Honesty Is So Refreshing

I’m a creature of habit, retreating to Starbucks every few weeks to purchase a small coffee and write for 4-6 hours. But on this visit I had some extra minutes in line and a new drink on the menu caught my eye, so I asked the barista about it. “To be honest, I think it’s the worst drink we make”; he proceeded to tell me why. It caught me off guard. I fully expected him to say “it’s awesome,” whether that was true or not.  For a moment I stammered, trying to come up with something different. Sensing my predicament, he offered an alternative — and I settled in for the next few hours satisfied not to have spent $5 on a “bitter, weak drink with a bad aftertaste.”

His honesty jolted me because in the last couple of years I’ve gotten used to being lied to — online, social media, television, consumer product marketing. Some days it feels like the norm, not the exception. And yesterday’s lies don’t matter because today we can lie about yesterday’s lies. It’s probably more a reflection of my age (depressing) than what’s actually happening, but it sure feels like Bizzarro World.

“Are all of your campaigns this fun and engaging?”

Then I remembered an incident from the previous week where an HES account manager was demoing a product for a prospect who asked this question; “more or less” was the response. Later, we did some remedial training, encouraging our employee to answer affirmatively and even expound on the virtues of all our campaigns. But in light of my coffee experience, more or less is probably the correct (and honest) answer. Some campaigns are a little more fun and some a little less.

What if we, as wellness professionals, always told the unvarnished truth:

  • Changing health behaviors ingrained over years is really, really hard
  • You’ll probably make some progress, then regress a little
  • Little changes here and there don’t add up to much; you’ll need bigger long-term ambitions to experience significant health improvement
  • Most people who go on a program just to lose weight regain it within a year
  • Your clothing size isn’t what makes you happy or unhappy — and health isn’t about size
  • You’re probably not going to like eating more healthfully, at least to start; it takes a while for your body, mind, and emotions to adjust.

I’m not suggesting we replace aspirational messages and all the positive benefits of a healthy lifestyle with the gloom of reality. But would we, in fact, be doing participants a favor by being completely honest about the challenges they’ll face? Would the knowledge better prepare them for the inevitable setbacks? Would knowing that what they’re experiencing is “normal” help them get past the physical, emotional, and even social discomfort until they gain the confidence in their own ability to continue down this path?

Honesty isn’t just refreshing, it’s motivating. Take some time this week to review how you’re positioning your services… see if you’re being completely honest with your population to give them the best chance at success.


Dean WitherspoonDean Witherspoon
Dean Witherspoon is CEO and founder of HES and has been the managing editor of the Well-Being Practitioner (formerly the Health Promotion Practitioner) since 1992. He leads the most creative team in wellness, serving organizations worldwide with best-in-class workplace wellness campaigns.

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