Friday recipe: “willpower” bars

While I admit that I don’t understand every article, Wired magazine is one of my favorite reads for its provocative topics, cutting-edge creativity and smart writing. In the March issue’s cover article, “The Forgetting Pill,” author Jonah Lehrer explores emerging research that indicates someday a person with a traumatic memory – a deadly car accident, an act of violence, war – will be able to take a drug that targets that memory and “erases” it, relieving the person of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lehrer describes the brain’s memory function, the emotional impact of traumatic memories and the chemicals that may make them go away. It also raises the moral issue of memory erasure: We learn from pain, including the emotional kind. “If our past becomes a playlist – a collection of tracks we can edit with ease – then how will we resist the temptation to erase the pleasant ones?” Lehrer asks.

Even more troubling, he continues, is the possibility that some evil dictator could apply such drugs to populations, “wiping away genocides and atrocities with a cocktail of pills.”

If you could take a pill that would erase your worst memory, would you take it? (Photo: Dwight Eschliman/Wired)

Pondering those scenarios led me to Lehrer’s Wired blog, “Frontal Cortex,” and his article titled “The Willpower Trick,” posted in January, what he calls “the month of broken resolutions.” He notes a 2007 survey of more than 3,000 people conducted by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman, which found that 88 percent of all resolutions end in failure. Referencing several other studies on the topic, Lehrer states, “The reason our resolutions end in such dismal fashion returns us to the single most important fact about human willpower – it’s incredibly feeble.”

There’s hope, though, for those of us with dusty stairmasters, unused gym memberships and abandoned Jenny Craig diets, Lehrer says. He notes a late-1960s experiment Walter Mischel conducted with four-year-old children: Sitting each child in a tiny room with a chair and desk, topped with a tray of marshmallows, cookies and pretzel sticks, Mischel made the kids an offer: They could either eat one treat right away or, if they were willing to wait while he stepped out for a few minutes, they could have two treats when he returned. Nearly every kid chose to wait – but only a tiny percentage succeeded in doing so.

How did these few “high delayers” do it? By covering their eyes, sitting under the desk, pretending to take a nap or otherwise distracting themselves from the treats. In other words, they found ways to avoid the internal conflict that in such situations we typically succumb to.

Which means: Don’t buy that quart of calorie-packed ice cream or go near that super-sized bucket of fried chicken. Make an appointment with a friend to meet you at the gym. Indulge your desire to watch reruns of “Downton Abbey” only while you’re on the elliptical. Then reward yourself with these yummy power bars, a recipe courtesy of DMU’s wellness staff – but only after you’ve logged at least five miles on the treadmill.

Power bars

  • 2 cups quick oats
  • 1 cup natural peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup ground flax
  • 1 cup vanilla whey protein powder or soy protein powder

Mix all ingredients together and still until well blended. Spread mixture into a 13 x 10-inch pan and refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut into 32 bars. Store in the fridge for up to two weeks or freeze for later use.

Nutritional info per bar: calories, 170; fat, 8g; cholesterol, 2 mg; carbohydrate, 22g; fiber, 3g; protein, 5g; sodium, 35 mg

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