You Can’t Keep Your Health Resolutions with Willpower Alone

Despite the best of intentions to improve your health in 2021, environmental forces will always work against you.

As we gear up for the new year, most of us are resolving to make significant changes in our lives. We’re going to eat right, exercise more, and create a better work/life balance. The excitement of a new beginning propels us to new levels of achievement—at least for a week or two.

The runners’ and cyclists’ social network Strava recently found that most people’s resolutions don’t last past the second Friday in January. In 2021, that fateful day came as early as it possibly could: January 8.

Why are “good” behaviors unsustainable for most people? Why do people quickly revert to old eating, activity, and work patterns even when they have the will to do “better” this time? Part of the reason is that the human brain is wired to habits: habitual behavior is comfortable and familiar, so it’s difficult to give up.

In his best-selling book, Willpower Doesn’t Work, organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy explains that resorting to willpower means that people haven’t really committed to change or figured out how to create conditions that facilitate success.

Hardy believes that “The willpower approach doesn’t focus on changing the environment, but instead, on increasing personal efforts to overcome the current environment. What ends up happening? Eventually you succumb to your environment despite your greatest efforts to resist.”

Change Your Environment to Change Your Mind
So how can people change their environments enough to set themselves up for success? For most people, it’s not practical to make major upheavals like moving, getting new sets of friends, changing careers, distancing from family members, etc.

But people can take several small actions to stay on track despite environmental circumstances. Behavioral science confirms that writing down goals, finding accountability partners, and making achievement more of a game can create the kind of momentum that leads to sustainable change, without having to resort to willpower as the main line of defense.

This is especially important for people with chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, which, if unmanaged for too long, can result in serious consequences down the road.

The majority of people with chronic conditions are left to their own devices when it comes to health management and they struggle to succeed. Patients may become enthusiastic for a short time after seeing their doctors—just like making New Year’s resolutions or flossing after seeing the dentist—but environmental conditions wear down commitment and quickly cause people to revert to their old behaviors.

People can’t go to the doctor every week, so what’s the next best thing?   

The proliferation of mobile technologies and the ability to collect and analyze vast amounts of real-time data can put the power of behavior science directly in people’s hands.

At DarioHealth, we’ve developed digital therapeutic solutions that enable patients to change their environments to facilitate successful health management. These solutions are clinically proven to work and bolster a person’s resolve and willpower with regular environmental cues:

  • Convenience: Glucose levels, blood pressure readings, body weight, and other data are collected with minimal user effort
  • Rewards: Gamification, the application of gaming principles to non-gaming environments, motivates engagement
  • Personalization: Care journeys—not just nudges—are personalized, so users get the experience that’s most helpful to them
  • Accountability: Expert coaches offer support, encouragement, and advice—live and asynchronously

No solution is perfect, but solutions that focus on sustainable behavior change are making great strides in helping people manage their health much more successfully. More than 80% of Dario users stick with the solution after the first year, and more and more health plans, employers, and healthcare providers are offering DarioHealth as the best way to help people manage and overcome chronic conditions.