Make your behaviors attractive

I'm going to write out a word, and I want you to tell me what pops into your head when you read it.

OK... Ready?

"Diet."

What do you see? Describe the image that's in your noggin.

You're probably picturing a salad... maybe a glass of water. Or perhaps you're thinking about some bland chicken breasts and some roast veggies.

Most of you probably aren't thinking about a big juicy steak with a slab of butter on it, or a plate of bacon and eggs.

The word diet has been tainted. We've associated it with the worst foods imaginable. Oatmeal. Ice-berg lettuce salad. Dry chicken-breast.

And then there are the terrible emotions we've wrapped up with the word. Shame. Despair. The list goes on...

Is it any surprise that diets are so hard to sustain?

Behaviors that aren't enjoyable generally don't last.

But most of the health and wellness behaviors that are commonly prescribed are often the opposite of enjoyable--they're downright unpleasant.

Sure, with some behavioral science trickery you may be able to increase 1-year compliance for a salad and chicken diet from 15% to 20%... but if the rates for a program are that low, it's a sign that something much more important is wrong.

It's a sign that you aren't having people do the right behaviors.

To illustrate this point, let me tell you a little story.

Back in 2011, I was trying to lose some weight. To do this, I went to the gym... a lot. I also started to eat more salads and lean meats (like chicken).

I saw some results, but they weren't all that impressive.

Why? Because I wasn't able to stick to my dietary plan all that well.

I would eat a salad, feel hungry an hour later, and then go eat more food.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't power my way through the intense bouts of hunger I experienced.

After a few months of this, I discovered the low-carb/"paleo" movement.

I learned that I could eat all the foods I loved in (nearly) endless quantities and *still* lose body-fat.

Awesome!

Even though I was skeptical, I decided to give it a shot.

And it worked like gangbusters.

The fat fell off. I could see my top 4 abs for the first time in my life... and I looked awesome.

My friends even commented on how lean I was.

And you know what the best thing was? It wasn't hard. I didn't feel like I was sacrificing anything.

I was eating everything I liked and losing body-fat at the same time.

Win. Win.

This is an example of picking the *right* set of behaviors.

A well-chosen behavior will blossom into a full blown habit with minimal prodding. A badly-chosen behavior will require tons of tactics and tricks to coax into anything resembling a routine.

Choosing the right behavior (or behaviors) is the most important thing that applied behavioral scientists do.

The problem is that very few people in behavioral science world actually seem to think all that much about the behaviors they're choosing.

Instead, they seem to be primarily focused on little nudges and tweaks that will marginallyincrease compliance for any given behavior.

Yes--nudges have an effect. Yes--I use these methods.

But the benefit you can gain from a well-executed nudge is nothing compared to what you can get from choosing the right behavior for the goal you have in mind.

So the question becomes: How do you choose the right behavior for a behavior-change project?

What information do you look at? How do you collect it?

That's what I'm going to talk about tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

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