February 16, 2012

A Biscuit A Day…

In August 2008 Marc Hogan was bet £1 that he couldn’t become a stand up comic in less than 12 months and perform a one man comedy show at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in August 2009 for 21 nights. He won the bet!

How do I summon up the willpower to write this blog? There are so many other things I could be doing. I could walk the dog, pack a box as we’re (hopefully) moving house soon. ‘Moving house’ now that’s a stupid saying, no one ever moves their house they move to another house, unless you live in a caravan or a houseboat, or you’re that old guy from UP.

Anyway, I digress, according to Psychologists we can all learn to increase our willpower but before I do that I’m just going to get a coffee and a biscuit or perhaps two…

3 biscuits later…

The granddaddy of willpower science is the “marshmallow experiment”. Devised by Walter Mischel in 1972, it’s a classic of social psychology and the bedrock for all later research on willpower and self-control. In it, researchers left four year olds alone in a room with a marshmallow and told them that if they could wait until the experimenter returned they’d get two.

You can watch a video of the experiment here (if you have the willpower). I really love the kid at 2.45.

You can see where Haribo got the inspiration for their recent television advert. Are Haribo the modern marshmallows?

In the marshmallow video, you can really see the agony these kids go through, but it’s what happened next that gave researchers a new insight into the workings of willpower and character.

The children happened to attend the same school as Mischel’s daughters. He began hearing stories about them and happened to notice that the children who’d been unable to wait but had eaten the marshmallow seemed to get into more trouble. He and his researchers tracked them over years and discovered that the children who held out the longest in the test did better academically, earned more, weighed less, had more successful relationships and were less likely to have drug abuse problems.

A remarkable long-term 32-year study in New Zealand, backs up Mischel’s findings. A team of international researchers tracked 1,000 people from their birth, rating their observed and reported self-control and willpower in a different ways.

What they found was that, even taking into account differences of intelligence, race and social class, those with high self-control – those who, in Mischel’s experiment, held out for two marshmallows later – grew into healthier, happier and wealthier adults. While those with low willpower fared less well academically. They were more likely to be in low-paying jobs with few savings, to be overweight, to have drug or alcohol problems, and to have difficulty maintaining stable relationships (many were single parents). They were also nearly four times more likely to have a criminal conviction.

Worryingly all those children in the Haribo advert look set to be failures…

If you were the kind of child who couldn’t resist a marshmallow, would have eaten your Haribos in 2 seconds flat and never saved your pocket money, fear not.

The first piece of good news is that research suggests that willpower operates like a muscle and therefore it can be improved with practice.

Exhibiting self-control in one small aspect of your life can lead to greater self-control in other, more important areas.

For example, two Australian psychologists, Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng, found that students who were enrolled in an exercise programme or made to manage their money more carefully held out better against temptation in other areas. They smoked and drank less and studied more. Neuroscientists believe that the practice strengthens neural pathways to saying “no” rather than “yes”.

But the best news is that a sugary snack can actually be a powerful willpower aid. Want to improve your chances of sticking to your resolution? Eat something. Resisting temptation, a task undertaken by our frontal lobes, is energy-intensive work and you’ll do it much better after you’ve had some glucose. (I’m off to get another biscuit…)

Interestingly in a study published last year, researchers found that Israeli judges making the difficult and sensitive decision of whether or not to grant parole opted to do so in roughly 65% of cases after lunch, and hardly ever just before.

Makes you think, perhaps it’s time to exercise a little more willpower in one part of your life to ensure you don’t end up like those poor Haribo kids…

Click here to watch Marc’s showreel. If you would like to find out more about Marc, visit www.marchoganlive.com or to book him for a speaking event please contact your favourite speaker bureau.


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