[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.
3. Encourage better thinking.
Lasting success and continued growth demand good thinking skills — nurtured by promoting reflection, journals, discussions, and problem solving. Ask what-if questions to get participants contemplating and talking about how to respond to everyday challenges. Start an onsite or virtual book club that meets monthly or quarterly; address planning and personal organization skills in your program content.
4. Promote a strength-based approach.
Help participants focus on what’s working by highlighting everyday wins along with milestone achievements. Challenge them to use their strengths — like love of learning, perseverance, courage, creativity, or curiosity — to move past obstacles. Recognize those actively engaging in healthy behaviors; give a high five to a group of lunchtime walkers; award an “I Got Caught” wellness prize ticket to someone eating an orange.
5. Cultivate positive conversations.
Challenge participants to eliminate negative behavior-change language — such as fat-talk, cheat days, punishment, shaming, and deprived — which attaches moral judgments to food and other wellness behaviors. Saying “I was bad; I skipped my workout,” isn’t helpful. Remind people to practice self-compassion, treating themselves with the same kindness they give to loved ones.
6. Foster social connections.
A healthy, supportive community is essential to long-term success. Provide tips on asking for — and giving — effective behavior change support. Plan wellness activities that bring people together, like team challenges, walking groups, and after-hours fun; empower wellness ambassadors to do the same. Support the formation of onsite affinity groups — like new moms or dads, runners, or those who want to volunteer. As employees spend social time together and connect around common interests, the work culture will naturally spiral up toward being more positive and supportive.