Rerouting the Path of Least Resistance Makes Healthy Choices Easy
Making medical appointments, heading to the gym and eating right are so essential to our health, it seems absurd that we so often let them fall wayside to busy schedules and stress. Economists studying this pattern of behavior call it "irrational," contrary to the pursuit of our goals. But as far from a goal as these actions may lead us, future benefits like the promise of a healthy heart aren't as tangible as satisfying immediate needs such as resting after a hard day.
How then can you stay motivated to perform actions that don't produce immediately visible results--for example, keeping up our daily exercise schedule when that weight loss goal is many pounds away? Economic researchers suggest that "asymmetric paternalism," a strategy of exploiting decision-making patterns to help "trick" people into achieve their goals without taking away their freedom of choice, may be the key.
In review of more than 15 studies led by George Loewenstein, professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found that the same "path of least resistance" tendencies that allow individuals to let health needs slide can be used to help them make healthy choices.
For example, people are prone to order soft drinks in restaurants because they are the default choice. Asking for water often complicates the order and may add additional cost to the meal. However, if the default drink were changed to water, many former soda drinkers wouldn't bother disrupting the status quo to switch back.
Similarly, rather than leaving it up to the patient to take the time to schedule an important annual or follow-up medical appointment, appointments could be automatically scheduled for patients, with reminders at appropriate intervals. Were this done, calling to reschedule and find a new date becomes the hassle, making it more likely that the patient will attend. Translating the hassle into dollars, for example by charging a fee for a last-minute cancellation, was also identified as an effective motivator.
Such strategies can easily be implemented to make healthy changes in our own lives. For example, if you're having trouble getting to the gym, consider scheduling a few sessions with a personal trainer, who can also help you set up a schedule for solo visits. When you have to answer to someone else why you didn't stick to your plan, the incentive to show up can win out over the incentive to sleep in--particularly if you're paying extra for their time.
If you're busy, convenience may be the biggest incentive of all--the key is using it to your advantage. Set up medical appointments as soon as you find out you need them means you won't forget or worry about squeezing in the week before you're due back. If keeping up with medications is a problem, nationwide pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens now let you order prescriptions online or have the delivered via mail service programs for a small surchage. To get your default routine onto a more productive path, try moving items related to your goals (carrot sticks, important medications) to obvious, accessible places and relocating those that get in your way (potato chips, the remote control) to a higher shelf or somewhere where they're not easily seen.
The key is making goal-oriented choices easier. Determination can get you a long way, but it will go even farther if the road to success is clear of hassles.
As for the researchers, they suggest that health care and other industries start implementing procedures that make the easy option the healthy one. While some decisions may be controversial, the hope is that paternalistic policies will result in better preventative care, leading to lower costs down the road.
EXTRACT: Asymmetric Paternalism to Improve Health Behaviors
Posted by FindCounseling.com Staff on December 05, 2007 at 03:50 AM | Permalink
This page contains a single entry from Psychology Briefs, the FindCounseling.com Blog.
The previous post was Anorexic Brain Set on Planning, Not Pleasure.
The next post is Male Voice Reveals Physical Prowress.