Changing Your Behavior Is Really Hard

Perhaps the best question is not why some diets fail, but how do any work at all?

Here’s an excerpt from Time:

14 percent of lung cancer patients who continued to smoke cigarettes five months after diagnosis, according to a study in Cancer. The same was true of 9% of colorectal cancer patients. Most people who can’t quit are hard-core, high-volume smokers. They struggle to kick the habit, but often face barriers like depression and social stigma.

And a new report from the insight blog on the state of american dieters:

Despite multiple efforts to assist Americans in achieving a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular physical activity, only limited success in changing behavior has been attained.

While research shows that Americans desire to engage in healthful behaviors, they may initiate changes only over the short-term without establishing long-term habits.

A few thoughts:

  1. If the failure rate is so consistently bad, why do so many people continually go through the same routine that’s almost certain to lead to failure? Do people really lack that much creativity? Do they have that much self-denial?
  2. How much of the problem is addiction, and how much of the problem is social norms? Most of our behavioral tendencies are shaped by who we’re surrounded with, and that influence extends heavily to our attitudes towards food.
  3. With the latter point, how much of the two are intertwined? I have food addictions, but if I’m separated from social conditions that push me towards them, I usually do fine. If it’s put in front of me, the instinctive part of almost always wins out.

If addiction and social norms work together, that makes the healthy living conundrum a very difficult problem for many people to solve.

3 thoughts on “Changing Your Behavior Is Really Hard”

  1. Humans are creatures of habit . The nicotine addiction is one of the difficult habits to quit. I wish public service announcements focused on telling young smokers they are starting a habit that will be very difficult to quit .


    1. Dana,

      So true. I think public service announcements are starting to focus on emphasizing the difficulties of quitting habits, but I think most kids have much more influential forces in their lives like the lifestyle habits of their parents and peers which shape their behavior.


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