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Using Design Thinking to Develop Healthy Habits That Stick

33 min read

As health and wellness coaches, you may have ample expertise talking along with your shoppers about their present health habits and figuring out which of them may be improved.

The problem for health and wellness coaches and shoppers alike lies in figuring out which habits may be improved and how to obtain a sustained change in the long run. 

Before embarking on a healthy way of life journey with a shopper, it’s essential to ask your self if the objective is to obtain a health conduct change or a mindset change? To resolve, you must know the distinction between the 2 and perceive how they’re intimately related in efficient health methods. 

Here we offer you an summary of health conduct change and mindset change, and we introduce you to Design Thinking as one in every of many methods for a way to assist your shoppers undertake long-term health-related habits and way of life modifications. 

Behavior Change and Mindset Change: What’s the Difference?


A mindset is a set of beliefs and assumptions concerning how malleable particular attributes are on this planet round you. From a psychological perspective, there are two kinds of mindsets: mounted mindsets and progress mindsets. 

People with mounted mindsets have beliefs which can be mounted and unchangeable. A shopper with a hard and fast mindset is unwilling or unable to change their manner of viewing their situation and challenges. A coach with a hard and fast mindset would possibly consider that shoppers both have the pure capability to change conduct or they don’t. 

If we take a look at the Transtheoretical Model of health conduct change beneath, a shopper with a hard and fast mindset won’t have the option to transfer past the contemplation stage. They acknowledge a necessity to change however face obstacles to change. On the opposite hand, a coach with a hard and fast mindset could assume {that a} shopper doesn’t have the willingness or capability to transfer past the contemplation stage and, because of this, doesn’t provide helpful instruments to assist them migrate to the preparation stage or past.  



On the opposite hand, individuals with progress mindsets have beliefs that may change with extra info, important thought, and dedication. Clients and sufferers want to undertake progress mindsets to think about the potential for change of their lives and enhance their subjective well-being. Coaches additionally want to have progress mindsets to view their shoppers as consultants on their private expertise and be open to modifying strategies and strategies as they arm themselves with new info. 

It is feasible to develop a progress mindset in health both in your self or in your shopper. Some of the ways to do this embrace:

  • Acknowledging and embracing imperfections
  • Viewing challenges as alternatives
  • Trying new and other ways of reaching the identical objective
  • Informing your self with the most recent analysis and tips round health circumstances and power sickness prevention
  • Valuing the method over the outcome
  • Celebrating progress with others
  • Rewarding actions slightly than traits
  • Emphasizing progress over pace
  • Recognizing enhancements even when the objectives haven’t been reached
  • Placing effort earlier than expertise
  • Learning from errors
  • Making new objectives for each objective achieved

The Design Thinking strategy, which we describe beneath, embraces lots of the ideas talked about above. So, as you progress towards modifying health behaviors, you might be concurrently creating a progress mindset. 

Health Behaviors

To perceive health conduct change, it’s essential to perceive what constitutes a health conduct. 

Experts outline health behaviors as actions or actions that people undertake to preserve or enhance their health, stop health points, gradual illness development or regression, or obtain what they understand as a constructive body picture. 

Health behaviors are not entirely individual choices. They are influenced by social determinants, like ideologies, discrimination, inequalities, and company; environmental determinants, like entry to protected sidewalks and a wide range of low-cost food; and psychological determinants, like anxiousness, depression, eating issues, and addictions. 

Remember that health professionals mustn’t separate health behaviors from health outcomes. When a person seeks health conduct change, both in themselves, in a affected person, or in a person they’re teaching, they intention to modify or substitute present behaviors with these perceived to favor higher health outcomes.

Some health outcomes could also be simply measurable, like weight achieve or weight loss and triglyceride or levels of cholesterol. Other outcomes, like motivation and a way of well-being, could also be more difficult to measure however are equally essential.  


Learn what it takes to become a Health & Wellness Coach!

The Connection Between Health Behavior and Mindset

The diagram beneath summarizes the connection between mindset, health behaviors, health determinants, and health outcomes. 


preview-full-What Influences Health Outcomes_V2


AFPA printed an article on the subject of behavior change science, which we encourage you to learn to achieve a greater understanding of health behaviors and the theories behind reaching long-term health conduct change.  

Looking within the Mirror: Coach Mindset

Health professionals are sometimes desirous about their shoppers’ mindsets and the way these affect their shoppers’ health journeys. However, because the coach, your mindset is of main significance earlier than desirous about the potential affect you possibly can have in your shoppers. Your shoppers’ manner of their health and well-being can be considerably influenced by your mindset and understanding of the whole lot from what influences health conduct to the “ideal” behaviors to undertake. 

To illustrate the affect a coach’s mindset can have on their shoppers’ mindset, and subsequently, shopper conduct, let’s take a look at a few theoretical examples. 

  • Example 1: The Bootstrap Health Coach

An authorized health and nutrition coach has been working with shoppers for over ten years. She has developed her observe based mostly on the beliefs that each particular person has the only real accountability for his or her health, and exterior components are merely “excuses” for not having the ability to observe their meal and exercise plans. 

In this case, the coach’s mindset will stop her from seeing the opposite components that affect health behaviors that aren’t in her shoppers’ management. Perhaps a shopper lives in a food desert and has restricted entry to recent meals, or their revenue can’t cowl the price of the meals on the meal plan she has left them, or a lifetime of being pressured by their household to food plan has brought about a trauma response to food restrictions. 

  • Example 2: The “Skinny Is Healthy” Fitness Coach

A fitness coach was impressed to get licensed in fitness teaching after loving the physique {of professional} bodybuilders. He all the time appeared up to them because the “ideal” body sort and equated their low body fats with health. 

After getting his certification, he opened up a fitness teaching enterprise for individuals who need to get match on the health club. His strategies are guided by the idea {that a} person will need to have a low body fats share to be healthy or obtain an “ideal” physique. 

While this coach’s mindset could assist bodybuilding athletes obtain competitive requirements of body composition, he assumes that body composition is one of the best ways to measure health standing. This assumption may have an effect on his capability to establish health points in individuals with excessive muscle and low body fats percentages as a result of he assumes that their body composition equates to health. In actuality, nonetheless, individuals with body compositions with low fats and excessive muscle percentages may additionally be battling power illnesses, eating issues, and nutrient imbalances.  

Additionally, this mindset will negatively have an effect on the coach’s relationship with shoppers who’ve body varieties with greater body fats percentages, even when it doesn’t have an effect on their strength, health standing, or capability to perform difficult exercises. This mindset may be extremely damaging to people who’ve a constructive body picture no matter body composition and wish to exercise for health, not obtain a specific physique. 

Over time, the coach’s mindset, which influences what the coach says and treats his shoppers, may negatively have an effect on his shoppers’ psychological health. 

Coaches’ Mindsets Influence Clients’ Mindsets

One essential factor to be mindful is that coaches are seen as consultants and academics by their shoppers. They consider that their coaches know the way to consider a person’s health standing and that they’re consultants on how to help their shoppers in reaching real looking way of life modifications. 

In different phrases, coaches’ mindsets will have an effect on their shoppers’ mindset. A coach’s place is finally one in every of energy but additionally of accountability. 

Thus, coaches should proceed to educate themselves and achieve sensitivity to the advanced components that affect health behaviors, together with environmental and social points. 

An Innovative Solution to Achieving Behavior Change: A Design Thinking Mindset in Health Coaching

Health conduct change theories, just like the Health Belief Model and the Transtheoretical Model we describe in detail here, are efficient methods of understanding what components can affect a person’s actions that have an effect on their health and well-being within the brief and long run. They are additionally useful for understanding the place a person is likely to be on the continuum of adopting healthy habits. 

However, health conduct change theories are restricted in providing concrete instruments for serving to coaches work with shoppers to undertake actions that help their long-term health whereas nonetheless being delicate to experiential variations, like these associated to race, tradition, trauma, discrimination, socioeconomic standing, gender, and others.

One strategy to selling healthy behaviors is by making use of an idea referred to as “Design Thinking” into health teaching. Note that this is just one strategy to virtually reaching health conduct change in health settings.

From Theory to Action with Design Thinking

Several teams of researchers, together with one in the US and one other in Brazil, have proposed utilizing Design Thinking within the health discipline to enhance healthcare high quality, affected person outcomes, and general patient experience.  

Design Thinking is an strategy utilized to many fields, from engineering to entrepreneurship to healthcare, that prioritizes a deep sense of empathy for end-user wishes, wants, and challenges. With this strategy, health suppliers, like health coaches, can totally perceive an issue to develop a complete and efficient answer that meets a shopper’s wants. 

With the rising curiosity in applying Design Thinking to healthcare, healthcare authorities determined to consider the potential of Design Thinking in healthcare. 

The CDC printed a systematic review of studies on the appliance of Design Thinking in healthcare. The research discovered that Design Thinking can be utilized in diversified settings and circumstances. In common, in contrast to conventional interventions, the healthcare options created confirmed higher usability, effectiveness, and affected person satisfaction than typical approaches. 

Thus, Design Thinking utilized successfully is probably going a helpful strategy to reaching health conduct change in a health teaching atmosphere. 

Here we summarize Design Thinking ideas based mostly on 4 pillars that instantly affect a health coach’s mindset when working with shoppers: empathy, inclusive communication, collaboration, and experimentation. Note that if you happen to go deeper into analysis on design considering, the quantity and division of pillars could differ barely between thinkers. 


In essentially the most fundamental sense, empathy entails the human capability to perceive a person’s feelings and perspectives and why they could perform particular actions. The first step in Design Thinking within the healthcare atmosphere, together with health teaching, is to put individuals first to make an effort to really perceive why a person thinks, makes choices, and takes actions that have an effect on their health as they do. 

Effective interviewing strategies are essential for taking the primary steps in creating empathy. Still, health professionals should hold communication strains open and often test in with sufferers and shoppers all through the intervention course of. 

Inclusive Communication

Once you may have listened to your shopper and recognized issues that you simply understand as being obstacles to their health and well-being, it can be crucial to share these insights utilizing visible communication instruments and having an open thoughts to change these perceptions. 

Let’s take a theoretical instance. 

During the primary session and interview course of, your shopper reveals she is fearful she is likely to be on the highway to creating sort 2 diabetes as a result of she was not too long ago identified with pre-diabetes at her yearly checkup. 

When you ask her what components of her way of life she thinks contribute to the event of diabetes, she tells you it’s her food plan and her lack of bodily exercise. She says that she doesn’t exercise as a result of she doesn’t really feel protected going open air in her neighborhood, and although she likes cooking, she eats loads of take-out food as a result of she has irregular work hours. 

As a coach, you possibly can activate inclusive communication by confirming that, simply as she has recognized, analysis exhibits that inactivity and particular dietary patterns do enhance diabetes threat. 

You also can inform her that you simply perceive, based mostly on what she shared with you, that there are extra issues, like irregular hours and never feeling comfy doing bodily exercise open air. By saying what you may have recognized as an issue out loud, you enable your shopper to verify or make clear your considering. It additionally permits them to ask questions concerning the connection between bodily exercise and food plan and diabetes threat. 


Which home of the next two homes would you want to stay in most: One that was chosen for you based mostly on assumptions about how you want to stay, or one the place you’re employed with an architect to co-design your self? 

You’ll doubtless choose to stay within the second home as a result of your voice was heard in creating useful areas for you and your loved ones. 

Collaboration is an essential precept of design considering in healthcare. When a shopper has a voice regarding one of the best ways to undertake more healthy actions in ways in which think about bodily, financial, and social obstacles and limitations, they are going to be more likely to observe go well with. 


“Experimentation” doesn’t imply, by any means, that you must experiment with unfounded strategies along with your shoppers. 

Experimentation refers to stepping away from one-size-fits-all options as a substitute of adopting personalized solutions that reply to communities’ and people’ wants and realities. 

As health coaches, you discover research-supported strategies for approaching issues and consider whether or not they are often utilized inside the collaborative plan you may have constructed along with your shopper. 

Then, you’re employed along with your shopper to implement these adjustments. While your shopper does so, you take into account that you might be basically seeing if the designed methodology is working along with your shopper. You do that by checking in often, measuring progress, and making changes to objectives and actions the place crucial. 

Applying Design Thinking in Health Coaching: The Double Diamond 

Healthcare researchers explored the appliance of the Double Diamond strategy developed by the Design Council to enhance health outcomes. 


preview-gallery-Double Diamond_V1

The Double Diamond framework proposes a manner of making use of the 4 ideas of Design Thinking. The diamonds put collectively modes of exploring an concept extra broadly with taking centered motion. 

The first diamond is to uncover and outline. Through empathetically connecting along with your shoppers and utilizing inclusive communication, you possibly can specify one or a number of health challenges they’re going through. 

In the second diamond, you retain the problem in thoughts. You work along with your shoppers to develop and implement an answer that may end in modified health behaviors and, finally, the specified health outcomes. You test in often and modify the tactic if wanted. If your shopper doesn’t expertise the specified adjustments, the subsequent step is to re-examine the framing of the issue or the timeline. 

Throughout the method, you possibly can rely in your research-backed strategies financial institution and coach toolbox to help you within the logic for reaching sure outcomes or modifying sure behaviors and supplying you with the instruments to accomplish that. 

The double diamond is framed inside the management you may have as a coach to information them towards their objectives. Your shoppers additionally develop the management take management over their health. Engagement all through the method could make all of the distinction when it comes to building a collaborative relationship along with your shopper, the place you convey the experience on health and so they convey the experience on their life expertise. 

Main Takeaways

In some ways, supporting your shoppers to undertake healthy existence by health behaviors is on the core of health teaching. By nature, coaches step away from one-size-fits-all options and pay attention to shoppers’ distinctive challenges and objectives to help them in making real looking shifts within the decisions they make. The objective is to enhance health outcomes, whether or not it’s as measurable as decrease levels of cholesterol or as holistic as rising a way of well-being. 

The problem for health practitioners, health coaches included, is to take the entire analysis on health-promoting existence and make them relevant to individuals from numerous backgrounds. 

Just as mindsets affect shoppers’ health behaviors, they affect a coach’s strategy to managing shoppers’ health challenges. One of the methods to floor health conduct change principle is by utilizing a Design Thinking mindset to perceive health challenges by empathy and statement, co-create options with shoppers, and apply interventions whereas being open to making changes alongside the way in which. 


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