It is summer time, and the ant is busy preparing for winter by storing lots of food. Meanwhile, the grasshopper is singing and dancing, while also making fun of the ant. As fall turns into winter and snow covers the fields, the grasshopper can no longer find food. Thinking back to the summer, he knows that the ant has food, so he goes to the ant to ask for food and warmth. The ant doesn’t help him out, and reminds the grasshopper about his idle ways over the summer.
What immediately comes to mind with regard to this fable is whether we are spenders or savers, but I started thinking about it from a different angle—our health.
If we take these same roles and apply it to our health, then the grasshopper would represent those of us, or those times, when we overindulge in the present without regard for our future health. The ant would represent those times when we think twice about something, knowing how it will impact our future health.
Herein lies the problem; as humans we do not have great self-control, so we tend to act like grasshoppers more often than like ants. We have what is called a present focus bias, meaning that we tend to put more stake in our current situation than we do in our future. Things in the future seem less important than what is enticing us in the present.
Behavioral economists have conducted several studies to test how we might best overcome this inability to have self-control, and they have come up with several suggestions.
Reward substitution is when you give yourself an unrelated reward in the present, for doing an action that supports yourself in the future.
- Watch a movie on the nights you go to the gym in the morning.
- Go for a walk at your lunch hour when you eat a healthy breakfast.
- Treat yourself to a pedicure after a week of following your exercise plan.
Self-control contracts, also known as Ulysses contracts, are a way for you to resist temptation before it even happens. You know that you will be tempted, so you plan ahead.
- Girls who don’t shave their legs before a date, so it doesn’t go too far.
- Putting your purse in the backseat, so you won’t text while driving.
- Having your spouse hide the chocolate chip cookies you just bought so you don’t eat them all in one sitting.
- Putting parental controls on your own laptop, so you don’t check your work email when you get home.
- The alarm clock that rolls away from you after it goes off.
Loss aversion is based on research that has been done that says that we are 2 ½ times more averse to losing something than we are to gaining the same thing. Instead of setting up rewards for good behavior, you lose something when you don’t take action or exhibit self-control.
- Give $50 to your least favorite organization each week that you don’t work out.
- Give up your favorite dress if you don’t reach your goal.
- Give your friend $5000 if you can’t quit smoking.
If you are struggling to make long-term changes for your health, or are having difficulty exhibiting self-control when you seem to need it most, try to use one of the three tactics described above. You can also check out www.stickK.com, for additional support.
When it comes to your health, are you an Ant or a Grasshopper?