Probably like every other kid in the entire world, my girl and boy love sweets. Maya is known to say “I don’t WANT food, I want treats and snacks and sweets!!” I just shake my head in exasperation. As parents, we obviously desire that our children eat healthy food as much as possible. We’re not crazy about this, and Rachel will tell you that I’m kind of a “sugar daddy” and give the kiddos more than their fair share of cookies, M&Ms, and – recently – Mambas. But I’m also extremely firm about them eating their broccoli and salmon, or their peas and ground turkey, or their onions and peppers with my homemade sweet and sour chicken.
Even knowing this, though, both Rachel and I regularly make the same mistake: we give them their “treat” at the same time as their “food.” For example, yesterday I gave Maya chips with her yogurt. Guess what, she ate a ton of chips and barely touched her yogurt. Also yesterday, Rachel gave Ravi raspberries with the rest of his lunch, and he devoured the raspberries, screamed incessantly for more, and would not eat the rest of his food.
These moments made me think of the concept of delayed gratification and the famous “Marshmallow Experiment” by three Stanford professors in the early 1970s. In the most famous round of this study, boys and girls between the ages of 3 and 5 had a marshmallow placed on the table in front of them. They had the freedom to eat it, but if they could hold off eating it for just fifteen minutes, they would be rewarded with a second treat. Generally speaking, the researchers found that the presence of the initial reward in front of them made it extremely difficult for them to delay gratification. In addition, they discovered that not thinking about either the initial reward at all worked better than thinking about the future reward.
The researchers found that the presence of the initial reward in front of them made it extremely difficult for them to delay gratification. In addition, they discovered that not thinking about either the initial reward at all worked better than thinking about the future reward.
We can relate to this, right? I mean, during December, we are often surrounded by a bunch of unhealthy food (at the office pre-pandemic) or in our homes (by choice, I know, because it’s the holidays!). And if it’s around us, we are very likely to indulge in it. Same with the presence of alcohol – if for some reason we want to really cut down on drinking but we go to the bar with friends or keep a bunch of bottles in a liquor cabinet, we’re probably going to fail in our goal.
In Proverbs 7, there’s a story of a “youth who had no sense” who knows he’s supposed to keep away from “the adulteress” but goes for a walk right by where she lives. Now, I don’t love this example because it perpetuates n unfair negative stereotype, but the point is that the youth could have gone for a walk anywhere else. But he sees her come out of her house, and the temptation is way too strong. He then followed her “like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.”
You might wonder how we got from my girl eating chips and my boy eating raspberries to this ridiculously intense situation. I know it seems overly dramatic, but just work with me here for a second. If I keep bags of treats or snacks or sweets on the kitchen countertops, kids see it and scream and cry for it. (Seriously, I carry my one-year-old into the kitchen and he sees a full container and painfully yells into my ear: “Cookie. Cookie!!! COOKIEEEE!!!!!!!”).
But if I keep the treat out of sight, they eat their dinner. And then I can decide to reward them later with something yummy (which I usually do, if they’ve done a decent job with their meal).
Can we apply this simple concept to our life? Can it help us to make better choices – for our health, in our productivity, with our well-being? If there is something constantly present or easily accessible that takes you to a bad place, can you remove it from your home, your relationship circle, or your life in general? Just so it’s not a temptation?
If there is something constantly present or easily accessible that takes you to a bad place, can you remove it from your home, your relationship circle, or your life in general? Just so it’s not a temptation?
I know a family who had to get their PlayStation out of their home because their son refused to do anything else but play video games. I know another family who had to send their daughter to a different school because the kids at the original school were such a bad influence. Over the years (and more often than I would like to admit), I’ve had to delete (really awesome) social media apps from my phone because they were enticing me in unhealthy ways. And I’ve had to completely cut out certain people in my life (even though I loved them) because they were wrecking me emotionally.
If it’s not helping you, it could be hurting you – sometimes obviously, but many times in subtle ways. Have you tried reduce the possibility of seeing it? Being reminded of it? Being tempted by it? Can something be done? And if so, is it worth trying? Maybe some negative influence or temptation comes to mind right now. I encourage you to dwell on it, instead of dismissing it and moving onto the next thing. Who knows, maybe by just trying something different to get it out of sight and out of mind, it might lead to a breakthrough in your life.
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