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Setting Expectations for Behavior Change

by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

Change is difficult for most people. It’s often perceived as a threat to values and beliefs, as well as a questioning of intelligence or ability. Nowhere is change more difficult than with health behaviors, because deep down, most people know the change has to come from within — they know it’s their responsibility.

You can support initial attempts at change with the right messages and appropriate expectations. Some ideas:

  • Limit the fanfare. From Pirates of the Caribbean 4 to presidential politics to professional sports, people are over-hyped and spun to numbness. Don’t make claims that you’ll help the person radically change their life for the better. Under-promise, then over-deliver.
  • Set reasonable goals. Going from no exercise to jogging 30 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week is next to impossible. Instead, aim for 10 minutes walking a day to start, then 15, then 20 ? building on success each step of the way.
  • Offer extra support for slips. Occasional setbacks are inevitable. Coach participants to expect this and encourage them to seek a little extra help, so slips don’t turn into falls.
  • Try to see their viewpoint. If you’ve never had a weight problem, it may be hard to appreciate how difficult it is, physically and emotionally, for an obese participant to begin a walking routine. Remember that some things are harder for others than for you, and ask how you can help before you start offering solutions.