NovuHealth Beat

Health Behavior Theories to Drive Your Health Goals in 2017

Novu Health
Person reflecting on sunset as part of planning healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle

Now that the season of gluttony is in full swing, are you mentally putting off your health until the New Year? This isn’t necessarily a bad idea…as long as you use December to start planning. By developing an understanding of behavioral principles, you can set yourself up for the most successful, goal-reaching year yet. That might sound intimidating, but it’s really just understanding how your own biases–even if you aren’t actively conscious of them–can keep you from reaching your goals.

There are four main categories of bias that behavioral science helps address: information overload, lack of meaning, the need to act fast, and deciding what should be remembered for later. Although each can apply to goal setting in one way or the other, as you move through December and start to plan for the new year, let’s focus on information overload and the need to act fast.

Information Overload

When it comes to goal setting, few things are more pertinent than information overload. This is when there is too much information, so the brain forms an idea of what is most useful and only remembers that. When you start to think of everything that goes into a goal, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You remember what your mother-in-law said about healthy eating, you remember what the TV show host said is the most effective workout…and so on. Since no one can possibly remember all of that, the natural tendency is to decide, even subconsciously, what is the most important information. The problem with this selective memory is that what you remember might not apply to your goals or even be accurate.


By getting rid of information overload in December, you can confidently move into January with a clear mind. This month, ask yourself, “why is this important to me?” The 5 Why System–originally used by the Toyota Motor Corporation–suggests that each time you ask yourself “Why do I want to accomplish this?” you are getting closer to what truly motivates you. For example, James might want to lose 30 pounds and his five layers of “why” might look like the following: 

  1. I’ll feel better.
  2. If I feel better, I will be in less pain and can be more active.
  3. If I am more active, I will be in a better mood.
  4. If I’m in a better mood, I will get along better with my wife and my kids.
  5. If I get along better with my wife and kids, I will feel appreciated and valued.

Just as a business needs to support its financial goals by having the right people and the right supplies for employees to perform their best, you should think of your health goals in the same way. What support do you need? How do you supply your “kitchen” with the right food and recipes, how do you schedule in exercise, who do you need on your “team” to help you reach this goal? Start to think about what the first step to get all your tools ready looks like. By having a “why” and creating a clear reason for each of the tools you need to succeed, you can stop your brain from being overwhelmed with too much information.


The Need to Act Fast

The bias of the need to act fast is actually an evolutionary advantage we possess. Being able to act quickly in the face of uncertainty still has a time and place in our society, but how can this bias affect health goals? The need to act fast is about favoring the immediate, relatable thing in front of us instead of things that are delayed and distant. We’re also more motivated to complete things we’ve invested time and energy in already. But at the same time, we are preferential to the option that is least risky and preserves status quo.


In addition to understanding how the need to act fast may play a role in your success, December is also a great time to start identifying how your personality type affects your goal setting and accomplishing. Is your personality an all-or-nothing mentality or do you do your best when you plan small, gradual steps? And how can identifying your personality type help you overcome this bias and reach your goals?


Your plan will change depending on your personality and knowing that for health goals, the need to act fast is not necessary and likely won’t lead to the change you’re seeking. Knowing how you view challenges will also help you expect barriers and decide how you are going to find success in the difficulties.


What is the goal you have for yourself? Is it attainable yet challenging? Are you giving yourself a realistic time frame to achieve this goal? Answering these questions before you begin confirms to your brain that change will not be instantaneous and rapid change does not equate to a worthwhile goal. In fact, a good goal should not be instantaneous.


If you more closely align with an all-or-nothing personality, realize that the bias of needing to act fast has the potential to cause you to completely give up on a goal when the results aren’t immediate. If you tend to have a personality that takes small, gradual steps, you might have an internal conflict between what (on paper) is a sensible way to attack a goal–progressing and adding slowly–while your brain still fights for the need to act fast. For both personality types, head back to “The 5 Why System” and realize that the need to act fast as a way of thinking may be inevitable, but the actual need for fast action is simply not a reality.


When things don’t go perfectly or as planned, you do not have to start over or stop working towards your goal. Simply pick up where you left off and make modifications to your plan to better fit you and your lifestyle. This is combatting the need to act fast and allows you to act sensibly instead.


Planning not only for your goals, but also understanding how you could subconsciously sabotage yourself, will allow you to be fully prepared as you head into 2017. So use December to start planning, and remember that failing to plan is planning to fail.


Cathi Williams is a Master Transformational Life Coach, Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, Nutritionist, and a Certified Personal Trainer who has been successfully supporting men and women with transforming their bodies for over ten years. She specializes in helping high achievers double their energy and feel good in their bodies by creating change from the inside out. With an emphasis on correcting the root cause of physical imbalances, Cathi’s approach helps her clients achieve lasting results that significantly improve their quality of life. 


NovuHealth is the health care industry’s leading marketing and behavior change platform, designed to enable health plans to better understand, motivate and connect with members. Leveraging clinical and behavioral best practices, rewards, incentives, and personalized communication, Novu is the most cost-effective, seamless way to reach and influence high-value behaviors.