Marshmallows What Can Teach You About Physical Therapy
Years later, Mischel and his team followed up with
Back in the ’60s and ’70s, a well-known psychologist namedWalter Mischel set out to study the development of children’s capacities for delayed gratification with his famous experiment known as the“Stanford MarshmallowTest.”The procedure for the study was deceptively straightforward. Participating kids, usually between the ages of 4 and 6, were seated in a room devoid of distractions. In front of themwas a plate with a treat of their choice: an Oreo, pretzel stick, or, of course, a lone marshmallow. Researchers told the tykes that they could eat the treat if they wanted, but there was a catch: If they waited 15 minutes without giving into temptation, they’d be rewarded with a second treat. Then the researchers left the room and observed the kids through a one-way mirror. Many of the youngest children chomped down their treat mere seconds after the researchers left. Others seemed to summon up reserves of intense focus, staring down the marshmallow as if it were an adversary on the battlefield. Some older kids shrewdly deployed strategies to distract them from the taunting sweets, singing songs over and over or simply turning around and facing the other way. But in the end, about 70 percent of kids broke down and scarfed their treat, despite their best efforts to resist.
On the other hand, just as many eat that marshmallow, they head home after a long day at work, and instead of stretching their hamstrings or doing their prescribed squats, they plop down on the couch and turn on their DVR to catch up on“Game of Thrones.”Patients who slip into these bad habits spend months neglecting their exercises and ultimately end up just barely above where they started, still suffering from pervasive pain. Maybe they get their act together or maybe they continue reinforcing their marshmallow-eating habits until insurance stops paying for their treatment. They may reluctantly leave the practice without resolving their problem. The willpower needed for recovery isn’t a given. Truly, it acts like the muscles in your legs, strengthening when you work to build good habits and weakening when you don’t. We do everything we can to encourage and motivate our patients. We want them to realize the goals they set out to accomplish when they first came to the institute. But in the end, it’s up to them. The question is, do you want two marshmallows later or one now? — Dr. Michael Russo
the parents and academic advisors of the 653 participants in the marshmallow experiment, who by then were in high school. In the results, Mischel saw a striking pattern: The larger subset of kids, the ones who couldn’t wait 15 minutes for an additional treat, were more likely to have behavioral problems or struggle in school. Though he was reluctant to draw a direct line from the results of the experiment, one thing was clear: The willpower to delay gratification was correlated with a greater level of success in life. Of the hundreds and hundreds of patients we treat at New Jersey Institute of Balance, many are like those little kids chomping down the marshmallow after only a few minutes. We go through a battery of exercises and techniques at the practice. We then prescribe them a regimen of stretches and exercises to do at home. Many patients, dedicated to a full recovery, keep their eyes on their original goal of being able to golf or run or just live pain-free again, and diligently complete their home exercises every single day. Over months of directed effort, these patients usually make a full recovery and move on with their lives, proud of their accomplishments and their lack of pain.
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