Magic Wand Survey Insights

Earlier this month we shared some aggregate results of our challenge survey question,

“If you could wave a magic wand and improve one specific aspect of your personal health and/or well-being, what would it be?”

Today, we wanted to delve beyond the surface for a few insights we’ve gleaned from this data, plus share some of our favorite responses.

For starters, we asked this question because it’s good for us as a Wellness Team to know the pulse of our population. But we thought it could also be a useful tool for our participants as well. Answering this question is a great starting point for driving change.

A few responses landed outside the realm of one’s control. We had a laugh at some of these tongue-in-cheek answers:

“[I would] be taller.”

“I wish I had a personal chef to make me healthy balanced meals all the time.”

or, our personal favorite:

“I’d be 30 years younger.”

Ah, yes…with a magic wand we could all be younger, taller, and be able to hire a personal chef. Take a deep breath and think about how nice that would be…

…one more second…

And now snap back to reality. The majority of the 1200+ responses given to this question did land within the realm, or locus, of our control. Here is a sampling of responses that cover many different perspectives of wellness:

“Less screen time.”

“Losing weight–without any effort :-)”

“Have all my bills paid off.”

“I would give myself permission to relax more.”

“[I would] improve relationships/friendships.”

“I would do some type of physical activity every day.”

“Put more time and effort into purchasing, prepping, and consuming healthy foods.”

“Get more sleep.”

Each one of these “wishes”, could also be viewed as a very specific and manageable goal. Each one offers its own set of challenges, and most likely obstacles. And of course, we all know that losing weight, or reaching any goal for that matter, does require some effort. Read over the list again. Which of these wishes/goals seem easy to you? Which ones would be difficult? Do any seem impossible?

Obviously, these wishes are a challenge for the individuals who wrote them, or they would’ve picked something else. Nevertheless, each of the specific goals listed here are manageable, and fall within the locus of our control. And because they fall under our control, there are actionable steps and behaviors that we can utilize and leverage to bring these goals within reach.

Whether you view your personal challenges in the area of health and wellness as manageable goals or dreamlike fantasies makes a big difference.  If you decide to make your desire a specific goal, at that moment your small, daily behaviors you chose to align with that goal effectively becomes your magic wand.

So, if you answered the “magic wand” question, whether in our survey or right now, and you want to go a step further, here is your homework:

  • Select at least one, but no more than three, specific behaviors that will bring your dream-goal closer to you each day, and then practice these behaviors daily.
  • Don’t give up. Be consistent.
  • Watch the magic happen.

One last insight.

We live in a world where we are inundated with information, and married to technology. Many of us don’t go for more than a few minutes at a time without checking the little screen we carry around with us wherever we go. So it was nice to read several responses to our question that had to do with presence. Therefore, we leave you with two magic wishes that were shared with us, that we want to share with everyone:

  • I would live in the moment more often.

  • Remember to be grateful.

Be Well.

MUS Wellness Team

Temptation Bundling

As the employee wellness team, our job is to help inspire & motivate MUS employees to take better care of themselves through healthy lifestyle choices. Thus, we are continually talking about positive behavior change; not only about what changes would be good to make, but just as important, how to make those new behaviors stick. Most of us can adopt a new behavior for a short period of time, say one or two weeks, but it’s long-term behavior change that eludes so many of us.

That’s why I was excited when I recently heard about a concept called temptation bundling. Temptation bundling is pairing an activity that you should do, but tend to avoid, with one that you enjoy, but isn’t necessarily productive. Usually the enjoyable behavior is something that is instantly gratifying, while the “should” behavior is something that has more long-term benefits.

The term temptation bundling was coined by Katherine Milkman, a professor at Wharton, who conducted a study wherein participants could listen to an audiobook of The Hunger Games or other highly tempting novel only if they were at the gym. In a nutshell, the study found that participants whose listening was restricted to exclusively while at the gym visited the gym 51% more frequently than the control group who were simply encouraged to workout more. This effect was most pronounced for people with the busiest schedules. If you’d like to read the full details of the study, here’s a link to the study abstract.

Although the study effect lessened over time, especially during the holidays, I think the concept of temptation bundling is still worth considering when implementing a new behavior, or when trying to increase the frequency of an existing behavior. In fact, after learning about temptation bundling, I realized that I had actually been applying temptation bundling in my personal life already! I have a very sweet, 7-year-old lab mix named Bianca who likes a morning walk. Most mornings, I am happy to take her on the 45 minute loop around our neighborhood, but some mornings, especially dark, cold, winter mornings, it can be tough to drag myself out of bed. And yet, I have missed very few walks and have remained surprisingly consistent with this behavior, even if that means suiting up in my one-piece Carharts and putting on a headlamp to venture outside. The reason? I only allow myself to listen to podcasts while I’m walking my dog. And I love podcasts. Several mornings, when the alarm is going off in the dark, and I’m tempted to hit the snooze and snuggle back into bed, it’s the allure of a listening to a new podcast that makes me get up. It’s true that the desire to be a good doggie mama coupled with a wet little dog nose in my face also helps keep this behavior going, but there have been many times that it’s clear Bianca would rather stay in bed too.

So give it a try! Take a behavior that you feel you should do but aren’t necessarily eager to do (i.e. cleaning, responding to email, or exercising) and pair it with something you love. Only allow yourself the enjoyable activity while doing the “should” activity. Here are a few examples of temptation bundling to get your ideas flowing:

  • Listening to your favorite music album while cleaning the house, or listening to your favorite song while flossing your teeth
  • Watching House of Cards or other Netflix favorite while chopping vegetables or prepping dinner
  • Enjoying a fancy coffee drink only while grocery shopping*
  • Eating a piece of chocolate while responding to emails you’ve been putting off*

*As a dietitian, I’d caution you against using too many calorie-laden treats as the enjoyable behavior, but you get the idea!

Happy Bundling!


Would you like to go on a walk with me and be my friend?

Building Successful Architecture

…given a choice, humans follow the path of least resistance…we like easy.

Our March Challenge involves setting up your surrounding environment to help you achieve your goals.  This is sometimes referred to as behavioral or choice architecture.

According to Dr. B.J. Fogg, who is a world leader on this subject, human beings can be summed up by three descriptives. Dr. Fogg says human beings are:

  • Lazy
  • Social
  • Creatures of habit

Now hold on! Before you get defensive about being called lazy, let me make an example.  Have you ever, upon entering a building with several doors, changed your path to follow someone through a door that’s already open, rather than going through a closed door directly in front of you? I know I do this all the time. This is a form of laziness. More times than not, given a choice, humans follow the path of least resistance. Maybe that’s the more sensitive way to put it—we tend to follow the path of least resistance.  We like easy.

Simply being aware of this human tendency can help us make some “architectural changes” that will give us an advantage in creating those desirable behaviors and habits we know will lead to health, but are sometimes hard to follow.

Here are a few of the real architectural adjustments that our members have shared thus far as part of the COTM, and commentary on each:

  • Programming Outlook Tasks with Pop-up “Move” messages every 1/2 hour.
    • This is known as a “trigger”.  Triggers initiate behavior.  A phone ring is a perfect example of a trigger.
  • Keeping my cross-country skis on the front porch so that I can quickly go outside and ski around in my yard whenever I get a chance.
    • This is an example of taking a desired behavior (skiing/exercise) and making it easy and convenient to do.  Plus, seeing the skis on the front porch acts as a trigger.
  • I will bring veggies to work and put them in a nice mason jar at my desk so I can see them and munch instead of buying pop tarts from the vending machine.
    • This architecture involves replacing an undesirable nutrition choice with more desirable choice.  Again, the veggies in a clear jar act as a trigger, and they are easily accessible.
  • I will use the bathroom on Level 5 [2 levels up]
    • This choice creates a new habit (Humans are creatures of habit) and sneaks in a great exercise—stairs—several times a day (depending on your bladder!)
  • [I will] Pack my lunches the night before in order to avoid having to purchase something from the cafeteria.
    • A time investment the night before will yield a big payoff in the morning, which for many of us can feel more stressful because we are on a schedule and may have other demands from family or pets.  This choice makes the morning easier, saves time and money, and leads to better nutrition choices.
  • [I will] Pack all of my clothes/toiletries the night before I work out and have my work out clothes ready
    • Same thing: a small time investment the night before makes the next day easier.

If you haven’t made any changes yet this month, there’s still plenty of time to do so. If you’re really stumped, or want an extra challenge, check out Dr. Fogg’s Tiny Habits program. The program will walk you through some exercises to establish 3 new habits within a week!

Keep up the good work!