Lorn Healthy Options health tip – week 25

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Why is it so hard to make good health decisions?

Across the globe there are people who smoke, drink too much alcohol, use recreational drugs, eat junk food or take very little physical activity.

The way we often try to improve these situations and reduce their impact is through education but this assumes one thing, that the human brain is rational.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the human brain is anything but rational. Do we really believe that a smoker in this day and age doesn’t understand their habit could lead to lung cancer? It is not about a lack of education nor intellect. It is not that we don’t know better when it comes to health behaviours. It is that we don’t do better.

Changing someone’s mind with education is hard, but changing their behaviour with education is harder still.

In most cases the reason lies in the fact that the human brain is prone to irrational behaviour and we make many decisions based on emotion. This isn’t always a bad thing as it is this ability to act on emotion that provides us with courage, creativity, inspiration and passion.

Another benefit is that our brains are actually irrational in predictable ways which allows us to devise behaviour change strategies which will improve our health and wellbeing.

Our irrational behaviour is perhaps no better exhibited in a concept known as immediate gratitude or present bias. Put simply, this is the fact that outcomes and rewards that can be achieved right now are viewed as more important than potentially threatening outcomes that could exist in the future.

Anyone on a diet will know the piece of chocolate fudge cake with ice cream will have an impact on their waistline in future but right now it tastes amazing and will light up the part of our brain that registers pleasure.

So often making the right decision for our health involves putting our faith in a delayed positive outcome in the future. Hard work pays off in the future, laziness pays off now.

We also don’t want to feel like we are missing out. We know that too many nights out with friends at the pub will take its toll on our body, but we don’t want to miss out on the social engagement.

One way around this problem is to tap into the fact most of us fundamentally care about what others think of us. So by making our behaviours observable we can significantly increase our likelihood of carrying out a desired behaviour or limiting those that we would rather dispense with.

At Healthy Options we have a much higher rate of success with those who can attend our regular guided sessions as opposed to those who are forced to, or choose to exercise at home. If no-one is watching there is less likelihood of the planned sessions being completed.

So if you are starting to walk regularly, what about joining a walking group where your absence will be missed? Better still, we could tell our nearest and dearest of our  intentions which allows our goals to exist in the open, real world, not just hidden away  inside our mind. Perhaps we could also document how we are progressing? This could be as easy as marking off your days of activity on a calendar, then publicise what the big crosses represent to others in the household or friends when they visit.

At Healthy Options our THRIVE programme can be accessed via an easy self referral from our website. Many benefit hugely from the social interactions with likeminded people and in many cases good friends. They also know that if they fall away they are likely to get a call from one of our staff to find out why they haven’t been along and encourage them back.

In most cases, however, it is the clients themselves who do the job for us by contacting their normal training partners and finding out why they haven’t been seen for a while.  It is an amazing combination of health club, support network and safety net rolled into one.

If you would like to become part of Healthy Options THRIVE, check out our website at www.lornhealthyoptions.co.uk

It may just be the most rational decision you make this year.

Cameron Johnson, Lorn Healthy Options.