I have final exams coming up, and I’m trying to get motivated by giving myself rewards for studying. But all the rewards I can think of involve sweets or fried foods, which will set me back on my weight-loss goals. Nothing seems to motivate me as much as a piece of chocolate cake! Any advice? —Jordan
Your chocolate-cake strategy may not be so bad, if your commitment to your diet is already strong and you can manage to delay your reward. Recently, a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Qian Xu and colleagues looked at the issue of using food as a motivator. In one of their studies, they had people complete an annoying “finger dexterity” task, and midway through they offered the participants a chocolate bar. Receiving the chocolate bar significantly improved performance for the rest of the task. Interestingly, those with strong dieting goals ended up not actually eating it, because once they were done with the task their diet came back into focus. They got to have the motivational benefit of the treat without the cost in calories.
With this in mind, I would recommend that you promise yourself a piece of chocolate cake as a reward for studying, but not until two hours after you’re done. By then, hopefully, your dieting objective will take over and you will find the willpower to eat just a bite of the cake.
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