Don’t Eat the Cookie

To be honest, I don’t even want to eat the cookie. Sitting at this beautiful café in the middle of the gold coast you could easily be fooled into thinking that the world is perfect. The sun is shining through the floor to ceiling glass to my right and the awning is just perfectly obscuring that superb sunlight from my eyes. I’m on my second coffee for the day now and the words are coming a little more freely. To be fair, my first coffee was tenderly sipped on the highway at 4:00am. The hour long drive completed and a few of my oldest, dearest clients helped on the their fitness journey and here I am.

But the cookie. That fucking cookie.

This is no ordinary café. It’s the sort of café you dream about. One where the coffee is expertly extracted from precisely roasted beans. Although I drink it black, the sweetness left over from the baristas touch is incredible. Also, they care about their customers here and go the extra mile to make sure your coffee experience is as perfect as it should be. Perched beside my (call it what it is) bowl of black coffee is a sugar cookie. Not large or garishly decorated. Simple, teeming with vanilla and perfectly suited to accompany the liquid gold slowly filling my gut. But not today. Today I am saying no.

Like I said, I really don’t even want to eat it. But wouldn’t it be simple. Guided by the little pressure from the establishment, they did gift it to you after all. And the insidious creep of hunger on my third day of intermittent fasting, a cookie would make it all go away. But that would defeat the point.

I guess I am lucky in a way that I have just left a session with a client of mine discussing delayed gratification. Through averted gaze she admitted to me that on more than one occasion this week, she devoured an entire bag of chocolate on the way home from the shops. Classic marshmallow test.

What I’m referring to here is a group of nasty scientists somewhere in the 80’s that put kids through the mental wringer. Kids were sat in front of a plump pink marshmallow and told by their supervisor that if they could resist eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes while the researcher was away that they would get two marshmallows instead of one. A simple task you might say, but without your phone and emails to distract you (and the mind of a 4 year old) the results were clear. Kids just couldn’t cope. Well, most of the kids couldn’t. A few tried their best, distracting themselves with games, turning the opposite direction, pulling ears, ANYTHING in an attempt to make it to the fifteen minute mark. Some sampled the sticky sweet and others rolled around on the floor. But only a few managed to avoid it all together. These are the kids we need to model after.

But the scientists weren’t done there. They would keep track of these kids through the years and see just how important delayed gratification is long term. Following these kids through life, this ability to hold off for something bigger bubbled up again and again. This small group performed better at school, got better jobs, stayed away from drugs and alcohol and generally had better lives.

So what does it mean for you?

  1. Put the damn marshmallow down.

It doesn’t matter if your already halfway through chewing on that sugary treat. Stop. Now. It’s never too late to start putting practices in place that will turn your life around. Right now for example, my coffee cup is turned around and the cookie hidden on the other side. I’m not interested in the slightest but why test my resolve this early in the morning.

  1. Make sure the marshmallow you are waiting for is worth it.

This is one of the biggest missed pieces in this whole framework. Not eating the first marshmallow is hard if you are only waiting for two. What if you were waiting for 3 marshmallows, coated in gold leaf, on the passenger seat of your new Ferrari? Do you think you would make it to fifteen minutes then?  Too many of my clients aren’t delaying for a reward worth the effort. For me it’s a new car. More than that, it’s a new car without any of the financial pressure that would normally go with the purchase. The trade – 2 years. 365×2 days. But what I am waiting for is way more than a car.

It’s the feeling of driving something beautiful and new. The joy of family trips to the beach and the luxury of washing a toy you have earned. The prestige of feeling like a winner and the process of research, chose, customize and order. To be honest, I can’t fucking wait.

Oh, actually I can.

A few things to remember when setting your marshmallow goal.

  1. It doesn’t have to be 2 years in the making. Mini marshmallows work really well also. One of mine is skipping indiscriminate lunches out and trading them for a chocolate croissant and coffee with my wife, baby and dog on a Saturday. This little weekly bump keeps me on track and saving money (and calories) at the same time.
  2. Make sure you are casting votes on the same side of the fence. If you’re dieting, skipping your usual three chocolate biscuits every day for a small chocolate tart on Saturday only works if the calories in the tart are substantially less than 21 chocolate biscuits. Accruing a 500calorie deficit each week to blow it and blow out on an 800 beer and pizza binge just isn’t going to move you (or the scale) in the right direction.

The old adage of “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best is right now” holds true here too. You need to start today. Delaying gratification and choosing long term over short is a practice. You need to rehearse and get your reps in – just like at the gym. Start small and gradually notch your way up to the big leagues. I promise you it will get easier as the time and training accumulates. The really fun bit is watching the marshmallows you wait for get bigger and bigger.