Marshmallow Theory: Make Your Workout the Reward

Recently I stumbled upon one of Jen Sinkler’s recent pieces for Women’s Health.  She shared 4 ways for making your fitness habits stick (i.e. “how to actually get your tail in the gym on a consistent basis without being escorted there at gunpoint”), and they were great tips…but what I really loved was her reference to the famous “Marshmallow Study” done by Stanford University.  If you’re unfamiliar, a quick synopsis of the study is here.  The Stanford scientists were looking at the levels of impulse-control children exhibited when presented with a tempting food (in case you’re not there yet, that food in question was marshmallows…) and the option to eat that food immediately, or wait 15 minutes and be given twice as much to eat (so, 2 marshmallows).

So how do marshmallows relate to fitness? As Jen so simply put it, “Find a way to make your workout the marshmallow.”

When I read that, I think I found the tagline-version of my personal fitness philosophy.  I’ve waxed poetic before about the importance of making fitness downright fun, doing workouts that make you feel alive, finding joy in movement, and choosing activities that truly excite you.

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I’m all about that business, and after more years than I care to remember doing workouts that I hated, there’s no turning back.  If you’d told me 4 years ago that I would love working out because I loved my workouts, I would have laughed.  Back then, I loved workouts because they were my penance for eating and having a body that took up space, and sweat was a way of atoning for the sin of having curves.  Workouts didn’t just assuage my guilt, they gave me a sense of accomplishment (so I didn’t have to face the fact that I wasn’t accomplishing other – more important! – goals in life).

Although not everyone has had an eating disorder, most folks can relate to doing workouts they dislike.  These bodies were given to us to be used, and life is far too short and time far too precious to spend it doing workouts we hate.  After all, there are hundreds of different ways that you can be active, stay healthy, and get stronger.  So find the modalities of movement that you love so much you get twitterpated and buzzed (without pre-workout) or old-fashioned excited just thinking about it, and give yourself permission to do it all the damn time.  (Just be sure to throw in recovery days and time for trying things that make you look ridiculous.)

Yoga 20 October 2014 (3)

Outtake #17 from my attempts to get a clear photo of a forearm stand.

Go turn on some music and dance.

Roll out your mat and do yoga.

Try some calisthenics.

Swing a kettlebell around.

Take a hike.

Surf, run, swim, bike, lift, do gymnastics, do jazzercise, tap dance, parkour, climb a tree, play football, just play.

Play until you find your marshmallow, and then keep playing.

Happy moving, folks. 


7 thoughts on “Marshmallow Theory: Make Your Workout the Reward

  1. Love this! It was hard for me for a while to separate the feeling of pleasure that I got from doing the workout itself, to the feeling of relief that I had done this gruelling task I felt I had to do (like, the idea of not working out was so much more awful)

    Now, because I know I don’t HAVE to hit the gym to stay healthy and active, I don’t force myself to go and it means when I do go, I’ve chosen to.

    Plus, love the marshmallow analogy! Ok, I love marshmallows… 😉

    1. Ain’t it a great feeling to truly enjoy workouts, and not use them as a way to relieve guilt? It’s so freeing.

      Glad we’re on the same page about marshmallows 😉 Add some good hot cocoa underneath them, and then we’re really talking!

  2. Throughout the last six months I’ve learned that I don’t need to go to the gym in order to workout. I used to believe that the only way I could ‘truly’ workout would be to put in a couple of hours at the gym – very naïve (and what a slave I was to this mentality!) Pregnancy helped me to realize that I could workout by going on hikes or taking walks throughout my day. I’m thankful for realizing this sooner rather than later; however, I still wasted several years with such a skewed mindset.

    1. That makes two of us! I’m glad to hear that you are no longer enslaved to the gym, and the great thing is that you’ll be able to pass on to Charlotte a healthy perspective on movement and training in general. Hope you are healing fast and enjoying some nice walks with the bambino!

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