I was listening to a podcast from Freakonomics Radio entitled “How to Launch a Behavior-Change Revolution.” It relates entirely to my everyday struggle as a health and fitness professional, and covers an underlying issue for client success in Healthy Weight Lifestyle Programs at Doctor for Life.
Behavior change is a big ask. Experts understanding thinking and decision-making is tough. The average person understanding his or her own influences and patterns is tougher. And that person actively choosing to change and diligently fulfilling that path is the toughest of all. I say to clients all the time, “Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things.”
The podcast representatives state that human nature is to “repeatedly make decisions that undermine their own wellbeing” and that “people rarely behave as rationally as economic models predict.” They believe that studying and trying to implement behavior change is the most worthwhile pursuit for any scientist, that it is wise to help people make better decisions for themselves and for society. I agree.
With the staggering and growing statistics in obesity and chronic disease, particularly a lifestyle-related disease like Type II Diabetes, I do not doubt that the general public is ignorant to the fact that all these per-day and per-meal unhealthy decisions add up. Of course, it is much more convenient to eat a fast food cheeseburger today than to worry about how that affects many tomorrows and premature death.
This podcast focuses on a group of researchers, a dream team, coming together to work on the Behavior Change for Good Initiative. Their mission is to determine best practices in three realms – number one being Health (smoking cessation, healthy eating, increasing exercise, reducing alcohol consumption). They are partnering with large organizations for participation and funding of real-world experiments, helping scientists discover insights that could address the pressing social problem of self-destructive humans and establish long-lasting behavior change.
The Behavior Change Revolution has been happening for decades – in academia for a while, and creeping into government policy shops and commercial firms more recently. But it is hardly mainstream yet. Institutional and societal change, when it happens at all, usually happens slowly and with a lot of pushback. So this team’s ambition is quite lofty (and time-consuming, and expensive).
Will it take a nudge? Will it take expanding or shrinking choice sets? Will it take redesigning how incentives in given situations are set up, via smart algorithms or old-fashioned human touch? The ultimate goal is to help people get satisfaction they’ll need in the short-term and outcomes they’ll want in the long-term.