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An Unexpected Key to Business Success

Your capacity for delayed gratification increases your likelihood to succeed.
February 20, 2009
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/200270

Why do you eat? Because the food's there. Because it's time. Because someone else is eating.

When do you stop? When my plate is empty. When there is no more. When I feel like I can't possibly fit another bite into my stomach.

There are many internal and external factors that govern when we eat, what we eat, how much we eat and when we stop, most of which have nothing to do with actual hunger or satiety. With lives that are packed full of activities and responsibilities, many of us have reassigned "eating" from a joyful ritual, a celebration that sustains our physical beings, to a task that just needs to be accomplished in the shortest amount of time, or with the most multitasking efficiency.

What would food taste like, what would you be inclined to eat (or not eat), and how would you feel if instead of deferring to the "hot, brown, plenty of it with no-time-to-eat-it" mentality to food, you gave the daily ritual of eating a little more space and awareness?

The Physiology of "Full"
It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to catch up with what your belly already knows. While an empty plate might be your external cue that it's time to stop eating, there's actually a much more complex set of mechanisms that governs your internal signal of "fullness." Between the stretching of your stomach, the releasing of a cascade of hormones and the increasing of your blood sugar levels, the food you put in your mouth at 6:02 p.m. won't get recognized by your brain until sometime around 6:20 p.m.

In other words, scarf down an entire plate of food in six minutes and not only will you barely have tasted what you put down your hatch, but also it'll take 14 more minutes for your brain to gather all the data it needs to tell you to stop. And if you over-shot and ate way more than your body actually wanted or needed--well, thank goodness for the top button on your pants.

The Weight of One Raisin
From the toweling-off sequence we use after a shower to the ritualized steps we take in getting ready for bed, a majority of our actions each day are habitual. For most of us, the way we eat, how much we eat, and what we eat are also habitual.

Becoming aware of if you're hungry, what you're hungry for and when you're full is as simple as, if not as uncomfortable and awkward as, brushing your teeth using the opposite hand.

You're an accomplished entrepreneur--a leader of innovation and a person of action. Are you up for a challenge?

Try using two full minutes to eat a raisin.
Hold the raisin in your hand--look at it, feel it, smell it. As you put it in your mouth, be aware of how you start to salivate, where the taste hits your tongue, how the raisin feels on your tongue. Allow it to roll around in your mouth. Be aware as the reflex to swallow gets triggered and make the choice if you want to swallow or not. When you decide to swallow, feel the raisin slide down your throat and see if you can feel it land in your stomach. As it does, see if you can sense what it feels like to be one raisin heavier.

Was it harder to do than you thought? Kind of crazy what you can actually taste, isn't it? And you thought you didn't even like raisins. What other "exotic" flavors might be lurking out there to be savored and enjoyed?

While slowing down to eat intentionally may not seem on the surface to be directly related to how effectively you're able to run your business, it's actually an ideal laboratory for the success-minded entrepreneur. For most people, eating is something they do mindlessly, and both how and what they eat is almost purely habit. That's also how most people choose to approach their work. But entrepreneurs who find sustaining success are neither mindless nor habitual about their work.

The way people allow delayed gratification with food reveals other things, too. In the 1960s, Stanford University psychology researcher Michael Mischel conducted The Marshmallow Study, which demonstrated how children's self-discipline and choices related to food directly corresponds to success later in life.

During the study, Mischel offered a group of 4-year-olds a marshmallow, but said if they waited for him to run an errand, they could have two. The errand ended up taking about 20 minutes. One-third of the children opted to take the marshmallow right away while one-third ended up waiting for Mischel's return so they could have two marshmallows. Fourteen years later, the children who waited turned out to be more positive, more successful in school and better able to pursue their goals by delaying gratification. The children who did not wait for the extra marshmallow ended up scoring an average of 210 fewer points on SAT tests and were also more indecisive and less self-confident in life.

At first glance, this study might suggest that nature wins over nurture. Mischel, however, discovered if children are taught cognitive tricks, they do better. What this means for you is that it's possible to learn how to make better decisions. You may not always use the right mental tools in the right situation.

For example, some people need to know all the options before they make decisions. These people are called maximizers. They tend to need the best possible option and generally are less satisfied and happy in life. Satisfiers tend to be more satisfied with something as long as it has the qualities they want--unlike the maximizer who wants to examine every possible choice. Once you learn which you are, you can begin to train yourself to use your brain to your advantage and actually make better decisions.

Continue to hone your skills of mindfulness, intention and delayed gratification through all of your daily actions--from when you eat that single raisin to when you can reach for seconds.