Health Services, MedCity Influencers, Employee Benefits

The role of coaching in motivating and creating personal accountability for better health

Leveraging dedicated personal coaches and individualized content are the key ingredients of a successful health and wellness program.

We are a people of quick fixes and magic bullets. We want what we want, and we want it now. The same can be said when it comes to achieving health improvements. We expect fast results with minimum effort. Weight-loss diets are a great example. Who hasn’t heard of or tried the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet, Keto, Biggest Loser and various cleanses? And that’s just the tip of the quick-fix iceberg. These fads are designed to promote fast weight-loss, but most of the weight lost is water. Once a person returns to regular eating habits, the weight quickly returns and often brings added pounds. In fact, studies show that frequent “yo-yo” dieting can actually cause weight gain and poorer overall health, including potential damage to the cardiovascular system. In short, a quick-fix approach to losing weight or improving one’s health can lead to a vicious cycle that lasts a lifetime.

The Missing Link
When individuals hit the easy button, they’re missing out on the benefits of taking it slow and having a coach for personal accountability and, ultimately, success. And without motivation and accountability, any efforts to change their lives—whether it’s enhancing their health, improving their finances, changing habits, or even learning new skills—will likely fall short. Think of professional athletes. A cross-country runner can’t train for a couple of days, then compete in a national competition. Not only is she likely to drop out of the race, but she’s also at high risk of injury. Likewise, a concert pianist can’t take months off and expect to maintain the same level of playing as he did previously. It takes ongoing motivation, effort and regular practice.

Personal motivation and accountability is especially critical in achieving and maintaining optimal health. In some ways, the journey is even more complex than other endeavors as each person has a unique physical, mental, and genetic makeup. Someone predisposed to diabetes needs to be diligent about avoiding sugar and simple carbohydrates. Someone without this predisposition may be able to indulge more often without a significant impact. Genetic makeup can also make one more prone to certain cravings and may cause a person to metabolize fat in different ways. The environment also impacts a person’s health status. For example, studies show that unhealthy habits can run in families. A person who grows up in a household with a supply of chips, cookies, ice cream, and other unhealthy snacks always available is more likely to adopt that lifestyle as they grow older.

Maintaining personal motivation and accountability for changing habits is essential to success. But what is the best way to develop personal accountability? Personal accountability is not to be confused with willpower. Personal accountability is a mindset and learned behavior that improves over time. Willpower is emotion-based and difficult to maintain over the long-term.

The Role of Coaching in Motivating and Creating Personal Accountability
Well-known motivational speaker Tony Robbins believes that high achievers often embrace coaching and mentorship as part of their strategy to achieve personal growth and accountability. He explains that coaches help in many different ways. First, they are unbiased so they speak the truth about a person’s situation and opportunities for improvement. Second, a coach can identify an individual’s “true potential,” which helps them build on their strengths and develop new skills. Third, a coach can help an individual develop an action plan and then provides guidance and encouragement along the journey. While Robbins isn’t speaking specifically about health improvement, the same benefits apply. According to the American Psychological Association, “Having someone with whom to share your struggles and successes makes the work easier and the mission less intimidating.”

Coaching for sustainable habit change starts with small changes and continues over numerous months, even years. One challenge for weight loss is that many regain the lost weight and more. However, if the weight loss can be maintained for more than 2 years, it becomes more permanent. One study showed that individuals who had kept their weight off for 2 years or more had markedly increased odds of continuing to maintain their weight over the following year. Effective coaching programs that can deliver long-term results are focused on sustainable changes and an ongoing relationship with the coach.

An Effective Approach to Coaching
Many people confuse coaching with teaching. And while teaching may be a part of it, coaching goes much farther. Teachers typically present a pre-established curriculum for individuals to follow. This is especially the case for some health and wellness programs offered by employers to their employees. Everyone is given the same information in hopes that something will resonate with the employee and facilitate action and change. But this type of one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t take into account each person’s unique personality, genetics, and health goals.  Try to think of a course you took in school that changed the course of each of your daily activities – I can’t think of one either.

Some health and wellness programs try to encourage personal accountability through team challenges, group discussions, and educational webinars. But these cannot match the effectiveness of a dedicated coach—one that’s been matched to the individual based on personality and preferences – working on an individualized habit change plan.

Best Practices for Creating Motivation and Personal Accountability for Health Improvement
The best health and wellness programs are those that include motivation and personal accountability as an essential component on the path to disease prevention and habit change. This includes the proven elements listed below.

  • Designed around each person’s unique needs, personality, and preferences
  • Focuses on creating small habit changes that last
  • Sets realistic goals that are achievable
  • Personalized to the person’s lifestyle
  • Includes a dedicated coach to help with motivation and accountability
  • Focuses on being healthier, not just losing weight

The Bottom Line
Traditional programs are based on a one-size-fits-all approach where every participant is given the same information in a limited number of formats. They’re designed like a lesson plan or class you’d have in school, not around the individual. It’s normal for employees to jump on board when a new health and well-being program is offered, but participation often falls off after a few months. Part of this could be due to “quick fix” expectations. Or they may just get bored and lose motivation. The bottom line is that any program that places a curriculum first is likely to fail without the participant’s ability to become motivated and develop and embrace personal accountability. Leveraging dedicated personal coaches and individualized content are the key ingredients.

Photo: raw, Getty Images

Jeff, founder and CEO, Newtopia, is a health innovator with an extensive entrepreneurial track record in preventive health. Prior to founding Newtopia, Jeff was Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Cleveland Clinic Canada, a collaboration between the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Canyon Ranch. Before that, he served as Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Life Screening Centers, a cancer screening and prevention company. Prior to Life Screening, Jeff was a Co-Founder and Head of Operations of Genetic Diagnostics Inc., an early stage biotechnology company commercializing a new genetic diagnostic testing platform. Jeff has a joint Juris Doctorate and Masters of Business Administration (JD/MBA) from Osgoode Hall and the Schulich School of Business in Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western University. Jeff is a global thought leader and expert on integrative, hyper-personalized, and highly engaging strategies to deliver proven, scalable and sustainable behavior change.

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