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What is the secret to influencing those you care about to adopt healthy behaviours?

One of questions that people ask me is how to get their parents/spouse/children/friends to adopt healthy behaviours. The root of this issue is that you want someone to change and they are unable or unwilling to change. For this blog, I will assume that the change is in their best interest and they are able to change. Otherwise, using influence techniques would be unethical.

I watched a presentation by Dr. Ed Tori. He stated that that influence has seven dimensions: authority, liking, reciprocity, social proof, scarcity, commitment and consistency. Social proof was defined as watching the behaviours of others and then following their lead. This has also been called “following the herd.” Less cognitive skills are needed with this approach. It becomes an easy solution in an unfamiliar situation. Most times by repeating the social behaviours of others, positive outcomes will result.

Social proof is an interesting idea. People adjust their behaviours to fit in with the crowd. Sometimes, this is positive. For example, more people than ever are eating a whole-food, plant-based diet. This would encourage people who are not these eating this way to meet the social norm and eat more plants. In other cases, the social proof can be negative. For example, too many people are eating the Standard American (SAD) Diet. This would not encourage the adoption of the whole-food, plant-based diet because the social norm is eating the SAD Diet. So, if I eat the SAD Diet, I will be following the herd, even though science has shown this to be unhealthy!

He mentioned a reference book called “Yes:50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive” by Dr. Robert Cialdini which is available at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library. Dr. Cialdini elaborated on the influence principles using scientific studies to back up his claims. The social scientists’ research was amazing. He explained that fear becomes paralyzing when there are no solutions. Thus, he stated that an effective plan must be easy, clear and achievable. If not, the influence strategy would backfire and more of the unhealthy behaviour would continue. This research lends more evidence to small steps leading to major lifestyle changes.

He remarked that having people write down their goals is more powerful than giving them a piece of paper with their typed goals. They will be more active in their commitment when they write.

Older people tend to be more consistent and resistant to change. To help them remain consistent and save face, you can tell them that their previous decisions were aligned with the knowledge that they had at that time. However, the new knowledge that you are imparting will help their health, as they were attempting in the past.

Likability can be enhanced by mirroring behaviours. For example, if a person crosses their arms, you cross your arms. If they state an idea, repeating their terminology was the best bet. This point is different from what I learned about paraphrasing being the best technique, However, if repeating their words back to them is more effective in influencing their behaviour, then I will try it.

I hope that some of these influence strategies will help you in your next conversation. Little things can go a long way! Thanks for reading. #lifestylemedicine

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