Why motivation and rewards are key to adopting healthy habits

Health, Beauty and Lifestyle with Denise McNamara

“I know what to do, so why can’t I do it?” A familiar refrain for many of us, this was the question posed at a public talk organised by the Galway heart and stroke charity Stroke recently by an expert who trains therapists and helps patients to understand how to make healthy behaviours stick.

Health Psychologist Professor Michael Vallis from Dalhousie University in Canada believes the job of therapists should be less about helping people find the motivation that they think their patient needs and more about helping people act on the motivation that they have.

The lecture was focused on shedding light on the challenges individuals face in adopting and maintaining healthy behaviours for cardiovascular health. Exploring the intricacies of behaviour change and the psychology behind it, a central theme was motivation and the value of motivation in adopting healthy behaviours.

He shocked his Galway audience by revealing it can take between two and five years to form a new habit sustainably.

Much of what he teaches at the Behaviour Change Institute is common sense, but based on hard evidence.

“The strongest predictor of what people eat is availability. The idea of stimulus control is to recognise that much behaviour that is automatic is actually based on cued behaviours,” he explains.

“Stimulus control is recognising that environmental cues around a person stimulates their behaviour so looking at triggers of the behaviour is really extremely important.”

He uses the example of how an average person going to the cinema in Canada spent $25 on crap food simply because they were stimulated by the practice of going to the counter to buy their ticket and being surrounded by the smell of popcorn.

Pictured: Professor Michael Vallis with Dr Lisa Hynes, Health Psychologist and the Head of Health Programmes at Croí, pictured at the event at Croí House in Newcastle in Galway City.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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