Enabling change?

‘Getting people active’ is a popular and laudable mission or purpose in our line of work. But is it really the approach we should be taking if we’re looking for a long term shift in attitudes and habits? shift’s Andrea explores…

Getting people to change their habits

The verb ‘get’ is in the top five of the most common verbs in the English language and has many meanings. In this context, I understand it to mean “to induce or prevail upon someone to do something” (Oxford Living Dictionary) i.e we want to cause a change in someone’s behaviour.

I have been trying to ‘get’ my eight-year-old daughter to eat more fruit for a while – she would far rather eat crisps and chocolate. I have deployed all the well-known tricks – fruit kebabs, chopping apples onto a plate, mini boxes of raisins but nothing has really stuck and it all relies on me preparing and presenting colourful arrangements of healthy snacks. One day she watched me making a fruit smoothie – bananas, satsumas, yoghurt, apple juice and spinach all went into a blender. Woo hoo, that looked fun! She had a taste and loved it. So, I showed her how to use the blender and she’s now experimenting with different recipes by herself, for herself……..no need for me.

There are strong parallels in getting people active. We put on sessions, provide menus of activities, run events and deliver classes. But how much of it sticks? And what would happen if we walked away? I suspect much of the activity would grind to a halt and we see this often in our work, for example when a fitness instructor leaves an area the demand fades.

Enabling Change

What if we were to exchange the word ‘get’ for ‘enable’? Would we approach our work differently?

To enable means “to give someone the authority or means to do something; make it possible for.” So, rather than imposing change on someone, we would be making change possible, and to me that already feels less confrontational and more uplifting.

Change is hard. We like to change others, but none of us likes to be changed. Perhaps if change felt more like moving towards something good that we had chosen for ourselves, rather than being forced into something that someone else wanted for us, it might happen more often and last for longer.

So, should we be about ‘getting people active’ or ‘enabling people to live active lives’? For us it is more and more the latter. A great example is this story of a kurling group in Holmewood who are now self sufficient and will be able to continue with little to no input from us.

Our experience tells us that it takes longer, it requires much more thought, conversation, listening, experimenting and truly connecting with people. But I believe it leads to lasting change and has far greater meaning for the people involved.

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