Approach Goals Vs. Avoidance Goals

Have you ever become frustrated when your patients do not listen to or adhere to your health recommendations for them? Those recommendations that will help them live healthier lives, feel better, and avoid negative consequences down the line? Many doctor’s are familiar with this frustration.

Many doctors have written about why this pattern exists and what they can do about it, but recently,  Franz Wiesbauer wrote about more of the psychology behind it.

The difference is in how you word your recommendations to your patients. One type of wording creates “avoidance goals”, in which you are telling your patients that if they engage in a particular behavior, they will avoid a certain consequence. The patients sees this behavior as optional. It is almost as though they think, “If I do this, it will help, but it’s not a big deal if I don’t.”

The more effective type of working creates “approach goals.” These types of goals create the perception of immediate effects for our patients. Instead of telling your patient that doing a particular activity will prevent disease later on, you would tell them that doing that activity will create positive benefits now.

It, in actuality, simply comes down to our American mentality of instant gratification. If a patient perceives instant benefits, they will react positively and more likely engage in the behavior. If they do not, they will be more likely to put it off or disregard it altogether. This is also likely a result from a feeling of immortality and invincibility that lasts until we start to feel the effects of aging or disease. It is often not until negative consequences occur that patients decide to make lifestyle changes.  

Read more about this trend and suggestions on how to change it here. 

We would love to hear more about what kind of an approach you use in your office and what your results have been – would you consider changing your wording in order to create more approach goals and elicit more positive responses and changes in your patients?


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