You know you should exercise more, eat healthier and stop putting off that medical screening. What’s stopping you?
It’s not that weird when you think about it, this is the way evolution has designed the brain. Your brain is built to enjoy chocolate in order to buffer up for rougher times, it’s designed to be triggered by direct events such as sudden danger rather than further threats. In fact, the majority of your behavior is governed by the direct experiences (so called consequences) of pursuing it. A direct positive consequence (e.g. enjoying the nice taste of a snack) increases the likelihood of you having another bite; while a direct negative consequence (such as pain induced from working out) decreases the likeliness of you repeating it.
“/…/Eat healthier and stop putting off that medical screening/…/”, all these things are actions that can have severe implications for your future, and awareness alone of the long-term consequences of your behavior seldom changes your behavior per se. This is due to the fact that events that lie ahead of us many times seem too abstract and far away for our brains to react to them as urgent threats. We have the tendency to give stronger weight to payoffs that are closer to the present time – such as giving in to chocolate and sleeping in instead of going to the gym.
In order to act upon long-term threats you can nudge yourself by moving the consequences closer to your decision-making environment.
Nudge nr # 3 Substitute short-term rewards
We have a strong tendency to give in to short-term rewards (e.g. the taste of chocolate) rather than long-term rewards (losing weight). Think of something that could be a nice direct reward you could enjoy. Here’s an example; when shopping, every time you don’t buy an unhealthy snack – directly reward yourself with something else. You could, for instance, buy your favorite magazine at the till every time you succeed with shopping.
Task: Think of a decision environment where you often give in to temptations; perhaps it’s in the store, by the fridge, or following a workout at the gym. Think of what these temptations are – can you substitute them with something healthier that works as a short-term positive consequence for you?
By Linda Lindström, Behavior strategist & Co-founder
Beteendelabbet (The Swedish Behavior Lab)