Looking for ways to kick a bad habit? Read what Adam Voiland has to say in the US News & World Report. He writes about an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association which suggests that unhealthful habits, which we all know are so tough to break, can be broken with some “asymmetric paternalism”.

The idea: It’s possible for policymakers to realize change by designing systems that make the healthful choice the default choice. Having doctors automatically schedule screening exams for people rather than relying on the patients to keep track, for example, would probably be good for preventive medicine. George Loewenstein, one of the paper’s authors and the Herbert A. Simon Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, says individuals can apply the concept within their families, too.

Why do we find it difficult to kick a bad habit? One reason is that we show preference for the immediate gratification of a need as against some later damage that it may cause us. If we eat a high-calorie snack now, the pleasure is immediate and tangible and the consequences—an indiscernible impact on our weight—are delayed and intangible.

How does asymmetric paternalism work in this case?  Build systems into your life that reward healthy choices or that make healthy choices more convenient than unhealthy ones. People will naturally take the path of least resistance. For example, in the arena of finances, have your employers automatically deduct money from your check for a retirement account rather than trying to put together a deposit each month for the bank. Pay cash whenever possible to avoid getting into a debt crunch.

Telemarketers are bothering us so much that Governments have stepped in to have a National Do Not Call Registry. India, although later than some other countries, has one too. This helps those who do not wish to be disturbed by such calls. Why not have a system which is Do Not Call by default? Those who wish to be called with all those exciting offers can sign on for a Do Call instead.