Nicole Mead and Vanessa Patrick had a bunch of dieters, one at a time, sit and watch a movie, each with a bowl of candy next to him. Some were told they shouldn't eat the candy, while others were told that they should hold off during the movie but could have the candy later.
Afterwards, while filling out a questionnaire, each subject was given the bowl of candy and told, "You're the last subject we have today, and everyone else is gone, so these are left over. Help yourself."
Counterintuitively, the experimenters found that those who were told to hold off until later ate significantly less candy than those who had been told not to have any at all during the movie.
Roy Baummeister reasons that "It's less stressful on the mind to say later rather than never", and that in order to recover from such stress, those subjects who were told "never" had to indulge themselves.
I once tried this strategy with a friend of mine who was suicidal. I told him to just wait for a year, figuring that surely he could bear his despair if he knew it was time limited. Unfortunately, a year later, he called me and asked, "Now what do I do?". I advised him to wait for another year.
- "Willpower", 2011 book by R. F. Baumeister & J. Tierney, page 234-37
- "In Praise of Putting Things Off: How Postponing Consumption Pleasures Facilitates Self-Control", 2011 article by Nicole L. Mead & Patrick M. Vanessa