There are many other situations in which people engage in many other types of behaviors so as to obtain some immediate satisfaction, but at the expense of their long-term health. Thus, these are impulsive behaviors. Some examples are engaging in unprotected sexual activity (which can result in unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases), constantly watching television in addition to a sedentary job (so that there is insufficient exercise to maintain health), not going to the doctor when a suspicious symptom occurs (so that minor medical problems become major), not taking your car for regular inspections (possibly resulting in a dangerous vehicle), and not taking the time to "babyproof" your home when you have a very young child (so that the child may be injured). In all of these cases, the consequence of a long, healthy life may be very delayed and not at all certain, and therefore the (discounted) value of a long, healthy life may be very small when choices are being made between healthy and nonhealthy behaviors. The self-control techniques described previously for avoiding, treating, or managing various types of specific health problems can be adapted for these other cases, as well. Use of precommitment techniques, ways of making the delay to the larger outcome seem relatively shorter or the amount of the larger outcome seem relatively larger, are just some examples of strategies that can be used to increase self-control.
This chapter has shown how a self-control analysis can be useful in understanding choices involving healthy behaviors--behaviors that are likely to result in long-term good health. Once healthy behaviors are conceived of as self-control--choice of more delayed outcomes that are ultimately of more value over less delayed outcomes that are of less value--it is easy to see why it is so difficult for many people to engage in these behaviors. The consequence of a long, healthy life may be very delayed and therefore its (discounted) value may be quite small when choices must be made. In addition, the relation between a behavior and a subsequent illness or injury may be somewhat uncertain, which also discounts the value of the consequence of a long, healthy life. We can use a variety of self-control techniques to increase choices of healthy behaviors, and these techniques can be adapted so as to be most effective in particular health-related situations. The concept of self-control can help guide us to longer and healthier lives.
Correspondence concerning this chapter should be addressed to the author at Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, 17 Lexington Avenue - A 1621,