Inspiring people to take action toward lifelong well-being is our collective aim as wellness pros. But sometimes what we — or our participants — think is encouraging actually ends up undermining motivation.
With careful attention and avoiding unintended consequences, you can craft thoughtful, inclusive messages to cultivate a mindset that supports sustainable change. In words, images, and examples deliberately emphasize:
- A healthier relationship with food, exercise, and other well-being behaviors
- Attitudes of non-judgment, self-compassion, resilience, and empowerment
- Positive body image.
Enhancing Your Message
These samples explain why a message can be problematic…along with alternate language:
“It’s time to shape up for summer.”
How it weakens motivation: Promoting a seasonal urgency for fitness implies physical activity isn’t… and doesn’t need to be… part of everyday life.
Better: “Trying a new sport or physical activity this summer? We’d love to hear about it; share a photo and brief description on the message board.”
“Guilt-free eating at today’s salad extravaganza!”
How it weakens motivation: Unless you’re stealing food, there’s nothing to feel guilty about — no matter what you’re eating. This message reinforces the detrimental habit of attaching moral judgments or emotionally charged labels to food choices.
Better: “Enjoy your choice of fresh local fruits and veggies at today’s salad bar!”
“Everyone needs a cheat day.”
How it weakens motivation: Eating what you want to eat isn’t cheating, it’s just eating. Again, this message supports thinking about food choices as good or bad and promotes an unhealthy relationship with food. A flexible approach to nutrition helps people make healthy eating a long-term habit.
Better: “Savor your favorite foods; if they’re less nutritious, consider choosing smaller portions, less frequently.”
“Just do it. No excuses!”
How it weakens motivation: This message offers yet another chance for people to feel ashamed and discouraged when they slip up or don’t achieve their goal on the first or 20th try. Truth is, lasting lifestyle change requires a lot more than commitment; it takes readiness plus the right information, skills, and support along with access to things like a variety of produce and opportunities to stay active.
Better: “What’s 1 thing you can do today to move toward your well-being goals?”
“Here’s how to shift to a clean eating pattern.”
How it weakens motivation: Clean eating typically refers to whole, organic, and unpackaged or less-processed food, implying that any other choices are dirty. In fact, canned, frozen, and other packaged or processed foods can be very helpful, especially in conveniently preparing nutritious meals when pressed for time or on a budget.
Better: “Nourish yourself with these time-saving, budget-friendly dinner ideas.”
Feel the difference? These messages are designed to welcome and inspire everyone — those with:
- All abilities, fitness levels, and sizes
- Any prior positive or negative experiences with behavior change attempts
- A wide range of self-efficacy levels and emotions relating to healthy habits.
The idea is to invite all people to move in the right direction while encouraging a kinder, stronger way of thinking about behavior change.
Inspiring a Well-Being Mindset
Using neutral or positive language to convey well-being messages will help your population leave behind a damaging mindset in favor of one that helps them feel good about change and launches them on a clear, ongoing path. Best of all, as people normalize this new, helpful way of thinking and talking about healthy living, they’ll exert a positive influence on others… including families and coworkers.
Take a fresh look at your messages this week. Rewrite and polish as needed to boost motivation and reinforce the healthy mindset needed to win at wellness.
Well-being consultant, educator, writer ｜National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach ｜Certified Lifestyle Medicine Coach｜ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist ｜25+ years in wellness ｜Jazz enthusiast.