Home Mental Health & Well-Being How to Make Well-Being Enhancement Work in the Real World

How to Make Well-Being Enhancement Work in the Real World

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Almost everyone has sought to improve their well-being. Vast numbers of well-being and self-development books and courses are bought every day. Yet most go partially read. Some are fully read but never implemented. Why do only a tiny number of people derive the full benefit of self-development material? What stops most people from applying life-enhancing techniques? Why do some people implement these methods and massively improve their lives? What are the well-being implementation secrets that lead to a better quality and quantity of life?

There are a number of explanations as to why we do not do what we know is good for us. Here are the most common, followed by what well-being implementers do differently.

Lack of motivation

Sometimes we don’t do what is good for us because we don’t have or can’t find the motivation. We can doubt whether we can achieve the ideal outcome or whether anyone else can.

People who act to achieve anything have a big enough “why”, a strong enough reason to turn an idea into action. That usually means placing great emphasis on the benefits of the desired outcome and the journey to get there.

Ignorance

For all of us, there is vastly more that we don’t know than we do. What does that mean? That lack of knowledge is our default state in huge areas of life. Wisdom is, in one sense, knowing what one does not know and being comfortable with our ignorance while trying to fill what gaps we can.

Often, we don’t do what is good for us because we don’t know what is good for us. When this impediment to enhancing our well-being is present, we may be ignorant of the risks associated with certain behaviours or activities. For instance, most people don’t know that all alcohol consumption is risky or that 9% of all cancers are attributed to alcohol.

People who make the best of their lives educate themselves about how to make the best of life in all areas: health, education, career, hobbies, relationships, etc. Over my many years of coaching elite performers, I have found that the vast majority of them are better in all areas of their lives than the majority of the population, simply because they have chosen to learn and improve.

Social pressure

We may feel pressure from friends, family, colleagues, and wider society to not change our behaviour, even when we know that it is wise to do so. For instance, many people start and die from smoking because of social pressure to conform. The same applies to alcohol consumption and overeating. Humans can have their health destroyed by groupthink; they conform to something they know is harmful because they don’t want to disagree with others in their group.

People who protect and enhance their well-being would not remain in a group that engages in self-destructive behaviour.

Choice overload

When we are presented with too many choices, we become confused and overwhelmed and are more likely to make poor decisions. In the developed world, where the greatest number of self-inflicted health problems occur, some people may be making poor well-being decisions because they are overloaded with so many choices.

Health-conscious people tend to self-narrow their choices between, for example, super-healthy choice one and super-healthy choice two: “Will I do some cardio exercise or will I do yoga?”

Hyperbolic discounting and temporal myopia

We tend to value immediate rewards more than future rewards. Why? Future rewards are uncertain and can seem attainable, more uncertain than immediate rewards. We may choose to engage in behaviours that feel beneficial in the immediate term but are hugely harmful in the long term. In other words, we tend to be reluctant to engage in delayed gratification.

The opposite is the case with people who successfully improve their lives; they welcome forgoing a short-term pleasure for an enormously greater long-term benefit. They don’t suffer from temporal myopia. For instance, a person in their late teens may forgo some socialising and instead takes the money that would have been spent and buy small numbers of stocks and shares, knowing that money will produce an income for life.

Self-control theory and ego depletion

It may be that our self-control is a limited resource. When we engage in self-control, such as resisting temptation, we deplete our self-control resources. As our self-control is used up, that can make it progressively more difficult for us to resist temptation, even when we know it is not in our best interest. As our mental fatigue increases and our ego is depleted from having to use much willpower, we tend to be more vulnerable to temptation and impulsive behaviour.

How do people who succeed in resisting temptation manage to overcome the depletion of their self-control? By self-honesty. If they know their self-control is strongest early in the day and weakest later on, they adjust their behaviour to deal with that reality. For instance, if maintaining a healthy weight is important, they will either fast in the morning, when self-control is at its highest, or never allow themselves to have access to unhealthy foods in the evening, when their self-control is weakest.

Akrasia Akrasia is a Greek word that means “acting against one’s better judgement.” Akrasia seems to be a near universal human experience that we all go through occasionally. Some people who are massively overweight because of their overeating will behave aggressively. They may comfort eat after having experienced social stigma as a result of their previous overeating.

How do people who look after their well-being deal with their potential for akrasia? In my experience, they put a gap between their decisions and acting on those decisions. That gives them time to reflect and to act rationally rather than impulsively.

Addiction

Addiction can lead us to engage in behaviours that we know are harmful to us, even when we want to stop them. When we are caught by addiction, we lose control and our sense of agency. What we thought we started out being able to control soon took control of us.
Well-being implementers avoid becoming addicted. One of their mantras is moderation in all things, and all things are in moderation. It takes much less willpower and self-control to avoid becoming addicted than it does to overcome an addiction.

Mental health problems

When we have mental health problems, we can also have difficulty making well-being-enhancing choices, controlling our impulses, and coping with stress. It may sound obvious, but few people do it: if we protect and strengthen our mental health, we are less likely to have the kind of mental health problems that render us unable to make good well-being choices.

Bounded rationality

We don’t have limitless cognitive capacity. That means that often it is just not possible to process all of the information that is needed to make a wise decision. That can lead us to make decisions that are not in our best interest, which we have no idea are harmful to us.

Those who are able to best protect their well-being tend to err on the side of caution; if they do not, or cannot know, if something is harmful, they will not engage in the activity.

Framing effect

The way we frame or present information to ourselves can lead us to make self-harming decisions. If we frame an activity as healthy rather than harmful, we are more likely to engage in it. For instance, even today, when we know just how harmful alcohol is, some people will frame their drinking as “for medicinal purposes”.

People who engage in health-protective or enhancing behaviours and implement what they know is good for them are acutely aware of how others may frame unhealthy behaviours: “One more won’t do you any harm. Go on, have another.” They keep their guard up to protect themselves from the unhealthy reframing.

Confirmation bias

We tend to seek out and interpret information in a way that confirms our existing beliefs. This can lead us to make decisions that are not based on evidence, or worse, make decisions that fly in the face of the evidence.

People who implement the knowledge that will enhance their well-being can benefit from confirmation bias. They believe that certain behaviours will enhance their well-being, and that may trigger the placebo effect even when there is no evidence that the planned health intervention works.

Availability bias

We tend to give more weight to information that is readily available to us, which can lead us to make decisions based on limited or even inaccurate information. Before we knew how seriously carcinogenic smoking was, people did not have the information available, and countless millions died of smoking-related cancers.

Well-being-conscious people tend to be more willing to educate themselves about the health effects of anything they consume or do. For instance, some people, when they looked into the toxic chemicals contained in vapes, decided never to go near them.

Affect heuristic and infusion

We often make decisions based on our emotions, not on logic. When that tasty snack smells so good, we know how emotionally pleasant it will be to eat it. When our emotions get a grip on us, all reason can be overpowered.

Well-being implementers are fully aware that their emotions can overpower them, so they take preventative measures; they make a logical decision to avoid temptations in any and every way they can.

Procrastination

We often delay or postpone what we know is good for us because we imagine it will be easier to do it tomorrow than today.
Health implementers know that the only time a decision and action to improve or preserve health can be made is now. They know that putting it off is the slippery slope to never starting. They take immediate action and form a healthy habit as soon as possible.

Takeaway

If we are to make our well-being enhancement knowledge work in the real world, it helps to understand the inner barriers to doing what we know is good for us. Now that you have that information, what steps will you take today, immediately, to apply the well-being implementation secrets?

Now that you understand the inner barriers, what steps will you take immediately to apply the well-being implementation secrets?




Professor Nigel MacLennan runs the performance coaching practice PsyPerform.

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