Social Cognitive Theory and How I Gave Up Diet Coke

Posted on Aug 29, 2012 | 0 comments

Last week I decided to try once more to get Diet Coke out of my life. She has been my best friend since I was a child. I would drink her at breakfast while I watched I Love Lucy. I’d drink her at lunch during Days of Our Lives. I’d drink her every chance I got! I loved her. And if she was good enough for Paula Abdul, then by God she’s good enough for me! But as I write more about healthy choices and work with clients dedicated to healthier lifestyles, I have begun scrutinizing my own unhealthy behaviors. And looking down at five cans of Diet Coke in my trash can at the end of the workday started me wondering, “Is this too much Diet Coke?” Last weekend, my sister brought the kids to Atlanta for a trip to LegoLand. When she ordered a Coke Zero at lunch, her partner gave her a look of disapproval that confused me. “What’s so bad about Coke Zero,” I thought? Then the thought occurred to me again – “You probably drink too much Diet Coke. Think about how little water you drink every day. You know you SHOULD drink more water, right? Less Diet Coke won’t kill you.” I asked my sister why she was getting the stink-eye of disapproval after she proclaimed how LONG it had been since she had her last soda. Apparently, their home has become a soda-free zone! The thought was revolutionary to me. A SODA-FREE zone?!?!? We can do that? Can we still be Americans if we DO? Being the competitive little brother that I am, I thought “I can totally do that too.” And so began my journey to a life without soda. Many factors affected this new behavior—my personal mission to live a healthier life; negative stigmas associated with artificial sweeteners; and seeing that my own sister’s family had been successful in their attempts to drink less soda. As I studied The Social Cognitive Theory this week, I was pleased to observe that it so fully addresses the broad range of complexities affecting behavioral change. It states that there is a reciprocal relationship between three key factors affecting change—the individual, the environment and behaviors. As individuals, we are a sum of our thoughts and emotions. Each of our brains processes our learning experiences and attaches emotions to situations differently. Each of us has different capacities to take action based on what we know. For example, aspartame and artificial sweeteners found in diet sodas have been widely linked to cancer in lab rats. I know that poses a risk – even though technically, I’m a Lab Monkey. But without that knowledge, I would not feel compelled to change my behavior. Environmental factors must also be considered. For instance, it’s harder for many poorer inner city communities to take advantage of fresh produce due to the lack of grocery stores with healthy options in their neighborhoods. Even the most savvy person with the best of intentions to adapt healthy eating habits will find it difficult if the environment is not conducive to their success. In this case, both economic and geographic factors create an environment that works against the individual. Environmental factors can also be social, political, and cultural in nature. And finally, behavior is no longer seen as simply an end result in this model. Behavior is actually seen from a broader perspective than just the individual. Here, it is seen in its collective power. Behaviors of larger groups and cultures actually creates behavior change on an individual level. Consider the number of gluten-free...

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Theory of Reasoned Action or “Will You Love Me, Will I Feel Better, and Can I Even DO This?”

Posted on Aug 16, 2012 | 0 comments

  I’ve been pouring over articles about the scientific Theory of Reasoned Action in preparation for this blog post. And as a communicator, I’ve found all of the scientific jargon leaving a bit to be desired. I often noticed I was sitting, face in hands, starring at the computer screen and wondering how I was going to help my readers get this theory. So, let’s agree to just speak plainly. No jargon. No fancy scientific terms. Just good ol’ lay-person words. This, the second theory I’m reviewing in my series on behavior model theories, is actually quite simple. The Theory of Reasoned Action assumes that our actions are driven by subjective norms, attitudes, and self-efficacy. Even my paraphrasing is almost too “sciency” for me. So let me break it down. Put more clearly, we will change our behaviors if: we believe our social network and significant others value the changes we are considering; we believe that our behavior change will result in positive outcomes, and; we believe we have the capability to follow through on our intentions to change. The Communications Cycle – Addressing Beliefs & Reframing Conversations A working knowledge of this theory allows us to coordinate key messaging to better shape healthy behaviors. According to this theory, motivation to act is determined by internal and external beliefs.  We can target internal beliefs about the outcomes of behaviors through general educational campaigns. Think about any of the commercials from the American Dairy Farmer’s Association. Remember, “Milk. It does a body good?” The campaign’s message created the belief that milk is good for us. Addressing self-efficacy (beliefs that we are capable of changing) requires that we supply more than just the facts. So what if exercising and eating right is good for me if I don’t know where to start? This goes back to the age-old wisdom of providing a clear call to action and a valuable incentive in your marketing. People need tools, resources, kits, rewards, programs, and apps to help them move forward with a concrete action plan and support system. These programs create portals through which people are able to visualize their success. Finally, our marketing efforts must also set the stage for a larger audience – beyond those whom we wish to inspire to action. Through general educational campaigns we also reframe public conversations and opinions. As we do this, we shape the opinions of our audience’s social network – the people in their lives whose opinions they highly value and whose support enables them to successfully reach their goals. How Lab Monkey Design Can Help As a healthy business, our mission is to educate and empower people to live healthier lives. We develop marketing strategies and comprehensive brand solutions to target self-defeating beliefs and develop supportive programming for your audiences. What healthy behaviors are you addressing in your work? Let me know in the comments below, or shoot me an email at Share...

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Empowering Healthy Changes with The Health Belief Model

Posted on Aug 9, 2012 | 1 comment

As a health and wellness communications agency owner, my job is to understand what drives the health choices we make every day. This morning I woke up, made my Greek yogurt with berries, granola and honey and sat on the rooftop deck meditating for ten minutes. Then I walked down to the coffee shop to check in with work (I’m on vacation right now) before my TRX fitness class. I’m kind of obnoxiously proud of myself when I make healthy choices like this. But this type of behavior was a long time coming and a series of internal and external influencers in the making. There are a number of scientific theories that attempt to understand and explain how people make decisions about their health. This blog series will explore some of the most well researched theories and relate them to communications strategies. Health Belief Model In the 1950’s a group of psychologists introduced this theory as part of a study attempting to understand why people would or would not use available preventive services. As the name implies, this theory deals largely with people’s beliefs. Specifically it addresses perceptions around susceptibility, severity of a condition, the effectiveness or benefits of taking action, and any real or perceived barriers to taking action. As communicators we should understand how these perceptions are formed in order to dispel any false beliefs and then supply the information and resources at the appropriate stage of the communications cycle to encourage healthy action. Susceptibility A person’s perception of susceptibility can be directly addressed through communications focusing on risk factors for certain disease. However, it has generally been found that people underestimate their own susceptibility to disease. The likelihood that a person will engage in healthy preventive measures related to any disease is directly proportional to their belief that they are susceptible to that disease. Therefor, perceptions of susceptibility can be modified through communications explaining risk factors and dispelling cultural misperceptions around a disease or condition.  These types of communications are general in nature and often target a broad audience. The role of this type of communication is simply to educate a person about risk factors and plant the seed for next steps. Severity of Consequences A person’s perception of how severe a condition is can be a powerful motivator. The CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign illustrates the severe consequences of smoking. Individuals are shown preparing for their days by covering tracheotomy scars or pulling on artificial limbs – perhaps the most severe consequences of smoking just shy of death itself. However, a person must first believe they are susceptible to the disease or condition. Campaigns like the one mentioned above are engaging with people who already know their behaviors have put them at risk. The goal is to clearly state the negative outcomes of risky behaviors in order to incite a positive reaction.   Perceived Effectiveness We are generally motivated to act when we perceive the outcomes of our actions to be significant and effective. We can address the perception of benefits directly through marketing. Our messaging should concentrate on the available evidence demonstrating the clear benefits of making a healthy choice. Every day, a big heap of blueberries finds its way into my belly – in oatmeal, on a salad, or in my yogurt. Somewhere along the way the message of blueberry’s cancer fighting power sank into my brain and I believed it. I believe that by eating my blueberries, I’m giving my body the benefit of cancer-fighting nutrients.   Real and Perceived Barriers Barriers can be concrete and psychological – even cultural in some...

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