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The Challenge with Challenges

by Sara Correnti, Manager, Health & Welfare Member Wellness Products

Promoting the health challenges can be a vicious cycle. You get pumped up about a challenge, so you email, post flyers and talk it up at meetings. But then when the time comes, participation is far less than you had hoped for.

You think to yourself, “What did I do wrong?” Here are some things to think about.

  1. It doesn’t apply to them. It’s hard to get excited about something that doesn’t interest you. Try asking some who aren’t routinely involved in health and wellness activities for input on what they’d like to see or do. When someone has input, they are more likely to participate.
  2. It’s too longResearch shows that focusing on health habits in a competitive way (like challenges) works best when capped at 12 weeks. Any longer than that and people will lose interest. While 12 weeks will work, even shorter is often better. The optimal time frame is two to four weeks. However, intensity of the challenge is the biggest factor on what amount of time is best.
  3. No one else is doing it. Yes, there are trailblazers in life, but so often, most just want to be part of the crowd and do what everyone else is doing. It’s important that those in leadership roles are engaging in wellness and at the same participation rates of their workers. If a leader is encouraging others to walk the path of wellness alongside him or her, workers are more likely to participate.
  4. Nothing in it for “me.” Doing challenges take work, and that work has to be worth it. While it would be nice if just gaining health benefits was enough, research shows we’re just not wired like that. Most need a prize or tangible thing that rewards us for the hard work (beyond the health benefits). Without short-term awards, it’s often easy to lose motivation to stay the health and wellness course. When planning a challenge, make sure the challenge offers a reward and that the reward continues the habit practiced during the challenge. Rewarding with an ice cream buffet for those who participated in a weight loss challenge is counterproductive.
  5. It doesn’t change a thing. Challenges are meant to give some supportive and encouraged practice of a healthy habit. If a challenge isn’t meeting that basic mark, it’s easy for someone to look at it and think, “How will this even help me?”