Michelle Segar http://michellesegar.com Building Behaviors to Last a Lifetime Fri, 23 Jun 2017 19:09:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 http://michellesegar.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/cropped-SiteIcon-32x32.png Michelle Segar http://michellesegar.com 32 32 Why You Should Stop Exercising to Lose Weight http://michellesegar.com/why-you-should-stop-exercising-to-lose-weight/ Fri, 24 Mar 2017 06:21:34 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=5050 This was originally posted on U.S. News & World Report’s website.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Exercising for the primary goal of losing weight will not help most people stick with exercise over time. It may get you to start, but it most likely sets you up to exercise in ways that you don’t like. As a result, you’ll stop once you get tired of forcing yourself to adhere to this regimen and feel like a failure – again. Not only do you not achieve your weight-loss goal, but you also miss out on the multitude of benefits of being active.

My studies are not the only research supporting this contention. Other behavioral researchers also find that focusing on weight loss is far from the most strategic way to stay motivated to enjoy and benefit from regular physical movement. For example, one recent study on fitness centers found that people motivated to exercise by weight loss go to the gym less frequently than those with different goals.

What’s more, a parallel (and growing!) body of knowledge in the biological sciences aligns with this perspective; it suggests that physical activity is generally an ineffective tool for losing weight. Take one recent study, for instance, in which researchers investigated almost 2,000 people in different countries over five years and found that physical activity was not necessarily a shield against weight gain.

Even Martin Gibala, the founder of high-intensity interval training (a type of exercise involving short bursts of all-out exercise), doesn’t necessarily endorse fitness as a clear route to weight loss. “In general, exercise is not a huge contributor to weight control. People don’t like to hear that, but it’s true,” he said in a recent New York Times story. “It is much easier to cut calories in the diet than to burn large numbers of them with exercise of any kind.”

On top of that, Kevin Hall, a leading weight-loss scientist at the National Institutes of Health, told Vox last year, “Exercise isn’t a weight-loss tool for health. It’s excellent for health. It’s the best single thing you can do after you stop smoking to improve your health. But don’t look at it as a weight-loss tool.”

You and your health professionals might be alarmed by the idea that what you’ve always been told – that exercise is an important way to lose weight – sets most of us up to fail most of the time. But more and more professionals who work in health, wellness and fitness discover the same thing: The goal of “weight loss” doesn’t help most of their patients and clients stay motivated over time. Put bluntly: When you’re told you should exercise for weight loss, you probably won’t stick with your physical activity program – even though you actually want and intend to do so.

How many times are you going to approach taking better care of yourself with a strategy that has failed numerous times in the past? If this most common and traditional approach to physical activity doesn’t keep most of us motivated, isn’t it time for all of us – including you and your health care team – to pause and wonder whether we should ditch it? If you truly want to be consistently more active and take better care of yourself, start thinking about physical activity in a new way.

Science shows that what works most consistently is what feels good now – not something that feels like hard work or punishment, even if you’re doing it for a great reason. If you want to motivate yourself or others to strive for a distant goal like weight loss and health, you need to translate it into its immediate influence on life today. Even marketing guru Seth Godin agrees. He says that if you want to motivate people to strive for a future-oriented goal, you actually need to figure out how to convert it into “how it feels right now.” Enough said.

So Instead of dragging yourself to the gym because you want to lose weight, consider how moving makes you feel. For example, do you tend to feel an energy boost? Do you sleep better? Does your stress go down? Make those your reasons for exercise – and watch your desire to exercise increase. The irony is that when you start taking better care of yourself in order to feel better in the now, you’ll set yourself up to better cultivate good health in the future.

Why Exercise Is Just Like Sex http://michellesegar.com/why-exercise-is-just-like-sex/ Fri, 23 Dec 2016 21:13:50 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=5037 Nobody looks forward to the same old boring meal every day or a night of bad sex. Most of us take these uncomfortable moments as one-offs and course correct for fun and variety as quickly as possible. Or we simply stop desiring it. Yet far too many people still think or exercise as something they have to clench their jaws and just get through for the sake of health and beach bodies. They regularly grumble about workouts they hate, classes that make them feel tired just thinking about, or feel resentful about “having” to exercise at all.

But just like sex, exercise should feel pleasurable or positive in other ways. Exercise that feels good to do will naturally make you want to repeat that experience again and again. And just like that, regular physical activity can become a partner for life you don’t want to be without. Indeed, sex is perhaps the perfect analogy.

I’ve found similar thinking in conversations with sex and intimacy expert Lori Hollander, who discusses the important role of pleasure and personal choice in her work.

Remember Pavlov’s dogs, whose mouths watered in anticipation of a good meal when they heard the dinner bell ring? Classical conditioning is something we’ve known about for decades. More modern research studies what is called anticipatory affect: basically, this work shows that the type of “affect” (e.g., feelings) we anticipate we are going to experience from a behavior influences whether or not we choose to do it. If it’s positive, we naturally go toward it. If it’s negative, we deeply want to avoid it. And studies on intrinsic versus controlled motivation have found that we tend to look forward to doing the things we choose versus  resisting doing things that others tell us to do, or that we feel we should do.

Think about it: If you were restricted by law to having sex in a “right” way,  how would you feel? When the power of choice is taken away from us, or even when we freely give it over to an outside power, we create a power vacuum inside ourselves that sucks all the pleasure out of what we do. We no longer have ownership over it. Yet, many of us don’t think about exercise in this way.

Yet given what we already know about ourselves, many, many (many!) people continue to bang their heads against the sad treadmill of “should do” exercise that not only doesn’t bring joy and it even causes pain. If this is you, here’s my advice: dump that partner and start having some fun. Once you do, you’ll be surprised and delighted by the new pleasure and joy, and will find yourself desiring to do it again and again.


Five Fitness Strategies to Feel Great this Fall http://michellesegar.com/five-fitness-strategies-to-feel-great-this-fall/ Tue, 13 Sep 2016 14:28:42 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=4998 This is a true belief that unfortunately most people don’t yet believe:  All types and any duration of movement you can fit into your day COUNTSs toward revitalization, fueling joy, supporting good health and restoring your sense of yourself.

Use these five strategies to discover how you can find time for physical movement on even the most crazy busy, over scheduled day:

  1. Stop “shoulding” on yourself

Toss out old definitions about you should work out. Many people think they have to work hard for 40 minutes for their workout to “count.” Not true! Exercise of any kind – including walking, yoga and strolling around town – adds up over the course of a day. If you don’t like intense exercise that makes you breath hard and sweat – you are not alone. Many others feel the same way..

  1. Consider movement as an elixir of life and nurture yourself with it.

The benefits from moving our bodies constitute an elixir of life. But it’s important to do it in ways that feel good to you and that work with your life. So give yourself permission to renew yourself when you know you need it by simply taking a five minute walk. With this mindset, you’ll be amazed that when you walk for even a short period of time you feel like you’ve just given yourself a gift of relaxation, centering, and less stress – you’ll return and be better than you were before.

  1. When life throws you a curveball, shrink your goals.

If you had made plans to workout for 30 minutes, but “stuff happens” and you only have 15minutes, do it anyway.  It’s not about hitting a specific time target, it’s actually about learning how to be active on a consistent basis. Even one minute of movement in an otherwise busy day reminds you of your intentions and builds consistency.

  1. Claim opportunities to move. 

Opportunities to move are the natural spaces in your life. Literally hundreds of opportunities to move – one minute, three minutes, five minutes, ten minutes – exist in everyone’s days. If you work at a computer, try to get up 1-2 times per day to just move a little. Take the stairs, walk around your office, walk to mail a letter. This strategy make accumulating movement easy and you’ll be amazed by the increased energy you’ll feel from just moving even a minute.

  1. Make it playful.

Movement is a world of infinite possibilities! Walk to catch  up with your friend.  Do the “couple’s cruise” with your sweetie. Try backyard or park games like croquet, badminton, basketball, pickleball, catch or just turn up the music and dance.

Sparks from the torch of POS ignite new ideas in positive health care and beyond http://michellesegar.com/sparks-from-the-torch-of-pos-ignite-new-ideas-in-positive-health-care-and-beyond/ Thu, 11 Aug 2016 19:57:06 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=4992 I am not an athlete or even a sports fan. Yet, in 1992, I not only became an employee of the Olympic Committee in Spain, I had the honor of carrying the Olympic Torch.


I ran through cheering crowds and passed the torch to the next runner, helping it on its way to light the fire that would ignite the Barcelona Olympic Games. Afterward, my legs and arms ached (that torch was heavy!), but the experience sparked a visceral change. I could feel the pulse of the ongoing connection between the athletes of ancient Athens and the modern Barcelona, and the shared humanity and pursuit of optimal performance that is the spirit of the Olympic Games.
Over the years, the idea of people carrying a positive spark of energy from one to the next has been a goal and an inspiration in my work as a motivation researcher at the University of Michigan, coach, and consultant. And I have been thrilled to recognize the same spirit in the “sparks” of relational energy—the energy you get when you interact with someone who energizes you—that characterize the people and work of Michigan Ross’ Center for Positive Organizations (CPO).

The Center does not take the typical approach of identifying “problems” and focusing on how to “overcome” them. Instead, guided by the philosophy of Positive Organizational Scholarship, CPO illuminates insights and identifies methods for bringing out the very best in employees, leaders, and organizations. The focus is on optimizing instead of avoiding. Their work has been so influential among their peers that in 2010 the Academy of Management awarded them the prestigious Joanne Martin Trailblazer Award for opening up a new field of inquiry in management science. Torch carriers indeed.

CPO’s purposeful goal is both important and vitally worth pursuing, and it sparked changes in how I thought about my own work. As a motivation scientist who works in the wellness and healthcare industries, I study systemic ways to create sustainable health-related behavior. In this regard, it is important to help individuals and organizations see behaviors like exercise not as a vaguely threatening prescription against future disease that must be grudgingly endured, but as a gift of immediate energy and well-being that fuels what matters most every day. I became involved with the Center in 2012 because it was clear we were moving in the same direction.

CPO faculty’s discoveries for creating contexts, leaders, and practices that enhance business outcomes had significant overlap with the principles I had discovered and been using to drive the sustainable individual behavior that underlies well-being and health.

For example, Gretchen Spreitzer (CPO’s faculty director and Keith E. and Valerie J. Alessi Professor of Business Administration) and Christine Porath have identified two key levers of organizational thriving, indicated by improvements in key outcomes: When employees have opportunities to learn and experience vitality, they report enhanced performance, commitment, and job satisfaction, and lower burnout. What if these same levers—learning and vitality— become the foci within organizational health and well-being initiatives? Can we promote employee health and well-being using methods and messages that can simultaneously also boost outcomes tied to the bottom line, such as better performance? Talk about a strategic and efficient investment!

Pursuing answers to this question within organizations is one of the many ways that my work has been sparked and deepened by CPO insights. In my current ongoing work with a large health care organization, for example, we are interested to see if reframing so-called “healthy” behaviors (such as exercise and dietary change) as “vehicles of vitality and opportunities to learn”—the levers or organizational thriving—also brings greater engagement in self-care and behavioral sustainability. My work, in addition, has been sparked by CPO Co-Founder Jane Dutton’s (et al.) high quality connections. Through informal yet quality conversations fostered by the Center, we have formed a new sub-group of academic and industry professionals interested in exploring how evidence-based positive principles can be used to create systems and practices within healthcare to improve health among employees and patients. And this is just one small spark from the torch that has passed from hand to hand and mind to mind.

CPO’s flame is fueled by the intellectual friction of combining faculty, staff, organizational leaders, and student perspectives. Sparks from this powerful flame jump easily from individual to individual, from organization to organization. We are not just lone runners, lighting a dark path; we are powering up the myriad positive connections that will broaden and enrich our lives at home, and work, and as part of the global community.

New work by the CPO’s Kim Cameron and Wayne Baker (with Brad Owens and Dana Sumpter) suggest real benefits from relational energy, including a positive association with employee job performance. And there are numerous other exciting projects and studies underway. If these ideas ignite your enthusiasm, consider joining us in our pursuit of excellence. There are many ways to receive the spark:

This content is cross-posted on the CPO website.

Want to Improve Patient Health? Stop Promoting Health! http://michellesegar.com/want-to-improve-patient-health-stop-promoting-health/ Fri, 22 Jul 2016 01:29:29 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=4986 Health promoters need a better hook than “health” if they want patients to actually achieve better health.

This suggestion may seem paradoxical and even downright heretical. But a quick reality check with those who have tried and failed repeatedly to stick to a health-motivated exercise or diet plan (maybe even yourself!) will reveal the truth: The vague promise of future “health” is rarely enough to sustain the behavior that gets us there.

Prescribing and promoting “health” as the reason for adopting a healthy lifestyle (eat more fruits and vegetables, move more, get enough sleep) seems like a logical thing to do, right? Interestingly, this is simply an assumption. It has no basis in science.

Based on research in behavioral economics as well as on my own published studies about how to motivate sustainable healthy lifestyles, the case that health organizations and professionals should stop promoting health right now is strong. Here’s just a few of the reasons why.

Logic Doesn’t Motivate. Emotions Do.

The logic behind promoting healthy living is easy to understand: “If my patients or employees make healthier choices, they will be healthier and use fewer health care dollars, so let’s promote healthy living.” And exercising and eating well for your health definitely sounds logical. The problem is that logic doesn’t motivate. Emotions do.

Most successful businesses (think Apple) know this. They conduct extensive market research and use their target customers’ needs, wants, and worries as the hooks in their marketing campaigns and social media initiatives. Successful businesses want to make a profit. And this means repeat customers, not one-time buyers.

We don’t find the same repeat customer mentality when it comes to promoting lifestyle changes. Health promotion counseling, programs, and services tend to feature the desired medical outcomes that health promoters hope for1, 2 instead of appealing to what individuals actually want and worry about every day. This has been a strategic error that has expensive consequences for everyone.

To be successful in achieving these outcomes (such as less stress and better health, weight maintenance), people have to sustain the lifestyle behaviors that they start. Yet the sad truth is that the majority of people who try to change health-related behaviors eventually drop out.3,4,5 Isn’t it curious that people who deeply want to make changes don’t generally sustain them?

The Vague Promise of Future “Health” Is Too Abstract to Be Compelling

University of Michigan research published in fall 2011 showed a surprising gap between what people say they value and what they actually do when it comes to exercising.6

University of Michigan Fall 2011 Research Figure 1University of Michigan Fall 2011 Research Figure 2











Figure 1 shows how much study participants said they “valued” their reason or goal for exercising, and Figure 2 shows the average exercise participation by type of goal. The difference between these two graphs illuminates the important gapbetween what people say they value and their actual behavior.

When researchers followed these participants over one year to track their actual activity, participants with goals to improve their “daily quality of life” were more motivated and exercised about 20% more over one year compared to those with purely “health-related” goals.

It’s easy to say being healthy is “important”; but it’s another matter entirely to make health-related behaviors a daily must-do activity.

Behavioral economists have taught us that people have a present-focus bias: we choose things that will reward us now over selecting future rewards.8,9,10 Larger distant rewards such as “better health” are simply not as motivating as smaller, more immediate rewards such as increased energy, stress release, and lifted mood. In other words, if it makes us feel good, we want to do it again and again

 “Health” Is Just a Proxy for the Goal People Really Want: Living Daily Life Well

Health sounds like great goal, but health is only valuable to us because it helps us live our daily lives well.

Without health, we lack energy. And lack of vitality challenges our happiness, sense of well- being, and ability to fulfill the daily roles and responsibilities that make life meaningful. Health is really just a proxy for the experiences we desire and that make our life worth living.

Research on goal striving and behavioral self-regulation (how we manage and negotiate goals in our busy lives) clearly shows that if people are to continue to strive towards their goals, they need feedback that they are approximating them.11 Without evidence that they are making progress people quit.

Yes, biomarkers (such as improved blood pressure and lowered cholesterol levels) can show people that they are progressing toward their health and disease prevention goals. But research suggests that this type of feedback is not compelling enough to motivate the numerous decisionsthat most people have to make every day that are necessary for sustaining healthy lifestyles.

In contrast, when individuals make decisions to practice self-care behaviors as ways to feel good, increase well-being, and have more energy, they get feedback immediately that they have achieved their goal. An article in the Wall Street Journal reported that having a “focus on quality of life helps medical providers see the big picture – and makes for healthier, happier patients.”12 Even people who have lost their “health,” those living with a chronic illness, are more motivated by feeling and living better. This article quoted the late Noreen Clark, internationally renowned chronic disease management researcher, as saying that improving daily feeling and functioning is the real hook for motivating patients to manage their illnesses.

To Motivate the Consistent Decisions that Favor Health, Let’s Rebrand Health as Well-Being

I propose a simple strategy: Let’s rebrand “health” as “well-being.” In addition to the interdisciplinary science that supports this suggestion, I’ve been using this tactic in my private health coaching practice for twenty years and have seen how this simple change in framing revolutionizes people’s relationships with healthy behaviors by making them relevant and compelling to what matters most – to them, today.

Consider this: Many of the behaviors that improve health (getting more sleep, moving more, making better eating choices) also lead to feel-good experiences (reduced stress, feeling strong, lifted mood) that help us better succeed in our roles and responsibilities, all of which contribute to happier and more meaningful lives. So it is more strategic to rebrand these behaviors in ways that are more likely to hook patients: as direct routes to daily success, well-being, and meaning, which is what they truly are.

It’s counterintuitive, but true: To help patients achieve the consistent decisions and sustainable healthy behaviors that underlie disease management and prevention, we must stop promoting health within health care. Instead, we can embrace and promote an outcome that patients will both notice and want: well-being. And, in the process, we will make our clinic- and community-based interventions more patient-centered, long lasting, and value-based.13


1. American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise is medicine. 2008; http://www.exerciseismedicine.org/public.htm Accessed January 22, 2008.

2. American Cancer Society. Choose you. 2010; http://www.cancer.org/healthy/index Accessed November, 2010.

3. Dishman R. The problem of exercise adherence: Fighting sloth in nations with market economies. QUEST. 2001;53:279-294.

4. Berlant NE, Pruitt SD. Adherence to medical recommendations. In: Cohen LM, MCChargue DE, Collins FL, eds. The health psychology handbook. London: Sage; 2003:208-222.

5. Dunbar-Jacobe J, Mortimer-Stephens MK. Treatment adherence in chronic disease. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 2001;54:S57-S60.

6. Segar M, Eccles J, Richardson C. Rebranding exercise: closing the gap between values and behavior. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2011;8:94:1-14.

7. DiMatteo MR. Variations in patients’ adherence to medical recommendations – A quantitative review of 50 years of research. Medical Care. Mar 2004;42(3):200-209.

8. Hariri AR, Brown SM, Williamson DE, Flory JD, de Wit H, Manuck SB. Preference for immediate over delayed rewards is associated with magnitude of ventral striatal activity. Journal of Neuroscience. Dec 2006;26(51):13213-13217.

9. Rath T, Harter J. Well-being: The Five Essential Elements. New York: Gallup Press; 2010.

10. Ariely D. Predictably Irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions. New York: Harper Perennial; 2009.

11. Carver C, Scheier M. On the self-regulation of behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1998.

12.  Landro L. The simple idea that is transforming health care: A focus on quality of life helps medical providers see the big picture—and makes for healthier, happier patients. The Wall Street Journal. 2012. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304450004577275911370551798.html Accessed August, 2012.

13. Segar, M. No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. New York: Amacom; 2015.

© 2016 Michelle Segar

This content was previously posted on the Disruptive Women in Health Care blog.

A New Spring in My (Next) Steps! http://michellesegar.com/a-new-spring-in-my-next-steps/ Mon, 11 Apr 2016 14:15:51 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=4941 Do you know what happens after someone publishes a book that represents their last 20 years of Purpose? I’ve been trying to answer that question myself ever since No Sweat was published last summer. I wondered if I would ever have this sort of energizing passion in my life again.

Researching what fosters lasting motivation and sustainable behavior change has been my North Star, and being able to share my discoveries with all of you in No Sweat has been the culmination of this two-decade quest. During this time, I discovered myself and my passion, and experienced deep creativity and intellectual stimulation. It drove and delighted me beyond belief.

So what happens now that my book has been launched into the world?

I mourn the loss of having that singular purpose, but I also appreciate that life is a process of learning and change. I’d be in denial if I said I didn’t want another Profound Purpose to pursue. But when I really thought about it, I recognized that my larger, more audacious goal has always been to “change the culture” around physical activity and self-care more generally. And from that perspective, I realized, No Sweat marked the beginning of my work, not the end at all – a seed from which to grow the needed changes for creating sustainable behavior change across society.

New insights and opportunities suddenly came flooding in, shifting me from a sense of loss to curiosity and enthusiasm.  I’ve shifted from focusing on how to create a method of sustainable behavior change for individuals to being fascinated by creating complex, integrated systems that can support sustainable behavior change on organizational and population-wide levels.  I’m now excited to help solve more complicated multi-level puzzles through identifying how to scale and weave the most potent scientific principles into redesigning systems within health care as well as the wellness and fitness industries.
Complex Issues that Have My Attention

1.Creating systems that foster patient engagement, empowerment and behavioral sustainability: As a frequent physical therapy consumer, I’ve been astounded by the systematic lack of attention to fostering patient adherence, when adherence determines not only healing trajectories but preventing the need to return. Our health care system is also currently not set up to help patients succeed at sustaining foundational self-care behaviors like sleep and physical activity. In general, clinicians have not been trained to cultivate the drivers of autonomous motivation and ongoing self-regulation (e.g., self-management) systematically and effectively.

I’m very curious about how we can transform this situation, and I see at least three connected approaches: a) updated curriculum in medical school and other types of clinician training; b) new simple protocols that clinicians can use with patients that ask the right questions in order to leverage decision making science; and c) integrating these new counseling protocols with EMRs and personal mobile devises to create an integrated, comprehensive high-touch, high-tech system.

I’ve been collaborating on research in a primary care clinic to explore the use of new lifestyle counseling protocols that are based on science from decision making and motivation science in addition to working with organizations that want to improve their telephonic lifestyle and chronic disease management counseling protocols.

2.Teaching clinicians how to better prioritize their own self-care in order to foster their well-being, reduce burnout, but also because then they can become better self-care ambassadors to patients: My colleagues and I are investigating how to enhance thriving in clinicians and their units. I also have a Thriving through Self-Care™ curriculum that I am excited to deliver within health care contexts. This is a new area of work that I believe will reap rewards for professionals, patients, and organizations.

3.Understanding the core concepts that foster engagement with self-care that can be used across marketing, social media, apps, and others behavioral interventions. I’m delighted to be working with a health system to leverage ideas from No Sweat to create new approaches to employee wellness, including a strategic comprehensive social media campaign for their employees, patients, and greater community. And I couldn’t be prouder that key ideas from No Sweat have been included in the North Carolina’s Department of Public Health’s new CDC-approved Diabetes Prevention Program called “Eat Smart, Move More, Prevent Diabetes.”

For the last five years, I’ve been delivering keynotes and sustainble-behavior-change trainings around the country teaching professionals and organizations out how they can learn to apply these principles wherever they need them.

4.Leveraging the science of motivation in redesigning marketing, products, and services to  help niche businesses, like fitness clubs, learn to help their members love and stick with exercise inside and outside of the club. There are great ideas to explore that can connect apps with high-touch situations in many industries. However, many health clubs are operating within outdated models and paradigms – they think that they will lose members if they help them learn how to feel successful outside of their clubs. But I believe and have experienced the opposite. This is a new time for gyms/clubs, and just like health care, those who choose to align with, instead of reject, behavioral science to improve retention and sustainability will lead the way.

5.Helping large organizations develop new wellness philosophies/paradigms and approaches that can engage not only employees but their greater communities. It has been a privilege to consult with a leading integrated managed care organization on these issues as well as be on the advisory committee that is helping our university’s employee wellness program enter its next generation. The key? Not only do the overarching paradigms need to be rebranded “from health to well-being,” but every part of these initiatives have to be aligned and integrated, from the traditional “Health Risk Appraisal” (an unfortunate term) through to the programming employees participate in. There are key pillars of communication based on the science of what drives people’s decisions that should be used consistently.

In this new era of employee well-being, the consumer experience is paramount. The behavioral programming offered to employees (both high-tech and high-touch) will be considered the lever of success for both individual and business-level outcomes.  Because of that, we are in the midst of a revolution in the behavioral programming vendors offer.  However, while most are rushing to create the coolest technology-based solutions, the leading vendors will actually also overhaul their health coaching protocols too. They will 1) move beyond traditional Motivational Interviewing and nice-sounding but outdated “wellness” frameworks to ones that more systemically target and move key scientific principles; and 2) be accompanied by and integrated with aligned apps. (I’ll write more details about this in the future.)

Stay tuned! In the upcoming months I’ll share findings from new research related to achieving these goals.


How to Plant the Motivational Seeds for a Physically Active Lifestyle http://michellesegar.com/how-to-plant-the-motivational-seeds-for-a-physically-active-lifestyle/ Sun, 10 Apr 2016 17:21:46 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=4939 This content was originally posted on the US News & World Report’s blog.

Spring is a lovely time of longer days, more sunshine and the call of the great outdoors. It’s also a wonderful, natural lab in which you can experiment with physical activity. Take time now to plant the seeds of lifelong fitness motivation by figuring out what you love to do and what hidden barriers may be getting in your way. Here’s how:

Seed 1: Identify the ‘Right Why.’

Why we exercise determines whether we have low- or high-quality motivation. Research shows that when we embark on fitness activities because we feel guilty, because friends or family are urging us to or even because a doctor prescribed it for health reasons, we are likely to lose our motivation and stop. The “Right Why” – a term I coined and discuss in my book, No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness – is a reason for being physically active that delivers an immediate boost in positivity, such as greater well-being, connection and energy, when you do it.

Tip: Especially if you have started and stopped a physical activity regimen over and over, take a moment to think about why you usually start in the first place. Recognize whether you feel like you “should” exercise or whether you deeply want to experience the benefits that regular physical activity brings.

Seed 2: Find the right way.

The way we exercise determines whether we desire it or dread it. Stop following prescriptions or “rules” about how you think you should work out and start picking physical activities that generate positive feelings. Making your own choice about the ways you are going to move – be it by walking, dancing, biking, doing yoga, enrolling in a gym class or something else entirely – ensures that you look forward to having a similar experience again and again. After all, research shows that moving in ways that feel good is among the very best motivators.

Tip: Pay attention to how you feel in the moment of movement, and make sure to do what you enjoy or what feels good – not what you think you should be doing.

Seed 3: Figure out the right how.

How are you going to prioritize your own self-care by way of exercise? Doing what you love generates joy and life energy – the essential fuel that enables you take care of yourself, your loved ones, your necessary tasks and what you value most. Stop believing that well-being and joy are luxuries. They are fundamental experiences that reduce stress and depression and enhance the ability to have perspective and be resilient in the face of challenges.

Tip: Remind yourself that prioritizing your self-care is not taking away from your family, friends and work; it is fueling you for what you care about doing well every day.

Seed 4: Learn from the right do.

Get up and move! What did you learn?Instead of following an achievement mindsetor focusing on hitting a specific target – consider adopting a learning mindset, or a perspective that lets you be more compassionate and reframe your “mistakes” and “failures” as data you can use to correct your strategy. In other words, find the plans that work for you and eliminate the ones that are unrealistic, too ambitious or that otherwise fuel resentment.

Tip: Strategize! Make plans ahead of time for barriers like schedule changes, last-minute meetings or family emergencies that inevitably interrupt your plans. Figure out new or different ways to be active – even if it’s reducing your workout from 30 minutes to three minutes.

Remember, consistency trumps quantity when you are learning how to establish life-long motivation

The Perfect Fitness Plan for Every Mindset http://michellesegar.com/the-perfect-fitness-plan-for-every-mindset/ Sun, 10 Apr 2016 17:18:21 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=4937 This content was originally posted on the US News & World Report’s blog.

We’re all different in how we approach planning, including when it comes to fitness. Some of us are more comfortable knowing we have a well-structured routine, some of us prefer a free-form approach and others mix it up – with some days planned and some days left open. All of these approaches can be successful, especially if you know how to be resilient in the face of setbacks.

But do you?

If you feel guilty when an unexpected call on your time prevents you from getting your planned workout, or you keep saying you’ll get to it tomorrow (yet tomorrow never seems to arrive), you may benefit from becoming more aware of the pros and cons of your approach – and making a strategy adjustment if necessary. Here’s how to know what mindset you have and how to make helpful changes:

Fixed Planning Mindset

You have this type of mindset if you are happier knowing what you are supposed to do every day, and you take pains to stick to your schedule.

  • Pro: When we automate our approach to life, we use fewer cognitive resources – and this is a good thing! If you get joy out of having a schedule and sticking to it, and are successful at finding ways to meet your self-imposed obligations in the face of adversity, this approach can keep you on track.
  • Con: Society teaches us to aim at a perfect target and hit it, or consider ourselves failures. Most people feel like this planning mindset is the “right” or “best” one, even though it doesn’t make them happy and doesn’t work for them in the  long term. If you get anxious being obligated to meet the perfect goal (say, that exercise must be at least 30 minutes or make you sweat to be worth doing), even when you clearly have no time, this approach is not helping you. Research also shows that people with extrinsic goals (like exercising for appearance reasons) tend to use this approach more and experience more self-doubt.
  • Strategy: Without flexibility, your plans will inevitably fracture because that’s the nature of life. Be sure to have alternate plans in place that you can call on when you hit a pothole. If you miss your typical morning workout, for example, give yourself permission to do something different (say, taking steps for 10 minutes at work or walking with your family after dinner) instead of feeling frustrated. Consider the change of plans a good way to mix things up, give yourself a break, use different muscles or renew your body and mind for your regular workout tomorrow. Keep in mind that everyone gets sick sometimes, and everyone has work and family emergencies. And, even though you prefer being “perfect,” having compassion with yourself when things go awry is an evidence-based strategy for staying motivated to continue.

Flexible Planning Mindset

You have this type of mindset if you like to adjust your physical activity schedule based on what you can fit in to your available time and what you feel like doing. For example, you might have planned a 40-minute intense workout at the gym, but when the time arrives to leave, you are exhausted from a stressful day. You listen to your body and take a 20-minute leisurely walk instead.

  • Pro: Studies show that people who can be flexible with their behavioral plans and goals tend to be better at managing themselves over time and sticking with it. Interestingly, having a flexible mindset is also linked to being happier and healthier, and is thought to reflect a more committed and values-based approach to behavioral goals. Being flexible (rather than rigid) with our behavioral plans (like around eating) even seems to help people maintain weight loss over time.
  • Con: Having boundaries can give our aspirations shape. If you take flexibility too far, plans can easily fall by the wayside – if you even make them at all. Also, when we feel we need to totally reinvent the wheel by planning a different workout at a different time every day (instead of just doing it reflexively), we can use a ton of cognitive resources. Too much thinking and too many choices can become overwhelming and, instead of giving us momentum, freeze us in indecision.
  • Strategy: Try making one firm physical activity plan for the week. For instance, take a walk during lunch on Monday, park in the far lot at work on Wednesday and take every opportunity to move on Friday. Whatever you plan, commit to it as an opportunity learn and then evaluate how it goes. Use this new data for future weeks.

To get started, it’s important to be aware of your behavior. Ask yourself these questions in order to gather key data about the approach that has (or hasn’t) worked for you:

  • Have you tended to display a fixed or flexible planning mindset when you’ve tried to adopt a new self-care behavior like exercise?
  • What strategies (of any sort) have actually worked to keep you consistent long-term?
  • Do you want to try a new mindset and approach if the ones you’ve been using haven’t yielded long-term results?

The bottom line: Resiliency allows us to bounce back from challenges rather than be flattened by them. Building resiliency into your fitness approach will help ensure that you can more easily navigate challenges, whether a fixed or flexible planning mindset works best for you. Adopting a learning perspective toward what you do allows you to take charge, enjoy the process and evolve creative solutions when you need to.

Why February Is the Best Time to Recalibrate Your New Year’s Resolutions http://michellesegar.com/why-february-is-the-best-time-to-recalibrate-your-new-years-resolutions/ Sun, 10 Apr 2016 17:15:49 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=4934
This content was originally posted on the US News & World Report’s blog.

If you took my advice to heart last month, you ditched those old New Year’s resolutions that never worked. Instead, you made some great new resolutions based on the right whys, and you gave yourself permission to take time for your own self-care. But now, just over a month into 2016, you’ve got a ton of things to do and you can feel the impending resolution crash.

We start the year bursting with determination and diving into behavior change. But it doesn’t take long for the roar of life to come thundering back. Buy special food? Complete five workouts a week? What were we thinking? We suddenly recognize that our resolution plan may have been more grounded this year, but it was still crazy ambitious and will never work.

Hold that thought. This is not the time to give up. Actually, it’s the perfect time to make a small course correction that will make a long-term difference.

Why Resolutions Crash So Quickly

Think about it: The holidays are famously filled with fun, stress, eating, drinking, family pressures and time off work – and then more eating, drinking and stress. We enjoy it all up to a point, and then we go past that point. We feel sluggish, tired and maybe a little depressed and mad at ourselves

So we’re determined to get it right in the new year. But the problem is, we make our resolutions while we are in a bubble of gluttony, disgust and fantasy. Trapped in this bubble, feeling an intense desire to escape our current bodies, eating habits and selves, we are filled with determination and willpower to change everything.

But then, we’re forced to make those changes in the real world. After only a few weeks, everyday life is back: unexpected needs, busy schedules, family crises and not enough sleep. We feel overwhelmed by – and even resentful ofthe resolutions we were so excited about and committed to on Jan. 1.

Why Now Is the Time

This month, most people throw in their resolution towels. But what many don’t know is that now is actually the perfect time to become successful and stick to their resolutions. Think of it this way: You haven’t spent the past few weeks “failing” to execute your plan, you’ve spent your time gathering valuable data on what really works for you.

For example, did you like the spinning class you started? Does the food your new eating plan requires feel satisfying – or punishing? By reflecting on your answers to these types of questions, you’ll be gaining insight into what will and won’t work for you in real life. Then, you can use those insights to tweak your plan so it’s more in line with your personal reality.

Recalibrated resolutions:

  • Reflect the real you.
  • Feel good.
  • Are enjoyable.
  • Are realistic.
  • Are adjustable in the face of time constraints and life’s curveballs.

Take this quiz for a personalized report about how you can recalibrate your resolutions and prevail in 2016. And remember: Be compassionate with yourself during this learning process – research shows it’s a much more motivational strategy than the alternative: negative self-judgment.


3 Things People Who Stick to Their New Year’s Resolutions Do Differently http://michellesegar.com/3-things-people-who-stick-to-their-new-years-resolutions-do-differently/ Sun, 10 Apr 2016 17:08:31 +0000 http://michellesegar.com/?p=4932 This content was originally posted on the US News & World Report’s blog.

Here’s my advice for 2016: Stop making the same resolution every year and expecting to get a different result.

If “willpower, dieting and workouts” has been your mantra year after year – and year after year you lose the will, tire of restricted diets or stop going to the gym – I have some good news: It’s not your fault. We’ve learned to make resolutions, and change our behavior more generally, in a system that sets most people up to fail. But if you want to take a cue from people who’ve mastered the art, this year can be different. Here’s what they do differently:

  1. They choose the right ‘whys.’

“Whys” are the reasons for making those resolutions in the first place. They are the foundation of the entire behavior change process and have a domino effect. Surprisingly, the most popular “whys” for going on a diet or starting an exercise program – “to lose weight” and “to improve my health” – are the wrong ones for many people because they lead to low-quality, unstable motivation.

Motivation is our fuel for doing anything, and the quality of our motivation affects whether our resolutions stick or fade away. Research shows that our primary reason for initiating a change determines whether we experience high- or low-quality motivation. Outside pressure, or the belief that we “should” do something, leads to low-quality motivation. Doing should-based behaviors doesn’t only fuel resentment, but it also depletes us when we do them. Talk about a lose-lose situation!

But people who stick to their resolutions dump the should-based “whys.” Instead, they resolve to change their behavior because they truly want to improve areas of their daily life in concrete ways that energize them – not deplete them.

  1. They give themselves permission.

Many people feel uncomfortable with the idea of putting their own self-care needs at the top of the priority list, feeling that their work and family needs should always come first. But, if we don’t feel comfortable giving ourselves permission to prioritize our own self-care – say, by sleeping more, eating better and exercising regularly – it’s unlikely that our resolutions will feel compelling enough to stick with once the post-holiday grind kicks in mid-February.

For over 20 years, I’ve been helping clients become more comfortable prioritizing their own self-care and sense of well-being. I’ve found it’s truly the most challenging part of sticking with resolutions. Luckily, when we resolve to adopt a new behavior out of a desire to feel better and fuel meaningful areas of our lives, it’s no longer a chore, but a gift we are giving ourselves – and everyone else too. Research also shows that making a behavior change out of this mindset is among the best ways to create stable and lasting motivation.

  1. They develop strategies to sustain their resolutions.

Motivation and permission are the drivers of sticky resolutions, but we also need smart strategies in place to help us successfully navigate the inevitable obstacles that threaten our good intentions. We make sure to plan for likely challenges related to getting our kids to school and making work deadlines, so why don’t we also appreciate that our resolutions and weekly self-care plans need the same strategic attention?

People who stick with their resolutions use easy strategies like “if-then” planning that keep them on track. By simply previewing likely obstacles to their plans and ways to get around them, they know ahead of time which choice to make when those obstacles arise. Research shows this type of strategizing drastically increases people’s long-term success.

If you want to learn how likely your 2016 New Year’s resolutions are to stick, take my free “No Sweat” resolutions quiz. You’ll get a personal assessment in three key areas that drive sticky resolutions – and discover what you can do differently to make them more likely to last in 2016.