Renee Fox: Hello, and welcome to Well Wisconsin Radio, a podcast discussing health and wellbeing topics with experts from around the state of Wisconsin. I’m your host, Renee. And my guest today is Kari Ray, a WebMD health coach who has a passion for goal setting and expertise, helping people set and achieve a variety of wellbeing goals.
So the start of the New Year is always a perfect time to start thinking about goals and getting purposeful about your wellbeing. So with purpose in mind, and before we start talking about goals, I want to play a short clip from an interview with Dr. Christine Whelan to set the stage on connecting our purpose with our well-being.
Dr. Christine Whelan is a clinical professor in the Consumer Science Department of the School of Human Ecology at UW Madison, where she is known as the Happy Professor. Dr. Whelan teaches on topics of purpose, wellbeing, and personal definitions of success through the life course. Dr. Whelan is the author of five books, including The Big Picture, A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life, and recently the author of the bestselling Audible original lecture series, Finding Your Purpose. I encourage our listeners to visit www.christinewhelan.com to learn more about Dr. Wheen and her work. Last January, Dr. Wheen shared the following comments on purpose and goals in a well Wisconsin Radio interview.
Dr. Christine Whelan: So let’s start with this idea of purpose. It is absolutely in the cultural zeitgeist these days. You know, we’re hearing it talked about in workplace wellness programs. We’re hearing it talked about around resolutions, and when we think about purpose, often we think about it as this big scary question that we might think about at three in the morning.
And then in the light of day try to push aside and say, gosh, you know, I actually have practical things to do. Purpose is that big question of what matters most to me and why it matters. It’s the why behind everything we do, and some people define purpose as your singular life. The thing for me though is that if somebody asked me what my singular life aim was, I’d get kind of stressed out.
That’s a lot of pressure, right? And I work a lot with emerging adults, with young people, college students, and young adults. And then I’ve also worked with folks who are heading toward retirement. Really, I’m particularly interested in people in times of transition in their lives. And when you’re in a time of transition in your life, the idea of a singular life aim, maybe it doesn’t fit quite right. So, I have defined purpose really, rather than a singular purpose, as a more active thing, as something that we do every day. And I encourage everybody to embrace a purpose mindset. And so I define a purpose mindset as using your gifts, you know, like what you’re good at in keeping with your values.
Meaning what you care about to make a positive impact on the lives of others or the causes that matter most to you. So again, I say a purpose mindset is using your gifts in keeping with your values to make a positive impact on the world around you. And when we think about purpose that way, at least for me, it becomes a whole lot more active, a lot less amorphous, a lot less scary, and something that we can do, even at those times of transition.
So when we think about resolutions, what we’re thinking about is positive change. And all of us in our lives could use some positive change. And when I think about that around making change, you know, you might just sort of feel like you want to pull the covers over your head and, and not make a change that you just don’t have the energy to do.
So this is where purpose comes in. So this is why knowing why something matters really helps you give the energy to actually make it happen. So when we think about purpose in a health context, we’re thinking about, um, having a why to the good positive things you do. Why are you exercising? You know, you’re not necessarily exercising because you have to or your doctor tells you to, hopefully you’re exercising because you enjoy it. You want to be more physically fit to play with your grandchildren. You want to be able to continue to, to run with your children. There’s something ahead, a vacation that you want to enjoy and train for. All of these are purposes, the larger why behind the actions that we take on a day-to-day basis.
And when we know why something matters, it is easier to get us to engage in the how of, how to make it happen. And that means, you know, sometimes getting out of bed when it’s cold outside, getting to the gym, getting up and out and taking that walk. So understanding why you do what you do is really important.
I can say this all day long, but I can also give you some data that helps a lot of us, me included, really understand this even better. So what researchers have done over the last 10 or 15 years is studied the impact of having a life purpose, on all sorts of health outcomes, preventative health measures, even life expectancy.
And so the way that they do this research is that they ask people questions. Purpose in life, and you know, there are short surveys and you end up with a score about how purposeful you are. In fact, some of the research was done here at the University of Wisconsin with Dr. Carol Riff.
And she did a purpose in life inventory that’s often used for this. When we have a score, then what researchers can do is see whether a high in terms of purpose in life is correlated with all sorts of other things. So, for example, what we find is the people who have a high score in terms of purpose are more likely to get mammograms. They’re less likely to smoke, they’re more likely to go to their doctor for regular health checkups. They’re more likely to engage in good preventative health measures. If you have a sense of why you are here and why you’re living and you know what your goals are and, and where you’re headed you can also see that having a higher sense of purpose amazingly enough reduces your likelihood of a heart attach and stroke. It increases your life expectancy. You can have better sleep, have better relationships, and amazingly enough, you can even, earn significantly more money when you know the why behind what you are doing in your life.
So purpose is really linked with positive health outcomes, both preventative, and in terms of long-term health outcomes. And it’s also linked with positive relationships, career success, and all sorts of other good things. So if I told you at the outset that I had a pill that I could give you, that would do all of these things, you would be clamoring for it, right?
And so what I say with purpose, this is even better. It’s not a pill that you have to take. These are opportunities and questions that you can ask yourself to live the happy, healthy life you want to live right now.
Renee Fox: If you want to hear more from Dr. Whelan on purpose, you’re invited to attend a Well Wisconsin presentation—Authentic Purpose, Why It Matters, and How to Make It Happen—on February 16th from 12 to 1 pm. Visit the episode show notes or log in to your Well Wisconsin account at www.webmdhealth.com/well Wisconsin to register for this event. If you’re listening to this podcast after this event date, check the podcast episodes for a recording of her presentation. Now back to our interview on purpose and goals.
Kari, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about setting goals and aligning our goals with our purpose. After you heard the clip from Dr. Whelan, I’m curious about your thoughts on the message she shared on purpose and the link to positive health outcome.
Kari Wray: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all too, I want to thank you for inviting me here. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you and your listening audience. I wish you a Happy New Year. So I really did love what Dr. Whelan had to share. Her research and her findings around defined purpose and successful health outcomes is something that I have the chance to see play out every day. So I think it’s, most of us would all agree that making change is hard and exploring why change matters to an individual is a very customary, and I would even say an essential part of a coaching conversation.
So when I ask a participant, you know, why they want to work on a change, they typically will list the reasons and the benefits for the change. But what’s interesting is that quite often woven into their answers is beyond kind of the why change matters is this sense of greater purpose. So it might be things like, you know, model behaviors for my family, and then they’ll go on to describe maybe a little bit more about what that looks like. Or remain physically active and be independent, you know, live independently, because that might be, you know, a really important part of their current stage or to be active in retirement. So the individual is really essentially, you know, leading towards that definition of purpose and even defining values.
So I can see, I can hear their reasons combined with purpose is helping to fuel motivation. So what Dr. Whelan’s research reinforces is that defining purpose really does help provide direction for change. It serves as an excellent foundation for setting goals. And what I also have seen and hear from people in conversation is it helps them navigate challenges and have that resiliency because they do, they are more defined, and that focus is.
And on the flip side, if I may, is when there’s an absence of purpose. I think this is when we, you know, as coaches tend to hear individuals struggling with this ambivalence and even these conflicting priorities around making change. And it just makes change really challenging.
So I guess what I would say in essence too is, you know, the thing that I’ve seen with individuals is when there’s this alignment, it’s like the stars are aligning that the goals and the purpose, um, it just really becomes easier for them to devote more energy to achieving their goals. It’s like they’ve given themselves permission on a regular basis to spend more time to give more focus to creating the habits that they have decided matter.
Renee Fox: Can you share some specific examples of how you have seen participants reach their goals when their desire for creating behavior change is fueled by their purpose in life? Yeah, sure. I’d be happy to. And I love that you used that word fueled because I think that that’s truly what it is. So I have two examples that I would like to highlight.
So the first example is actually one of those people that Dr. Whelan would describe as preparing to experience a transition in their life, that being retirement. So the purpose was clear for this person. They wanted to be healthy, physically fit, and capable of operating a hobby farm in retirement. They had both purpose and a strong supporting vision for what this was going to look like and what it was going to require of.
So in my first conversation, I remember this person. They were about a year out for retirement and working a very demanding job that required a lot of travel. So the result of travel and eating on the road in restaurants really had taken a toll. At a recent annual checkup, it revealed some weight gain that they were somewhat aware of, um, but elevated cholesterol.
And this situation was indirect conflict with that vision for retirement. The goals that we set as part of this discussion look like this. First of all, really wanting to reign in that cholesterol, get it into a healthy range, and then there was a secondary goal, and that’s that short-term goal that really supports what they were working towards. This individual was going to track their nutrition, both on and off the road to help them with making healthier choices. So for this person, that purpose combined with practical goal setting resulted in weight loss and cholesterol in range, but I have some additional thoughts because we work together over a series of calls. There were ups and downs and setbacks and unexpected challenges that this person encountered and most people do. That’s the reality of it. What appeared to help with maintaining the focus and having resiliency, was that sense of purpose.
Now, my second example involved a woman who stated that her purpose was to be healthier so that she could be active and involved as a Boy Scout leader. She had already begun. You know, kind of phase one of this process by losing weight through dietary changes. And her next goal was really to improve her physical stamina and agility. She shared with me that she specifically wanted to independently get in and out of a kayak on a river bank, and had identified that this is something she really wanted to do for this upcoming trip that the Boy Scouts were taking.
So this became her long-term goal, and as I recall, the types of goals that we set, the short-term goals really focused on strength training and, you know, some agility that helped her to achieve that. One of the reasons that both of these goals, or both of these examples come to mind for me is that their vision was so clear.
Their purpose, you know, they had spent time really thinking about what they wanted for themselves, and that really helped to fuel them and go on and help them with resiliency to work towards that greater purpose.
Renee Fox: This is a time when many people make resolutions for the New Year, and we hear all too often that behavior changes when people set resolutions only lasts a few weeks or maybe even a month. So how can we prevent that from happening and actually achieve our wellness goals?
Kari Wray: Well, I’m really glad that you asked this question. I would say for anybody who has a, you know, New Year’s resolution or is faltering in any way or concerned about it, I’m going to actually provide a few specific tips. But I want to talk about that New Year’s resolution. Fundamentally, you know, one of the challenges behind them is they, they may be more attuned to like wishes or hopes, you know, and they tend to lack definition, they lack a plan. They lack accountability. So for example, you know, for somebody who might have said, I want to be healthier, which is great, isn’t that what we want? We need to kind explore that a little bit more. You know, how, how will you be eating healthier? What will you be doing? You know, both of those are. Again, great. They’re good questions to get you started thinking to have that more defined goal.
So again, I have three suggestions. Listen up and if you’ve already started your New Year’s resolution, kind of run them through this process and think about applying some of these things. First of all, writing down your goals can be extremely helpful. The other part about writing down your goals is why does it matter to you? And if you’ve identified your purpose, if you have a more detailed purpose, write that down too so you can continue to refer back to it.
Secondly, recognize that change is a process. It takes time and there’s really two types of goals. So I think it helps to really distinguish that there are two types of goals. One is more that long-term goal. Remember I described, you know, both individuals saw the, you know, the achieving, you know, the cholesterol goal and the other one achieving that physical goal of getting in that kayak. Those are long-term goals. They knew it was going to take time. So long-term goals, in essence, they do take time and we need to allow for that. And I would say six months to a year might be like typical, you know, to kind of put it in that, you know camp, when I say long term,
The other type of goal that supports those long-term goal are short-term goals, and they really are the keys to meeting the long-term goal. They are small steps. They are actions that you’ll be taking to create the habit to move you closer to the long-term goal. And short-term goals can be things like, it might be two weeks that you’re working on something or a month.
And then my third tip here is to use the smart goal format for creating any type of goal. Smart goal is an acronym. If you’ve never used it or heard it before, consider using this as a formula to help you in developing your goal. So smart. S is specific. M is measurable. A is that there’s an action to it. R is realistic and then T is time bound. So following this formula really helps in developing goals that, you know, I do have a solid plan and it’s worth the time to run it through that.
So I’ve shared with people, well, I’m going to share with you, I don’t share it with individuals when I’m speaking with them necessarily. But I feel like in my experience, it is not people who fail their goals, I feel like it’s goals that fail people. So let’s just back this up and set good goals for yourself that you can achieve. They’re going to challenge you, but that you can achieve.
Renee Fox: Those are great tips. So once we have gone through the process of those three steps and we have a plan in place for our new health goal, are there times throughout the year similar to the new year that are good for either setting new goals or expanding on the current goals that we have in place?
Kari Wray: Yeah, I, you know, I would say a lot of people like this time of year, or maybe it’s around their birthday or they’ve just had their annual checkup, but the truth is, anytime can be the right time for behavior change. So if you feel that nudge, if something’s nudging at you, like this is in conflict, this is not working and helping me, it’s a good time to set goals.
So now, if you’re using that smart goal format, remember, T has a timetable kind of built into. It has a time element, so use that to reevaluate your goals, your goal progress, and when your goals become habits you’ll, you’ll know it, right? It’s far less energy that you have to, you know, be thinking about this because it’s become fairly automatic. That’s a good indication that it’s time for maybe an additional small step. You know, maybe you’re ready for that bigger step. Uh, maybe you’ve been bringing, let’s say your lunch to eat healthier and maybe now the goal is to meal plan around your dinners because you’re ready for that. It’s just a step, if you will, in furthering that direction for that long-term.
Renee Fox: Our listeners who are enrolled in the state of Wisconsin Group Health Insurance Program are all eligible for health coaching through Well Wisconsin. Can you talk a little bit more about the health coaching experience and what that is like and how goal setting is involved?
Kari Wray: Sure, absolutely. So the process of smart health goals is what our coaches specialize in. And it, it can feel a little overwhelming. I even have used coaching myself, and I’ve found that my goals are smarter, if you will, when I’ve worked with a health coach. So let them help you craft your goals that you want to achieve and create ones that have a strong, workable plan behind them.
So an additional benefit to working with a health coach is that they really provide ongoing support. They can help to break down barriers, celebrate successes. In my experience, people tend to be their own worst critics, and coaches are really good at recognizing people’s progress. So sometimes there are even small steps that people themselves aren’t recognizing.
They’re too hard on themselves. And so coaches are great at recognizing this and helping people recognize their strengths and move them forward when they might be struggling or uncertain about where to go. We also have, of course, a lot of resources and that we can provide people that are helpful. So it’s a good place to start.
Renee Fox: I love hearing the testimonials from people across the state of Wisconsin who have participated in health coaching and had a positive impact. So as a coach, I’m curious how it feels when you hear this type of story from someone about the impact that the health coaching experience has made in their life.
Kari Wray: Well, quite honestly, this is the best part of what I do. I think, and it’s safe to say that that’s not only for me, but my colleagues would feel the same way. It is incredibly rewarding to hear individuals describe their improved lives, the many benefits that result from lifestyle changes that they’ve made.
So it’s not uncommon to hear someone, let’s say that originally, their primary focus was weight loss and there’s this increased energy. They have better energy, they have better sleep, they have reduced their joint pain, they increase their stamina. All of these things lead towards living better lives, more comfortable lives.
And the thing that is very rewarding to hear is when changes that were once a struggle, you know, these are habits that they’re trying to form, they’ve really become a part of lifestyle. And I would say a preferred part of their lifestyle. Not because they have to, but because they want to. The other thing I would add to that is it’s, it’s not always at the conclusion like they’ve arrived at their long-term goal.
These benefits are realized along the way and they do help to fuel motivation. So those are just, great parts of the conversation that are so rewarding as a coach to hear.
Renee Fox: Kari, can you tell us about the expertise and the educational backgrounds that WebMD health coaches have and then how participants can be matched with the coach to focus on a specific area of health where they really want to focus and make improvements?
Kari Wray: Sure. Yeah. Our coaches have, uh, varied backgrounds. We have certified dieticians, nurses, personal trainers, health education professionals, psychology backgrounds. The commonality of all coaches is that they have four year degrees and they have at least one type of certification. Many have many more. The other commonality is that we have specialized training in behavior.
Now, if someone was interested in working with a coach who has a specific type of background, they simply need to ask for that.
Renee Fox: So what would you say to someone who is new to health coaching and may be apprehensive about giving it a try? Well, it may be reassuring for individuals to know that coaching conversations are kept confidential.
It’s also kind of a no judgment zone because coaches know and they recognize that everyone is, you know, on their own health journey and they’re all at different places. The coaching, um, Is not a prescriptive plan. So that’s the other thing. I think sometimes they’re like, I don’t want someone telling me what to do.
Well, it’s not a prescriptive plan that tells people what to do. We know that that doesn’t work. So coaching gives people a chance to talk about what they want one-on-one with someone whose primary objective is to help that individual, help support you and your health goals. So calls are typically, 10 to 15 minutes, and they are at scheduled times, and these are scheduled when it’s convenient for a person.
So I would invite everybody to give it a try. I don’t think anybody can ever have too much support as they’re working on change when it comes to making changes. We can all use some help.
Renee Fox: A WebMD health coach can be the beneficial guide you need to get the real results you’re looking for. Hear how coaching impacted a fellow Well, Wisconsin participant’s life.
Coaching Participant: I just want to say that the coaching sessions have been very beneficial. To me, um, in my journey to stop smoking and to drink more water. The tips given by the different coaches, um, helped me a lot.
Renee Fox: WebMD coaches are trained health professionals ready to support you. Whatever your goal, whether you want to lose a few pounds, sleep better, get some help managing stress, or managing a chronic condition like diabetes or asthma. Get started today by calling 808 2 1 6 5 9 1. Into confidential message on WebMD health.com/well, Wisconsin.
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