Of Cake and Fruit

Eighty-eight percent of all resolutions end in failure.

Really? REALLY?!


You can read the in-depth studies from Harvard and whomever else. But in the end, it’s all about the stick-to-it-ness (aka: willpower).

Willpower is a funny thing, since we all think we have more of it than we really do. And when we do have it, sometimes it’s short lived. Hence the 88% failure rate of completing a goal.

Goals exist in our mind. Goals become a little more real when we

  • Tell them to someone else
  • Write them down
  • Revisit them routinely (weekly or monthly – you choose)

And in making them a bit more tangible (on paper, a vision board, a to-do check list), they have more of a chance of happening. But there is something more, much more, important about goals.

Enter the chocolate cake and fruit salad.

Stanford University conducted a very interesting experiment. Two balanced groups of people were given a simple task: remember a string of numbers.

Group A was given a 2-digit number.
Group B was given a 7-digit number.

That’s it. Just remember the number. Smart people, skinny people, ADA people, OCD people, and your-jeans-are-too-tight people. Group A and B looked the same in diversity, the only difference was how many numbers they had to remember.

After they memorized their number, one at a time they were to go down the hall and tell someone in another room their memorized number. But there was a hitch (of course there was, but they didn’t know it). On the way to the room, the person was interrupted by staff–who was a good hostess offering a snack. After all memorizing numbers made people hungry (or not…).

The snack? Chocolate Cake or Fruit Salad. Both looked equally appetizing.

What do you think happened? It’s quite interesting and very telling about goals and stress.

The participants with the 7-digit number were TWICE as likely to choose cake. And the opposite held true for the 2-digit numberees. They also were twice as likely to choose fruit. Bad choice=cake, smart choice=fruit.

Professor Shiv, in charge of the study, proposed that those attempting to remember extra numbers were already in “cognitive load” (let’s just call that “stress”). Cognitive load/stress make it harder to say no to a bad choice.

The short story, your willpower to complete a goal has as much to do with thinking out the goal/making it tangible, as it does to remaining un-stressed in the process. Stress overload leads to temptation.

It’s a pretty simple concept to glean from the observation.
Two numbers = fruit salad.
Seven numbers = chocolate cake.

So here’s what you need to know: when you make a goal that’s as big as a 7-digit number, DON’T.

Okay I’m not saying don’t dream big. Because you SHOULD dream big. Big God-sized 7-digit dreams are worth going after. Every. Single. Time.

What I AM saying, is make small steps. Micro-steps. Make little 2-digit steps (as opposed to 7-digit steps).

Those micro-step movements in your goal making are SO IMPORTANT. It can keep you out of the 88% failure group. When you break-down your goals into bits you can handle—and (THIS IS IMPORTANT) not look at the big monster of a goal you’ve chosen—you have a greater chance of getting there. Wherever there is, whatever it looks like. Every one of my life-coaching clients learn to break-down their goal into doable get-er-done micro-steps (not to mention a process of discovering a God-sized dream to a goal that suits their life-purpose–and how to gather that on paper).

So un-stress your 7-digit goal, with micro-sized 2-digit steps.
Don’t get distracted with the 7-digits.
Only focus on the 2-digits right in front of you.
2-digits at a time.
That’s how you’ll succeed.
Because life is always going interrupt and offer you chocolate cake…


© 2009-2012 Sherry Meneley All Rights Reserved
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8 thoughts on “Of Cake and Fruit

  1. Thank you for providing info about this simple scientific study with profound results that has put my biggest problems in perspective… too many big goals and too many chocolate cake interruptions. Love, love, love the ending. You truly ARE amazing at what you do.

    • Thanks Cynthia! Honestly, the chocolate cake… yeah it’s everywhere. And I (honestly) don’t do 7-digit numbers, speaking from experience – breaking it down works every. single. time. Best luck with your next 2-digit number, it’s works so much better that way 🙂

  2. Thanks Coach – for all your incredible, yet simple ideas that anyone can use to help discover the person they want to be and accomplish the goals they want in life. Your talents (writing, art, coaching) have definitely been life changing for me. thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  3. Pingback: Healthy lifestyle – it’s about making right choices « moms-opinions

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