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Making Decisions About Health and Fitness

In the realm of fitness and wellness, much of our new clients’ judgment may rely on anecdotal evidence, celebrity marketing influence, short/long-term goals, and popular slogans that have woven their way into the cultural vernacular. Hard-to-break habits add to the dilemma. Read on to understand the collective feedback processes of the brain, and help your clients make better lifestyle decisions!

Choice Complexity

The complex decisions regarding lifestyle choices associated with food and exercise habits come packed with biological, social, and emotional variables. To avoid getting caught up in such tangled webs, many individuals seek out the simpler, more straightforward route, or what we might call “emotional choices”; in this arena, marketing experts and social media platforms exploit consumers by promising quick and easy fixes, regardless of their veracity. This inauthenticity contributes to the rapid decline of public health, hand in hand with skyrocketing healthcare costs.

Dual Decision Systems at Play

Seymour Epstein coined the term cognitive-experiential self-theory, describing two distinct cognitive processes which guide our decision-making behavior:

System 1: a quick, almost automatic emotional response, also called intuitive/experiential

System 2: an analytical/rational response that works logically and methodically, similar to how the brain solves a mathematical equation

System 1 governs the decisions often made as knee-jerk responses, such as which door to use when entering an office building, or where to sit in a waiting room. While these choices seem innocuous, some very important decisions — including those that influence our short-term and long-term health –often fall prey to System 1 thinking.

Today’s advertising industry knows just what words and images to use—for example, “Just Do It” or “No Pain, No Gain” — in order to tap into our System 1 decision-maker, where misled behaviors potentially turn into detrimental choices.

System 2 requires more time, as it harnesses intellectual lifestyle/health decisions. When attempting to devise a fitness program, or choosing among a myriad of eating plans for optimal health, the logistics of System 2 processing tend to yield a more personalized approach rather than the convenient “cookie-cutter” plan favored by System 1 thinking.

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