[Excerpted from “Small Steps or Giant Leaps: What Works Best for Health Behavior Change?"]
1. Ditch the “small steps” nonsense.
Challenging goals lead to greater efforts and better results, which in turn are naturally motivating. When people knuckle down and achieve something difficult, they get a self-efficacy boost as well as a sense of pride and accomplishment. Setting mighty goals and taking dynamic steps give people something big to aim for and practical, progressive actions so they experience true progress.
2. Let them own the process.
Support their need for autonomy, competence, and connection. Any program or guidelines should have plenty of flexibility, opportunities for learning, and social support. A get-fit program could offer ideas, tips, resources, and a venue for connecting with others — but participants decide where and when they’ll do the fitness activities of their choice.
We have the great privilege of working with some of the most successful, inspiring people in wellness. It’s a perk we never take for granted — not just because many of them have been wonderful clients over the years, but because they continue to teach us so much that we get to share. Here are some leadership lessons we’ve learned from the best of the best.
Great wellness leaders:
In a past column I discussed situational leadership and featured Dr. Sara Johnson’s studies on “coaction” — a finding from her work at Pro-Change Behavior Systems that suggests taking effective action on one behavior improves the chances of simultaneously improving another behavior.
It is a counterintuitive idea about behavior change, given so many exhort us to take small steps and/or have us focus on single behaviors like smoking, stress, or fitness. That’s why I felt fortunate to meet a well-being practitioner who has been applying what Sara researches. Marie-Josée Shaar (MJ) and her colleague Kathryn Britton wrote the book: Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance.
Some wellness practices have made their way deep into the fabric of organizations and the industry with little if any solid justification for their ongoing use. For nearly 30 years the annual or biennial HRA was a mainstay until enough people finally asked why are we doing this? For too long the answer was so we could tell clients they need to move more, eat more vegetables, wear their seatbelt, and get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Oh, and you’re outside the desirable BMI range — better lose some weight, too.
In the last 5 years, the wellness tool du jour seems to be portals, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink websites that promise to solve all program delivery and communication needs in a 1-stop shop. That HRA? Check. Education modules? Check. Challenges? Check. Health coaching? Check. Self-care content? Check. Rewards system? Check. Everything for everybody… check, check, check.
You’d think that someone aware of their health risks (compliments of an HRA) would naturally want to change behavior. Uh, no. And similarly, if all the best resources for supporting health improvement were rolled up into a wellness portal, participants would beat a (virtual) path to your door. Not yet, they aren’t.