07/29/2013 08:07 am ET

Remove Temptation To Stick To Long-Term Goals

If you're trying to resist those cookies your coworker brought to the office because you want to stick to long-term weight goals, a good strategy may be to keep them away from your desk and out of sight.

A new study from researchers at the University of Cambridge and the University of Dusseldorf suggests a good way to avoid temptation is to remove it altogether. The strategy, called "precommitment," involves limiting your own access to temptations (like putting money you're trying to save up in an account with high withdrawal fees).

The research, published in the journal Neuron, involved subjecting study participants to a test where they could either have immediate gratification with a "small reward," or they could delay their reward but get a bigger one as a result. Participants also had the option of removing the option for the small reward altogether -- by enacting precommitment -- so that they wouldn't have to encounter it at all, and just go with the bigger, delayed reward.

Researchers found that those who enacted precommitment were more effective in waiting for the large reward, compared with those who just relied on their own willpower. Plus, researchers looked at the study participants' brains to find that a brain region called the frontopolar cortex, which is where thoughts about the future occur, are activated when a person engages in precommitment. The activation of this brain region also seems to boost communication with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex brain region, which is known to play a role in willpower.

Scientific American explored the concept of immediate gratification in a piece published earlier this year, and reported on a particular study showing that patient people seem to be able to delay gratification by thinking about the future, evidenced by increased activity in the anterior prefrontal cortex brain region.



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