The Utility of Self Determination Theory and Motivation in Wellness Coaching – Part Two: Autonomy, Competence & Relatedness


Activities like camping with a friend in the backcountry can meet our three innate psychological needs.

As health and wellness coaches work with their clients to help them live their healthiest lives possible, an understanding of the basics of Self-Determination Theory of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (, is very useful. In the Part One blog posting on this subject we looked at how this theory addresses human motivation. ( Here we will look at how coaches can benefit from understanding the significance of the theory’s identified three innate psychological needs that we all have.


The Three Innate Psychological Needs

At the heart of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is the underlying assumption that there is an inherent human need for fulfillment and self-actualization through personal growth, development and mastery (competence), for connectedness (relatedness) and for the experience of behavior as self-determined and congruent with one’s sense of self (autonomy). These three needs are considered universal and essential for well-being. Whatever supports the positive experience of competence, relatedness and autonomy promotes choice, willingness and volition, interest, full engagement, enjoyment and perceived value — the inherent qualities of intrinsic motivation. It also leads to higher quality performance, persistence, and creativity.

The degree to which these needs are either supported or compromised and thwarted has a significant impact on both the individual and the individual’s “social context” (the physical and social setting in which people live and work and the institutions with which they interact). If all three needs are satisfied “people will develop and function effectively and experience wellness” and if not, “…people will more likely evidence ill-being and non-optimal functioning.” (

“We believe that all human beings have a set of basic psychological needs. The needs that we feel are important are the need for competence. That is to say to feel confident and effective in relation to whatever it is you’re doing. Second, to feel relatedness, that is to say to feel cared for by others, to care for others, to feel like you belong in various groups that are important to you. And the third need is autonomy… Human need is something that must get satisfied for optimal wellness and optimal performance. If they don’t get the need satisfied, then there will be negative psychological consequences that follow.” (


Coaching In Support of Autonomy

People have a need to feel they are operating their lives out of their own choice. Supporting the client’s need for autonomy is considered one of the primary tasks of a coach. The client-centered nature of coaching supports client autonomy throughout the coaching process. Coaching operates on mutual agreements between client and coach. Agendas are co-created with the client always in the lead. In wellness and health coaching this is especially true as client-generated goals have more inherent “buy-in”, that is, more motivational connection. The coaching cornerstone stance that the client is “naturally creative, resourceful and whole” (NCRW)( fosters autonomy as the coach works to evoke the inner wisdom of the client. Rather than operating from an expert point of view, the coach provides support for the client’s own decision making, even though they assist in the process.

Coaching In Support Of Competence

This NCRW stance also supports the other key human need according to SDT, of seeking to achieve competence. Again, in line with the tenets of humanistic psychology and the more recent developments in positive psychology, clients are treated as though they are indeed capable and possessing great potential. The strengths-based, positive psychology nature of coaching emphasizes acknowledging and building upon the client’s attributes and qualities they already possess. A key here is acknowledgement. Client’s often minimize or fail to recognize their strengths and achievements. If their self-efficacy is already low, having been brought down by previous failure experiences, they may tend to overlook what they are accomplishing, or to downplay it. The active listening skill of acknowledgement needs to be used by coach whenever it can be genuinely utilized. As client and coach work on self-determined goals and break it down into doable action steps, leading the client to enjoy more and more successful experiences. As they do so, they begin to feel more competent in the area of improving their lifestyle, which naturally builds their feelings of self-efficacy.

Coaching In Support of Relatedness

The heart of coaching is the coaching relationship itself. Creating that alliance supplies the client with a trusted resource for support that can be relied upon unconditionally. As the coach exhibits the qualities that make up great coaching presence (supplying the facilitative conditions of coaching) ( the client feels accepted, acknowledged and cared for. Often our clients are lacking relationships in their lives where they experience adequate empathic understanding and are free from judgment.

“It is important to note that whilst a coachee may have close relationships outside coaching, s/he may not consistently feel heard, understood, valued and/or genuinely supported within those relationships. If not, they are unlikely to feel strongly and positively connected to others and in an attempt to satisfy this basic need, may attempt to connect by acting in accordance with the preferences of others, rather than one’s own.” (

For the client, it is not only refreshing to relate to someone who provides unconditional positive regard and validates their experience and feelings, it may actually free the client up to explore their lives with new openness and independence. Perhaps they have been holding themselves back from making some of the lifestyle changes they need to make because of the fear of losing connection, to some degree, with others. Perhaps with the support of the coach, the client may be willing to take such risks to live in a healthier way.

The Real Balance approach to coaching has long recognized the importance and power of coaching for connectedness. We realize that coaching is a very brief moment in someone’s life and that lasting lifestyle improvement often hinges upon finding the support of others for the changes clients need to make. As we help our clients choose action steps in their Wellness Plan, we continually ask, Who else can support you in doing this? Building in strategies to seek out and gain support for wellness goals and the action steps needed to achieve them is often critical to success.

Of course, not all of our clients enjoy lives rich in connectedness at home, work and in their communities. As we co-create the Wellness Plan with our clients, we may want to include developing more connectedness as an Area of Focus to be consciously worked on. Part of that process may be exploring ways in which the client holds themselves back from reaching out and making more interpersonal connections in their lives. As clients feel empowered by the autonomous nature of choice in the coaching process, they may be more willing to increase their connectedness.

As coaches reflect upon their work, not only with a single client, but will all of the people they coach, they can benefit from asking themselves if their coaching process addresses and supports the fulfillment of these three innate psychological needs. The self-vigilant coach may want to listen to session recordings and ask themselves “Am I coaching in a way that really supports my client’s autonomy, or am I being too prescriptive or too directive? Am I using acknowledgement enough to help my client realize how their sense of competency is increasing? Am I remembering to ‘coach for connectedness’ and help my client expand their circles of support?”

Deci and Ryan see the fulfillment of these needs as paving the way towards optimal functioning — essentially making the wellness way of life much easier.

Dr. Michael Arloski

For the very best in wellness and health coach training look to REAL BALANCE GLOBAL WELLNESS SERVICES, INC.  Over 8,000 wellness & health coaches trained worldwide. 


For more about effective coaching refer to Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., by Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, NBC-HWC.

and to Your Journey to a Healthier Life (Paths of Wellness Guided Journals) by the same author. 


A New Code of Ethics For Health And Wellness Coaches: Healthy Boundaries Part One

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

The old New England expression that “good fences make good neighbors” applies to the world of professions as well as it does to rows of piled rocks in the old fields and forests of places like Vermont and Maine. The concept of professional boundaries seems to expand the more you look into it. In this and a following post we will look at role definition, ethics and scope of practice, boundary crossings and violations, self-disclosure, and other issues from the unique perspective of the health and wellness coach.

icflogoSince its inception just over twenty years ago the ICF (International Coaching Federation) has developed a Code of Ethics ( which it revises on a regular basis. The ICF also maintains an Ethics Community of Practice ( where you can bring ethics questions and learn from presentations.

Law & Ethics in Coaching: How To Solve And Avoid Difficult Problems In Your Practice (2006) by Patrick Williams and Sharon K. Anderson houses considerably valuable information from the chief authors and other contributors. (

With the development and growth of the field of health and wellness coaching, the question of ethics and scope of practice emerged with the realization that such coaches often face unique situations, sometimes interacting with the medical world, that require a fresh look. While the ICF Code of Ethics is to be embraced by all coaches, the need for something more became evident.





As an Executive Team member of The National Consortium for Credentialing Health and Wellness coaches ( I was honored to chair a committee last summer of extraordinary coaches who are part of our NCCHWC Council of Advisors. Through our efforts “in August 2016, the NCCHWC created the
Code of Ethics and Health & Wellness Coach Scope of Practice to serve as a reference for health & wellness coaches and faculty. The NCCHWC expects all credentialed health and wellness coaches (coaches, coach faculty and mentors, and students) to adhere to the elements and Principles and ethical conduct: to be competent and integrate NCCHWC Health and Wellness Coach Competencies effectively in their work.” Please download the NCCHWC Code of Ethics and Health & Wellness Coach Scope of Practice here: NCCHWC Code of Ethics (  NCCHWC Health & Wellness Coach Scope of Practice (

rblogoYou can also find copies of both documents in the Wellness Resources section of the Real Balance website (
Codes of ethics such as these serve as the primary guides to help form professional boundaries that we can adhere to. In Section Three of the NCCHWC Code of Ethics we find most of the references to boundaries. The most obvious boundary here is #23 – to avoid any sexual or romantic relationship with current clients, sponsor(s), students, mentees or supervisees. But, we also see in other items in this section, that much of the issue of boundaries also refers to creating clear agreements with our clients about the nature of coaching, how it works, confidentiality, financial agreements, etc. The client-centered nature of coaching is emphasized along with complete transparency, spelling out the rights, roles and responsibilities for all involved.
The issue of boundaries is more directly addressed in item #22. Hold responsibility for being aware of and setting clear, appropriate and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern interactions, physical or otherwise, I may have with my clients or sponsor(s). Here we are looking at how we create a safe environment for our client where they feel respected, comfortable and safe. While most individuals are at least somewhat sensitive to this in most social interactions, the coach must be especially sensitive about it because of the trusting nature of the coaching relationship. While not on the same level as clinical relationships, coaching clients must feel free to express themselves at a trusting level. The health and wellness coaching client who is attempting to gain insight about how they hold themselves back from being successful at weight loss, for example, needs to feel that they can reveal information about relevant feelings and experiences without feeling vulnerable. This shows up mostly in two areas, the appropriateness of touch, and self-disclosure.
While not inherently wrong, behaviors such as giving/receiving a hug from/with a client after a triumphant moment in coaching, may be misconstrued in its intention. For one client it may, according to some authors, “engender healthier relationships”, while for another it may feel like a boundary crossing, which other authors would argue, might “pave the way to a boundary violation.”  Coaches learn early on in their training to ask permission. Seeking permission first and respecting our client’s wishes can avoid such boundary crossings/violations. We avoid the pitfalls of assumptions and honor our client’s personal and cultural boundaries in this way.

Self-Disclosure And Boundaries

Self-disclosure also has different boundaries in different cultures and with different individuals. We looked closely at this topic in a previous blog post “Self-Disclosure in Coaching – When Sharing Helps and Hinders” ( We can remember from that post that coaches who do not self-disclose at all are not trusted, while those who disclose “too much” are thought to be incompetent. Our own self-disclosure, should never put undue pressure on our client to also self-disclose. Differences in culture, social class, family upbringing, etc. all can set very different boundaries around the issue of appropriate self-disclosure.
In our next post we’ll look further at the issues of healthy boundaries for health and wellness coaches and address some very specific questions.

Downshifting To The Speed Of Life: Coaching Slowness


“Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” How long has it been since the words of that old song rang true? In response to the accelerated pace of life a conscious movement has emerged to help us slow down and reclaim our quality of life again.

In my last post I shared about Time Affluence ( and how we can experience a greater sense of time by changing our way of perceiving it. Today I’ll share about another way to address our sense of “time poverty” by learning how to deliberately slow down our pace of life: the “slow movement”.

What started in Italy with “slow food” as a reaction to omnipresent “fast food”slow-food-logo-1-550x392 ( ) has morphed into a broader “slow living” movement including slow travel, slow schools, slow cities, slow design, slow relationships and more. Its main tenet is that for a more fulfilling and deeply satisfying life we need to allow the appropriate amount of time to experience the activities we engage in.

Savoring may save us. Consciousness may return control to our lives. As author Carl Honore (In Praise of Slowness) ( puts it, our cultural obsession with speed erodes our health, productivity and quality of life. “We are living the fast life, instead of the good life.”

Operating on “automatic pilot” may seem like an important strategy to cope with feeling overwhelmed. However it usually results in staying stuck in habits that don’t serve us as well as the conscious choices we might make instead, if only we…slowed down and thought about it. As Mae West tells us “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.”


So, how do we make the shift? How do we de-stress ourselves, further change our perception of time and pump up our quality of life? How do we begin to embrace and benefit from “slow living”?

Value the intrinsic over the extrinsic. Focus on the internal rewards found in experience, not production; the taste of fresh tomatoes, the smile of a child. The irony here is that we know that intrinsic motivation drives greater and more creative productivity.

Re-wire your brain. Changing life-long habits means developing new neural pathways in our brains and staying off the old well-worn habit pathways. Catch yourself in your old speedy habits and jump back on the new path over and over again.

Plan to be spontaneous. Plan ahead to have free time. Make plans to “be” not just get things done. Make reservations at campgrounds so you will get out and do it. Arrange with friends to have a slow dinner evening savoring food and fun.

Lose your mind and come to your senses. Focusing on our sensory experience of taste, sound, touch, and smell can help us slow down. Breath deep, eyes closed, and take a moment to smell the roses.

16702647-mmmainCreate conspiracies. The only way to break out of unhealthy cultural norms is to conspire with friends, family and co-workers to create healthier, slower ones. Together cultivate the Italian phrase “Il dolce far niente” the sweetness of doing nothing!


Small head cropped1

The Coach’s Takeaway

Our coaching clients often come to us either feeling that they are overwhelmed and have to slow down their pace of life, or, perhaps when they have had a “wake up call”, like the onset of a serious health challenge, that has caused them to reassess life’s priorities. They want to “slow down”, but, “marinated in a culture of speed” (as Honore puts it), they don’t know how.

You may have clients who are do not want to slow down. Staying busy, staying distracted, they don’t have to look at deeper issues that may be more troubling to encounter. Coach them around exploring what they fear might happen if they were to slow down. Explore “what if” examples: “What would happen if you made an agreement with your family to eat dinner together with no television or other devices turn on?” “What would it be like to take a long, hot bath instead of a quick shower?” Some clients may have such fears that they need counseling rather than coaching and the “pressure” to slow down may be too much. Referral can be discussed, but you can also back up and coach in other areas until they are ready to look at how they might experiment with slowing down.

Some fears might not be so psychological. Your client may fear that if they slow down they won’t be able to compete in the workplace or marketplace. They may fear that they won’t appear as a attractive as the hard-charging, “work-hard/play hard” person they want to portray. If you client is open to it, this may be where you can turn them on to some of the resources of the “slow movement”, such as Honore’s book, or:;; and They may learn that they can allay many of their fears by seeing how the benefits of slowing down include just what they are trying to achieve by rushing and working too hard: greater creativity, productivity and quality of life.

Slowing down may have a link with self-permission. Many of the healthy changes in behavior often revolve around greater self-care. Great wellness plans go nowhere if the client is unwilling to give themselves permission to implement them. Explore this concept of self-permission and how the person is holding themselves back.

For most clients though, the desire for a slower, more fulfilling life is there.

  • Create experiments using the Downshifting idea above.
  • Get creative with your client and co-create new action steps that they can take week by week to try out new ways to slow down in whatever area seems both important to them and most likely of succeeding.
  • They may even want to commit to looking at several dimensions of their wellness (perhaps as represented in a simple tool like the Wheel of Life) and creating experiments in each area.
  • Commit to cooking more meals at home.
  • Visit a farmers market.
  • Declare a “technological Sabbath” for a day.
  • Commit to learning and practicing “centering” activities such as Tai Chi, Yoga, relaxation training, or some form of mindfulness practice.
  • Commit to reading a novel instead of work-related books.
  • Read Thoreau’s essay “On Walking” and learn to saunter! (


Retreat, Review, Renew and Rewrite The New Year Now

The "New Year" is here already! Photo by M. Arloski

The ancient Celtic Calendar rings in the New Year at the very end of October with the holiday of Samhain. Looking at a Northern European year’s climate through largely agricultural eyes this makes perfect sense. The last of the harvest is done and it’s time to prepare for winter and a long rest for the land.

For the self-reflective person this is a good time to review the old year and prepare for the new. Don’t wait until the new year has already arrived! From a coaching perspective it’s a perfect time to look at what our “wins” were, to seriously acknowledge our accomplishments on all levels, personal and professional. It’s a time to give ourselves credit first, boost our self-esteem and celebrate. Let’s practice some Positive Psychology on ourselves!

We also will take a sober look at what we wanted to see happen that didn’t. Here it’s time to leave our Inner Critic or Gremlin ( out of the process, and instead get in touch with that part of ourselves that truly cares about us and tells the truth (not the lies of the Inner Critic). Did we live the year in harmony with our values, with our true priorities? Are we still spinning our wheels in a lifestyle improvement effort, or job/career, or relationship? What will it take to get some “traction” in the new year?

2012 is coming at us fast and New Year’s Day is really too late a time to begin planning for what we want in the new year. We always find truth in the old saw “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Having a plan is much different than setting the famously ineffective “New Year’s Resolutions” or just having a “bunch of goals”. A plan, whether a wellness plan for lifestyle improvement, or a plan for your career development, personal growth, or whatever needs to be an integrated plan that is based upon your values and your true priorities in your life. It needs to be entirely congruent with who you are and based upon attained clarity about what you want.

In the Northern Hemisphere the seasons right now lend themselves to this process, if we let them. We might consciously want to engage less in the franticness of “The Holidays” and instead practice both our relevant faith reflected in these holidays, and also practice a time of reflection, replenishment and personal renewal. In fact, if you are a person of faith, how better to celebrate and acknowledge these holidays than to dedicate some time to your own spiritual renewal?

Sit, sip, relax and reflect.

This is a great time for hot cups of tea and journaling. This is also an excellent time for taking stock of our selves in a mindful and conscious way. My best shorthand definition of Wellness is that it is living our lives consciously in ways that enhance our health. Perhaps this is the perfect time to take a day dedicated to no “work” and to no work around the house. Solo time allows us to look within uninterrupted. In today’s high-speed world we may actually have to work hard initially to extract ourselves from the distractions that surround us. Take a day with no cell phones, iPods or Pads, where we can get re-acquainted with an old best friend called our own souls. Have a technological Sabbath.

This can also be a wonderful time to get together with friends, not just by putting on a way-too-much-work party, but spending time together one-on-one. Our children (even adult children) thrive on this one-on-one time with us, and so do our friends. Reconnecting with these people helps us reweave the net of community that supports us, and lets us contribute to that web of support as well.

Create your own personal retreat.

Retreat, Review, Renew and Rewrite


Take time for yourself however you can. Give yourself permission to. Set aside not just a couple of hours, or just one day, but instead mark your calendar for some self-reflective, get-away time more than once. Pull back from everyday obligations, asking for help to do so if need be. You may find that you even need a complete change of scenery, whether it is a local park, a coffee shop or a weekend or two in a cabin “away from it all.” Stretch, unwind, get a massage, hike in nature, breath deep. Don’t permit your “gremlin” to accompany you.


Bring your old calendar, your laptop, your journal, pen and paper, or whatever works for you to look back over the old year. Be kind and compassionate with yourself. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, but don’t let irrational guilt get a foothold and grow in this quiet time. Be honest with yourself and look for the SDB’s (self-defeating behaviors) that slowed you down or held you back. Look for the missed opportunities and the overlooked resources that you did not make use of. Hindsight really is 20/20, unless you let your “gremlin” do the looking for you.


Give yourself permission to recover from stress.

This can be a time for replenishment, for re-charging your worn-down batteries and resupplying your energy. In the bestseller The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working ( the point is continually made (and hard evidence cited to back it up) that our biggest mistake is not experiencing stress in our lives, but not allowing ourselves adequate “volume and intensity” of recovery from it! We function best with rest and renewal. This means not only adequate sleep, but also reconnecting with what renews our own spirit and sense of self. One of the greatest ways to improve self-esteem is through creative self-expression. This can be a time to reconnect with hobbies long neglected. It can also be a time for our renewal through contact with the natural world, where we are merely another creature in the ecosystem, instead of an asset pursued by a busy world.


“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” Henry David Thoreau

The time to rewrite your script is right now. Plan & coach for the new year now, not in January! Realize all the choices you truly do have. Envision the year as you would like it to unfold. Determine what has to change about the way you are living your life currently in order to actualize that vision. From that create a real plan to move forward with it.

Select areas of your life you’d like to improve, where you’d like to grow. Look at the year coming and list the opportunities that it contains. How can you make the best use of them? Look at the barriers you can already anticipate and begin looking at strategies and resources to help you find your way through them.

Avoid simply creating a gigantic “To Do” list. Building a huge list of things to accomplish is like creating an overhang of stress ready to crash down on you like an avalanche. Your tendency will be to simply stay off the mountain! In other words, when you create a daunting “list” the safest route is to avoid working on it at all. As an old friend, and stand-up comedian, once said about priorities, “If they’re priorities, there can’t be very many of them. Otherwise they’re not priorities!”

We can’t anticipate everything in the year ahead, but we can consciously plan (see “conscious calendarizing” in my book Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change ( to include the downtime we need. Plan to take those vacation days. Plan on days for rest and renewal, replenishment and relaxation. Include that in your list of “accomplishments” at the end of this next year, and be well!

Please add your comments, ideas, here to enhance the experience of all readers. Thank you!

Dr. Arloski’s blog has a NEW ADDRESS!


To reach more folks in the wellness community we’ve relocated our blog “Real Balance Wellness: Wellness Wisdom and Wanderings” to a new address at

Please visit us and subscribe to

Enjoy the latest blog post:

Be well, and see you at our new address!
Michael Arloski

Crafting Your Growth In The New Year : The Personal Growth of The Wellness Coach

A Time For Winter Reflection

December’s darkness arrives at about 4:30 pm here in Colorado as we approach the longest night of the year later this month. It’s a time of hunkering down by a fireplace in the Northern Hemisphere and a good time to reflect on the past year with a hot cup of your favorite brew. It’s also a time when we yearn for the return of the light, and for me, I begin my “mid-winter fantasies”. These “fantasies” are the first stage in my planning for the year to come. I dream of what I hope to do not just with our business and my profession, but of what I want to experience during the coming year on both a recreational and personal growth level.

Personal growth results from all our experiences, professional, recreational, spiritual, interpersonal, and more. When you realize this it can give you more permission to consciously craft the kinds of experiences into your life that you will benefit from on all levels.

The wellness coach benefits in so many ways when they consciously work at their personal growth, as we wrote about in our last post ( . As we know from the effectiveness of the coaching process, people achieve what they want when they have a plan and make a commitment. What do you want to commit to in 2011 to grow personally? Here are four areas for you to consider.

1. Commit to the new.
2. Commit to better practice
3. Commit to living well
4. Commit to loving fearlessly

What personal growth goals do you want to reach in 2011?

1. Commit to the new. Stretch yourself! Do what is “uncomfortable” because a lot of our growth happens out there at that uncomfortable and unfamiliar edge. What would that look like for you? Does it mean traveling to a new destination? Going to a country where the culture is very different from yours and the only things that look familiar are the universally found cola drinks? Does it mean plunging into the great outdoors if you are a “city mouse”, or diving into the urban landscape if you are a “woodsy owl”? Could it be taking up a new practice such as learning a musical instrument, Tai Chi, or meditation? Would it be a real stretch for you to do some research, find a personal growth retreat that stretches who you are and go for it?,,

2. Commit to better practice. Sometimes our personal growth comes on a path we are already familiar with, yet we have not followed well enough to receive maximum benefit from. Even though I’ve practiced Tai Chi for over twenty years, I still struggle with the regularity of my practice. If you consider yourself a meditation or Yoga practitioner, biker, writer, backpacker, swimmer, traveler, etc., how often are you doing it? How many days in a row, starting on January first, can you practice your art or craft? Perhaps December is the time to plan that summertime adventure.

3. Commit to living well. Craft your lifestyle to enhance your growth. Realize how much choice you really have. (“A coach’s job is to remind people that they have choices!” M. Arloski.) Engineer each day, each week to support your health, wellness, and your growth. Consciously calendarize. (see my book Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, p. 165). Purposefully leave room for spontaneity! If you don’t have “blanks” in your schedule, you can’t jump on opportunities as they arise. Live your wellness plan, now, not next week, next month, next lifetime.

4. Commit to loving fearlessly. If you REALLY want to grow, allow yourself to love. Blow up all your rationalizations for not risking allowing love in your life. Do the healing that lets you do that. Perhaps that is your big commitment for 2011. That love can take many different expressions. Your growth challenge is again, to stretch.

What is one of your Personal Growth Commitments for 2011? Please leave a comment and start a conversation around this. Be well!

The Promise of Wellness

National Wellness Conference 2010 - Dance Night: an important part of building community!

Returning from my annual pilgrimage to the National Wellness Conference I’m once again filled with perspective on this effort we are all making to help this world be more well. This was the 35th annual conference and I’ve migrated there for thirty or more of them, as have quite a few of my dear colleagues who I got to see this last week. What brings the new people there each year and what keeps many of us coming back? Since 1979 I’ve been going to the UWSP campus in Central Wisconsin to learn and to share, to connect, to nourish and to be nourished. The conference never fails to deliver in one way or another time and time again. (

I’ve gone from arriving as an empty cup looking to be filled to being a mentor and a laser beam focused on exacting questions, like how can we truly help people succeed at lasting lifestyle change. My needs have evolved and yet many are still the same: community, connectedness and a renewal of faith in what we are doing to literally help the world

The reality is that the wild-child prodigal son of the health field has grown into the last best chance for the healthcare crisis to be resolved. In the wellness movement’s early days people said all our efforts would fade away when the “jogging craze” was over. When HR budgets were cut wellness was the first thing to go. “You’re just helping well people be well-er!” was the accusation of ridicule. Now, with the cost of healthcare crippling companies more than any other factor, real solutions are being looked for and the outstanding, and documented ROI of wellness programs is what is being sought out.

Our field needs to act now! We need leadership that comes from an egalitarian position, not just self-serving interests. Leadership is needed that lets the world know that band-aid solutions and cosmetic or token wellness programs are not going to get the job done. We also need to groom people who are in their twenties, thirties, and even forties to pick up the baton that we grey-hairs are passing down.

We need the public to know that helping people succeed at lifestyle improvement is not the sole province of any profession, be it nursing, health education, dietetics, or wellness and health coaching. When you look at all the different ways that professionals are taking the field forward you can see that there is plenty of room in this house. Oh, I’m the first one to bar the door to charlatans, people selling holistic snake oil and wellness coaching study-at-home-kits. We do have highly qualified professionals in the fields of health promotion, wellness coaching, disease management, prevention, lifestyle medicine, and more. The time for sharing awareness of that professionalism with the public is here. It is imperative that we do a good job of letting the world know what wellness really is, what it’s promise is, what value living a wellness lifestyle holds. If we fail to do so those holistic snake-oil salesmen and women will do it for us.

So let me ask…What is the promise of wellness? As a professional field, what do we hold out to the world and say, “With our help, our expertise, we can help you to…” and the rest of that sentence will be just what people are looking for. The rest of that sentence has got to be something more than “lose weight”, “look younger”, “be happy” or any other overly-simplistic promise that sounds like a cheap sales pitch. It’s got to ring true. It’s got to land someplace inside people that fills a gap, slakes a thirst, and meets a need.

I invite your comments, your ideas, and your creativity. What is the promise of wellness? And, the caveat…how do we deliver it?

See also the Aug. 11, 2010 post on Change:

The UWSP Mural always inspires!