“Knowledge of a likely or a guaranteed future outcome does not change present behavior.”
A friend of mine, who is an OB/GYN, recently said this to me when talking about risky sexual behavior and sexually transmitted diseases that she sees every day in private practice. In other words, people know something bad can or will happen when they behave a certain way, but they do it anyway.
This statement can be applied to virtually every aspect of our lives, particularly our health.
We know smoking, at the very least, takes years off of our lives and the lives of those who we subject to secondhand smoke. At worst, a smoker will get lung cancer and die at a very young age. But they keep smoking.
We know fatty foods, processed foods and artificially sweetened foods increase our risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes and other chronic diseases. But we continue to eat food from boxes, cans and fast food drive-thrus.
We know the likely or guaranteed outcome, but we don’t change our behavior and adopt a wellness lifestyle.
In my experience in clinical practice and as a clinician and public speaker, there are two things that bring about behavioral change.
The first is a massive crisis. A heart attack, stroke, cancer diagnosis or major surgery. This is typically the swift kick in the pants that makes people wake up and realize what they’ve been doing to themselves – if they survive the crisis.
The second is education and inspiration. This is the kind of change I’m blessed to see every day.
Education and inspiration is what motivates someone like Heather Valdes, who I met through the city of Long Branch’s CityWell program and spoke about in my last blog post. She realized how poor health and fitness were affecting her life now and where it would lead her years from now, and she made the decision to embrace a wellness lifestyle.
Information is powerful. Education works.
Motivating people to get serious about a wellness lifestyle and behavioral change isn’t going to happen by handing someone a pamphlet. It’s not going to happen with a slick advertising campaign or that “Biggest Loser” garbage.
When I speak with audiences through CityWell and my Wellness at Work program, and as I embark on a journey to write a book, it’s not about me telling people what to do. It’s about educating, inspiring and moving people.
And it’s about those people educating, inspiring and moving each other.
It all comes down to a choice. Are we going to act like grownups and use this information to do what we know is right and embrace a wellness lifestyle? Or are we going to put our heads in the sand and wait until something terrible happens?
Will we wait for a crisis, or will we make the behavioral changes that reduce the risk of a crisis?
The right answer is obvious, don’t you think?