Anthropomorphizing Your Belongings

After watching a video with my mom recently, we started talking about anthropomorphizing.  My observation of the video was that the animals were being credited with some human characteristics.  She agreed and commented sometimes we go out of our way to avoid recognizing “human” characteristics in animals and shared an experience she’d had.  She observed some elk sliding down a hill, front legs splayed in front of them while their haunches was on the ground.  Now, even that is cute, but after they got to the bottom of the hill, they jumped up and ran back to the top and did it again.  They were sledding, it was play – this served no other purpose.

Yeah, so what does this have to do with organizing?

Anthropomorphizing isn’t limited to animals.  We can view our belongings with a certain amount of personality.  We might be reluctant to throw things away or even give them away.  This always makes me think of The Velveteen Rabbit, where a toy can become real once it’s owner really and truly loves it.

What we tell ourselves about our stuff affects how we deal with it.  Some people throw things out easily once they’ve lost their usefulness while others have a hard time parting with them at all.  And this is just talking about when the things might need to leave – what about how we treat our belongings while they are in our possession?

There’s another argument that a certain amount of anthropomorphizing could be helpful.  If you loved your keys and cell phone, you be less likely to misplace them.  You’d be conscious of them and where you laid them down – mindful of how you treated them, maximizing their chance to be useful.

If you valued your things as if they personality, or maybe more that they had a job to do – to help you – you might want to help them accomplish this.

  • Your papers – accessible and logical so you can find what you need when you need it.
  • Your clothes – arranged and easy to access whenever you want
  • Your dishes – clean and ready to be used whenever you need
  • Your photos and memorabilia – available when you want to share it with someone or even to take a trip down memory lane for yourself
  • Your jewelry – if you know where all of it is, you can wear it when you want
  • Your décor – pleasing and rewarding for you so that you would smile as you walk through your home
  • Your random lost items – peace at being able to find exactly what you need when you need it
  • Your “whatever” – to make your life simpler and more enjoyable

Show your things your compassion and care so they can help you – the give and take that relationships require.  And even if we think of it differently, we do have relationships with things, so let’s nurture that.

Once your things have stopped helping you, it’s time to let them move on.  If appropriate, moving them onto someone else who can appreciate what they have to offer.  What better blessing that gifting that usefulness to someone else?  If they’ve outlived their ability to serve, then simply letting them go.

If our things had feelings, I imagine they’d be sad to become clutter since they served us so well, that’s not what they would want.  If you want a more magical approach, in The Velveteen Rabbit, although it looks like a dire end to a well-loved toy who sheds a real tear as he’s about to be burned (the boy had Scarlet Fever), the Nursery Magic Fairy comes, kisses him, and makes him a real rabbit – who the boy sees romping in the wild and thinks of his old toy.  Even with things, it is still a relationship – what would you do to treat that relationship with care and respect?

Information Collecting

You might say that I am an information junkie.  I love learning and there is so much out there I could learn.  And it seems like it’s getting easier and easier to have access to a plethora of information – at your fingertips, whenever you want.  I will hold myself back from a rant about the reliability of this information, yet with the Internet so accessible, there’s tons of information to be had.  We might not stop and think about our collecting in this realm.

Our collecting information might be fairly limited to certain topics or it might be more general.  It doesn’t matter which one it is if you have a tendency to collect it.  It’s relatively easy to collect information and physically less cluttered if it’s digital.  Nevertheless, it’s collecting in either form.  We don’t see the space in the same way when it’s digital, yet this doesn’t mean it’s not getting cluttered.

First, is your collecting of information getting in your way? How much time and energy are you spending on collecting this information? Are you referencing this information again? Can you find what you know you saved when you want it again?  Do you have guilt that you aren’t using the information you’ve collected?

Just like with most stuff that you can collect, if you are keeping it, you don’t want to be controlled by it.  It’s there to serve and help you. Period. You also want to be able to easily find it.  Since information these days is both physical and digital, it can be challenging to keep everything together.  (I’m moving strongly into the digital realm, as it’s searchable and saves paper.)  It doesn’t matter which one suits you as long you make it work for you.

Sometimes this means taking a hard look at what your response is to information.  Do you have a desire to collect it?  If you collect it and then do something with it, then there’s nothing wrong.  If you seem to have information that you haven’t even looked at, it’s time to consider what matters in your life.  Do you want to spend your time and energy going through and examining all that information? (Are you really going to make time and energy to do that?) More importantly, are you going to continue to collect information for this unknown future point when you will use it?

How much are you collecting because it “might be useful one day”? Do you lack the confidence that you could find the information when it became relevant?  Have you thought about how fast information changes, so saving something that might be relevant down the road might really be saving irrelevant information?

I struggle with these limits.  As I’ve already said, I love learning.  When I look on my computer or at my papers, I’ve been amazed by how much I’ve saved.  It’s hard to part with them – yet this is exactly what I’ve been doing – examining what I’ve kept and tossing what I can.  I’ve also made some changes in how I handle information: I’m starting to scan certain things and I’m re-organizing the digital information so I can access it more readily.

As with all organizing projects, I see it as a process.  Your vision can change at any moment.  Additionally, our first step really needs to be examining what we’re collecting and considering what happens for us with collecting.  Even the most organized person collects – it’s what they do with the collecting that differentiates them.  Is the information you are collecting worth your time and energy? Challenge yourself with your answer – it can open up a new way of viewing your stuff.

Book Review: Making Peace with the Things in Your Life

With the extreme numbers of organizing books available, this book was on my radar, though cannot be sure where it would have landed if it hadn’t been included as part of the coaching program I took.  We weren’t required to read the whole thing, just a section – though once I had the book I was reading it.  Making Peace with the Things in Your Life: Why Your Papers, Books, Clothes, and Other Possessions Keep Overwhelming You – and What to Do About It by Cindy Glovinsky, M.S.W., A.C.S.W. is quite possibly one of the best books on organizing I’ve read.

This book takes a different approach than many organizing books out there – it’s designed to help you look at the internal stuff that happens around Things in your life.  Often when dealing with all the stuff that surrounds us, we target the physical items first and this doesn’t always work well – the stuff keeps returning.  Cindy Glovinsky is trained as a psychotherapist and walks the reader through many aspects to explore around the problem with Things.  It’s designed to get you ready to use all those other more typical organizing books available.

One of the aspects that I really appreciated was that early on she talks about chaos and order – how “the two interweave in a perpetual, ever-changing dance.”  She spends a little time talking about how these are both part of our universe and serve a purpose.  Here I go again, my passions – the balance, the self-acceptance, the inevitable changes of life – this is part of life.

You might have noticed that when the word Things appears, it’s always capitalized.  This is done throughout the book to draw your attention to it and change your perspective on the stuff around you.  Generally I dislike the device of using capitals in such ways, though I found that it did shift my perspective.  The word itself is wonderfully vague so it can apply to any of us, with whatever it is that we have.  Her language and use of aliens and characters convey her compassion – for others and yourself.

If you want quick and easy answers, this book is not for you.  It takes you through the major tasks needed to make lasting change. The book is broken into 4 parts – Part I: assumptions about Things; Part II: systematic inventory of Thing habits and Thing feelings; Part III: possible causes of Thing problems with suggestions for coping with them; Part IV: putting what you’ve learned into action.  In the introduction she acknowledges that figuring out what is going on for you with Things is hard work and that it might feel like this is a lot of trouble to go through, yet “[O]nly action informed by insight can lead you out of the circles.”

As with many things – from time management and scheduling to organizing and beyond – there’s a need for the foundation.  I look at David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) as foundational work for scheduling and managing time (at least so far in my reading), which means that Franklin Covey might not work for you until you get the basics of GTD.  If you struggle with handling your stuff well, Making Peace with Things in Your Life is a great foundation on which to start.  Then you might move on to the books dealing with physically handling your stuff and space.

Racing – Time & Energy

How does having lots of to-dos make you feel?  The answer might vary depending on many different circumstances.  There is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when we have lots of things pressing on our time and still manage to get it all done.  It can certainly make you feel alive, your heart is racing, and you can look around and see all that you accomplished.  There is a time and a place for using this energy.

Unfortunately, if this is how you primarily function, your super productive moments might be far and few between, if you do not have that external pressure to get it all done, it is easy to struggle.  This also assumes that you can turn on those super productive times when you want or need them.

There are times when I race around the house, full of energy, getting things accomplished.  My husband will talk to me, but I often hardly hear him, my brain is working so fast it’s like I can’t slow down to speak.  That feeling is wonderful – the energy coursing through me in combination with all the things that I can get done.

Yet, there are consequences to this energy.  Your focus is often not directed when you’re racing around.  The tasks you work on are frequently the easiest and you ignore the pieces that require more attention or are more challenging to accomplish.  If you continue to avoid those tasks that take more time, they won’t get done.

This can look like ADD/ADHD – the attention and energy, although it’s not limited to this situation – this racing energy can affect us all.  You might discover this energy regardless of the length of your to-do list.  Early on when I became a professional organizer, I would come home from working with people, I would be filled with this energy.  I enjoyed using it to get things accomplished.

Sometimes though there are consequences to using this energy.  I would occasionally wear myself out racing around; I wasn’t paying attention to my real energy level.  Other times, after I had settled down I would look around and see obvious tasks I’d missed.  I’ve seen some people struggle with the energy as things actually get messier by the time they’ve finished.

Consider how that energy works or doesn’t work for you.  If you understand the effect of your racing energy, you can then use it to benefit yourself and your tasks.

Clearance and Discount Items – Really a Value?

I’ve been known to be frugal.  I cringe at the price of things; lately that’s been the cost of binders.  My mind is boggled by how much they cost.  This leads me to search for items in discount stores and the clearance section of stores hoping to save my money.  I also frequently browse the dollar area of stores looking for great products at a discounted price.  And you might have already guessed this – there is often a high cost to purchases made in this way.

Let me continue with my search for 3-ring binders.  I went to countless stores searching for less expensive binders.  Some stores had binders at the same price as the typical office supply stores.  Other stores did have binders at a lower price, sometimes not at a significantly lower price.  A couple of stores had some binders in their clearance area.  I cannot tell you how much time I spent driving around and going shopping, which isn’t something I enjoy anyway.  It was all in the effort of saving money and I was motivated.  First off, how much did I really save by all the time, energy, and gas I spent on this quest?

Secondly and maybe more importantly, those less expensive binders I did buy are breaking apart – whether they came of the clearance areas or the discount stores.  I didn’t save myself anything.  Although I spent less money initially, the quality was poor and I needed to get more binders. (Thank goodness for Unikeep’s Ecobinders.)

This is one of the things we don’t always think about when we’re searching to save money – the clearance and discounted items are often less sturdy.  If we think about it, this makes sense – how can something be so inexpensive here and nowhere else?  It’s logical that the quality is less than the “normal.”

I was shopping with a friend and we were looking through the dollar items at a store.  I had stopped at a container, it was a style that I’ve been intrigued with yet don’t want to spend the money to get (at least until I have a strong purpose for it).  It was tempting; it was only a dollar.  I picked it up and was looking at it.  Then I noticed that one of the corners was all smashed up.  I put it down and moved down the aisle.  Then my friend saw the same container and got excited.  I commented how poorly it must be made since a corner was smashed in.  She too put the container back down and moved along.  If one was so easily smashed in, it really suggests the quality isn’t up to the standards of similar containers.

If you examine the discounted items at stores, you can offer discover why they are offering those items at a lower price.  Without naming a store, I was intrigued with a display table of discounted items from a familiar brand – ooh a chance to save some money.  I picked up several of the offerings to see if I needed any of them and played with them.  It quickly became apparent why they were discounted though if I hadn’t stopped to “play” with them, I wouldn’t have realized the poor quality.  It was quite unexpected, as I said, it was a familiar brand, yet whether these were factory problems or just bad design – the products were defective.  That didn’t stop the company from putting them on a nice display table in the middle of the store to tempt people into spending some money to get them.

Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell when something is poor quality, yet pausing to ask yourself, to consider the idea that if these items are being offered at such a reduced price there is likely to be something less than ideal about them.  Stores play on our desire to save money by enticing us with clearance and discounted items – “we’ll get such a deal.”  Even some of the binders I looked in the clearance areas of the office stores were there because of faulty design, which wasn’t apparent until I pulled it off the shelf and started to examine them.

Those discounted and clearance items can certainly be tempting.  I’ve been burned by an impulse decision to save some money and grabbing the item off the shelf and into my cart.  Now, I’ve learned and I closely examine each item for defects and hints of lesser quality.  (Heck this is a good idea no matter where the item is found, as I’ve found poor quality items sitting in their section.)  I haven’t stopped exploring those clearance areas – you can find good deals there – although it’s wise to approach it cautiously.

I hope you will consider “why” a company would be selling something for such a discounted price the next time a clearance item calls to you.  🙂

Keeping Your Car Organized

From the time I started driving for quite a while longer my car collected various things.  Eventually I would spend some time just getting it emptied out once it got bad enough.  Then there came a time that the car would still get a little cluttered, yet it never required hours of work to get it cleaned up.  It’s easy for our cars to collect things – we’re in and out of them regularly.

As with so much with getting and staying organized, how we handle our cars depends on how you want to do it.  If you are one of the people whose cars collects things and then you eventually set aside some time to deal with – and don’t want to change that – no problem.  You choose how you want to handle your space and things.

Then, there some steps you can take to handle it differently.  You don’t even need to begin the following steps with a clean car; you can begin these from however your car is right now.  We are in and out of our cars often, and there’s things we can do with our efforts to keep our cars organized.

Most of us completely empty the cars of our groceries after shopping.  If we use this philosophy with everything else, we can maintain our car.  Each time you get out of your car, you take a load to where it needs to go.  You can take just one load even, and if you do that regularly, your car will rarely collect much clutter.  If you have trash – you grab as much as you can and drop it in the nearest receptacle each time you get out of your car.  If you are heading into a store, there are usually trashcans by the front door – use those.

Sometimes getting gas can feel like a chore.  This is another great time to spend a little time emptying stuff from the car.  There’s usually a trashcan right by the gas pump, and you’d be amazed by how much you can get done just while your car is getting filled up.  If you tend to procrastinate getting gas, try to curb that and work at getting gas on your way home since you’re likely to feel less rushed.  It might also lessen any resistance you feel toward using that time to clear out the trash.  You can also gather the other things that need to go into the house while the gas tank is getting filled – make it easier to grab the things when you head inside.

I’ve used different techniques over the years for trying to keep the car organized.  For a while I kept plastic bags in the car for collecting trash and recycling and when those got full would take them out.  I discovered that I would procrastinate emptying them though until they were overflowing.  I now keep a reusable bag in case I need it, though I’ve not used it yet.

The habit of each time I left the car I would take at least one load to its place has been the easiest for me.  My procrastination habits interfere the least with this.  It also never feels like a chore…  well, almost never.  🙂  In my case, it’s also now minor stuff and not something I have to do each time – just when I have something for the trash or recycling.

For the various things that I want to keep in the car, and it’s gotten less over the years – I tend to look for ways to contain them.  Before containers, the stuff would slide all around and look messier than it was.  When you’re driving kids around, it can be even more of a challenge.  I encourage you to enlist the children to help, they can return things to where they belong and even help carry things into the house.

As with probably everything about organizing – it requires some discipline and developing habits.  How do you want things to be?  It doesn’t have to require lots of time or energy, though it might in the beginning.  Once you’ve established your routines, it can become easy.  Decide for yourself how you want your car to look and take steps to get it there and then keep it there.

Under the Bed Storage

I’ll admit I use the space under our bed for storage.  It’s not something I generally recommend, though as with so much about organizing – it all varies depending on the person and their situation.  There are certainly pros and cons to not only whether you store things under your bed but also what sorts of things to store there.

First let me talk briefly about simply choosing to use that space to store things.  There’s a great benefit to the space as it’s out of the way – you’ve got an area that will not clutter up your space by keeping things there.  One of the reasons I use it is that I know the things are relatively protected there – there’s not going to be moisture problems, unlike the possibilities of an attic or basement.  It’s fairly accessible if I need to get something from it.  Interestingly one of the reasons I first started storing things there was that it kept my scared-y cat from hiding and crying out of my reach.

Next, if you choose the use the space under the bed for storage you want to make sure how much space you have – the height from the floor to the bottom of your bed.  There are many beds that aren’t high enough to allow for the standard plastic under the bed storage containers.  There are under the bed bags you can get which provide greater flexibility as long as you don’t stuff them too full.  There are also super long plastic containers for under your bed, although if you don’t have enough room around the edge of your bed these become counter-productive.

If you are going to use the space under your bed for storage you need to be cautious about what you decide to store there.  Think about:

  • how often will you need or want to access those things?
  • how much space will these things take up, will it all fit under one bed?
  • how will you feel about having to pull them out from under the bed and then put them back under again?  Consider your energy, flexibility, and reasons for wanting to store them there.
  • are they things really worth saving if you’re relegating them to under the bed?  i.e. magazines – why would keep them if you’re just going to stuff them under your bed, that makes them hard to access and unlikely that you would!

There’s a number of things I can think of that are fairly easily stored under the bed.

  • If you want to keep some clothes that are not your current size, this can be a great place to keep them out of your way yet have them readily accessible for when you fit in them again.
  • If you cycle your clothes with the seasons, this can be an easy place to switch clothes from twice a year.  It’s close to where they’d move to so you’re not dealing with carrying loads of clothes to another floor of your home and back again. It would simplify switching clothes for the seasons.
  • If you have memorabilia that you want to save, yet do not have another good alternative for where to put it.  It’s likely to things you’re not going to look at frequently, yet still want to be protected and saved.

Under the bed storage can be quite useful since it’s out of the way while remaining fairly protected.  Yet there are always aspects to consider when deciding whether to use the storage space under your bed.  There’s even more than what I’ve shared, remember to consider your own circumstances and evaluate whether this is something beneficial for you.

Define Your Time

Time is this fleeting thing.  We all have the same amount as everyone else and nothing we do can make it multiply.  There are a multitude of ways to approach handling your time – from those that encourage people to put all tasks into your calendar or to base your tasks on your current availability of context, time, energy, and priority.  I’m certainly one that prefers the latter approach since if I fill my calendar with tasks, I will simply avoid doing anything in that slot.

You could even say that I’ve taken that idea of choosing tasks based on context, time, energy, and priority and put my own personal spin on it.  I’ve even given it a fun name: “Whim time.”  This term might even sound like an oxymoron, how can those two words fit together?  Whim is defined as – “a capricious or eccentric and often sudden idea or turn of the mind: fancy.”

For me, “whim time” is when I listen to myself about what I feel like doing – this can be productive or it can be time for rejuvenating.  It’s about paying attention to my mood and using that to help determine what I will work on.  For instance, there is something about making phone calls – to search out speakers for the support group, or following up on insurance issues, or whatever else – that may mean playing phone tag, which I typically avoid.  Yet, there are times that I am happy to tackle that process – and it makes sense to take advantage of that when it strikes.  (This also doesn’t mean that I only wait for the mood to work on those tasks.)

There’s something light and easy-going about doing things according to my mood or more correctly called my state of mind.  I am not being a taskmaster upon myself yet I can get plenty of things accomplished.  When I can use my whim time as I’ve set it up – to make decisions about what I will do with my time and to do those things – I have a great feeling at the end of the day.  It feels productive in the best way – being mindful of where I am at – both mentally and physically.

Sometimes, my “whim time” turns into escapism.  This is not what I set out for my time.  It’s a behavior that the equivalent to burying my head in the sand and ignoring both what’s good for me and what needs to be worked on.  When this happens I feel horrible.  In this age with all the possible ways we can distract ourselves and escape; it’s easy to slip into this.  I wonder if it’s not even more of a temptation with our never-ending to-do lists.  Is there ever a time when you are free from more tasks that need your attention?

I’ve talked about being mindful of how you use your time (in the blog, Use Your Time Intentionally) and I’ve talked about finding ways to make your tasks fun (in the blog, Make It Fun).  In many ways, my “whim time” is my combination of these two principles (and somehow David Allen’s Getting Things Done).  I didn’t set out to create this, but this is what it evolved into over time.

Maybe “Whim Time” is something you can use for yourself.  Maybe it’s not.  You are welcome to it, if you want yet I would encourage you to find your own way to define your time that makes sense to you and for your life.  Experiment with different ways to handle your time, observe what works and what doesn’t (and this isn’t always obvious from one or two tries) and see what develops for yourself.  It really doesn’t matter what you come up with, as long as it works for you.

I’d love to hear what works for you and how you got there. 🙂

Cultivate Curiosity

In this line of work, I run into too many people who are busy “should-ing” on themselves – “I should have done more”, “I ought to have time for that”, “I never get enough done” and on and on.  And my heart breaks a little.  I get it, it does hit close to home for me too, yet this doesn’t help anyone get more accomplished.  Most often this can even derail our efforts to improve.  We’re too preoccupied feeling badly, angry, frustrated, whatever and this doesn’t move us any closer to our goals.  To some extent we become stuck.

“How do I get unstuck then?”

If we can cultivate curiosity about ourselves we can solve many of our struggles.  One of the key pieces of this though is that we need to rid ourselves of the judgment that comes along with looking at what we do and why.  Has there ever been a time when criticizing yourself has helped you get past a struggle or to solve a problem?

Instead, try to step back and examine what is causing your difficulties.  Sometimes this benefits from a compare and contrast – so if it’s a particular chore – what is different about this chore compared to another chore you accomplish with minimal challenge?  The answers you come up with could be a long list, as you want to consider as many different factors as possible: time of day, effort, energy, time consuming, complicated/simple, boring/interesting, dreaded/exciting, rewarding, etc.

Even if you cannot compare it to something else, you can examine what that thing brings up for you.  What is it about that thing that has you resisting it? When you start to get the clues for where your struggles are, you can then start making changes to how you approach that thing.

In trying to make this applicable to many situations, this is vague.  Therefore, let me give you an example.  I was often procrastinating mowing the lawn.  One of the major factors was the dread of lugging out of and back into the basement.  Another factor was feeling like it was extremely time consuming.  The first factor has now been dealt with as we have a garage, but until that happened, there wasn’t much I could do about it.  The second factor – time – I could discover how much time it actually took up, so I timed it.  From lugging it up, mowing the front and back yard, and lugging it back down, it took me 45 minutes.  From that point onward I could easily dismiss mowing as an option if I didn’t have that much time and could plan when I would have enough time.  I also began to stop procrastinating it as much, yes, I did qualify that, I will sometimes still procrastinate doing it, though it gets less and less as time goes on.

There are other chores I dislike because they seem dull, and I can take my iPad and play a show on it while I work or vacuum during commercials.  Obviously I don’t need to watch it intently, it’s a way to make the chores a little more interesting.  The point is that I’ve approached my quirks (my resistances) with curiosity, identified what factors contribute to my resistance to accomplishing them, and then found ways to lessen the resistance.  Even when I falter and don’t get it done when or how I would like, I work at giving myself a break.

Is there another way to look at the chore (or whatever you are struggling with)?  Much of our lives deal with perspectives – the way we decide to look at things.  Yes, it is a choice and this means we can change the way we view things.  Therefore we can decide to look at that dreaded chore differently.  This rarely happens overnight, but if we discover the reasons that matter to us as an individual, we can begin to make the changes.

For me, making the bed was one of these.  I didn’t care much if it was made or not and I struggled with wanting it to be near perfect if it were made.  This meant I spent time and energy walking back and forth around the bed fixing it.  Then I timed myself lying in bed doing a sort ‘snow angel’, slipping out from under the covers, and doing some minor straightening – under 2 minutes.  Then I started appreciating the made bed when it was time to go to bed at night.  I stopped looking at making the bed as a chore; rather it became something to look forward to – a nicely made bed –at the end of the day.

What is it about this situation that causes you difficulties?  Thinking about the answers for yourself can help lead you to the answers you need to make the necessary changes.  Don’t get me wrong, you might not find THE answer on the first try.  Nevertheless it will lead you toward the solutions you need.

Get curious.

Delaying Gratification

If you were told that you would get 2 marshmallows if you could wait for 15 minutes while 1 marshmallow was sitting in front of you – could you wait? What if you were between 4-6 years old? This was a study, called Stanford Marshmallow experiment, done in the late 1960s (of all the articles and blogs I read, the information varied a lot between all of them). This study has fascinated me from the first time I heard about it (Crucial Conversations- book & my blog), and somehow references to this study keep coming into my life.

The initial results were that about 30% of the children were able to wait the 15 minutes to receive the 2nd marshmallow; they weren’t told to not eat the first marshmallow, they could just with the consequences of not getting a second marshmallow. Yet, of the children who managed to wait, many years later were the ones who scored higher on their SATs and had longer lasting relationships – they had a higher resiliency than their peers who couldn’t stop themselves from eating the marshmallow before the 15 minutes were up.

What made the children who could wait different from those you didn’t? Often the children that resisted eating the marshmallow, found ways to distract themselves from the temptation sitting there – they looked at the ceiling and sang a song, cover their eyes, kicked the table, etc. – essentially not focusing on the marshmallow.

You might be able to glean then why these “long delayers” scored higher on their SATs and in general seemed to be more successful – they had the skills to put off pleasurable activities to accomplish things. They would be able to resist going to a party in order to stay in and study. Many people are talking about how this is self-control – and yes, it is, the self- control to delay gratification.

Every day we face temptations. How we respond to these are what matters – and now I tend to think about marshmallows. I don’t know that I would have managed to wait long enough to eat two of them as a child, yet this doesn’t mean I can’t stretch those self-control “muscles” now.

The scientists are continuing to study the original group and other studies on this also are active. There is some data to suggest that we can learn how to become “long-delayers” – and focus our attention away from the temptation and avoid giving in. I think this requires enough practice to have success – we need the positive reinforcement, even internally, to have the motivation to keep stretching that self-control muscle.

The marshmallow study is motivation for me – the idea pops up periodically and I then pause to consider what self-control might be applied. Sometimes it’s walking away from a tempting purchase for a period of time. Sometimes it’s putting things away before I sit down and relax. Sometimes it’s waiting for time to pass and see if the desire is real – like the temptation to eat. Sometimes it’s exercising when I don’t really feel like doing it – not procrastinating when it would be “easy.” In essence, I try to apply this to most areas of my life.

Can the marshmallow study be motivation for you too? How would you apply it to your own life and choices?