Creating a positive health identity simplifies healthy decision making. Vegetarians, for example, tend to make food choices based on animal rights or environmental issues that hold deep significance to them. When eating, their decision-making process is simplified due to this meaningful identity, and at each meal there is no question whether or not they will eat meat. Becoming a vegetarian is not an identity that everyone can or is willing to choose, but I do think we can draw on how forming a positive health identity decreases the amount of choices we make each day to stay healthy.
Behavioral economics describes simplifying decision making by creating heuristics (also known as mental shortcuts), as well as establishing positive defaults. Creating your own unique positive health identity decreases the mental energy it takes to make choices that support a healthy lifestyle.
To create a positive health identity, use nouns instead of verbs when describing your health behaviors. Since you are defining yourself with this identity, practically by default you will attach more meaning and responsibility to your actions.
Consider these positive health identities and positive defaults:
- I am a cyclist vs. I ride my bike. When you consider yourself an athlete, you will be more likely to treat your body as an athlete does.
- I am a healthy person vs. I eat healthy food when I am on a diet. If you consider yourself a healthy person, you will consistently make decisions to support your health with less mental effort then if you are a dieter who treats the healthy eating pattern as temporary.
- I am a whole foodie. You look at the food label and you decide to primarily purchase foods that have whole foods in the ingredient list.
- I enjoy home-style cooking, no chain restaurants. These foods may not all be healthier choices, but many chain/fast-food restaurants rely on excess processed foods, and this default helps you to avoid those venues.
- Choose your words carefully. The words that you choose are extremely important. When thinking about creating your positive health identity, choose to say “I am this” instead of “I do this.”
- Create a health identity. Before the end of the day, choose one positive default that will contribute to your health. Make a commitment to define an “I am” statement about this quality. For example, if you want to avoid sugary beverages, your positive default may be “No sugary beverages.” To make this an “I am” statement, first think of ways you can make beverages fun without the sugar. You may add fresh fruit, ginger, and/or mint to your water. This way your positive default statement shifts from “no sugary beverages” to “I am a fruit-infused water drinker.”
- Be a fiber eater. This week, aim to support your health by eating fiber. Consume 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day for a week. See how this change makes a positive impact on your health. (Remember to drink water with this positive health identity.)