themselves, inventing a game.

Some people see a task, and focus on the goal.  That would be me.  That works well when it comes down to action. When it comes to inaction, not so much.  That is, sitting there and thinking “I will not eat the marshmallow, dammit,” doesn’t work because all you think about is the marshmallow.

In addition, studies indicate that will power is a finite resource. It posits that if expend my will elsewhere, when confronted with the chocolate egg, I’m already depleted.

So I’ve done all of this research to discover that I eat candy when I’m stressed because while I’m moving the mountain, I have no will left to resist the chocolate I’ve been thinking about all morning.  Even at 7:00 a.m.

Duh.  That’s two hours of my life I won’t get back.  But I did get a blog entry out of the deal, so I can cross that off the list.

What’s next ?  Let me check.

Do not eat the chocolate eggs.

I’ll get right on that.

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Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Geishaboy500