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A Behavioral Approach to Holistic Health and Wellness: Co-Creating Effective Wellness Plans

Comprehensive wellness programs embrace mind, body, spirit, and the environment. Wellness is, by its very nature, a holistic concept that helps people thrive when it is put into operation. A key component of comprehensive wellness programs and health promotion initiatives is the way they help individuals to succeed at improving their health and wellbeing. It is important to maintain a holistic view while supporting very specific lifestyle improvements in order to help individuals translate the global vision of wellness into changes in attitude, belief and concrete behavior.

Transformation: Begin With A Lofty Intention

If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Begin to view all the people you serve as having the capacity for transformational change. View the work of wellness as helping people to grow and actualize more of their potential, helping them live their best life possible.

People have specific lifestyle improvements they want to make that we would love to see them succeed at. Attaining and maintaining a healthy weight, smoking cessation, finally managing a chronic illness effectively are all worthy goals. The path to success, even within specific goals, ideally is viewed best through a holistic lens.

When we coach an individual (whether in the role of actual health and wellness coach, or in whatever capacity we serve) this holistic approach helps us view them as a whole person, seeing them in the context of their life circumstances. A place to start is with a view that takes into account the whole person. Initiate a process that is strength-based, rooted in positive psychology, and works from the global to the specific.

  • What are their strengths?
  • What lifestyle changes have they succeeded at in the past?
  • What are their sources of support?
  • Do they have up-to-date information about their health status, medical conditions, etc.?
  • Do they have a clear understanding of the lifestyle prescription (the lifestyle changes their treatment team is recommending)?

Part of a holistic approach is helping the client to attain a clear and complete picture of their current situation.

Explore: Work with The Whole Person

The challenges that people face when attempting lifestyle improvement are sometimes complex. Often there are other factors in the person’s life that are contributing the difficulty they are experiencing with change. With adequate exploration looking at all aspects of their life, they may discover, for example, that their efforts at weight loss have failed because of factors beyond diet and exercise. They may be seriously stressed at work, be taking medications that make weight loss more challenging, they may be lacking the support of other people and perhaps they are socially fairly isolated. There is value in helping them explore how relationships, family, work stress, physical and medical factors, and how they are coping with social determinants of health are relevant to their efforts at lifestyle improvement.

Bridging The Gap

Adequate and holistc exploration leads to clarity for the person about thier current state of being, their level of functioning, and an awareness of the challenges they are facing. The individual may be content with many things in their life, but they do want better health, and a life that is the best one possible for them. This is where the motivating power of vision comes in. What is the person’s idea of their best life possible, their well life vision?

As we encourage people to think in positive, optimisitic, and yet realistic terms about the helathy life they would truly desire to live, we help them to see what, with effort and support, is possible. Stephen Covey’s Begin With the End in Mind – one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People shows its value here. When we can describe the outcome we want to see we can be amazing at finding ways to attain it. Now our clients are motivated not just by fear (avoiding illness), but by a positive image of life that pulls them forward.

Bridging the gap between where the person currently is and where they want to be is the work of a comprehensive wellness plan. Wellness plans are not simply goal setting. They begin with a through self-assessment, using all the tools and resources available. Then with a clear vision of the outcome they want to see, acknowledging the changes that are needed to actualize that vision, the person decides the focus of the wellness plan. Health and wellness coaches call this work coaching to the gap.

Getting Behavioral About Being Holistic

With this approach the person has become more aware of themselves and their health and wellbeing from a more holistic perspective, our next step is to help them discover how to implement their wellness plan. This is where working with a well thought out behavioral change process is essential.

Help the person you are working with sort through this big picture and identify no more than two to four areas of their life they would like to improve. Explore with them about what goals, if achieved, would help them to improve those areas. Then, co-create with them specific action steps that they can experiment with on a daily/weekly basis to work on achieving those goals.

One of the best questions to ever come out of the coaching profession is “How will you know when you’re being successful?” This is where we help our client to decide, very specifically, what success would look like for them. Perhaps for the sleep-starved client, getting at least six hours of sleep four out of seven days would be a wonderful victory. Walking three times a week for at least 20 minutes each time may be a good place to start. Good maps depend upon detail to get us where we want to go. Effective wellness plans become those guiding maps and rely on detail for success. See my book, Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed. for more detailed information about co-creating a wellness plan.

Behavioral approaches depend upon data. As our clients keep track of how often they engage in a particular behavior, they are aware of what leads to success and also gain a key to avoiding self-deception. The feedback serves to either positively encourage us, or to help us reset our strategy to be more effective.

Everything is Interconnected

As we see our client working to implement their wellness plan, we begin to see that the changes they make in one area of their life affects other areas of their life as well. Everything is interconnected. We dance between specific focus, structure and methodology and the beauty of holism and its broader perspective. The holistic approach has to have a way to put legs under it, to operationalize it. Individualizing the behavioral approach does best when it embraces the whole person.

Michael Arloski

About Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, NBC-HWC

Michael Arloski is a Licensed Psychologist and a Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. He is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness, which has trained thousands of health and wellness coaches around the world:






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