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Behavior Change Part III - Providing Support and Addressing Barriers

By: Jennifer La Guardia Ph.D., Senior Behavior Scientist

This post is the third in a series focused on behavior change. Read Part I here and Part II here.

When life gets busy, everyday tasks like eating healthy and exercising are often the first goals that get deprioritized. The unhealthy choice suddenly becomes the easy one -- working late bumps gym time; fast food on the drive home supersedes the healthy home-cooked meal; a nutritious breakfast becomes an afterthought while getting the kids ready for school. The busier life becomes, the harder it is to maintain sustainable change.

Shifting lifestyle patterns can feel like climbing a mountain -- especially without structure in place to address barriers standing in the way. Even if someone is intrinsically motivated to make lasting lifestyle changes, they’re more likely to make and maintain those changes when they have support from others. One of the early misconceptions within the industry is the assumption that devices alone have the ability to mimic human connection. While a fitness tracker may provide objective data and create a sense of awareness, it cannot understand -- and more importantly, empathize with -- the person whose environmental factors make it hard to hit 10,000 steps every day. 

Simply put: while a digital nudge can remind someone of when their blood sugar is out of range, it’s not enough for sustainable behavior change. A nudge encourages action or the completion of a task as opposed to a transformation in patterns or habits. That’s why at Omada, we use professional health coaches and peer groups to build a culture of support. In addition to an Omada participant’s health coach and core peer group, we recently launched topic-based communities for participants with similar interests and goals. For example: Samantha has been in the Omada Program for 2 months, and is seeing results. She’s eager to push herself more, and has set a goal to run a 5K. Upon hearing this news, her Omada coach recommend a 5k training group for her to join to serve as greater motivation.

Social support from a like-minded individuals often provides greater value to the participant, compared to the support from family, spouses or friends who may not be facing the same challenges. In Samantha's topic-based community, she is able to share her highs and lows leading up to the run. Thus, through this community, she has a team of supporters to encourage her along the way. Omada’s approach to coaching builds trust with participants. Our coaches create an environment where participants feel they can be completely honest, and are receiving candid and knowledgeable feedback in response to their concerns. Coaches are better able to understand the personal and environmental factors that may create barriers to their participants maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing their health concerns. 

Barriers to behavior change are often multifaceted. Before addressing barriers and provide support, it’s important to start with understanding the participants' motivation and then build out the skills to create lasting change. At Omada, we assess each participant’s circumstances, taking into account social determinants and social context. Often a lack of engagement indicates that a person may either be struggling to find value in behavior change or feel overwhelmed by the process. Our program and coaching centers around the participants goals, and is personalized to what they feel is valuable and manageable. By providing direct feedback to the individual, our program provides value and encourages continued engagement in the program. 

Behavior change is complex, but with the right social support, sustained behavior change becomes much more manageable. By assessing the full picture of an individual’s life, we can boost motivation levels and provide the personalized resources needed to overcome barriers. Omada’s coaching platform identifies these challenges, and equips our coaches with personalized insights to intervene effectively, and provide judgment-free support.