I’ve long been interested in behavioral economics.
You see, in the larger field of economics, we assume that people are rational beings. You may be surprised to find out that we, as humans, are generally far from rational.
We may rationally know that overeating is bad for us, yet we do it anyway. Knowing that eating a Supersized Big Mac Value Meal will cost you almost half your daily calorie allotment is much different than actively deciding to eat a healthy meal instead.
Sure, you may rationalize that the value meal is more convenient and that you don’t have the time between work and driving the kids to soccer practice to cook a healthy meal. But rationalizing isn’t the same as acting rational.
Recently, New York City issued a ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. Without getting too much into the politics of it all, let’s look at the proposal from a behavioral economics point of view. What this effectively does is force you to make a choice between scarce resources: time and energy.
Trent over at the The Simple Dollar blog sums it up nicely:
Let’s say you’re at a self-serve restaurant and you can get either a 16 ounce cup or a 32 ounce cup. If you take the larger cup, you only have to fill it once and take it to your table to consume 32 ounces of a sugary beverage. If you take the smaller cup, you can still consume 32 ounces easily, but halfway through you have to stop and make the active choice to get more soda.
The smaller cup becomes a natural limit, one that forces you to stop and think about your actions before you make another (potentially poor) choice.
Should the government be doing this? Probably not. Should you be using this kind of tactic in your own life? Most definitely.
Being human, just the other day I was craving my favorite fast food – a Wendy’s Baconator.
However, I was already home from work, and the kids were in bed, and I was pretty tired. If I wanted the Baconator, I would have to get up, go get in the car, drive 10 minutes to Wendy’s and 10 minutes home. As I thought about that, I also considered how hard I’d been working in the gym, and whether the disappointment of falling off the wagon (it wasn’t a cheat day) was worth it.
And it wasn’t it. It’s not that I made a rational choice to not stuff my face per se, it’s that the incentive to slam back a greasy sandwich wasn’t large enough for me to trade my scarce resources – time and energy – to go get it.
If the sandwich would have been sitting on the table in front of me, would my choice have been different (and irrational). Likely so. It would be easier to give in to the impulse and rationalize it later.
Of course, the decision to forgo a calorie laden meal was more of a passive decision for me – the food wasn’t readily available. In the New York example, they’re trying to force an active decision. Whether that should be the role of government is another discussion altogether (I’m clearly a big believer in personal responsibility, and I will leave it at that). I do agree with Trent above, however. You should definitely be seeking out opportunities to force yourself into more rational decisions.
Before I share my secrets on how to hack your brain to create a Metabolic Mindset™, I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas… How can you use this type of trick actively in your life? How can you put a “natural limit” on your calorie intake, and slow down your irrational choices? I’ll share my tips in the next post…
What are your thoughts? How can you make it a little less convenient to eat garbage calories and a little more convenient to exercise?
Let me know in the comments below!
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