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Economics 101

Monday, May 31, 2010

I've always thought my husband, Steven, should have been an economist. He's got the credentials that head in the right direction (an MBA) and the natural inclinations (a lifelong facility with mathematics - he's the only person I've ever known to get a 98% score in graduate school statistics course) for it. And he thinks like one. Heading into a Provincial Park last weekend, I suggested we consider getting a season's pass since we're likely to be park hopping a fair bit this summer. He took 22.5 seconds to count the number of proposed visits, subtact the ones where we'll be camping in a park thus our entrance fees would be included in the camping fee and then decided that we would spend about $4.36 more than necessary to buy a pass. No economist likes to pay more than necessary.

Then I read Freakonomics, the runaway bestseller by 2 other Steves (Levitt and Dubner), and I better understood the limits of my husband as a socio-cultural economist. Sure, he could do the number crunching and risk/benefit analysis pretty quickly, but he limited his facts to the numerical evidence at hand. Steven and Stephen opened my eyes to the real value of economics - what is the incentive vs the cost?

See, for me, the park pass represents about 5 less stops at the entrance gate. 5 less lineups in running cars causing air pollution. 5 times less frequently that my DH needs to get out of the car letting mosquitoes and black flies in - then 5 times less getting back into the car also letting mosquitoes and black flies in. For me, $4.36 seems quite a cheap price to pay for that kind of convenience! I didn't even factor in the additional time we'd have to actually ENJOY the park because we'd skip those 5 extra stops. A freakonomist would probably have bought the pass.

So often when we're on this weight journey we focus exclusively on the numbers. And the numbers are important. I am willing to pay $4.36 but not $436.00 for the park pass for example and likewise I know a 350 calorie cupcake from Starbucks is a cost I have to consider before I indulge. So yes, even the freakonomics gurus need to understand the numbers.

But what about the incentives? How do we get to a place where we can do a more thorough accounting of the numbers weighed against the incentives?

Understanding and owning your incentive is probably one of the hardest thing to do in this weight loss and maintenance game. My approach is to absolutely understand that being the size I am with the fitness level I have bears a cost I am willing to pay - 5 am runs, salad for lunch, a banana, (NOT a chocolate bar), when the 3 pm munchies hit. There is no messing with the formula. I did not even know when I started this journey that I would feel this way about being thin because I had never been thin before. It didn't start out to be my incentive but it is and has to be my incentive now.

When previous winning contestants return to the Biggest Loser and have gained weight back, I feel tremendous sadness. The incentive to lose weight for the show, to potentially win money, to get a girlfriend, to not embarass themselves on TV - those incentives clearly aren't the right ones for them. How many people lose weight for a wedding, graduation or some other special event? My aunt, female cousins and the bride marrying my male cousin all lost weight for her summer 2008 wedding and looked fabulous for 3 months before regaining substantial weight. The incentive part of the economics equation just wasn't strong enough to hold them to a healthy lifestyle.

When I started this journey, my incentive was to feel better about how I was taking care of nourishing my body. As I became thinner, I developed an incentive to increase my fitness by strength training and practicing yoga. As time marched on, I decided I would run a half marathon, then a 30K and now my goal is a marathon. The incentive for these is not the races themselves but this idea of becoming the best, fittest, healthiest me I can be. I can do the math that will tell me whether the Starbucks cupcake equals the calories I will need to burn because my incentive to stay thin drives my thinking. A Starbucks cupcake = 30 min run - yes or no? If I am prepared to do the extra run then yes. If not, then absolutely NO - my incentive overrides any other thought.

So calories in = calories out - check. But underneath all of that is the INCENTIVE to do this incredibly complex math everyday. What's yours? And are you truly prepared to own it?
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • THEHINKS
    Wow! Blog after blog I have read of yours is truly excellent. The best I have read here. Congratulations on your healthy lifestyle and mindset.
    3423 days ago
  • ALYFITN
    Great essay to think about. Motivation can come from anywhere but the commitment and desire must come from me. Thanks for posting!
    3607 days ago
  • 56_PICKLES
    Fantastic blog!
    3641 days ago
  • no profile photo CD1345136
    What a great blog! I love following your journey as a thin person. I've never gotten to maintenance, but plan to this time; and reading how you're able to stay motivated is truly inspirational and gives me hope that it is possible to maintain. When you have a lot of pounds to drop, the incentive is strong for a lot of different reasons. Once you're at your goal, you no longer have lower pounds, reduced inches, and smaller sizes to push you. The compliments fade away as people get used to you as slim. No more accolades and recognition. You show that you can continue to find new ways to incentivise yourself and continue the journey of forever slimness. Thanks for being such a great role model to the rest of us.
    3651 days ago
  • JUSTYNA7
    I think this has helped me understand my daughter a little better. She is a mathy and I am a feely. I am the dreamer and she is the reality check. The problem with both is life happens. Never is the plan perfect so there is the possibiltiy of dissapointment or feeling like we have made the wrong choice. Part of me chuckles because whether you buy the gym membership or stick to buying day passes.... whether you get broccoli in bulk at costco or buy it at the market... 2 people.... different logic... but the same objective. I am so happy for you that you have Steve to camp with and make healthy food choices with and have the support for your marathon goal. Once those little decisions would drive me crazy. Now I can appreciate my daughter's point of view. Heck, sometimes I can even agree. LOL I do love reading your perspective though. It helps me see that there are different ways of looking at each choice. And that my way is right Hahahaha.
    3656 days ago
  • WATERMELLEN
    Your identification of incentives as the real "cost/benefit" analysis lever is very helpful to me. Thanks.
    3656 days ago
  • ANNE7X7
    Wow! This was an amazing blog!! I love the thought you put into it and your way of thinking!! I am definitely going to come back to this when I need a reminder of why I am doing this.

    I will admit that my incentives have changed. The ones I began with in January no longer apply, but I have found much more important ones similar to your own, and that's why this is working!

    Thanks for a great read!!
    3656 days ago
  • OTTAWABOUND
    You touch on something very important in this blog. Thanks for delivering such a powerful message.
    3657 days ago
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