Self Control and The Marshmallow Test

I was reading an interesting book recently called The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel.  In this book he discusses the famous marshmallow test that was performed on preschoolers.  The preschoolers could either accept a single treat like a marshmallow or wait and get two treats.  Whether or not they waited correlated with their future life success, however that is not the interesting part of this book.  Especially for us.  What is interesting is some of the tactics that he points out to increase self-control.

Anyone who is dieting either to lose weight, or for general health, knows that it takes a good degree of self-control.  It can be hard to turn away from certain foods in favor of others, however this book does offer us several tips we can use to help us.

1. Cool it Down

One of the tactics that was shown to help improve the amount of time that the preschoolers could wait was for focus on the cool properties of an object.  For us that means we need to take the delicious food in front of us and make it more abstract.  One tactic they taught the preschoolers to do was to put a mental frame around the treat and imagine it as a picture.  This helped them because well you can’t eat a picture.  Calming down your brain like this can help make avoiding the tempting food easier.

2. Heat it up

Everyone has a reason they’re changing their diet, and this fact can be leveraged to make dieting a little bit easier.  This tactic is the exact opposite of the last one, but instead of focusing on food we focus on our future self.  Imagine your future self in as much detail as humanly possible.  Imagine all of the benefits of your new diet.  This will help activate older parts of your brain that will give you the motivation to turn towards the right food choices.

3. Distance Yourself

One of the tactics that was successful for the preschoolers was to literally distance themselves from the food.  They would push it as far away from themselves as possible.  You can do the same thing, hide the cookies, place the salad on the table.  Keep the dangerous foods further away and make it convenient for you to eat the right foods.

These few tips can make a huge difference in your dieting success.  It may not seem like it but small changes can have a huge effect.

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