The principles of behavioral finance focus on understanding why someone does or does not do something that would help them reach a desired goal, and then helping them understand and convince themselves that the "I should/need/have to do" becomes an "I can't wait to do/let's start."
That is where I found myself on Memorial Day weekend 2019. I realized I was in a perfect storm of weight gain—neck issues that required meds that helped me gain too much weight; possibly elevated A1C levels; poor stress management; and the dreaded “two-dinner” syndrome (regular dinner and a 10 pm fridge raid)—but it wasn’t until I saw a picture of myself that I realized I had to do something. I paused, I meditated, and I decided to create a weight-loss plan fashioned after a behavioral finance strategy.
Fourteen months later I lost 54 lbs.
When people see me now, they ask, “How do you do it?” But doing starts with “WHY.” Without a compelling WHY, there is no action. I took out a tablet, wrote WHY at the top, and let my mind flow. Among my WHYs: I want to be around for my children and, one day, my children’s children; I want to be comfortable in my clothing; I do not want to become a diabetic; I want to bicycle ride 50 miles to and from Robert Moses Park when the trail opens in 2021; I want to look and feel fit, which is good for business marketing.
Next was the WHAT, as in What is my goal?
I chose my goal of 54 lbs. for the following reasons. It was the number that would bring down my body-mass index to the "Normal" range. It was also a number I believed was maintainable once I achieved it. It also was inspirational. The number 18 in Hebrew is the word Chai, translated as "life." It is a symbol of good luck. My mantra became, "Three times Chai!"
I wanted steady, consistent weight loss; a pound a week. I wanted permanent change, which meant an eating plan I could stay with forever and not feel like I was dieting. I sought expert guidance from my registered dietician/nutritionist/food scientist brainiac daughter Ilana. She looked at a food diary I kept and boiled it down to my one vice: Sodium intake. (Sourdough pretzels. French fries. Potato chips. Pickles. Anything salty. Mmm.) Ilana helped me set a daily sodium intake level.
Then, the critical HOW. I started using a calorie-counting app every day before every meal. It stunk at first, because the level of daily calories the app recommended made me feel like I was starving. However, I soon noticed the app also rewarded me with calories added back from exercise. I love bicycling but time permitted weekends only. So, I started daily walking. Before I knew it, I could walk 18-minute miles and get three miles covered in an hour. I incorporated walking into my calendar, some days at lunch time, others immediately after work. Because of the walking, my stamina during bicycling improved to the point where I felt the fountain of youth (when I am bicycling so fast that the bike is traveling faster than I can pedal).
When using behavioral finance techniques, sometimes a financial practitioner leaves something in the client’s behavior imperfect, so as not to feel too regimented. Call it an incentive, or for dieters or gamers, a “CHEAT.” Using a ride-mapping app, I learned that I could burn between 1,000 and 1,500 calories over a 25-mile ride, so riding days I often allowed myself the “two-dinner” indulgence.
Finally, REINFORCEMENT. I hit the critical moment of wearing the older clothes on the left side of my closet (the ones I had not worn for years but refused to throw out because "someday" they would fit). Once those got too small, I donated the bigger clothes and bought even better-fitting clothes. Combining personal goals with community impact made the accomplishment ever sweeter.
If you are looking to make a major change in your life, consider exploring your behaviors to help you achieve your goals.