Saturated in a Land of Excess
On a whim, I watched a show called The Biggest Loser the other night on NBC. It is a competition to see who can lose the most weight. I was fascinated, not by the incredible amounts of weight that were being shed by the contestants, but by the discovery that the participants were making about their own lives. It was as if they had forgotten that they had the power to direct their existence and had assumed that they would always be a slave to something outside of themselves.
It is easy to look around our communities and see people who are gorging themselves into a state of numbness and I’m not just talking about food. People are saturating their lives with gambling, pornography, food, debt, television, drugs, alcohol, shopping, electronic games, the Internet etc. It is as if our voracious appetite for stimulation has become our only goal. Not only do we want it now, we want lots of it! And yet the more we get the more disillusioned we become. We eat excessive amounts of food, but we never seem filled. We crave sexual stimulation, but have forgotten how to make love. We are texting hundreds of messages to each other, but don’t know how to communicate. We are becoming a nation of consumers that cannot be satisfied.
In the 1960’s, Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University, did a study using marshmallows and four-year-old children. In his experiment he sat and talked with the children individually during which time his assistant would come in the room and tell him that she needed him for a moment. Before Dr. Mischel would leave the room he would place a marshmallow on a plate in front of the child. He told them that they could eat the marshmallow now or if they could resist eating the marshmallow until he returned he would give them a second marshmallow as a reward. Obviously some children were able to restrain themselves and others did not. The interesting part of the experiment is what happened to those children over time. Dr. Mischel tracked each child to see if having the ability to exercise self-control and practice delayed gratification would somehow impact the child’s life. Astoundingly, Dr. Mischel found that the kids who had delayed their gratification in pursuit of a better outcome had significantly more fulfilling lives as they grew up than those who had eaten the marshmallow. Their test scores were better, their level of education was higher, their jobs were superior, their happiness was greater and their divorce rate was lower. Dr. Mischel came to the conclusion that goal-directed self-imposed delay of gratification is the basis of emotional self-regulation and the catalyst for meaningful achievement in life.
So, how can we redirect our lives from being excessive consumers to a person that exercises simple discipline in the pursuit of higher goals? How can we harness our willpower for the betterment of our lives as well as the betterment of our world?
Is there an area in your life that you feel you have an unhealthy craving or have developed an addiction? If so, you may need to seek external help. Behavioral Therapy and Solution-Focused counseling are great tools to help individuals reclaim their lives. If you don’t think your life is out of control and yet you feel that a measure of self-discipline could be helpful, make a simple plan to do things differently. You may need the help of a friend, pastor or relative to reinforce your plan, which is fine. Remember to make your goals simple and your progress measurable. Don’t try to change everything at once but don’t allow yourself to slip either. By mastering simple delayed gratification in the pursuit of a goal, you will find that your experience as a parent, friend, spouse, co-worker and human being will become more fulfilling.