Forty years ago, an American psychologist, Walter Mischel conducted a simple but now famous experiment -the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. He left a group of four to six-year-olds alone in a room with a marshmallow on the table for fifteen minutes. They were given the choice of being able to eat the marshmallow now, or if they waited the fifteen minutes, they would be given two marshmallows. Some ate the marshmallow immediately. Others managed to hold out and leave the treat alone and then enjoyed two marshmallows. The study didn’t finish there however. Researchers continued to follow the development of the children into adolescents. They found that those children that were able to delay gratification showed higher exam scores, better social and psychological functioning, a healthier lifestyle and a greater sense of self-worth(Mischel et al., 1972) The latest study conducted on these exact same participants 40 years later in 2011 shows that the characteristic has remained with them for life. (Mischel et al., 2011). But now lifestyles demand instant lunch, instant cure, instant miracles, instant salary, instant success— instant everything.
The name “streaker” is coupled with nudity, but there is another streaking challenge that has nothing to do with being starkers – it’s a running streak! It demands that you run at least one mile every day for a set period of time: some choose weeks or months, others a year or indefinitely. On the 29th January 2017, Ron Hill (78 years old), a three-time Olympian for Great Britain, ended his running streak. Ron ran at least one mile every day for 52 years and 39 days. It was the longest known running streak in history. In 1993, one day after he broke his sternum in a head-on car accident, he still managed to run one mile. He also had bunion surgery the same year. His son picked him up from the hospital and took him to a track, where he ran a mile, using two canes. A week later, he abandoned the walking sticks and continued his daily streak in a special cast.
Inspired by Ron Hill and searching for motivation I started my own running streak on the 29th January 2017, and yesterday Monday 29th January 2018 I reached one year of running at least one mile every day. Even for the most committed, running can become tiresome. The tedious drudgery of training can tax the reserves of resilience in any runner, and it did this to me. I decided to try a run streak for a month. Then the habit really formed, there was no internal argument – will I run today or not? It became a “When” not “If”. Running every day required no motivation at all so I decided on a year……To be clear, I’m not a better runner – I’m still slow. My goal was to run at least a mile every day, and I’ve done that. In the last 365 days I’ve run in the snow, I’ve run on holidays. I’ve run at strange times in some odd places wearing odd gear and I’ve run so many times when I didn’t think I could. To an outsider, there’s nothing particularly special about my run streak, it’s only in its infancy compared to Ron Hills 52 years and 39 days. When offered a choice between two payoffs, human nature usually prefers an earlier payoff to a later one, a larger reward to a smaller one and a certain return to an uncertain one. (Logue, 1988) This is just human nature. But this streak has shown me we can choose to have something now, or we can choose to have something bigger or better later and for now I won’t eat the marshmallow because run 366 is waiting.
Logue AW. (1988). Research on self-control: An integrating framework. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 11, 665-679.
Mischel W, Ayduk O, Berman MG, Casey BJ, Gotlib IH, Jonides J, Kross E, Teslovich T, Wilson NL, Zayas V & Shoda Y. (2011). ‘Willpower’ over the life span: decomposing self-regulation. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 6, 252-256.
Mischel W, Ebbesen EB & Zeiss AR. (1972). Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification. J Pers Soc Psychol 21, 204-218.