Commitment and Consistency

One of my greatest frustrations is when I reveal to a patient that a major cause of his or her underlying medical issues (such as high blood pressure, dieabetes or weight isues) are from untreated obstructive sleep apnea. Most people are ecstatic about finally finding an answer to many of their medical problems and are excited to find how to go about treating it. But there are some individuals that give me a blank stare, with a glazed over look in their eyes. Some are even adamant that they know that they don’t have obstructive sleep apnea.

At this point, I go over again all the reasons I think they have sleep apnea, but only some are convinced. The rest go on treating their end-stage symptoms such as migraines and chronic throat pain with either pain medications or acid reflux reducers, which may help temporarily, but the problem usually comes back. Many of these same people will come back months or years later after worsening of their problems, admitting that “you were right.”

This phenomenon reminded me of a psychology book I read a while ago called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Dr. Robert Cialdini. One of the principles that he describes is commitment and consistency. He states that humans prefer to think the same way, act the same way, and take comfort in the consistency of their ways. In their minds, they’ve already committed themselves towards repeating the same steps every time.

For example, if you’ve been taking high blood pressure medications for 20 years, and you’re suddenly told that it was actually obstructive sleep apnea that caused it in the first place, how would you respond? If you’ve suffered from migraines all your life, how would you respond to being told that not sleeping efficiently due to partially obstructed airways can aggravate migraines? Being told something that completely refutes the daily actions (taking pills) you’ve taken for 20 years. It also conflicts with what your doctor said about your health.

If you were told something by your doctor that completely went against what you’ve revolved your life around for years, how would you respond, and how do you think your doctor should handle this situation? I’d like your feedback.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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