What gets us to change?

A 2018 review out of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences asks how we can use what we know about the brain to influence our behavior (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6175225/).

Three essential factors surfaced.

  1. Reward valuation. Where does your brain land on the pros and cons of a behavior (e.g., eating a donut)? Sometimes where our brains land gets us into trouble (eat it! eat two!). Research suggests that for less immediate rewards, our brains need to see the personal relevance of behaviors. So what if it’s “good” to exercise, what’s it matter to me and mine? Messages about such things as exercise and healthy eating carry more weight with us when we connect them to our values. Research shows that when people reflect on core values–what deep down really matters to them–and then get messages about healthy behaviors, they will more often practice them than people who receive the same messages without reflecting on their values.
  2. Delay discounting. Delay discounting refers to our tendency to discount the value of a reward the longer we have to wait for it. So we often choose smaller rewards with immediate gratification over bigger ones with delayed gratification. Eclairs over exercise. Research suggests a solution (if you want one): episodic future thinking (EFT). EFT is the capacity to imagine or simulate your future experiences. It works like this: You have a talk coming up tomorrow morning, and you intended to be well-rested for it. But you are tempted to watch another episode on Netflix tonight. You give EFT a try: You imagine you skip the show for sleep. And then imagine how the next morning plays out. You imagine it as vividly as possible, how you’re feeling, what you see from your audience. You can also imagine sacrificing sleep for the show and imagine how your morning plays out, as vividly as possible. EFT increases the chances we will remember our intentions and then act on them.
  3. Self-regulation, the capacity to direct different parts of ourselves (thoughts, urges, cravings, emotions, actions) toward achieving future-oriented goals. In the article, one means of increasing self-regulation that the authors discuss is physical exercise. In https://tonyalippert.blog/2017/08/01/understanding-adhd/, you can find several ways to increase self-regulation, with or without ADHD.

There you have it. Want to change a behavior? Play with reward valuation, delay discounting, and self-regulation. See what you notice. Is the review out of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences right?

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