Most of us have been taught from an early age that rewarding people for doing the right thing works a lot better than punishing them for doing the wrong thing. Surely some folks remember the ageless gem of wisdom 'You catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar'?
And yet, when it comes to health, the goody-goodies of the world prefer to use the stick as a form of encouragement. Folks want to tax soda and fats for example. Supposedly, the threat of having to pay more is supposed to dissuade us from drinking that soda or eating that fattening burger with fries. It doesn't stop me, because even with the extra taxes, the bad-for-you items are still cheaper than the healthier alternatives, and that's not even considering taste.
So what is the alternative? Not too long ago I went to have lunch at a local hospital cafeteria. I'd heard rumors that this place had food to die for, and I was looking forward to trying it. I discovered that these brilliant people had come up with an ingenious way of using a carrot to encourage healthy eating. Simply put, if you ordered the healthy meal of the day you got a discount. (So I did. And it was delicious!)
I was floored by the concept. Offering an incentive to encourage healthy eating instead of punishing you when you don't? What an awesome concept! Why can't lawmakers wrap their heads around this idea?
Finding one example of this made me search for others, and that is when I stumbled onto Step 2 Health. This is a company that offers rewards for getting off my butt and exercising. There is an initial outlay because you have to purchase the pedometer, but there is no other cost beyond that. Every 10,000 steps I get a code, and when I upload the code I get 60 points. When I accumulate enough points, I can redeem them for a reward!
Does it indicate a personal moral failing that I need to be enticed with rewards to do something that is good for me? Probably. But I've struggled with the weight issue off and on for awhile, and "getting healthy" as a motivation only works until I spy a piece of chocolate or find something to do other than exercise. I am the Queen of excuses.
Getting fit simply does not work for me as a motivation in the short-term, but shopping? Now that's something I can get behind.
So the message I want to send to all those goody-goodies out there who want to tax us into oblivion "for our own good" is simply this: Use the carrot instead of the stick. It works. It helps people surmount the mountain that lies between starting a new behavior and turning that behavior into a habit, which is key to adopting healthy behaviors for life.