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 Women are Better Than Men

Men, before you start sending me hate comments, the title is just an exaggeration of some aspects in which women are better than men, rather than anfactual generalizing statement that all women are better than all men :P Now that we cleared that out, you can put your chauvinistic pride aside and read on! (Relax, I'm just teasing you lol)

As I was trying to sleep, I decided to listen to something useful, and the podcast below by Freakonomics, titled “Women are not men” (DUH!), caught my attention... The episode covers research resultsnof studies done on the differences between men and women from an economic and social stance, and it got me thinking...

To summarize what particularly caught my attention in the podcast, and on what my title is based:

Women can be more competitive than man, but aren't!

image credit:  ollyy  via  iStock

image credit: ollyy via iStock

But that’s only because they are brought up in cultures with male-dominance, such as liberal Western societies as well as African tribes where women have absolutely no rights (and where a woman is worth 10 cows!). However, in cultures where women are treated as dominants and have superior rights, they tend to be more competitive than men, even at a higher percentage than men in male-dominant cultures.

So the conclusion is: Competitiveness isn’t particularly a matter of (male) nature, but rather an effect of nurture.

The question is: Do we really want women to be more competitive? Wouldn’t competitiveness trigger aggression?

Women arennot so happy in this modern world

Credit: Loyall Sewall/www.jupiterimages.com

Credit: Loyall Sewall/www.jupiterimages.com

Although women, in most liberal societies, are now having more choices in life and more rights, and enjoying more benefits from the improvement of their academic, social, professional and economic status, they are less happy than they were before the liberalist/feminist revolution in the 1970s. Logically, women should be happier as they havenachieved a higher/freer status than they had in the past, but they are not, andnno one knows why. Some researchers speculate that it is perhaps they are stillnmaking less money than men, even at the same jobs, because they don’t negotiatenfor better salaries, and as previously stated, they don’t compete as much.

So the conclusion is: Women were happier in simpler times, with fewer choices and less confrontation.

The question is: Would more money make women happier? Is it not believed that money doesn't buy happiness, yet rich people tend to be happier than poor people?

Women are catching up to men, except in crime

In so many aspects, women are finally enjoying the same life as men, and having similar rights, yet they are far from committing as many criminal offences as men. In the US, 75% to 80% of criminalnoffences are committed by men, and only two criminal offences have more femalenoffenders than male offenders… Can you guess which two?! Well, prostitution (go figure!), and runaways (juveniles reported as having run away from home). There is still no explanation as to why women are committing less crimes than men… Or is it perhaps because they are too smart to get caught :P.

So the conclusion is: Even though women are becoming more like men, in the way they live their lives, they are still far less likely to commit crimes.

The question is: What is it that drive men to commit crimes, and that women seem to be immune to?

Before you answer any/all of the questions above, let me leave you with some other research results that were shared in the podcast:

  • Men are less likely to do favors for others.
  • Men are less likely to wash their hands.
  • Men are less likely to answer a question with “I don’t know” when they really don’t know the answer.

So, is it just me, or do women seem to be better than men?! And guys, do me a favor and go wash your hands, and then answer my questions only if you know :P

If you liked reading this post, then please subscribe, share and comment below! I would appreciate this turning into a conversation outside of my head lol

Yes, your mind is playing tricks on you!

I read this article, titled "8 Common Mistakes in How Our Brains Think and How to Prevent them", and the number one common mistake was: Confirmation Bias...

Away from psychology jargon that you may not be interested in as I am, confirmation bias is "when we proactively seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs". That hit me too closely that I had to tweet about it:


If when we believe in something, our brain only let us see what further supports our belief, how can we even call ourselves "open-minded"? Which lead me to this other quoted tweet:

I have always been fascinated with the world of psychology, with understand how the human mind works and how to take advantage of its strengths and avoid its pitfalls... More than anything, like any one of you I assume, I am interested in learning the tricks of the mind, which would allow me to live life happy and not fall into a trap where I am my biggest enemy and make my life miserable while being convinced it's just my bad luck, instead of actively trying to overcome my own mistakes.

Our minds play tricks on us, and it's most destructive when we don't realize it. But once we realize it, shouldn't that automatically make things better and make us overcome those tricks? Remember back to when you were a kid and saw your first magic trick... You were probably amazed, puzzled and believed it's more of magic than an actual trick. But once you grew up, and learnt how that trick is done, the "magic" was gone and you can now see things for what they really are... An entertaining and simple demonstration is seen in the following video:

But apparently, the mind is more treacherous than we realize. It is stubborn in sticking to its bad habits, even when we have come to acknowledge how bad they are. 

Then what we need is not only to know what the trick is, but why we choose to believe it in the first place... That underlying cause/motive/drive is the key to it all, and it's not something that can be easily uncovered... Some people spend years and years in psychotherapy in order to uncover such truths, and even then, the road to recovery is difficult and lengthy.

Without further rambling on, I want to commit to myself that:

1. I try to seriously look at the pure facts, instead of what my mind interprets of a happening. 

2. I separate myself from my mind in the times it tries to play tricks on me, and acknowledge the tricks even if I can't stop them from happening. 

3. Eventually, hopefully, perhaps, I trick my mind into not tricking me!

Is your mind playing tricks on you? And how are you trying to overcome them, if you are?

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 ^_^