We tend to assume that kids (and adults) know how to achieve success. If they don’t get there, it’s for lack of effort — or talent. Sometimes that’s true. But a lot of the time, people are just flying blind.
This is a fascinating article about incentivizing good behaviors that has a ton of parallels with changing people’s health behaviors. The article describes some large scale studies looking at how paying children does or does not work for certain kinds of behaviors. But I think the above quote is the most interesting. For years, when you go to the doctor, he/she will say “You’ve got to lose some weight” or “You need to start exercising more.” And then you go to the gym and it says “Please consult a physician before embarking on an exercise regimen.” So you go back to the physician and he/she says “You should eat less” and “Let’s do an EKG and I’ll clear you for exercise.” So you go back to the gym and start an exercise program that lasts a week before the passion is gone and your busy life takes hold once again. You may enroll in a Weight Watchers program and stick with it for a month or so only to realize it’s creating this completely artificial, unsustainable lifestyle for the real world.
People are confused. More importantly, the programs that have been popularized are unrealistic and unsustainable. Research shows all the popular diets have no effect two years after enrolling.
In today’s culture, the vast majority of people don’t know how to change their everyday behavior for the better.
For those people who don’t have the money to go to a gym or pay for Weight Watchers…they’re flying blind. We all know how hard it is to change our ruts we’re in. And the ruts we’re in are the behaviors that kill people in the developed world.
Behavioral Change scientists, if they’re able to get it right, will be the saviors of our health in the next century. Doctors have dropped the ball on being experts in the real health issues of our day. They can fix us when things go wrong, but they’re flagrantly turning a blind eye to the real health issues in our culture. If they don’t figure out how to effectively change our culture’s behavior and give better advice than “You should exercise” we’re going to miss the opportunity to create as significant a change as last century’s added 40 years of life expectancy.