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Partners in Practice

April 7, 2017

Practice Tip: Change Excuses to Action With Incentives

By: Brandon LaGreca, CAc, MAcOM

How often do you hear patients giving excuses for not taking care of themselves? Likely on a daily basis. They mean well, but when faced with temptation, a pint of ice cream mysteriously finds its way into the grocery cart. When staying up late results in a short night of sleep, the plan for morning exercise goes out the window.

At some point you will come to a place in your dialogue with these patients where both parties know and can clearly articulate what is needed to achieve better health. You can continue to affirm these notions, but without the right emotional incentive, change can be difficult.

Here’s a short exercise you can walk patients through to highlight the incentivizing of their health. Ask your patient to name a favorite candy bar. Upon receiving the answer, describe a scenario in which you tape that candy bar to the side of the patient’s computer monitor so it must be looked at day in and day out. Then ask how long it would take before the patient grabs this free and easily accessible junk food.

An individual with poor self-control might say hours or days. Few sugar addicts could honestly claim to make it a whole month without falling victim to a craving.

Now change the scenario. What if you place a $20 bill behind the candy bar and if that bar is left uneaten at the end of one month, the patient gets to keep the $20? This incentive might get a few takers, but most will give in to temptation before time is up.

Next make it a $100 bill and offer the same deal. If the response is that the patient would give in, make it a $1,000. At some point, you will find a reward sufficient to bolster the patient’s will and determination.

Now change the game. Ask your patient, “What if I had a slip of paper behind the candy bar that said ‘My Health’ written on it?” Almost always this question will be followed by a long pause. Occasionally I have seen tears start to flow as the patient wrestles with self-worth.

Capitalize on this moment; bring this idea to the forefront. Ask how much the patient values his or her health and what it will take to make better choices.

Many patients will be invigorated by this paradigm shift, but in some cases excuses might still ensue. For example, “My husband buys ice cream, and it sits in the freezer taunting me.” Don’t let your patient get away with excuses like this. You can quickly and assertively respond that the husband’s ice cream won’t taste any worse for him if she took a marker and wrote “My Health” on the lid of the ice cream container.

Self-awareness leads to self-empowerment. Incentivizing better choices through awareness of a patient’s self-worth is a key strategy, changing the conversation from one of excuse to action.

Brandon LaGreca is a 2005 graduate of the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, a certified acupuncturist in the state of Wisconsin, and nationally certified in the practice of Oriental medicine. He lives and works in East Troy, Wisconsin, where he directs an integrative medical clinic. He also provides acupuncture services to employees at Standard Process corporate headquarters. Brandon is a thought leader in the synthesis of traditional and functional medicine, having authored numerous articles on the subject. He enjoys educating patients by blogging on his clinic’s East Troy Acupuncture website.

Opinions and methods presented in this article are those of the author and not representative of any Standard Process view or position.

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