Making healthy lifestyle choices has a profound impact on our overall health. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising are examples of opportunities we have to make good choices for our health every day. However, it’s not always easy to make the right choice.
Poor habits, hectic daily lives, and other personal barriers make it hard to align our actual behaviors with what’s best for our health.
The good news is, you can change your behavior, and we can help. Your Vera provider and Whole Health Coach are experts trained in supporting behavior change. To find out what behavior change is and what it can do for your health, we talked with Victoria Andrews, nurse practitioner and behavior change expert. Here’s what she had to say.
Why is behavior change an important consideration when it comes to our health?
Victoria: Behavior change helps us understand where someone is in their health journey. When we’re chatting with patients about their current health, we also talk about where they want their health to be. The path between where they are and where they want to be is behavior change. So, evaluating behavior change is a sort of litmus test of how important something is to a patient. Once we understand where they’re at in their journey, we can work out goals to reach that endpoint of better health.
Why is it hard for people to change their behaviors?
Victoria: When we're talking about changing behaviors, there are so many barriers that can arise and prevent patients from being successful. These can be family issues, work issues, or personal issues like self-doubt. Changing behavior is very multifaceted, so we work with patients to unpack what their barriers are, how important changing is to them, and what small changes they can make to start getting from point A to point B, and eventually to their ultimate goal, whatever that may be.
Why does behavior change work?
Victoria: Because the patient drives it. Providers and health coaches work to understand where a patient is at, whether they’re ready to start changing their behavior immediately, or they’re just feeling comfortable talking about it. We support whatever stage they’re in and go from there, recognizing that behavior change isn’t linear. It ebbs and flows, and we’re there to help them work through any barriers they have.
It works because a patient decides to change. As they start accomplishing their goals, their confidence builds so they can achieve more goals, and ultimately get to where they want to be. That positive feedback loop is also what makes behavior change such an effective long-term solution.
What sources of motivation can help people change their behaviors on their own?
Victoria: A lot of times, we see people recognize behavior change in someone they know. Maybe it’s a coworker, or family member, or friend. But, they see someone making positive changes and think, “If they can do it, I can do it.” People will also recall how they changed their behavior successfully in the past and build off of those experiences to inspire new behavior changes. And, I think sometimes it comes out of conversations with people that support you, whether it’s a friend, a family member, or your provider. Those people can help inspire behavior change because they act as a source of accountability when you commit to changing your behavior.
How can a provider or a health coach help patients change their behavior?
Victoria: Providers and health coaches each have unique roles when it comes to empowering patients to change their behavior. Providers ask lots of open-ended questions to find out a patient’s primary health issues and core values, and to understand why changing their behavior is important to them. Providers also ask about historical patterns of change with questions like: What’s worked in the past? What hasn’t? Why is changing important to you now? The answers to those questions help providers make recommendations to a patient and their health coach about the best approaches for setting smart goals.
A health coach takes it to the next level by digging deeper into past experiences and brainstorming potential goals that a patient wants to achieve. Health coaches support their patients by teaching them to set smart, realistic, achievable goals.