It’s been tried and tested throughout the years, but it’s become clear that scare tactics don’t encourage behavior change. From the warnings on cigarettes to calorie labels on sodas, people don’t usually find their way to behavior change through scary information.
Why doesn’t this strategy work? It has something to do with the human (and animal) reaction to either freeze or flee in the face of a threat. When you feel overloaded with information about the negative effects a behavior will have, you are likely to flee from the advice altogether. (That means you’ll stop listening and justify your behavior.)
Why is this important when it comes to making changes to promote cognitive health? Because it’s important to frame your behavior changes with the type of language that rewards you for change instead of scaring you when you don’t change.
So, you didn’t make it to the gym this week? Self-talk that harps on how you’re at risk for cognitive decline might not work as well as say, thoughts about how much stronger and more resilient your brain will be when you start a regular exercise program. Instead of getting down on yourself when you don’t make the best food choices, instead reward yourself with internal congratulations (and be as over the top as you’d like!) when you make good choices.
Humans love to feel good about themselves. Encouraging yourself and leaving the self-criticism behind will help you make the behavior changes needed to boost your brain and protect your memory.