Wellness doesn’t work.
There, I said it – it’s out there. No need to skirt around the issue here.
I’ve worked in fitness and wellness for 7 years. We are getting better wellness programs, bigger budgets, more people to support us, and yet the health of our society continues to decline. Do incentives work? Sure, for a little bit. Sometimes you hit someone hard and they make a lifestyle change, and then they become the new face of wellness or weight loss for your program. Does personal training work? Sure, for a little bit. It motivates people and gives them accountability, until they get tired, or bored, or busy.
The only way that anyone has any success is if they find some sort of internal motivation. Wellness, or fitness professionals, can act as the catalyst, but the art of sustaining a behavior lies within the self. It’s the transtheoretical model of behavior change at work. Wellness tries to hit all of the points: a flyer becomes precontemplation, a presentation becomes contemplation, the start date of an incentive program becomes preparation, the program itself becomes action. Maintenance is incorporated into some incentive programs, but because programs can’t last forever, the behavior stops when the incentive does. The rat stops hitting the button when the treat stops coming.
The only way to get anyone into a maintenance stage of health is to transition their external motivation to internal motivation. This doesn’t come through education or motivation. This comes from feeling. Some people are internally motivated naturally by the passing away of a relative and foreseeing the same fate for themselves. Some are internally motivated by the positive experience gained while doing something for external motivation (ie, wellness). And some may never get there, what with the plethora of the more immediate gratification of an unhealthy snack or the pleasure of a sedentary evening after a stressful day of work.
What I take away is this: you cannot – and you can never – help anyone to change their behavior forever. In fact, few people exist that you CAN help. The desire and determination has to come from the self. The only real things we can do is assist in the beginning stages, and hope to lead someone to a place where they feel the rewards of a healthy lifestyle.
And the only way I know how to do this is through example, and through encouraging those to get in touch with themselves. I firmly believe that we all have the capacity within ourselves to KNOW, instinctively, what is healthy and what is not (and what is moral and what is not, as well). And I firmly believe that, when considerable notice is paid to the self, healthy behaviors are infinitely more rewarding – physically AND mentally – than unhealthy behaviors. I believe that an honest approach to your life can not only help your health, it can help your relationships, your honesty, your radiance, your overall being. I believe that a healthy person is healthy in EVERY aspect of their lives – not a model of perfection, but a model of well-roundedness. I believe that healthy means balanced and you cannot be a fully realized human being if you participate in mean behaviors.
And education will not help with that. I constantly ask myself, how can I improve? What do I want to do with the rest of my life? How am I able to best help others?
The answer, for a long time, was getting a doctorate. Telling the world and fighting the government for an improved food system, for better education of the public.
But, I’m not sure that’s correct. If what I’m noticing is true, the only way to truly help is to encourage and help each individual find themselves, underneath the pile of work, underneath the deadlines and the soccer games and the fad diets. And that comes with, perhaps more education, but a completely different education system than the one I have spent my entire life within. I am ready to change the world, slowly, one person at a time.