by Beth Shepard   Beth's profile on LinkedIn  

Whether it’s finding a fitness buddy and a convenient, safe place to walk or planning weekly menus and stocking up on vegetables, successful lifestyle change usually calls for preparation. The following are examples of how workplace well-being participants can get their behavior-change ducks in a row:

  • Choose the right targets. People often get stuck in a self-defeating cycle of tackling the same goals over and over in a series of unsuccessful attempts. With each failure, confidence takes a hit and makes success less likely. If focusing on fitness always leads to disappointment, suggest choosing another big target they’re more ready to change — like eating 5 servings a day of produce, or getting 8 hours of sleep each night. Success in one area of well-being often leads to simultaneous success in another; researchers call it coaction.1
  • Reflect on core values and quality of life. Big-picture thinking helps people connect the dots from daily habits to well-being. Knowing discrepancies between current and desired health status can shape goals and motivation, especially in relation to core values. Research points to affirmation priming — reflecting on core values before beginning a behavior change effort — as a way to reduce resistance and improve outcomes.2,3
  • Identify and leverage strengths. Traditional HRA-based wellness programs focus on finding what’s wrong and solving problems; a strength-based approach emphasizes expanding what’s right. When participants concentrate on the positive — like available resources, past successes, skills, and character strengths — they build momentum. Appreciative inquiry is a powerful strength-based approach used by health practitioners and wellness coaches to facilitate lasting change in organizations and communities.4,5
  • Learn and develop maintenance behaviors before embarking on change. In a groundbreaking study, Stanford researchers found participants were more successful in keeping off weight if they applied maintenance behaviors before starting the weight loss program.6 Self-monitoring, problem-solving, and stress management are examples of skills that help people sustain nearly any health habit.
  • Cultivate a flexible, growth-oriented mindset.  Narrow, rigid, all-or-nothing thinking rarely works in the long run. And there’s no single best behavior change method that works for everyone. Encourage participants to experiment with different strategies to discover what works best for them. Trying new tactics builds a repertoire of skills and abilities. As we move through seasons of life, we face new challenges and priorities; strategies for maintaining a healthy lifestyle may need to change, too.
  • Practice self-compassion. Self-criticism comes easy for most; we even seek feedback from others that confirms the negative views we have of ourselves.7 People often mistakenly believe that criticism from self or others motivates change. Ironically, research shows that shaming and self-criticism have the opposite effect of making lasting change more difficult.8 In contrast, self-compassion enhances both intention-setting and health behaviors.9,10  
  • Gather social support. Lasting change is more likely when people have a strong support network in place from the start.11 Determining helpful family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, or others, and then inviting their support, are powerful steps toward success. By intentionally involving others in the behavior change process, participants cultivate their own communities of like-minded people, which makes maintaining a healthy lifestyle much easier. 

For more well-being research and insights, download Small Steps or Giant Leaps — What Works Best for Health Behavior Change? 


[1] Johnson S, Paiva A, Mauriello L, Prochaska J, Redding C, Velicer W. Coaction in Multiple Behavior Change Interventions: Consistency Across Multiple Studies on Weight Management and Obesity Prevention, Health Psychology, May 2014, 33(5):475-80. doi: 10.1037/a0034215, Epub 2013

[2] Falk E, O’Donnell M, et al. Self-Affirmation Alters the Brain’s Response to Health Messages and Subsequent Behavior Change, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 17, 2015, Vol. 112 No. 7

[3] Epton T, Harris P, et al. The Impact of Self-Affirmation on Health-Behavior Change: A Meta-Analysis, Health Psychology, August 18, 2014

[4] Moore S, Charvat J. Promoting Health Behavior Change Using Appreciative Inquiry: Moving From Deficit Models to Affirmation Models of Care. Family & Community Health, January 2007, Vol. 30 No. 1, Supplement: January/March 2007

[5] Tschannen-Moran B. Appreciative Inquiry in Coaching, Coaching Psychology Manual, 2010, Chapter 4, p. 52, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins

[6] Kiernan M, Brown S, et al. Promoting Healthy Weight With “Stability Skills First”: A Randomized Trial, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2013; 81 (2): 336-346

[7] Swann W, Pelham B, Krull D. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Agreeable Fancy or Disagreeable Truth? Reconciling Self-Enhancement and Self-Verification, November 1989, Vol. 57 (5):782-91

[8] Jackson S, Beeken R, Wardle J. Perceived Weight Discrimination and Changes in Weight, Waist Circumference, and Weight Status, Obesity, 2014, 22, 2485-2488. doi:10.1002/oby.20891

[9] Sirois F. A Self-Regulation Resource Model of Self-Compassion and Health Behavior Intentions in Emerging Adults, Preventive Medicine Reports, 2015, Vol. 2, p. 218-222,

[10] Adams C, Leary M. Promoting Self-Compassionate Attitudes Toward Eating Among Restrictive and Guilty Eaters, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2007, Vol. 26 No. 10, p. 1120–1144,

[11] Wing R, Jeffery R. Benefits of Recruiting Participants With Friends and Increasing Social Support for Weight Loss and Maintenance, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, February 1999, Vol. 67(1), 132-138

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