Cookies and Radishes

By Matt Penney, CAPP

There was an interesting social experiment several years ago. Participants were placed in a room with a bowl of radishes and a bowl of freshly baked cookies. One group was told to enjoy all the cookies they wanted. The second group was told to eat the radishes (only) and ignore the cookies.

The cookie eaters were in heaven. The radish eaters were in agony. They were miserable forcing themselves to ignore the warm cookies. One picked up the cookies and smelled them longingly. Another picked up a cookie, then put it down and licked the chocolate off his fingers.

After five minutes, the participants were given a puzzle game. While they were led to believe this would be simple, the task was actually impossible to complete. The cookie eaters were relaxed and calmly started into the task. With each failed attempt, they simply started another strategy. On average the cookie eaters worked for 19 minutes on the puzzle.

The radish eaters grumbled and muttered as they pouted through their efforts. Some snapped at the researchers. Another simply put his head down on the desk, “I’m sick of this dumb experiment.” On average, the radish eaters worked on the puzzle for only eight minutes (60 percent less time than the cookie group).

The purpose of the experiment was to demonstrate that willpower (self-discipline) is a finite resource. Ignoring cookies was hard and required/drained reserves of willpower. The use of that mental energy meant that there was less available for the puzzle task.

2020 has been a year of radishes—for us, for our customers, for the parking industry. With all that has been going on, it is only natural that frustration seems to build up faster. The good news is that while willpower is finite, like other muscles in the body, it can be strengthened.

This holiday season, may your plate be filled with all the cookies of life that recharge the soul.

Matt Penney, CAPP, is director of parking and transportation services at Baylor University and an IPMI trainer.