Baffled by Numbers

Navigating information towards better health decisions.

Making Wishes Come True—Just Do It!

Behavioral economics' secret to making your wishes come true—right now!

We have so many goals in life—to be a good parent, a dutiful daughter, to save money, to save the planet, to take better care of my health—and many more. But how often do we achieve these goals? How often do we even try?

 The answer is: as often as we are called to action. The examples are numerous. BJ Fogg, in his Maastricht Medicine 2.0 presentation, showed a very short video where he tells people to "get up and have a vegetable—now!" That's it. Does it work? It's certainly better than not saying this. And surely some of the viewers got up and reached for a cucumber, tomato, or whatever vegetable they chose. All because of this simple, concrete, call to action.

 Doing good is a far more noble cause than consuming greens. And, admittedly, and a far more vague one. You don’t just get up and reach for a good deed, do you? An email from Vani Sastri, a Wharton senior and a former student of mine, helped me achieve my goal of becoming a better person. Vani is the kind of person who lights up a room, so it was no wonder that I was thrilled when she emailed with the request to contribute to Make a Wish—an organization that makes wishes come true for kids who were diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Vani in particular was involved with the goal of sending Austin, a 17 year old teenager battling with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, to the Olympics. Would I think it's a worthy cause and a good idea even without her email? Definitely. Would I seek out the organization and make a donation? Let's be honest—most likely not. What made the difference was the clear call to action—a small, well-defined goal—that needs to be accomplished now. Not next week, or when I have the time…

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 And this is where health kicks in. If you leave it as a desirable, yet large, vague and intangible goal—'to take better care of my health'—it's unlikely to happen. But if there's a clear and well defined step to take—preferably an immediate one: eat a vegetable, do yoga after work, have one slice of cake instead of two, then you are likely to take it. If you turn this into a habit—even better. But this is for next time.

 To send Austin to the Olympics:

To help make sick children's wishes come true:


Talya Miron-Shatz, Ph.D., is a researcher at Princeton University. She specializes in medical decision making of patients and health professionals.


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