Positive Psychology – Part 1

It seems more and more of my health coach colleagues have pursued further certification in the field of Positive Psychology. One of them has developed a guided journal – The Book of Extraordinary Things – based on the principles of Positive Psychology. It is designed to encourage self-awareness, positivity and well-being. And I recently facilitated a program about resiliency and one of the key skills to helping build resilience is the ability to harness positive emotions – to find the silver lining in even the most challenging circumstances. All of these factors prompted me to learn a little more about Positive Psychology and how it can help individuals maximize their health and well-being.

What is Positive Psychology?

Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, is a leading authority in the fields of Positive Psychology and resilience. He has written several books about it including his recent one, Flourish. He describes Positive Psychology as “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” It is grounded in the belief that people want to lead meaningful lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. In other words, it helps us move beyond just surviving to thriving, or even flourishing.

Traditionally, psychology has often focused on dysfunction – what is wrong with you – and how to treat it. Positive Psychology moves the focus to what is right with you (such as your character strengths) and is built on Dr. Seligman’s PERMA™ theory of well-being, which includes Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. In recent years, Emiliya Zhivotovskaya, a graduate of the Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania, modified the theory and added Vitality – a focus on healthy habits such as eating well, moving regularly and getting enough sleep.

PERMA-V

Let’s take a brief look at each of the components of PERMA-V and how they can help you flourish and achieve “the good life.”

Positive Emotions: Focusing on positive emotions is about more than just being happy. It is the ability to remain optimistic despite life’s ups and downs. Keeping a positive outlook can help in your personal relationships as well as your work. You can increase positive emotions about the past by cultivating gratitude and forgiveness. You can savor the present by practicing mindfulness. And you can relish the future by building hope. Do more of the things that make you happy and bring enjoyment into your daily routine.

Interestingly, Seligman notes that this building block of well-being is limited by how much an individual can experience positive emotions – which is partly linked to biology/genetics as well as the fact that our emotions tend to fluctuate within a range. Due to this limitation, the other components may play an even more important role in our ability to thrive.

Engagement: Engagement is experienced when you are fully absorbed in a task or activity in which self-awareness disappears and time seems to stop or fly by quickly. You may recall this concept of “flow” put forth by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when the experience is so gratifying that you are willing to do it for its own sake, rather than for what you will get out of it. The activity is its own reward. Achieving this state of flow or total engagement is natural, especially when you are involved in creative activities you enjoy and are good at. Pursue hobbies that interest you, develop your skills, and consider professional work that is linked to your passion(s).

Relationships: Humans are social creatures, and we rely on connections with others to truly flourish. Connections to others can give life purpose and meaning. Positive relationships with your family members, friends, peers, and colleagues is a key source of joy. Support from and connection with others can also help you navigate through difficult times that require resilience. Having deep, meaningful relationships with others is vital to your well-being. Reflect on the quality (and perhaps quantity) of your relationships with friends, family, and other significant people in your life.

Meaning: A sense of purpose can be derived from belonging to and serving something bigger than the self. Religion and spirituality provide many people with meaning, as can family, professional pursuits, and volunteering for social causes that are important to you. Having an answer to that million-dollar question – “Why am I here?”- is a key ingredient to finding fulfillment. Seek out meaning, whether it be through your work, personal hobbies or leisure activities, or serving others in your community.

Accomplishment: People pursue achievement, mastery, and success for its own sake, whether in the workplace or in personal pursuits and activities. We all thrive when we are succeeding, achieving our goals, and bettering ourselves. Setting goals and putting in the necessary effort to achieve them are important to well-being and happiness. Achievement helps to build self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment. Keep your focus on achieving your goals, but also remember to keep your ambition in balance with all of the other important things in life.

Vitality: As you may have noticed yourself, the original PERMA building blocks of well-being tend to be very head-centered or “above the neck,” as some people like to refer to it. This was one reason why Emiliya Zhivotovskaya decided to add this component with an emphasis on the mind-body connection as well as healthy habits around sleep, food, and exercise. It addresses the need to take a more holistic look at well-being, including the inseparable connection between mind and body when it comes to flourishing. Eat healthy foods to fuel the body, move your body every day and develop good sleep habits that allow you to wake feeling rested.

This is clearly just a high-level view of Positive Psychology but if it has sparked your curiosity, I encourage you to learn more through some of the books, speakers and websites cited in my post.

The Book of Extraordinary Things

As I mentioned earlier, a coaching colleague has created a guided journal to help explore the principles of Positive Psychology. I ordered one to support my continuous journey to optimal health and well-being. I plan to use it to focus more on the good things in my life and the strengths that I bring to the table in both my professional pursuits and my personal life. I am just starting to explore my journal so stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I will share my experience with it. (And if you think you’d like to order a copy, you can do so here.)

PERMA-V-Poster
Source: https://www.stac.school.nz/why-stac/well-being-at-stac/perma-v/

CBD: What’s all the fuss?

It seems like you can’t turn around these days without seeing something related to CBD, or cannabidiol, products. A neighbor recently asked me what, if anything, I knew about the health benefits of CBD oil. I had recently read an article in Consumer Reports, which provided a little bit of insight, but her query made me want to delve a little deeper – for my own knowledge and to field potential questions from my coaching clients. I’ve tried to simplify what I have learned into a few key questions and answers below:

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound extracted from both the marijuana plant as well as its close relative the hemp plant. One of the most important things to know upfront is that CBD does not get users high. It is another compound in marijuana – THC or tetrahydrocannabinol – that produces its psychoactive properties.

 

What do people use it for?

A growing body of preliminary research suggests some of CBD’s properties may improve health. Early studies suggest that CBD affects the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a series of receptors found throughout the body that are involved in regulating many of our critical biological processes. These processes include sleep, memory, mood, and metabolism. Because CBD stimulates the endocannabinoid system, it is believed to help promote homeostasis in the body, reducing the sensation of pain and inhibiting inflammation.

Due to its purported anti-inflammatory properties, many individuals use CBD products to relieve pain from things like arthritis as well as general muscle soreness. Another popular reason cited for its use is to reduce stress and anxiety. Others report that it improves sleep.

 

Does it work?

The jury is still out, primarily due to a lack of sound, scientific research (e.g., randomized controlled trials, which are the gold standard when it comes to research). Many experts point out that most CBD product claims are based on anecdotal evidence, as it is still an unregulated industry at this time. The strongest scientific evidence is for CBD’s effectiveness in treating two rare but devastating forms of childhood epilepsy. In July 2018, the FDA approved the first prescription medicine (Epidiolex) with CBD as its active ingredient to help those patients manage seizures.

Scientists admit though that one of the key reasons for the lack of scientific evidence is due to government rules that have prevented federal money from being used to research CBD’s possible health benefits (more on that in the next section). The good news is some of those regulations are being lifted and just last year, the National Institutes of Health awarded $140 million toward cannabis research, with $15 million dedicated to CBD studies.

 

Is it legal?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question as there are different laws and regulations at the state and federal levels. It starts with the fact that for decades, federal law did not differentiate hemp from other cannabis plants. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act banned cannabis of any kind. This recently changed with successful passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which essentially allows farmers to grow hemp and legalizes hemp derivatives like CBD. It also removes CBD extracted from hemp from the DEA’s list of “Schedule 1 drugs” (whereas marijuana and THC remain on the list). These changes should allow for more research, BUT now that the FDA has approved a CBD-based prescription drug, it is recommending that any product that markets CBD for health purposes should go through its rigorous official drug approval process. And we know that that can mean years of research and scrutiny before products make it to market.

In addition, the FDA has indicated that when CBD is added to food, it is then considered a “food additive” – and the FDA has not yet approved CBD for that purpose. Unfortunately, this has left health officials in many states in the position where they feel the need to crack down on food and drinks with CBD. The good news in all of this is that it is pushing the FDA to determine how to regulate CBD and clarify the current confusion over its legal and regulatory status. So, stay tuned for a more definitive answer regarding the legality of CBD products.

 

Bottom line

I am glad that my neighbor’s inquiry prompted me to learn more about CBD and its potential health benefits. I think I am more open to trying it to see if it helps with either stress relief and possibly joint pain (my knees and hips are starting to show their age). However, I plan to discuss it with my physician at my annual physical this fall, just to get her professional opinion about it and to make sure there are no reasons I should not take it.

Below are some general recommendations to consider before you try CBD:

  • It is always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider before taking any kind of supplements that are not regulated by the FDA. You want to ensure that CBD products will not interfere with any other medications (prescription or over the counter) you are taking. You also want to be sure CBD products will not aggravate any existing medical conditions.

 

  • Do your research on the quality of the products and pay particular attention to the actual contents of the product. Many online products that were tested had less CBD than advertised and some had no CBD at all. You can ask to see the Certificates of Analysis (COAs), which provide results of tests related to the actual contents of the products. Any reputable company should be willing to share those results.

 

Sources:

Consumer Reports article October 2018 issue – “New Hope for Pain Relief?”

Consumer Reports article May 2019 issue – “CBD Goes Mainstream”

Harvard Medical School Health Blog: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476

Green Compass Global: https://greencompassglobal.com/The-Science/?mitem=28279

Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/

ACEs and Resilience

This spring, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” at my daughter’s high school. It was co-sponsored by Public Schools First NC, a statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused solely on pre-K – 12 public education issues. The documentary addresses the link between toxic stress caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the increased risk it puts children at for chronic disease, homelessness, prison time, and even early death.

I was somewhat familiar with the topic of ACEs before I watched the film, but I have to admit the data and information shared was eye-opening and thought-provoking. For those not familiar, Adverse Childhood Experiences can include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Parental separation/divorce
  • Incarcerated relative

The more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely he or she is to suffer from things like heart disease, diabetes, poor academic achievement and substance abuse later in life. Children who experience four or more ACEs are at greatest risk for these negative health outcomes. Experiencing multiple ACEs can cause what is known as toxic stress, or excessive activation of the body’s stress-response system. This can lead to long-term wear and tear on the body and brain. One way to think about it is as if you were to rev a car engine for days or weeks at a time. Imagine what that would do to your engine.

When children experience this toxic stress, they are essentially in survival mode. Self-protection becomes the priority, thereby affecting their social skills and their ability to learn. This can lead to difficulties in school. In addition, the increase in stress hormones can suppress the immune system, leaving children susceptible to illness and poor health in general.

Although exposure to ACEs is harmful, the good news is that the damage is not irreparable – and there are ways to reduce the effects of ACEs and toxic stress. Obviously, the primary approach should be to reduce the sources of stress in children’s lives, by meeting their basic needs or providing services in the community to help avoid exposure to these adverse experiences. However, for children who have already been exposed, strategies such as professional counseling, meditation, physical exercise, and spending time in nature have been shown to counteract the effects of ACEs. In addition, studies have shown that building resilience helps reduce the effects as well. Resilience is the ability to adjust or bounce back when bad things happen, and it is a skill that can be learned – by children and adults.

I have to admit that my interest in this topic and the documentary is really two-fold: understanding how ACEs can affect youth in my community but also how they may play a role in the lives of the adult clients whom I coach. Many of the clients I work with are often overweight or obese and may also have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Oftentimes, these adults are struggling with anxiety and/or depression as well. It is highly possible that these physical and mental health conditions are a result of ACEs that these individuals endured in their youth.

My experience watching this documentary and learning more about ACEs has prompted me to think about how I can possibly address this topic in my work as a coach. To be honest, helping individuals heal from the trauma of ACEs and toxic stress is really more appropriate for therapy or counseling, which is outside my scope of practice. In addition, coaching differs from counseling in that it is more focused on exploring the present and the future (e.g., through goals and action steps) rather than investigating and healing the past. However, as a coach, I think it would be helpful to know if a client did experience one or more ACEs in the past. It could open the door to introducing evidence-based practices such as mindfulness and meditation, which are helpful tools for behavior change as well as building resilience. It could be a win-win for the client – helping them heal from trauma in their past while also moving them forward in the direction of their vision and goals for optimal health and wellbeing.

I plan to explore ways that I can broach this topic if a client shares information that leads me to believe they may have experienced toxic stress due to ACEs. Sometimes clients offer this information outright. Others may drop more subtle hints about their past, allowing me to test the waters for further exploration with a gentle inquiry to share more if they are willing and able. Clients may or may not wish to elaborate, but if they do, I now feel more prepared to explore the connection between ACES and current health concerns – as well as strategies to counteract the damage that may have already been done.

If you are interested in learning more about ACEs, below are some resources that may be helpful:

CDC website about ACEs

Infographic: The Truth about ACEs

Finding Your ACE Score

Going Blue

As shared in a previous post, I completed the first level of Nia training, the White Belt Intensive, in March 2017. Nia White Belt teaches the Art of Sensation, which means living and functioning in your body while guided by sensation. It is very much centered on body awareness: learning to listen to your body and moving in a way that feels good and brings pleasure. Nia Blue Belt builds upon that foundation through the Art of Communication, which focuses on relationship and intimacy – being with ourselves and others. Successful relationships and teaching come from learning to communicate intimately, mastering both speaking and listening skills.

Finding my voice

I had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to attend Blue Belt once I learned that the focus was on communication. This may come as a surprise, but communication is something I have struggled with most of my life – despite all of my education, training and professional experience in that arena. On the surface, I think I do a decent job with both written and verbal communication, especially in my professional roles. But when it comes down to speaking the truth – my truth – I often stumble.

More than once I have sought out “assertiveness training” to help find that balance between passivity and aggression. The first time I attended such a program I was really excited…until the instructor indicated that learning to be assertive meant being okay with some people not liking you. That didn’t sit well – after all, I was a recent college grad and “fitting in” was still an important part of my social experience. In the years since then, I have experienced several situations in which I did not speak up for myself out of fear of hurting someone else’s feelings…only to find that I was the one who wound up hurt due to my silence. My growth in this area is still very much a work in progress, which is why I was excited to jump into Blue Belt.

On the first day, we were asked to write down what we hoped to receive from participating in Blue Belt training. Here is what I wrote:

I want to be comfortable using my voice on and off the dance floor. I want to be heard without stepping on others and without being stepped on either.

I felt both anxiety and anticipation when I wrote those words. I longed for them to be true, but I also know myself and the lingering doubt and fear I face when it comes to speaking up. Thus, I entered the week with a sense of realistic optimism, hoping it would be the start of a journey to finding my voice. Now, after six days of immersion into the 13 Blue Belt principles, I can say with confidence that it is.

It feels near impossible to convey the power and full picture of what I experienced last week, but I hope the following highlights give you just a taste of what it meant to “go Blue”:

  • I had the great fortune to spend the week with 12 beautiful and courageous Blue Belt sisters, as well as our amazing Nia trainer, Winalee Zeeb, and fearless producer/trainer, Kate Finlayson. Although we came from four different states and diverse backgrounds, we bonded instantly, I think in part due to our maturity (we are all 40+) and the willingness to share openly and honestly from the moment we met.

 

  • I gained a valuable tool around body-centered, mindful communication. We defined communication as a two-way exchange of energy – one person is transmitting (speaking) and the other is receiving (listening). The goal is to communicate with 100% clarity and that often means slowing down, especially when you are the speaker. We have a tool in Nia called RAW – Relaxed (body)-Alert (mind)-Waiting (spirit). In White Belt, we learned how to use this method to listen to the music for each song in a routine. In Blue Belt, we expanded its use to everyday communication, whether in our personal or professional relationships. Taking a moment to pause before we speak – simple, yet so effective.

 

  • One of the simplest yet profound concepts we explored is the power of three in relationships. In any given relationship, there is the self, the other and the relationship itself. The self and other both bring things to the relationship and also have needs to be met. The idea is to establish peaceful and healthy relationships by creating clear agreements based on the needs of the relationship. In many ways, this is the art of compromise, but for me this principle provided a clear road map to help reach such compromise. And once again, it can easily apply to both personal and professional relationships.

 

  • The final takeaway that I want to share is that of applying the 7 cycles of a Nia class to your everyday life. I created this chart to show how the cycles are applied in class and how you could apply them to your day as well:

 

Cycle

Nia class Your day
Cycle 1: Set Your Focus + Intent Where you place your attention during class and the desired outcome you want to achieve Where you place your attention for the day and the desired outcome (set it before you get out of bed in the morning)
Cycle 2: Step In A way to leave behind distractions as you start the class (usually a physical gesture) A way to help remove distractions before you start your day (e.g., meditation, journaling or other grounding practice)
Cycle 3: Warm Up Gentle movement to get energy flowing in the 13 joints Some gentle movement or mental exercise to help get energy flowing (e.g., walking, stretching, or reviewing your schedule for the day)
Cycle 4: Get Moving Dynamically moving in the space, varying movement and intensity to condition the whole body Moving through your day with awareness of your peak energy times and aligning tasks to them; varying your work tasks to help sustain your energy
Cycle 5: Cool Down Decreasing exertion to lower heart rate and prepare to move to the floor Winding down your day in a way that allows you to prepare for a restful night’s sleep
Cycle 6: FloorPlay Energy of “play” guides structured and unstructured movement on the floor Moving to the floor for some gentle movement (e.g., stretching) or play (your choice!)
Cycle 7: Step Out Physical gesture to consciously quiet down, center, self-reflect and prepare for next activity Intentional gesture to quiet down as you close out your day (e.g., meditation, journaling, listening to soft music, reading for pleasure)

Some people may think Nia is just an exercise class, but it is so much deeper than that. It truly is a lifestyle and a practice that promotes physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. I left Blue Belt inspired to find more ways to integrate Nia with my health coaching. Stay tuned to see what unfolds!

Click here to learn more about Nia!

Cross-pollination

Given the “pollenpocalypse” we’ve experienced here in North Carolina, you might think this post is related to spring and how to survive allergy season. I covered that topic last year so click here if you need to review those tips. Instead, I want to share two recent experiences that demonstrate the power of cross-pollination and collaboration.

The non-botanical definition of cross-pollination is “a sharing or interchange of knowledge, ideas, etc., as for mutual enrichment; cross-fertilization.” The term first popped up for me a month or so ago as my fellow Triangle Nia teachers and I were planning our annual spring retreat on the NC coast. The retreat involves a teacher jam, where we all select two to three songs to teach when we dance together. Every Nia class has a focus and intent and the jam is no different. A few teachers tossed out ideas related to spring and the idea of enriching one another through cross-pollination. With a little finessing, we eventually came up with the following:

Focus: Visioning how we enrich each other with cross-pollination with the intent of buzzing into the magic of limitless possibilities.

This focus and intent became the theme for the whole retreat and manifested itself in a number of different ways. The weekend involved a great deal of sharing personal stories of growth and development, both in our roles as Nia teachers as well as other personal and professional pursuits. It was amazing to see how seven women from various backgrounds found ways to connect and share knowledge and advice with the goal of nurturing one another.

I was grateful to be on the receiving end of this cross-pollination. At one point I shared with the group some of the challenges I’ve had around my desire to engage in creative writing. I currently have a couple of projects underway, but I tend to work on them in fits and starts. I’ll have a spark of inspiration that translates into just a paragraph or two on the page and then I’m not sure where to go from there. As much as I enjoy writing, it can also be a painfully slow process for me. I’m not sure how or when it started, but I developed the habit of editing as I write…which any good writer will tell you is a no-no.

Enter Robin, fellow Nia teacher who also happens to have degrees in Creative Writing and English. She shared a story with me that led to an “a-ha” moment. It had to do with the composition styles of Beethoven and Mozart. Apparently, Beethoven experienced a great deal of angst as he composed – he would scribble a few notes, then scratch some out and start over. It was almost as if he had to pull the notes out of his mind, one at a time, and perfect them on the page before moving on. On the other hand, Mozart would essentially “vomit” an entire composition onto the page and then go back and tweak it until he was satisfied. Such different methods but both ending in musical masterpieces. The amazing part was that I hadn’t even mentioned my own writing style to Robin before she shared this story, but I am clearly more like Beethoven than Mozart.

Robin had a couple of suggestions for me to make writing a little easier and hopefully more enjoyable. She recommended meditating before I write and more importantly, she advised either turning the monitor off completely or lowering the brightness so that I can barely see what is on the screen. The idea behind this approach is to just get the words and thoughts out of my head without the need to edit as I write. Genius! I am definitely willing to give it a try although I am curious about how it will work if I can’t see what I am writing. (Confession: I did not try it as I was writing this post, but I do plan to give it a shot when I work on my other writing project later this morning. Baby steps!)

Given the gift I received from Robin during this retreat, I hope that something I said or did had a similar impact on one or more of my Nia sisters. I did experience the benefits of mutual enrichment in my next venture, which was a workshop I attended in Philadelphia last week. For the last 18 months or so, I have been part of a group of health coaches who contribute items (questions) for the national Health & Wellness Coach Certifying Exam. We draft the items individually and submit them to the organization that administers the exam. We receive suggested edits to address on our own, then we come together as a group to finalize the items, ensuring that they are suitable for use on the exam.

You might be surprised to learn that there is a whole science behind constructing test items. I had no idea initially how challenging the task could really be, but I have learned so much being part of this process. Even with feedback from the testing organization, I sometimes struggled to format the questions appropriately. Thus, I relished the opportunity to go through the editing process with other health coaches.

We came together for two and half days to tackle about 125 exam items. Some items were easier to finalize then others. For example, there were some simple recall questions related to general health and wellness content, such as risk factors for certain chronic conditions. The more difficult items involved scenario-based questions testing the examinees’ knowledge and application of various coaching skills. I noticed that my items were quite wordy compared to my colleagues, so I appreciated their ability to help tighten up the scenarios I drafted. They seemed to have a knack for getting the same idea across in two sentences versus the four or five I had written. I think I contributed to the process by helping bring clarity to the central idea the item authors wanted to test.

It took working through several items before the group hit our stride, but then it became clear how we each brought our unique perspectives to the process. In the end, the exam items were stronger as a whole based on the input from each group member. I also gained some insight into how to draft stronger questions next time around, which will hopefully help the writing process go a little more quickly in the future.

I think the bottom line on cross-pollination is that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. I know it seems cliché, but it is hard to deny when you see the enhanced outcome based on the contributions of many versus just one.

Engaging Consumers in Health and Wellness

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of presenting at the North Carolina Association for Healthcare Quality (NCAHQ) Annual Conference in Durham. I have been a member of NCAHQ since 2004 and I served on the Board of Directors from 2011-2018. It was fun to attend the conference as a member as well as one of the invited speakers.

As many of you know, my education and training are rooted in health education. However, I spent most of my career working in healthcare quality improvement before returning to my health and wellness roots about five years ago when I became a health coach.  I have sometimes struggled to figure out how to meld the two worlds I’ve lived in professionally for the past 20 years, but I think I managed to do so with my presentation topic: Innovative Ways to Engage Consumers in Their Health and Wellness. I thought I would share some of the highlights from my presentation.

Health 2.0: Consumer-Driven Health Market

My presentation began by making the business case for the rise in consumerism in healthcare. As just about everyone knows, the US spends more money on healthcare (as a percentage of the gross domestic product or GDP) than most developed nations YET we have some of the worst health outcomes, including life expectancy. In addition, about 80% of the spending in healthcare is tied to the treatment of chronic conditions that are rooted in lifestyle choices. You know the list: heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and of course, obesity. These conditions are the most common and costly – but also the most preventable – of all health conditions.

With the rise of high deductible healthcare plans, which many employers are now turning to as a way to help reduce healthcare costs, consumers are now feeling the pinch in their own pockets. A physician office visit that may have incurred just a $25 copay in the past may now cost upwards of $100. This shift in the health insurance industry has been a wake-up call for many consumers to take a more active role in managing their overall health and wellbeing. We are also seeing the rise of “lifestyle medicine” – the use of evidence-based lifestyle approaches (e.g., a healthy diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, etc.) to prevent, treat and in some cases reverse the progression of the chronic conditions noted above. Healthcare is shifting (albeit much slower than many of us would like) from a sick-care model to one with a greater emphasis on promoting health and wellness through preventive services – with individuals taking a more proactive role in their health and wellness decisions.

Consumer Engagement Strategies

I prefaced my presentation by noting that my own passion for health and wellness grew out of my experience being overweight in my youth. It wasn’t until a good friend encouraged me to play sports in high school that I lost weight, gained confidence and realized that my behavior choices could directly impact my health – positively or negatively. This epiphany turned into a desire to help others on their own health and wellness journey. However, I also shared one of the first (and hardest) lessons I learned from my early days as a health educator – that not everyone is intrinsically motivated to make healthy choices or take care of themselves. Sometimes it takes a little extra incentive to get them engaged in the behaviors we know are linked to better health outcomes. I chose to share some of the more innovative strategies being used to help engage consumers in healthy lifestyle behaviors:

  1. Wearable Technology: A blanket term for electronics that can be worn on the body either as an accessory or as part of the material used in clothing. The most common format is the ubiquitous fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch. However, there are some new products on the market including the Spree Smartcap and the Hexoskin Smart Shirt. The major selling feature of all of these items is the ability to connect to the internet, enabling the exchange of data between the device/product and a network. This has resulted in the user having access to a whole range of information about their health, such as steps taken, calories burned, heart rate, and sleep, at the touch of a button.

 

  1. Gamification: Essentially, the application of gaming elements and digital game design techniques to everyday problems including business dilemmas, social challenges or lifestyle behaviors. The idea is that gamified services tap into our natural desires for competition, achievement and status – and of course, the desire to have fun! One of the more common formats is smartphone apps and I chose to highlight a few including Plant Nanny (to help increase water intake), mySugr (to help diabetics manage blood sugar levels), and Stop, Breathe and Think (to support one’s meditation practice). All of these apps strike a balance between information and entertainment, but most importantly, are designed to help the user achieve sustainable change around the desired health behavior.

 

  1. Wellness Incentive Programs: Many employers and health insurance companies have been offering wellness programs for a long time so the idea itself may not be that innovative, but what has evolved are the types of incentives offered to individuals. In the past, employees or customers were often rewarded with small, health and wellness-related products such as water bottles, sweat towels or exercise bands. Then, many programs shifted to rewarding participants with gift cards to their favorite retailers. Today, we are seeing the rise of benefits-based incentives, where achieving a certain level of points for engaging in wellness activities or programs translates into a reduction in health insurance premiums and/or an employer contribution to Health Savings Accounts (HSA). Although these benefits-based incentives are considerably more expensive to implement, studies indicate that they do increase employee engagement in wellness programs.

Helping Individuals Find Their “Why”

I was the final speaker at the two-day conference and in years past, the final presentation has traditionally served as a way to end the conference on a positive note and provide attendees with some inspiration as they return to the workplace. Knowing how hard healthcare quality and safety professionals work every day, I wanted to give them a chance to focus on their own health and wellbeing. Thus, I dedicated the last 15 minutes or so of my presentation to lead attendees through the vision and values exercise I use with my coaching clients. Although we did not have time to take a deep dive into this exercise, I wanted to at least get them started thinking about their own vision of optimal health and wellbeing. Oftentimes, healthcare professionals tend to neglect their own health as they are so focused on taking care of others. This was a gentle reminder of the need to take care of themselves first so that they can continue to take care of others.


If you work in healthcare in North Carolina and are not already a member of NCAHQ, I encourage you to visit their website to learn more about the association and the work of its members to promote excellence, professionalism and continuous improvement in healthcare quality across the state.

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Desire and Discipline

This week, I had a meeting of the Mastermind group I belong to with three other health coaches. Last summer, we participated in a visioning retreat in which I unearthed this creative itch that needed to be scratched and it manifested as the desire to engage in creative writing. The coach I paired up with during the retreat noted how passionate I was when I spoke about writing…and so I decided it was time to do something about it.

To make a long story short, I spent several months last fall diving into the writing process. I compiled all of my ideas and inspirations into one notebook. I choose one of the story ideas and I started writing. I blocked time on my calendar each week to do so. I was going strong for a while and then things slowed down over the holidays. Things picked up again for a short time in January after one of the other health coaches turned me on to Masterclass.com and I signed up for the writing class with author Judy Blume. I was inspired by her story and appreciated her advice about the writing process. But gradually over the next month or so, I found myself devoting less and less time to writing. There was always some other pressing project or assignment that needed to be worked on and I stopped making time in my schedule for writing.

I shared my lack of progress with my Mastermind group this week and lamented the fact that my writing had pretty much ceased, although I was not ready to give up on it completely. I questioned though how something for which I had displayed so much passion last summer could fizzle so quickly. One of the other coaches gently shared with me that in her experience with creative professionals, including writers, it takes both desire and discipline to accomplish their creative pursuits. And that it is the discipline that keeps things going when the desire may be lacking.

Ping! The light bulb went off and I realized I had completely lost the discipline when it came to my writing. I was not carving out protected time to devote to this endeavor. In fact, it made me realize that I have not been doing a great job in general with time management, particularly on the days when I don’t work at my part time job. Those days are supposed to be for my other professional pursuits, including my private wellness business, my writing, and my Nia practice. I had started to let personal appointments and errands creep into those days instead of waiting until the weekend. Fridays, which are typically open for me and a great day to devote to creative pursuits like writing, had gradually started to look like Saturdays. I might catch up on email and perhaps draft a blog post, but I’d pretty much call it a day by lunch time and essentially waste the rest of the afternoon tooling around on social media or watching reruns of Friends with my daughter after she got home from school. Not that spending time with my daughter isn’t a good thing, but the TV could wait until after I finished my work.

What I am essentially trying to say is that when I take a good, hard look at my schedule, I have the time to focus on my writing. I just haven’t made it a priority. I have been letting the desire (or recent lack thereof) drive the process, rather than building in the discipline to help sustain my effort regardless of whether the desire is present or not. One of the suggestions I have seen is to write every day, even if it’s just a bunch of gibberish or a stream of consciousness. Oftentimes, we may not feel motivated to work on a task but once we get going, the inspiration comes.

The discussion about my writing was a good wake-up call for me. I am going to take a step back and re-evaluate how best to use my time in order to accomplish all of the things that I have said are important to me, including writing. It may be that I am trying to do too much and if that is the case, I will need to reprioritize and choose the ones that mean the most. Or I may find that there is ample time for all of my pursuits once I establish a little more structure to my schedule and remove some of the “time sinks” that have derailed my efforts in the past. Either way, I am feeling renewed excitement about the possibilities.

 

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