A cup of coffee sits next to a pad of paper and a pen.
What will you do today to improve your health? (For Spectrum Health Beat)

More than 80 percent of chronic disease is behavior-driven. As a family physician, knowing how to change behavior is paramount.

The thing is, changing behavior can be very difficult, and often not desirable. We have to override convenience, quick satisfaction, what our social circle is doing in the moment, habits, our dopamine response to poor choices, and so forth.

Behavior change is about helping people get the satisfaction from daily choices that will lead to outcomes they want in the long term.

Behavior change is more than just having the motivation to change.

Try this little exercise from a recent Wellness Event:

Rate the following on a scale from 1-7 with 1 being low importance and 7 being very important. Jot down your numbers in a column.

  • How important is your wellness?
  • How important is physical activity?
  • How important is strength training to you?
  • How important is flexibility to you?
  • How important is healthy eating to you?

Got your numbers? Don’t read on until you’ve ranked the above.

OK, now jot down a new scale below indicating how many days last week (1-7) you dedicated to the following:

  • Overall wellness?
  • Physical activity?
  • Strength training?
  • Stretching/flexibility?
  • Preparing healthy food?

Does your second scale score match your first scale on each category? Which areas have much more importance to you than you spent days of the week working on them?

This kind of mismatch of motivation and action is common. That’s because it takes more than motivation to change behavior. We have to make it easy and desirable to change.

One of my non-medical interests is behavioral economics (the psychology and impact of behavior change), and it’s interesting how the two fields overlap.

One of my favorite authors, who is also a great speaker and behavioral economist, is Daniel Kahneman.

His advice on behavior change: There is an equilibrium between driving forces for change and restraining forces to change, preventing you from going there. The good way to change is by diminishing the restraining forces, not by increasing the driving forces. Remove the barriers to change. Make it easy and desirable to change. Find the challenges to change. Have a plan for change. It should be simple and specific. Remove any ambiguity of the plan.

For example, if the goal is to stop eating fast food, find a replacement for fast food that is quick, easy, tasty and filling, and removes any barriers to getting this food into the car.

Finally, set a clear goal. What will you define as success? Set a clear measure of success to contribute to that instant gratification from our choices that will then turn into long-term gratification.

Behavior change is gaining public attention and interest as we understand how lifestyle plays an important role in disease prevention and overall health.

There is a multimillion-dollar behavior change study ongoing now called “Behavior Change for Good.” Researchers are looking at three areas of behavior change as it impacts health, education and finance.

I will definitely be following their results.