DON’T EAT THE COOKIES you tell yourself every time you pass the breakroom table. You can smell them from your desk, and this diet is terrible, and you haven’t eaten in hours, and they look good, and one probably won’t hurt. But no, you struggle on through the day and eventually make it to closing time pleased you resisted the temptation to break your diet. You feel…worn out, unsatisfied…still hungry. You’ve been using your willpower throughout the day by expending energy and effort to fight against your urges. There must be a better way.
The Marshmallow Test is a famous test given to children to determine delayed gratification and future reward. Children of various ages were given a marshmallow and told that if they waited until the researcher came back (about 5 min.) that they would get two marshmallows (gee whiz!). Many failed by eating the marshmallow as soon as the researcher left the room, but many also were able to wait and were rewarded with double the loot. We can learn from how they accomplished this monumental exercise in willpower.
Willpower is finite, and using it does strengthen your mental fortitude, but it also exhausts you, so you’re mentally fatigued when you have to make another important decision. The kids that won 2x the marshmallow rewards did so by distracting themselves from the temptation by closing their eyes, turning away, singing a song, playing a game with themselves. They distracted themselves from having to exert willpower and, as Mary Poppins would say, “the job becomes a game.”
Improve your odds at winning the willpower game by putting the cookies in the fridge, so you don’t see them, locking the game controller away, so you aren’t tempted, or not keeping so much chocolate in the house. Give yourself a willpower powerup and avoid the temptation entirely, or at least begin by limiting your exposure.