Nir Eyal, bestselling author child portrait with father

Dad and me soon after coming to America.

When my family immigrated to the United States in 1981, my father weighed 185 pounds. He came chasing the American dream but got more than he expected. Along with a new, more prosperous life for his family, he also acquired some bad habits.

For one, he took up smoking because, as he sheepishly admits, “that’s what business people here did back then.” And to ward off the boredom of long car rides between sales calls, he began eating American-made junk food.

Eventually, he stopped smoking. However, the junk food habit got the best of him. His weight ballooned by over 50 pounds and in his late 50s his doctor told him he was pre-diabetic. If he didn’t change soon, his doctor warned, he’d be at risk for serious health problems.

His doctor prescribed a cocktail of pills to help him control his cholesterol and blood pressure but provided little practical advice regarding what to do about his weight. “Eat better, get more exercise,” the doctor advised after an annual physical. “You can get dressed now,” he said before sending my father on his way.

Today in his late 60s, my father still struggles to control his weight with no success — that is, until recently.

For the past five months, my father has nearly returned to his slender 1981 weight — losing about 2 pounds per week — and finally breaking his bad eating habits. He’s not taking any diet pills nor is he drinking any miracle shakes. He’s not enrolled in any groups like Weight Watchers that can charge hundreds of dollars. In fact, the solution he’s using isn’t costing him a dime.

The Bet

A few weeks ago, five months after we shook hands, my father called me with good news. “My doctor says I can take my pills every other day!” He’s stayed true to the bet and swears that resisting the temptation to eat things he knows he shouldn’t is much easier than he expected.

In my next essay, I’ll dive deeper into the psychology of behavior change to explain why this technique can be an effective way of stopping certain bad habits. In a future post, I’ll also take a look at when this technique works and when it doesn’t. I’ll explain the surprising reason this method seems to make resisting temptation easier and reveal a way I’ve used a similar method to change my own daily behaviors.

Have you ever taken a bet to change your behavior? Did it work? If not, why did it fail? Share your story in the comments section below.

What Happened Next?

A few weeks ago, five months after we shook hands, my father called me with good news. “My doctor says I can take my pills every other day!” He’s stayed true to the bet and swears that resisting the temptation to eat things he knows he shouldn’t is much easier than he expected. In my next essay, I’ll dive deeper into the psychology of behavior change to explain why this technique can be an effective way of stopping certain bad habits. In a future post, I’ll also take a look at when this technique works and when it doesn’t. I’ll explain the surprising reason this method seems to make resisting temptation easier and reveal a way I’ve used a similar method to change my own daily behaviors. Have you ever taken a bet to change your behavior? Did it work? If not, why did it fail? Share your story in the comments section below.

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