Sustainable Behavior Change for Organizations, Professionals, and App Developers
My expertise is in creating simple systems, protocols, and messages that lead to the sustained human motivation and consistent decision making that underlie fitness, health, and well-being. Organizations that have hired me to speak and/or consult about my insights include Adidas, Beaumont Health System, EXL, Google, Influence Health, National Business Group on Health, PepsiCo, and Walmart. Feel free to connect with me via the "Contact" tab above if your organization wants to benefit from better understanding how to create sustainable behavior change in your target audience.
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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.
Below is a 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.
The Vicious Cycle of Failure is expensive to organizations investing in staff and programs hoping to change patient and employee and consumer behavior. In essence any investment that is promoting The Wrong Why will tend to keep the end user starting and stopping behavioral changes but not sustaining them. It's expensive for professionals who work in promoting healthy lifestyles and disease management because then we feel ineffective when the people we counsel are not successful. It's expensive for the end user because they really do want to change their behavior so their hopes are dashed every time they are not able to sustain their changes and this undermines feelings of efficacy and about themselves besides creating ambivalence. Talk about a costly system for creating behavior change!
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 Successful Cycle of Motivation
In contrast to The Vicious Cycle of Failure, “The Successful Cycle of Motivation,” depicted below, 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 a “gift.” It’s easy to see why high quality motivation results from starting the behavioral cycle with The Right Why.
The Right Whys initiate a cycle that reflects the neuroscience of reward and because of this people who start off with The Right Whys are more likely to stay motivated to sustain their health-related behavior.
Thus, health promotion and disease prevention programs and efforts based on Right Whys are more cost-effective than those based on Wrong Whys because they are more likely to lead to higher quality motivation and greater sustainability. If these ideas interest you please see the link to my white paper, "Health Promoters Should Stop Promoting Health," at the bottom of this page.
Once we understand the key science supporting The Right Whys' role in promoting autonomous and high-quality motivation and behavioral persistence, continuing to invest in systems and protocols that either ignore the Why as unimportant or that promote The Wrong Why is akin to burying our head in the sand.
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 - which continuously reinforces decisions that favor self-care and health.
A Game-Changing Strategy for Sustainable Motivation and Healthy Behavior
My work translates and bridges 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 the information processing system where emotions and the unconscious resides.
Out of over two decades of work across academia and the private sector, I developed a comprehensive and powerful yet simple, evidence-based blueprint 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” these behaviors, to reframe them as specific vehicles to feel and function better, be happier and more successful.
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 and vitality to fuel what matters most.
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 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.
This shift is one of two primary changes in mindset needed to foster sustainable behavior change among individuals. I write about everything that people need to stay motivated to maintain and prioritize healthy behavior in my new book, No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness.
If you'd like to learn the FULL blueprint for sustainable behavior change I show the detailed system and key science that I've been using with individuals during the last twenty years. These ideas can be leveraged for more potent patient-centered protocols and systems, wellness initiatives and apps and gaming programs. No Sweat focuses specifically on physical activity, however, the system and science are relevant across healthy behaviors.
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Do You Want to Achieve Sustainable Motivation, Decision Making, and Behavior Change in Your Work and Target Population?
My framework systematically builds the foundation of what science shows are the core processes necessary for lasting motivation and behavior. It is becoming the foundation for health systems aiming to create new patient-centered systems that fuel behavioral adherence, more effective corporate wellness initiatives, fitness center retention, apps and gamification software, and other technology-based health care 2.0 products.
For keynote inquiries, please contact Jayme Johnson at Worthy Marketing Group: Jayme (at) worthymarketinggroup.com.
For inquiries from health systems, health, wellness, and/or fitness service providers or product developers please email Michelle (at) michellesegar.com
Read what people and organizations have to say about these 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:
- Prescribing Pleasure and Meaning: Cultivating Walking Motivation and Maintenance - Read
- Rebranding Exercise: Closing the gap between values and behavior - Read
- Type of Physical Activity Goal Influences Participation in Healthy Midlife Women- Read
Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve your professional and organizational goals that depend on achieving sustainable behavior change.