I'd eat the Oreo

Why is it so difficult to do the things that are good for me?

This is a constant question bouncing off the walls of my mind. Kind of like this:

(my "logic" is the kicker and my "self worth" getting reamed in the face)

And does it ever get me anything but a headache? Not really. But luckily neuroscience is catching up to people with neurotic questions (cough-me) and making them just a little easier to understand.

Perhaps you already know the Marshmallow Experiment conducted at Standford in the 1960's (thanks, Wikipedia!) but in case you're unfamiliar, here's the basic layout:

Scientists put kids in a room by themselves with a tasty treat - usually a marshmallow (I am more enticed by the Oreo version) - and told them "if you can wait here for X minutes and NOT eat the marshmallow, when we come back you'll get TWO marshmallows."

Ya, kid. Stakes are high. Don't mess it up.

The results told them supposedly about willpower, delayed gratification, and how kids with more distraction techniques performed better (aka waited-out the situation successfully). They followed the kids into adulthood and made all sorts of comparisons about how the self control, or supposed lack-thereof, demonstrated by the kids translated into various adult successes.

It's easy to stop here and say well, OBVIOUSLY, the higher the willpower the better their future lives. Especially because that is largely what was observed as these kids evolved into adults.

But I think these findings, while extremely useful and relevant, can be used for something more than shaming the indulgent side of myself:

A logical reason for self-compassion! Say what?

A neuroscience grad student friend of mine recently introduced me to the term salience - the presence a concept has in the forefront of your mind. Salience = prominence. But it sounds all science-y and stuff.

Biologically speaking, it makes MUCH more sense to follow the immediate sensory input (the viewing, smelling, feeling, and maybe tasting!) of the Oreo right in front of me. Evolutionarily, it makes little sense to trust a stranger to bring me a reward for refusing delicious, high-caloric sweetness right in front of my freaking. Drooling. FACE.

 So, I'd eat the Oreo. Simply because it's salience is higher, and ranking "eat that sugar now" above "find a way to distract myself from delicious things so that maybe this nice-seeming man will bring me another one in FOREVER…" Actually makes quite good survivalist sense.

Also, remember how as a kid 20 minutes was literally FOREVER?

Why is it hard to do the things that are good for me? Because the things that are easier, and usually objectively worse, are right in front of my freaking. Drooling. FACE. It's called being a human.

But it's neurologically sound, at least :) I love you, brain!

Also, for the record, I'd at least TRY not to eat the Oreo and trust the nice science-man with more Oreos. But I'll leave trust for later!


Popular Posts