Bipolar ThoughtsTherapy

The Nudge

There is a lot of advice out there that are basically small things you can do that will give your life a little nudge into being healthier.

The internet is full of ‘life hacks’ and quick tip guides and shortcuts to a better life.

The premise is simple: do a handful of these little things and it will have a profound impact on your life. And for some people, it absolutely works.

You ever notice the majority of people wearing a Fitbit are already in good shape? The step counter is a tool that gives a little nudge to people that are already inclined this way, and it can really help. The same goes for organizers and daily planners and daily activity apps and all that stuff.

They tend to only have an impact on people that are already self-motivated in those directions. Few people have the real discipline it takes to completely alter their life.

The nudge idea is supposed to be a remedy for this. Instead of taking on the huge task of overhauling your life, do these little things and you won’t even notice.

Except the little things are easy to gloss over or forget or simply not think of as important.

The nudge industry really only helps the people already almost there anyway. And, to be perfectly honest, it really only helps the people that are already there just talk about some cool new way they are being there (I’m writing this before Christmas even though it isn’t being published until January, but god save me if I have to spend another family get together talking about exercise related smartphone apps. This has been 97% of the conversation of the last two years’ worth of holidays).

And all of that is well and good if there wasn’t a more insidious undertone to it all: the quick help fallacy. Selling a Fitbit to a person who doesn’t have the determination to radically alter their lives isn’t very dissimilar from selling that person snake oil. I don’t mean to shit on that product, it can be a very powerful tool and I am sure it has really helped many people. I’m even sure it has helped many people drastically alter their lives. But my point is, this isn’t common. And selling it as if it is, well that is just selling false hope, aka snake oil.

What do you do though?

The nudge idea isn’t a bad one. People tend not to start a problem that seems insurmountable, and they at least attempt some of these nudges. The people making these products might really be trying to help. But to me, they miss the mark.

Breaking down a real big problem into real smaller problems seems smart; breaking down a real large problem into small ‘quick fixes’ seems like a distraction.

In mental healthcare, this mentally is pervasive.

Take this pill, download this app, sleep better, exercise, avoid fatty food, take fish oil supplements, burn this oil, meditate.  

All of those things do some small amount of work. And if you are trending towards or already in a stable place, I highly recommend doing all of those things (well, I don’t recommend supplements or oils, but if you want to, go ahead).

Tracking your sleep and daily habits, diet and moods are a great way to understand if you have cycles and can create a clearer picture for patterns that can be extremely difficult to pick up otherwise. Various phone or tablet apps out there make this easier, journaling works very well too, meditation and mindfulness can be a great tool for dealing with daily bumps and bruises. But none of those things work to do much in isolation, and even when doing them altogether, the best you can hope for is some additional stability and some understanding of where you are or where you are headed.

Medication and therapy are the greatest tools to combat the most severe instances and can provide stability in everyday life as well. But it isn’t enough to just eat this and sit here. Both things need to be monitored and worked at near constantly.

There is no quick fix. There isn’t even a long fix. It is a constant process. And understanding that process exactly what the nudge approach can deprive us of.