Behavioral economics kind of flies in the face of the traditional economics approach. This rational choice model is based on the notion that rational people make sound judgments by weighing costs, pros and cons. They have the self-control to stay on the right path to achieving their goals.
I wish this was true, but it’s not.
Behavioral economics uses a variety of factors – psychological, emotional, cognitive and social – to determine why we make the choices, financial and otherwise, that seem to defy logic and traditional economic models.
In reality, people tend to make impulse decisions based on instant gratification and exhibit little self-control. Goals aren’t achieved because people often make decisions that aren’t aligned with their goals.
Behavioral economics explains why people want a pill for every ill, which is easier than working to find the real cause of a problem and making the necessary behavioral changes to make that problem go away. It explains why people tend to make decisions based on emotion rather than logic or fact, which leads to inconsistent choices. Emotions cause people to fear missing out on something more than they enjoy doing something.
So what does this have to do with health and wellness?
Well, if you have a better understanding of how and why you make bad decisions, you can learn to make better decisions that make you healthier, provide you more energy for thinking, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and allow you to enjoy a better quality of life.
For example, many companies reward employees for participating in a wellness program, achieving a certain goal, or winning a contest. The problem with this approach is that the reward, whether it’s a paid vacation, a gift card or a new refrigerator, becomes the goal.
In this case, people really don’t learn much. This approach might boost wellness program participation rates in the short-term. It might even help a company reduce their insurance premiums.
But once the reward is given, what happens? People many times revert to their old bad habits and wipe out any gains that were made.
Health literacy that truly changes lives requires an educator, not just a motivating goal. The goal should be to get people to understand the value of a wellness lifestyle and commit to it, not to bribe them with a reward that doesn’t solve the problem.
Of course, behavioral economics says outside forces are working against you. For example, if employers prioritized employee wellness over insurance premiums when creating wellness programs, the problem wouldn’t be as bad.
If more doctors looked for the root cause of a problem before prescribing medication, the problem wouldn’t be as bad. If big food and big pharma were more interested in the public health than their own profits, the problem wouldn’t be as bad. If stores displayed healthy foods more prominently than unhealthy foods, the problem wouldn’t be as bad.
But it all comes back to personal responsibility and accountability. The vast majority of healthcare resources and costs aren’t going to things that are unavoidable, like acute and traumatic care and the treatment of conditions caused by genetics. Those resources and costs are going to problems that, in many cases, could have been prevented.
The fact is, two-thirds of all doctor visits are related to chronic illnesses, most of which are caused by poor choices. That’s why the road to restoring and maintaining good health begins with personal behavior modification, not weight loss contests.
Ask yourself some important questions. Are you motivated by a monetary award or a picture of your kids? What’s more important – a few extra days off or a longer, healthier, happier life?
These are decisions and commitments you have to make as an individual. Our society likes to outsource everything, but this is something you can’t outsource.
Every individual has the power to take control of their own health. Whether you choose to use that power is up to you.