We need new systems to create the sustained human motivation and consistent decision making that underlie fitness, health, and well-being
Learn how to create better systems, protocols, and messages that lead to the sustained human motivation and consistent decision making that underlie fitness, health, and well-being among patients, employees and consumers.
Why Our Current Approach to Fitness and Health is the Wrong One
In the health and fitness field, long-term behavioral change is the Holy Grail that has eluded everyone, from individuals to health care providers to organizations.
Changing health behaviors is easy. The problem is, people quickly revert to old habits, resulting in high rates of disease, lost productivity, and spiraling health care costs.
Most in health promotion and health care have assumed that “better health” is valuable enough to motivate people to practice the lifestyle behaviors necessary for healthier living and disease prevention.
We’ve assumed wrong.
Future health benefits are too abstract to overcome inertia and hectic schedules. Body-shaping motivators, particularly for women, are based in self-rejection, and also fail to motivate long-term behavior. When motivation is linked to distant, clinical, and/or abstract goals, health behaviors are not compelling enough to trump the other daily goals and priorities with which they constantly compete.
My research and other science suggest that people are more likely to sustain behaviors that are essential to their daily lives in immediate and noticeable ways.
It’s time for health promotion to become more strategic about promoting health.
See this short video explaining this idea.
Motivation Is the Result, Not the Source
Until now, we’ve been taught to think about motivation in terms of “quantity” and how much of it people have – or don’t have. Thinking about motivation in this black-and-white way is not very helpful because it doesn’t address how to change it.
We’ve also been taught to think of motivation as the primary driver of behavior. Yet, research shows that motivation results from the main reason why individuals initiate any behavior change. The foundation of motivation is people’s primary reason for initiating that behavior.
Motivation isn’t the cause. It’s actually the result.
How Behavior Actually Works
When people initiate a behavior change out of pressure or for abstract reasons, such as “better health,” this does not bode well for long-term motivation or behavior. Consider these types of reasons for behavior change as “The Wrong Whys” for many people (but not all). These types of reasons are The Wrong Whys not because they are inherently “wrong,” but rather because they have a hard time trumping the other daily tasks and responsibilities against which they constantly compete.
It is important to note that The Wrong Whys are different for different people, often depending upon their life stage, gender, etc. We still need to learn more about which reasons for adopting behavior are more or less optimal for behavioral sustainability by demographic groups. (I am currently conducting research with colleagues to better understand these differences.) You can, however, identify a Wrong Why by how people feel about pursuing it. In general, the Wrong Whys (and the behaviors they are attached to) feel like chores or “shoulds,” and because of that, they tend to result in unstable, low-quality motivation and less persistent behavioral pursuit.
When people start any behavior with The Wrong Why, it tends to lead to cyclical rather than sustainable behavior. However, because this is the only model people have been taught, most have been stuck repeating the same cycle for 10, 20, or even 30+ years. See the image below for “The Vicious Cycle of Failure.” It starts at 11:00, with The Wrong Why.
Luckily, escaping The Vicious Cycle of Failure is actually quite simple.
We can create high-quality motivation and lasting change by going to the origin: The primary reason for initiating any desired behavior change.
The Sustainable Cycle of Motivation
In contrast to The Vicious Cycle of Failure, “The Sustainable Cycle of Motivation,” starts with “The Right Why,” rewards from behavior that can be immediately experienced. These types of Whys often result in good experiences, as well as being personally meaningful. Because of that, the behavior starts to feel like an essential part of the day and is considered as a “gift.” It’s easy to see why high quality motivation results from starting the behavioral cycle with The Right Why.
The Right Whys initiates a cycle that is more likely to successfully result in sustainable behavior.
Thus, health promotion efforts based on Right Whys should be more cost-effective than those based on Wrong Whys because they are more likely to lead to higher quality motivation and greater behavioral persistence.
If on-going daily decision making in favor of self-care is the goal, we must reconsider which goals and purpose for behavior are actually the most motivating. Will power is vulnerable to fatigue, but the pursuit of daily well-being offers immediate, fulfilling rewards.
A Game-Changing Strategy for Sustainable Motivation and Health Behavior
For almost 20 years, I have been translating the latest science, including my own research as a motivation scientist and behavior change expert, into easy-to-apply real-world solutions.
Sustainable behavior change really boils down to the numerous little decisions that people make every day that affect their health and well-being.
We now know that most of human decision making and behavior occurs automatically, outside of conscious awareness. So, modern health promotion systems and solutions must be designed in ways that leverage the whole brain, especially emotion and the unconscious.
I call this "Whole Brain Health Promotion."
Out of almost two decades of work across academia and the private sector, I developed Behavioral Blueprints, a powerful yet simple, evidence-based model for leveraging the whole brain to motivate the consistent decision making that drives sustainable fitness, health, and well-being.
Healthy lifestyle behaviors do much more than improve patient and employee health – they lead to increased energy and productivity, focus at work, patience at home, and life satisfaction. People make time for what's most important to their day-to-day lives. Because of that, it is much more strategic to reposition health behaviors (in the minds of people) for the immediate ways they enhance people’s well-being and performance in the key life roles they most value, such as Parent, Partner, and Professional. I am calling for organizations, the media, and any professional who cares about helping people build behaviors that last a lifetime to “rebrand” them in a “life enhancing” way in our strategies, communications, and brand lifestyle programs.
Want a positive return on your investment? Rebranding health-related behaviors in this way does much more for organizations than simply create the sustainable behavior necessary for health and well-being. Positive organizational research also suggests that rebranding health promotion in these ways will foster the core levers of "thriving" within organizations.
My easy-to-adapt Behavioral Blueprints were designed to achieve this, and are becoming the foundation for more effective health promotion and corporate wellness initiatives, and counseling protocols for patients, apps, gamification software, and other technology-based products.
Behavioral Blueprints –
Building Lasting Motivation and Behavior
My three-part, evidence-based Behavioral Blueprints framework, above, helps organizations and health professionals better achieve behavioral sustainability and other key outcomes among end user populations by making sure global strategies, specific program activities, counseling protocols, and algorithms:
- Contain the right emotional hooks to optimally engage and motivate both women and men
- Foster the foundation of authentic, lasting motivation
- Prime end users to expect, and to notice, the immediate everyday benefits of healthy choices and how they facilitate better enjoying and performing in our most cherished daily roles and responsibilities
- Offers permission to individuals to prioritize decisions and time to foster health and well-being
- Provide the most effective support and tools to prioritize and make consistent health decisions in real time
- Create an architecture of sustainability
Behavioral Blueprints is a three-part model that distills the complex scientifically-derived ideas above into three sequential steps that organizations, providers, software designers, and individuals can take to facilitate sustainable lifestyle changes that lead to vitality, health, and happiness.
Behavioral Blueprints: The Why
Research clearly shows that the primary reason WHY we decide to adopt any lifestyle change determines our quality and level of motivation for persisting in the behavior. My Behavioral Blueprints ensure that programs, protocols, apps, and algorithms foster the highest quality motivators for optimal engagement among both women and men. “The Why” transforms health behavior from a chore ("extrinsic motivation") into a gift ("intrinsic motivation") that individuals want to keep giving themselves. “The Why” generates the highest quality motivation possible by leveraging human experiences, symbols, emotion, and the unconscious.
Behavioral Blueprints: The How
These Behavioral Blueprints show you how to guide individuals to shift "health," "exercise," and “self-care” from abstract values that they call important but don't consistently act on, into energy- and performance-generating behaviors that they prioritize and consider essential to living well every day. In today's busy world, most will only sustain behaviors that are deeply meaningful because essential to their daily roles and responsibilities. “The How” gives people permission and guides them to perceive self-care behaviors as top daily priorities by targeting and supporting people’s core values and daily energy.
Behavioral Blueprints: The Do
This last part of the Behavioral Blueprints trains people in simple, evidence-based strategies to create the automatic daily decision making that underlies health and well-being. “The Do” undergirds and supports the high quality motivation and shifted values achieved from The Why and The How parts of the Behavioral Blueprints. “The Do” reflects the learning process that helps people integrate the new mindset and skills into their lives. Sustainable behavior is made up of consistent daily decisions that favor health. Because of that, it is essential help people learn types of beliefs and strategies that will transform health-promoting decisions from necessitating self-control into automatic habits.
While based on an integration of complex science, these concepts and their implementation is straightforward and simple. And the Holy Grail of sustainable fitness and health behavior change is within reach!
My Behavioral Blueprints promote the successful integration of behaviors by systematically building the foundation of what science shows are the core processes necessary for lasting motivation and behavior.
They are also completely flexible and can be adapted for use in any type of intervention medium and mode.
Let’s Talk About Rebranding Health as Well-being
We all know that people make time for what's essential. And my research shows that people are most motivated by wanting to feel good right now, the promise of immediate rewards.
If instead of extolling a future health benefit, we were to market positive health behaviors for their very real and instantaneous payoffs that benefit daily living, individuals would have a much more compelling incentive to adopt and sustain them within their busy lives.
Healthy lifestyle behaviors do much more than improve health – they lead almost immediately to increased energy and productivity, focus at work, patience at home, and life satisfaction.
Evidence indicates that when we prime people to expect and notice these real-time benefits, we create a reciprocal cycle of motivation and adherence that leads to improved health and outcomes.
I call this concept “rebranding health as well-being.”
The essence of what I’ve discovered is that when we rebrand health behaviors as a source of immediate happiness and well-being, individuals become engaged with taking care of themselves in a way “disease prevention,” “weight control,” and "body-sculpting" motivators just can’t accomplish. In other words, let’s rebrand health as well-being.
The process of transforming the dialogue about exercise, nutrition and self-care from a logical "medical prescription" into promoting daily acts that deliver joy, vitality, and well-being reflects the core and foundation of my easy-to-use Behavioral Blueprints.
Once people go through this process, they not only become inspired and energized to practice self-care, but they also become committed to sticking with it in spite of busy schedules and distractions.
Most simply, this process transforms a “health” behavior from a chore into a gift.
Why does this work? When we are less stressed, healthier, and more energized, we enjoy life and perform better in our key life roles that we value, such as Parent, Partner and Professional.
Because emotions motivate more powerfully than logic, to put this knowledge to work, we must take a page from the marketers' book and create the emotional hooks that truly drive behavior.
When we see an immediate benefit in our feelings of energy and well-being, and how they actually fuel improved performance in the everyday life roles that we care most about, we are motivated to continue to do positive health behaviors.
When we promote “health” behaviors for the very real role they play in creating meaningful lives – it changes EVERYTHING.
Same behavior. Different motivator. Sustained change.
When we encourage end users to expect these immediate benefits, it motivates them not only to participate, but also to notice how much better they feel – and live – when they fit healthful activities in.
This is what creates a truly sustainable cycle of health: motivation and adherence based on real-time benefits.
“What sustains us, we sustain™.”
These ideas Can Help Professionals Achieve Sustainable Motivation, Decision Making, and Behavior Change in Their Target Population
Fitness and health promotion professionals can get higher retention rates, greater levels of engagement, and better long-term results among their end users. As a first step you need to evaluate your culture, products, services, and protocols. Following this, it's important to create more persuasive and effective marketing, sales protocols, interactive technology, and satisfied clients.
Employee wellness professionals can design or invest in a more cost-effective strategy to promote employee health and well-being that both fosters the levers of sustainable behavior AND thriving organizations! If done properly, you can have a healthier, happier workforce and increased performance from the same cost and effort. This is a cost-effective strategy because the same investment impacts multiple behavioral and outcomes of interest for organizational well-being, culture, and performance.
Behavioral coaches, clinicians of all types (nurses, OTs, PTs, physicians) and psychologists can use this simple framework to build fitness, health, and wellness behaviors that last a lifetime. These ideas leverage the latest science and easy-to-understand methods to create real foundations of sustainable health behavior change. They are new methods that are potent, inspirational, as well as being easy to learn and evaluate. You can foster high quality motivation for a desired health behavior by transforming it from a “chore” into a “gift;” converting “self-care” and desired health behaviors into meaningful top daily priorities; and training individuals in the specific strategies that lead to consistent decision making that favors health and well-being by following the guidelines on this page
Health Aapp/software developers can create more potent systems, protocols and algorithms to create sustainable health-related changes. You can use these concepts to design algorithms that incorporate the most relevant science on motivation and decision making to create more engaging and effective products. This applies to app, gaming, and other Health 2.0 program developers who want an edge in the commercialization process.
Sparking Innovations in Motivation
So you know where these ideas above about sustainable behavior come from. They informed by the three synergistic perspectives I have. As a:
- Health motivation and behavioral sustainability researcher
- Health behavior program development and evaluation specialist
- Physical activity, self-care, and lifestyle coach
With two decades of real-world experience putting my evidence-based insights to work in my private practice as a lifestyle and fitness coach, I am able to bridge the gap between research and practice, and bring my insights full circle. I hold graduate degrees in Psychology (PhD), Health Behavior/Health Education (MPH), and in Kinesiology (MS).
Read what people and organizations have to say about these fresh ideas that challenge that status quo here.
To read a few studies that have informed my thinking about creating sustainable motivation and health-related behavior please see links to the published papers below:
- Rebranding Exercise: Closing the gap between values and behavior - Read
- Physical Activity Advertisements That Feature Daily Well-Being Improve Autonomy and Body Image in Overweight Women but Not Men - Read
- Type of Physical Activity Goal Influences Participation in Healthy Midlife Women- Read
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