Business of Well-being

Keeping Employees Moving Beyond the Incentives

Moving Beyond the Incentives

You have given your employees good incentives and opportunities to get moving, yet this may not be enough to instill regular exercise into their lifestyles or reduce their risk for chronic illness. Even those who respond with initial enthusiasm and seem to do well with their exercise programs will likely struggle to stick with exercise long term.  

Until employees have a way for successfully sticking with healthy behaviors as a lifestyle, the results from wellness and fitness programs will fall short of their potential and fail to significantly change the cost of chronic disease. The solution for long-term active lifestyles is found in understanding what really causes people to avoid or resist exercising.  

The cause is not lack of willpower nor is it laziness, arrogance, procrastination or denial. Instead these are symptoms of the real cause, which is cognitive dissonance.

Real Cause of Exercise Inconsistency

Cognitive dissonance is the disconnect between conscious choices to be healthier and lose weight and subconscious beliefs and emotions that drive attitudes and behaviors which in turn sabotage the conscious desire to make healthy changes.  

As a result, one's behavior is driven less by conscious motivators than it is by the more powerful subconscious mind that carries mental and emotional baggage from past knowledge and experiences related to food, fitness, self-confidence, self-esteem and body image.

Most employees want to feel and look their best, and once they are motivated enough they will attempt to do whatever it takes to succeed. This may last a week, a month or even a year. Sadly many people find it difficult to stay motivated, to roll with short-term derailments or to overcome self-sabotage.

Others may struggle to achieve their weekly goals and give up, believing they can't succeed. Once it becomes challenging to stick with an exercise plan and someone stops being active, they are inclined to shift into either exercise ambivalence or exercise resistance.

Getting them motivated again can take months or years. Subconsciously, they will take on additional beliefs and emotions from this most recent exercise experience that didn't result in a success, and this subconscious mindset will impact their willingness to get re-motivated and or their ability to succeed in the future.

Cognitive dissonance as it relates to exercise happens to the best of us and has probably happened in your own personal experience, as it has with mine. You can know how important it is to fit exercise into your day yet still choose not to do it despite your beliefs, intentions or preparation.

You may even miss whole weeks of being active or go through periods when you avoid exercise. How you feel about yourself and exercise when this occurs can impact how soon you get back into your routine, how long you resist it or how successful you are week to week in reaching your goals.

Most people are quick to criticize when they haven't exercised as planned, assuming the worst about themselves, comparing themselves to others, and believing they have failed to measure up to expectations.

These internal criticisms are motivation killers and they are often heightened in programs focused on compliance. Such harsh self-judgment inevitably leads to low self-confidence, poor self-esteem, giving up on goals and denial. The use of compliance, intimidation or penalties, much like the stick feared by children, more often generates lack-luster results than positive lasting change.

Identifying Subconscious Drivers of Behavior

The challenge is identifying the underlying subconscious drivers of behavior in employees, which are unknown to themselves and to those trying to encourage them to take better care of their health. Furthermore, no two people have the same set of internal beliefs or emotions driving their behaviors so a one-size fits all approach won't work to resolve them.

Non-judgmental behavioral change coaching provides the mechanism for helping employees look at their choices with curiosity rather than criticism. Without criticism, they are more willing to investigate the reasons for their behaviors.

Whereas criticism makes it difficult to look at the behavior without further self-loathing or assuming the problem is who they are rather than a choice they have unconsciously made. Once open to curiosity, the employee can step back and become a neutral observer of their exercise choices and uncover the real reasons for being less active than they intended.

Most likely their reasons are tied to subconscious determinants, such as performance anxiety, injury anxiety, perfectionism, overwhelm, extreme associations, derailment resistance, inflexible beliefs or emotional rebellion.

Addressing Common Behavioral Drivers

The method for identifying subconscious drivers of exercise ambivalence or resistance and the strategies to address them is done with a skilled healthy lifestyle or wellness coach who uses both directive and non-directive coaching techniques, along with appreciative inquiry and motivational interviewing. This approach

1) Generates consciousness of behaviors without judgment

2) Creates clarity of subconscious drivers

3) Promotes self-motivating, self-honoring and positive healthy choices. The following are eight common determinants of inconsistent exercising and ways to address them.

Performance Anxiety:

Those who grew up feeling humiliated for their inability to perform exercises or sports as well as other kids or siblings often carry deep anxiety and fear about similar types of exercise. By giving them the option to select aerobic and functional activities they feel confident and positive about improves their interest and success.

Injury Anxiety:

People who have been injured from exercising or working with a trainer, or those who have existing or persistent chronic pain or an old injury, tend to have subconscious anxiety about exercise. By asking them about any past injuries or painful experiences related to exercise and if there are any concerns, gives them a chance to talk about them and be assured that a program will be designed to address them.


Most people carry a deep belief that if they fail to meet specific goals or expectations, even if unrealistic, they have failed, are bad or something is wrong with them. The more often this occurs and is reinforced, the less confidence they have in their ability to succeed.

This leads to low self-confidence, low self-esteem and resistance to exercising. By acknowledging any exercise they did achieve during the week, even if it wasn't the complete goal, shows them they had success and perfection isn't required.

Inflexible Beliefs:

Everyone has their own beliefs about exercise, based on what they have read, been told or once used to do. These beliefs appear as right and wrong rules about what is the right type of exercise, number of days, minimal amount of time and level of effort required to lose weight, get fit or build muscle.

In their minds, anything less is not worth doing.  By educating them about their options, what is really needed to improve health and fitness, and how even moving more during the day adds up, they will become more open-minded and more active.


Exercise programs that start off with frequency, duration or intensity goals that exceed someone's ability or pushes them too far is often overwhelming. Overwhelm often triggers past experiences of being overwhelmed and the associated beliefs and feelings from those events. Some people may rise to the challenge successfully, while most others will likely resist it or struggle with perfectionism.

Few will have the ability to ask for less challenging goals, yet that is what will help them succeed and build up their ability to handle the load.  By setting smaller, easier goals they can absolutely reach, even if they appear to be baby steps, will generate success, confidence and a desire to see how much more they can do.

Emotional Rebellion:

The benefits of exercise are not often immediately apparent. Those who dislike exercising will have an internal battle of what they should do rather than what they really want to do when there doesn't appear to be a pay off. This battle plays out subconsciously as a tug of war between beliefs (parental voice of authority) and emotions (child voice of feelings and needs).

As explored by Transactional Analysis, very often the child voice dominates or acts out when it experiences strong feelings or doesn't get its needs met. By understanding someone's emotional needs and adjusting the exercising rules to meet them, the rebellion will subside.

Extreme Associations:

Those who have participated in extreme fitness programs and boot camps they didn't enjoy, or that left them with an injury or bad taste in their mouth, may be dealing with unpleasant or conflicting beliefs and emotions around any form of exercise. By offering fitness options that are more enjoyable and at a slower pace, exercising becomes palatable and no longer associated with extremes.

Derailment Resistance:

When someone gets derailed from their fitness routine by an illness, injury, vacation or period of not wanting to exercise, it is often a struggle to face getting back into the routine. By having permission to start back with lower frequency, duration and intensity goals the first couple of weeks, the routine feels light and good and before they know it they are easily back into their groove.

Benefits of a Healthy Lifestyle Approach to Exercising

Unlike exercise programs based on compliance-driven goals or measured expectations that seek rapid results, the basis of a healthy lifestyle approach is more forgiving, open-minded, flexible and long-term.It takes time to address and change emotional and mental mindsets, to start off with baby steps and progress in time to greater exercise ability or to gain enthusiasm for fitness activities that stick long-term.

The ability to gradually succeed at a pace that feels good, without fear of judgment or penalties, fosters greater desire to make healthy decisions by choice rather than out of obligation.

Those people who have attained fitness and weight loss success stories offer empirical validation for this approach. In nearly all cases of long-term success in maintaining weight loss and creating a fit lifestyle, the people did it by discovering a way to feel good about fitness and themselves right from the start.

While metrics are necessary to gauge a program's success and assure return on investment, there needs to be allowance for a longer-term perspective that gives employees more time to successfully incorporate and maintain health and fitness goals as a way of living. A healthy lifestyle approach based on empathy, awareness, curiosity and personal choice solves the problem of exercise ambivalence or resistance common in the workforce.

About the Author

Alice Greene is America's Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Author & Speaker President, Feel Your Personal Best Alice is an expert in successfully changing people's lifestyle behaviors by changing the way they think and feel about food, fitness, their bodies and themselves. Her coaching approach gives people the tools, insights and strategies to easily and intuitively select healthier foods, activities and behaviors by choice rather than out of obligation. The result is long-term success in health, fitness and weight loss.

As America's Healthy Lifestyle Coach, she is leading the way in blending lifestyle coaching techniques with the principles of exercise physiology, nutrition, emotional eating, intuitive eating and positive psychology to create and sustain a healthier way of living. Alice is the founder and president of Feel Your Personal Best, a leader in healthy lifestyle coaching. She is author of Inspired to Feel Good: Making healthy and fit choices so rewarding and liberating you never want to stop, Feeling Great healthy lifestyle coaching program guides, and Feel Great in Your Body.

She is also co-author of Living Free with Type 2 Diabetes and Wake Up Women: Be Happy, Healthy & Wealthy. She is the former co-host of Living Your Personal Best radio show, co-developer of the Living Free Diabetes CD program, and host of the Healthy Living Inside & Out blog. Alice is a certified ACE personal trainer, Dream CoachR group leader, and certified in Intuitive Eating. She is also a graduate of the Fitness by PhoneR coaching program and has completed coursework in lifestyle fitness and wellness coaching.

Alice knows what it takes to find the resolve to live a better life and the steps to successfully make fitness, health and following dreams a positive lifestyle choice. Eight years ago she resolved to finally get fit, gain control over her weight, and leave the high-tech consulting firm she started and ran for sixteen years to get healthy and balanced. She became a success story, and the lessons she learned became the basis of a new type of healthy lifestyle coaching program and business.

She was formerly president of Industry Directions, a high tech research consultancy firm. She was also an analyst with International Data Corporation (IDC), and a management consultant with both Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse.

Alice is now 51. She is in the best shape of her life and living the life of her dreams by using the same coaching concepts she provides to her clients. For information about Feeling Great healthy lifestyle coaching program-in-a-guide series supported by tele-programs, available only to organizations, contact Alice directly

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