Michelle Segar’s path to
Understanding and Creating
Sustainable Health Behavior Change
Discovering the keys to helping individuals attain… and sustain… healthier lifestyles.
Michelle Segar, PhD, MPH is the director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center, and a faculty associate with the Center for Positive Organizations at U of M’s Ross School of Business. She is also an author, speaker, and researcher widely quoted in the media as an expert on creating sustainable behavior change to achieve better health, fitness, and well-being.
Dr. Segar’s broad base of experience has given her a unique 360-degree view of the most critical health issue facing our society: the failure to achieve widespread adoption of health-promoting and disease-management behaviors.
“We’ve discovered that it’s easy enough to scare, cajole, or persuade people to start a program of healthy self-care, but next to impossible to get them to sustain those behaviors,” says Segar. “Sustainable self-care has become the elusive ‘Holy Grail’ of saving healthcare dollars.”
For over 20 years, Michelle Segar has been solving the problem of sustainable behavior change from all angles. She not only researches the science behind lasting motivation and behavior, she has learned first-hand how to put these theories to work, in real life, through her one-on-one health and well-being coaching with individuals.
Her Research to Real Life expertise includes insights gained from studying the academic research on decision-making, motivation, positive psychology, personality psychology, and the influence of culture and socialization on behavior in addition to her own research. To complete her unique full-circle perspective on creating sustainable behavior change, Dr. Segar also advises visionary healthcare, wellness, and fitness organizations in the design of effective systems that making health-related behaviors relevant and compelling to daily life to improve engagement and sustainability.
In viewing the problem from multiple perspectives, Michelle Segar has developed a unique, comprehensive approach to health promotion and disease management. Her systematic approach to sustainable behavior change has achieved successful outcomes in her coaching practice, and is being scaled to improve healthcare delivery systems, employee participation, and consumer loyalty.
Defining the Problem: The Gap Between Intentions and Behavior
“When it comes to advice about health, most people have access to more information and more resources than ever before,” says Dr. Segar. “In fact, pop culture and the media constantly bombard us with advice about what to eat, how to exercise, and how to manage stress, along with glamorous images of what such a lifestyle looks like. There are now even smartphone apps for everything under the sun.”
“But,” she says, “While most people already know what they ‘should’ or ‘should not’ do, millions of Americans continue to overeat, don’t get enough exercise, and fail to adequately manage chronic disease. And the cost — in terms of reduced quality of life and soaring health care costs — is astronomical.” And the glut of smartphone apps are proving no more effective than fad diets have been in the past.
Segar was inspired to develop her integrative approach when, early in her career, her research findings revealed the wide gap between most individual’s desired health goals and their actual behavior.
At the time, prevailing wisdom held that education was the key, and that with more information and resources available, people would make healthier decisions. Segar’s research, however, proved that appealing to logic to inspire health behaviors simply wasn’t working.
She resolved to figure out what health behavior professionals and clinicians were doing wrong… and what would work better.
Discovering the Solution: How to Close the Gap by Rebranding Healthy Behaviors
By exploring in her research the scientific basis behind her real-life observations, and then bringing her research findings into her health coaching practice, Michelle Segar has arrived at a 360-degree solution that helps people adopt and sustain a healthy lifestyle of daily self-care.
Dr. Segar’s systematic approach to behavior change addresses important subconscious influences on the daily decisions that underlie behavior patterns. Her system, in effect, harnesses the same emotional power that marketers routinely and effectively use to persuade us to buy.
Segar’s system is based on a series of sequential emotional shifts that she calls “Rebranding,” to make positive health behaviors as desirable and indispensable to the individual as the latest heavily advertised junk food or electronic gadget.
The first step in her system is to remove these behaviors from the realm of logic—i.e. improved health, weight-loss and other long-term benefits—and into the realm of immediate emotional rewards, which has a stronger influence on human motivation.
Once that shift has been achieved, Dr. Segar’s system lays the foundation for sustainability by identifying the individual’s top life priorities and examining their impact on daily functioning and the priorities and roles that matter most to them.
Only after this process of “Rebranding” health behaviors, can people feel comfortable giving themselves permission to prioritize their own self-care and well-being in their daily routines… as sustainable fuel for a meaningful, happy, and energetic life.
“Once these key cognitive and motivational shifts have been achieved,” says Segar, “then health promotion programs, counseling, resources, and even apps, can now do their job to support the individual in building health behaviors that last a lifetime.”
Segar says that witnessing the impact her systematic approach has had on individual clients over the last two decades has been rewarding. But she believes the greatest potential lies in scaling her system as an integral part of organizations and healthcare delivery systems.
“By partnering with health and wellness service providers to help consumers, patients and employees close the gap between good intentions and sustainable results,” says Segar, “my system is starting to create a paradigm shift that generates tremendous benefits for everyone involved — by helping people become and remain healthier, happier, more productive, and by lowering healthcare costs for individuals, businesses, insurance companies, and taxpayers.”
For a glimpse of the comprehensive-but-simple sustainability architecture she developed to build behaviors to last a lifetime see her easy-to-use Behavioral Blueprints here.