For Better Health, Give Yourself an Environmental Nudge

-POP (2)Yesterday I talked about the tension between educating people to make their own smart choices, and structuring their environments to nudge them toward the best outcome. There is evidence that giving people constrained choice helps balance better outcomes with satisfaction, since people do still have a sense of autonomy. There are also counter-arguments that if given the right resources, people can do very well without any constraints imposed upon them.

Whatever the correct answer is, the truth is that people often respond very well to constrained choice within the context of health coaching. Behavior change is complicated and hard, and having some limits on choice helps people succeed. Weight Watchers is a prime example.

Best of all is if you can coach people to make their own environmental guardrails toward good decisions.  What might this look like? Here are some ideas. Leave your own in the comments!

If you want to eat healthier:

  • Keep healthy snacks like baby carrots and fruit in the house.
  • Don’t keep snacks you know will tempt you to overeat.
  • Prepare ingredients for multiple meals at once, e.g. have a major veggie chopping session on Sunday night.
  • Deliberately cook large amounts of favorite healthy dinners and package the leftovers for lunches.
  • Keep a granola bar or other non-perishable healthy snack in your purse, glove box, or desk drawer.

If you want to be more active:

  • Keep all of the clothes and shoes you need to work out someplace convenient like your car trunk. Or, keep a spare set at work in case you have a chance to hit the gym on your way home.
  • Plan errands that require you to take a walk. Call your script into a pharmacy that doesn’t have parking. Plan to meet friends for dinner someplace where driving is inconvenient.
  • Enlist friends to help you build social activities around movement. Sign up for a race together, and agree to be everyone’s ride. You’re less likely to beg off if you know people are counting on you.
  • One that works for me is registering for paid exercises classes in the morning. Once the money is invested, I’ll find a way to go. If I try to commit to a free morning workout, I will be hitting snooze.

If you want to go to bed earlier:

  • Plan early morning activities regularly. It will take time, but as you create a habit of getting up early, you’ll find yourself ready for bed earlier at night.
  • Make your bed a haven. Invest in comfy sheets and blankets and choose pleasant lighting for your room. If you enjoy being in your bedroom, it might help you look forward to an earlier bedtime.
  • Reading before bed can help people unwind without the negative effects of screentime on the Circadian rhythm, so hit the library. Pick a book that is just for fun and allow yourself to read it before bed in lieu of tv or the laptop.

If you want to quit smoking:

  • Throw away all of your smoking paraphernalia. All of it: Not just the cigarettes, but your lighters, matches, ashtrays, etc. You want it to be as inconvenient as possible to smoke.
  • Choose restaurants and bars where smoking is not permitted (lucky you if you live in a place where this is all of them).
  • Avoid shopping at the places you typically buy cigarettes.
  • Make plans with friends and family who are non-smokers. Spending time with people who won’t encourage you to smoke with them and aren’t likely to have a cigarette to borrow will make it harder for you to smoke yourself.