Archive for February, 2010

Bad Habits: The Costs and The Benefits

February 4, 2010

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  James Baldwin

It is often easy to identify the costs associated with a bad habit.  Let’s take the example of overeating, and poor food/beverage choices.  A poor diet will put us at risk for:

  • Being overweight, even obese
  • Becoming diabetic
  • Heart disease
  • Certain kinds of cancer
  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Early death

(and the list goes on…)

But why, in the face of so much information about the danger to one’s health and well-being, do we find it so hard to change our dietary habits?  Because there are actually benefits to not changing.  Let’s list some of the possible benefits of a poor diet:

  • Get to eat and drink whatever, whenever
  • Enjoy the pleasure of great tastes
  • Get to suppress other feelings
  • Mood elevation from consuming alcohol
  • Can use weight as an excuse not to be active

(and the list goes on…)

If we were looking at a seesaw, with COSTS seated on one side and BENEFITS seated on the other, we often will find that the benefits outweigh the costs.  As long as we perceive the benefits of poor diet to outweigh the costs, we are not motivated to change, despite evidence of serious long-term health problems.  What would cause the seesaw to tip the other way such that the costs out weigh the benefits?  How about a heart attack?  Or the diagnosis of diabetes?

The fact is, humans often do not face the need to change until the status quo is so bad that we absolutely have to change.  However, by delaying the change, the fix may no longer work (see opening quote).  Or the fix is not as effective as it would have been if it had been done sooner, before we are faced with our own mortality.  For example:

  • There is currently no cure for diabetes
  • After surviving a heart attack, the heart is never as strong as it was before the attack.

The example of our eating habits and our health is not, at its essence, different from other choices we make in our lives, or choices that organizations face every day.  In the long run, the choices we make, or don’t make, have great consequences.  The willingness to control change, rather than be controlled by change, is a key component of great leadership.  Do you need help identifying or implementing the change that is needed in your life or organization?  Contact Randy at