If you’ve heard an ignorant comment like that, you’ve probably been to any of a thousand online forums.
People love to demonize others for overspending and overeating, especially behind the anonymity of online commenting. Nothing drives me crazier than people who ignore decades of research to judge others for their supposed lack of willpower.
This is why you’ll see the personal-responsibility zealots who repeatedly chant, “Ugh, let’s talk about personal responsibility,” as if that simplistic argument explains why people who genuinely want to spend and eat less simply cannot.
This superb New York Times article offers more evidence of ancillary factors in behavioral change:
“I have grave concerns about how many of these television shows stigmatize overweight people by making them a spectacle,” said Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. “They suggest that if you only try hard enough you can be thin. A far better message is that it’s hard to lose weight and that it’s not just willpower and personal responsibility, but that both biology and the environment are players.”
I’ve written about the similarities between food and personal finance before.
Former FDA commissioner David Kessler has written a terrific book describing how food companies systematically engineer foods to overeaten (including designing foods that can be swallowed quicker so we can consumer more and more in one sitting). These are tested, refined, and optimized processes, not mere accidents.
Most importantly, behavioral change is not simply about trying harder. Yes, effort is important, but whether it’s passive barriers or the variety of other reasons that illustrate how personal finance is not about more willpower, let’s be real: Behavioral change is incredibly complex and difficult.
Anyone who believes people overeat and overspend simply because of a lack of willpower is simplistically ignoring decades of research so they can ideologically mislead themselves.