4 Behavioral Change Strategies for a Healthy Routine

achievement personal goals success

In the past few years, I have taken a huge interest in Behavioral Economics, and have read some great books related to the topic such as the Freakonomics series, Predictably Irrational, and Thinking Fast and Slow, as well as listen to podcasts such as Freakonomics Radio and Hidden Brain.

A big part of my interest in learning about Behavioral Economics is not just to implement it in my marketing and research career, but in my personal life, especially for goal attainment. I hope this is something you also share, and that we can help each other on this journey. So if you came here for answers, you may leave with more questions!

I have been doing research for a couple of years (on and off) on how to set goals for myself, and commit to achieving them. Most people share the same common goals of eating healthy, getting fit/being more active, etc. That's also what I am focusing on, not because it is a social trend, but because it's what's missing from my life. I mostly lack discipline and routine because my life has no specific structure because for many years I've had flexible jobs that involve frequent traveling…. I love the freedom and flexibility, which just adds to my laziness and lack of discipline or motivation to do anything else haha

My habitual routine involves:

  • Sitting in front of the TV for most of the day, which I really love, especially when I can find something that really stimulates my brain and gets me thinking, or at least entertains me.

  • Spending hours on my smartphone, which I don't necessarily consider a waste of time because I focus on consuming useful articles related to my work/life, and maintaining social connections which is important since I live alone.

  • While I now maintain an overall healthy diet at home, I tend to indulge on unhealthy food when traveling since I have less control of what's around to eat, and I also tend to hunt for good food that isn’t available in my home town haha. This shouldn’t be much of a problem if I didn’t travel so often!

Every now and then, I muster the motivation and willpower, which research show aren't sustainable, to stick to a balanced routine of healthy food and workout... But that doesn't last for long before I switch back to my regular more natural habits.

Now I am trying to kickstart the healthy routine again, part of which is taking tje Behavioral Economics in Action course on edx to do something useful during the day apart from watching TV.

In the first unit, we learnt about 4 strategies for behavior change, that can be implemented to make changes on people’s behavior in the policy and welfare world, as well as business world… You can learn about them in the video below from the course, which is highly recommended!

So now I am thinking: How can I use these strategies to help me build a healthy routine?

This is what I got so far:

  1. Restriction on choices: Easiest implementation starts with only buying healthy food for home; which I've been doing for a long while. But I still need to control my portions (even healthy food in big portions isn't good for health!). Also, I worked on restricting TV and mobile use past 11 pm, where I switch to reading or podcast listening. What can I do further? Have you tried something that worked for you? Any ideas?

  2. Monetary incentives: Not sure I can give myself money to commit to exercising lol but perhaps if I commit to paying money to a gym/coach, then I can go more often?! I don't see that working out unless the payment is high enough that it would be a legitimate loss. Or maybe incentives can be other than monetary? Like in the form of cake that I earn as a reward for achieving milestones lol What do you think?

  3. Information and persuasion: Information is perhaps the only area where I've done the most work; I'm more of a mental/pensive than a physical/active person. So while I enjoy gathering useful information, researching, analyzing, etc. It doesn't always lead to persuasion to take action or sustain it! Am I simply just not accessing the "right" information that will persuade me to commit to action? What does research say about this?

  4. Nudging: This seems like the most promising technique, using “positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence the behavior and decision making of groups or individuals”, already with many studies showing its success, and entire top-selling books dedicated to it. It can be in the form of "reminders" that I set for myself to perform certain activities. Another possibility is to make changes to my home environment to add cues for certain habits, like putting fruits in a visible/reachable place to increase consumption. I wonder what kind of nudges would work on getting me to be more active... Even a simple few exercise routines that require no equipment or preparation don't seem to come naturally to me, and feel like they need to be forced/nudged. What nudges do you think would work? Anything you've personally tried or think of trying?

I would like to hear your opinions, thoughts, and anecdotes based on personal experience, as well as any interesting research tidbits that you might have come across, in the comments. Let's use this opportunity to make real sustainable change!

Why You Shouldn't Learn From Your Mistakes

Photo Credit: Denial by César Astudillo, on Flickr. 

Photo Credit: Denial by César Astudillo, on Flickr. 

It's been a while since I've put my thoughts in a blog form... Over a year actually... Not because I stopped having thoughts that I wanted to share, but rather I had been buried in my thoughts. 

One particular thought had been haunting me lately, as I've been through a difficult and confusing time, and had to make many major decisions within a span of a few months... And it wasn't easy. I have somewhat of a phobia of making decisions (not sure if there is a scientific term for that... Let me google it... *few seconds later*: Aha, it's called Decidophobia), mostly because all of my life, I've been afraid of making the wrong decisions, making mistakes and ending up disappointed with the results... Which is more than often what happened. I guess by the "Law of Attraction", we do always attract the things we fear the most. For most of my life, I tried coasting it by not really wanting anything in particular or pushing for certain things, but rather just taking it easy and doing the best I can with what I get. And alhamdulillah (Thanks be to God), I've had a pretty good life. I wouldn't say it's a happy carefree life, for most of it, I wasn't really truly happy, but I am also wise enough to know I got nothing much to complain about, most of the time. That, on its own, is a blessing to be thankful for. 

Yet, I can't help shake the feeling that I could have done more, achieved more, wanted more... It's the perfectionist in me that drives me to reach higher, but it's that exact part of me too that makes me fear to reach and fall to my failure. Wisdom entails that we look at our mistakes and our failures as learning opportunities... The thought that's been haunting me is: How exactly do we know what we're supposed to learn from our mistakes?!

It may seem simple enough for most of you, when you make a rash decision, that ends up being a mistake, that you need to learn to take your time before you make a decision next time... That if you trusted the wrong person, next time, you look for similar signs that deems another person untrustworthy so you may not fall in the same trap. Perhaps you feel that you make the mistake of being too open too soon, and you need to learn to hold back and control your thoughts and behavior... Once you've been through an adversity, your mind wanders to understand what has befallen you and why, looking for explanations, justifications, and perhaps a "bright side"... Perhaps one of the biggest fallacies we fall for is that "everything happens for a reason", and we often fall on the belief that the reason is that we were supposed to learn something from that experience...

Maybe we did need to learn something, but how do you know that what you deduced and learnt is actually the lesson you're supposed to learn? If it had been so easy to learn that lesson, just by experiencing something you probably still don't understand, why wasn't it obvious to begin with? Do our brains and logic really change so much by experiencing something negative, and suddenly we acquire clarity and wisdom we did not have before? Unless we've been through a trauma, we're unlikely to have changed so much that it actually enhances our logic... So whatever logic that got us first to make a mistake, is the same logic that got us to the "lesson" we're supposed to learn from that experience... Which, logically, will only lead us to make more mistakes!

So maybe the reason we push so much to try to learn from our mistakes is our fear from making the same mistake again... But guess what, no two mistakes or experiences are ever the same... It will always be different people, or a different situation, or a different mental state, etc. There are basically endless opportunities to make mistakes.... So maybe the best we can do is not to try to find some wisdom in it, and search for a lesson to learn, but just to accept it, let it go, and move on... And hope that with each adversity, since you may not be getting any wiser, you would at least be getting better and faster at getting over it.

What lessons do you think you've learnt lately?

When Quitting Is Good

Photo taken   on top of Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka,   after I quit climbing up the last 200 steps of the 5'500 steps; having been pushed almost half of it lol

Photo taken on top of Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka, after I quit climbing up the last 200 steps of the 5'500 steps; having been pushed almost half of it lol

I have been having a lot of time lately to think about my life and where I want to go with it. I haven't figured it out yet, and I'd unlikely be able to do it by the end of this post. I've always had this philosophy, though it may not be to the liking of many, that I'd do what I can with what I already have, rather than seek to have what I may not... OK, that may have sounded too philosophical hehe... In simpler terms, I'd just make the best of comes my way instead of going out of my way to get what I believe is best for me. It may not be the best motto in life, but I've done well with it so far, I believe.

Surely there were times when I felt that that motto doesn't serve me well... In the times where I was actually tempted to want things, and felt driven enough to pursue them. Yet, in none of those times was I successful, which caused me to further believe in the validity of my motto! 

Those things were on my mind again lately... Things I would want... Things I had previously pursued but not achieved. And in the midst of my thoughts, I came across the below post by a friend on Facebook.

First it had me thinking: Is it that I didn't want it bad enough? Did I not work hard enough for it? Do I not deserve it? Am I not good enough for it?... You know... All the typical self-doubt thoughts that drag its holder to a dark deep hole of self-loathing! 

However, on the other side, are we not to believe that what is meant to be will happen? Of course it doesn't mean that we just lazily wait for things to fall in our lap, but perhaps to exercise diligence in our pursuits, hope and pray for the best while having faith that we will get what is written for us... As for what's not written for us, well, there's nothing we can do about that, except hope some more that there is something better in store for us instead! (And most people like to ignore the fact that perhaps there's nothing better for them, but let's not get into that dark deep hole now :P)

With those thoughts, I was prompted to leave my comment above, with the following questions:

"How long and hard must you go after something before realizing that maybe you're just being stubborn instead of persistent, and that perhaps it's time you focus your energy and time on something else that may be good for you too, even if you had failed to see it from start!"

I ask that question in all seriousness... How long and hard are we supposed to pursue something before we realize that it is better to quit? A month? A year? 5 years? Perhaps the time period is more relevant to the goal itself; like if your goal is to be a talented musician, that would come with hours of practice (about 10'000 hours according to the rule uncovered in Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Outliers", which I highly recommend you read!), but isn't it possible that talent and creativity are not an outcome of practice, that even with such practice, someone can still lack the "it" factor that'd make them successful or exceptional? But I digress...

In the same theme of thoughts, and by coincidence, I came across another comment I made five years ago on a blog post titled "How To Quit Being A Quitter":

Sometimes people keep pushing themselves to do something so they don’t end up being quitters, and in the end, that makes them hate what they are doing. If you need to actually push yourself hard to do something and finish it, then you probably shouldn't be doing it! No one ever quits on something he/she loves and enjoys doing.

At the end, I am not saying that we should all quit our pursuits as soon as we feel frustrated or we run into an obstacle... This is hardly a conclusion, but rather the opening of a discussion... And I really hope that one of you readers is an experienced psychologist and can advise me on the matter: Am I wise or am I a lazy quitter? lol

Just be yourself... or Don't?!

I was having a conversation with a friend about all the things that make me “me” and how it affects my life, perhaps adversely. His advice was “just be yourself”; an advice often given in such situations, but does it often work? Sometimes, you feel you have been yourself long enough but it hasn’t resulted in what you need it to. So I started thinking:

Anyone who has ever dealt with people -long enough to form a relationship, any kind of relationship like friendship, neighboring, business, etc., and even in our relationship with our family- understands compromise. We often give up pieces of ourselves, in order to comply or fit in with others, voluntarily. As simple as an outing with a group of friends, perhaps everyone wants to see a romantic movie, which you don’t like, but you go along anyway so you don’t end up watching an action movie on your own. There is no right or wrong about this, things are just either the way you like them (which is often ideal and improbable) or they are a compromise to something that all parties involved can “accept”. Is there a point to being yourself all the time, if it means that you don’t come to terms with anyone else most of the time?

Another thing to consider when being “yourself” is: what if you are a despicable jerk? Hehe ok I am just being dramatic, but let’s say that the whole of you include many bad habits that alienate people, or if you don’t care about alienating people, then at the least hinder you from achieving your ultimate goals, whether happiness or success, or inner peace. Does trying to be better go against “just being yourself”? Would it make a difference if you decide how you’d like to be better or if others told you what you should change? We can certainly change ourself to better in order to be happier and have people around us like us, but wouldn’t it mean so much more if we are accepted and liked for who we are, without stressing ourselves out to change?

There are definitely many questions in my head when it comes to self-identity, but as a main theme, I’d like to ask you:

1- Would you rather be yourself, to be true to yourself, or control who you are in order to fit in generally?

2- Should you accept yourself as you are or try to change for better? 

Let me hear your own thoughts below, and don’t forget to subscribe and share if you like what you read!

Who thought of it first?

I just read a status that my friend, let’s call her Sarah, wrote that was a “sort of a” deep reflection on an aspect of life. The thought in the status was more or less the same thing that another mutual friend I have, let’s call her Linda, had been repeating recently. Now, Sarah and Linda know each other well, and they have engaged with each other more lately. And the thought expressed by Sarah, whom I am familiar with pretty well, didn’t seem like something she would say... So I started thinking:

Whether we realize it or not, many of us are very impressionable. As social creatures, we tend to look for things in our surroundings to guide us in the way we think or act. Yes we often reflect on things on our own, but even that solitary reflection is often spurred by something we saw or someone we heard. Many times, we see ourselves repeating in our heads something other people had said. Whether we are agreeing to it, or denying it, the fact remains that we are driven and affected by it. Maybe it was something we were subjected to today, or maybe it was many little things we were subjected to over a span of years that we don’t even remember anymore, but they are there in our heads, guiding how we think.

Being impressionable is a double-edged sword... It can be used for good or for evil. For example, we want children to be impressionable by good behavior, to deduce their own thoughts of “we should be/do good”. But likewise, they are vulnerable to bad impressions and can end up with "bad" thoughts. Think of it in terms of trends... How trends come to happen is that one or a few people create or think of something, which leaves a very big impression on so many highly-impressionable people, and they follow it and spread it around. (Read more about this here: Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point”). But even those who seem to have “originated” the thought, were mostly inspired (got the impression from) by someone else who got it from someone else, and so on and so forth. So I ask:

1- Do you believe that there is anything as an “original” thought anymore, or are all our thoughts just bits and pieces from others here and there?

2- Which do you think travels faster: a good thought or a bad thought? And how can you motivate a good thought to travel while refraining a bad thought from traveling?

Please share your thoughts to the questions above in a comment below. And if you have enjoyed reading this, I hope it "impressioned" you to subscribe to my blog, and share this post! Thank you ^_^