Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation in
Health Promotion and Wellness
Colleen M. Seifert, PhD; Larry S. Chapman, MPH; Joseph K. Hart, JD; Paul Perez, CWPC, PCC
Setting the Stage
Health promotion and wellness specialists have long held this
belief: ‘‘If you build a wellness program to help people lead
healthier lives, they will come.’’ And why wouldn’t they? Start with
completing a health risk assessment (HRA) and possibly biometric
screening; the process alone can potentially be lifesaving, alerting
people with conditions such as high cholesterol, hypertension, and
diabetes to the significant risk of these conditions. Similarly, the
HRA can help identify predisposition to deadly diseases, such as
cancer, that require immediate intervention. Who would not want
to know the results of such an important assessment? Wellness
interventions such as HRAs can build awareness, lead employees
towards making better health decisions, and reduce companies’
ever-increasing health care costs.
So why aren’t employees participating in large numbers in
worksite wellness programs? From our general experience with
wellness programs, we’ve seen that offering employees opportu-
nities to improve health is simply not enough to cause them to use
it. Despite the significant personal advantages from health
promotion and wellness programs, many people still do not
To build intrinsic motivation for change, we believe that individuals
need to discover their own rewards for healthy behavior. Employees must
be supported within an organizational health culture to build their own
goals, enhance their own knowledge, and follow through on their own
concrete action steps. Through this health culture, employees can
develop their own intrinsic values or incentives that help maintain their
efforts towards achieving health goals. This article reviews scientific
studies of behavior change that provide a deeper understanding of human
motivation. The issues raised address how to design more effective health
promotion and wellness programs, and illustrate ways to implement
health change programs so that they enhance intrinsic motivation.
To help us accomplish this we will be addressing the following topics:
NFundamentals of human motivation
NIntrinsic versus extrinsic motivation: Understanding the issues
NHow do most health promotion programs currently deal with
NSome examples of wellness incentive programs
NWhat does the research literature tell us about motivation?
NWhat programming strategies can be used to enhance intrinsic
Fundamentals of Human Motivation
Figure 1 shows the definitions of motivation, along with those for
intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as provided by Wikipedia.
should be recognized that little real consensus exists in the social
and educational psychological literature about the exact nature
and the practical operation of these core concepts.
In This Issue
Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation in Health Promotion
by Colleen M. Seifert, Larry S. Chapman, Joseph K. Hart,
and Paul Perez .............................. 1
Selected Abstracts ...........................11
Closing Thoughts, by Larry S. Chapman ..........12
Editor .................. Larry S. Chapman, MPH
Publisher ...................Michael P. O’Donnell,
PhD, MBA, MPH
Managing Editor .............. Danielle J. Price, MA
Most of us recognize that these concepts represent central tenets
in the effectiveness of the efforts of health promotion and wellness
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation:
Understanding the Issues
To better understand these key concepts let’s start with a simple
example of a behavior we’d like to encourage: reading. With a national
pizzeria chain, public schools have started a program in which children
read for 20 minutes every day for 1 month, and are rewarded with a
coupon for a free pizza (http://www.bookitprogram.com).
We believe that this is an interesting motivational program. The
idea is that you can’t compel people to read: they must want to
perform the behavior themselves. And doing so is its own reward, as
so many avid readers will attest. But when you’re seven, the
challenging habit of reading may not be something you choose to do
for its own value. You may not yet see the value! Instead, the pizza
steps in; now, you have an extrinsic (external) reward for doing the
desired behavior (reading). But the program’s goal is not to feed
children; the goal is to get children to do the behavior long enough
that they can experience the joy—the intrinsic (internal) value—of
reading for themselves. After some time of practicing the behavior,
the intrinsic rewards grow, and become enough to encourage
children to engage in thebehavior on their own. Kids choose to read
because they find it is fun! Then, no more pizzas are required.
Applying this lesson to health promotion and wellness programs,
we can see that many of the steps in this motivational process are
already in place. We have identified concrete health behaviors that
we want to encourage. We frequently install extrinsic incentive
programs that help cause people to participate in programs and/or
begin new health behaviors. Next, we need methods to identify and
reinforce the intrinsic value of health behaviors that will help
people maintain these healthy behaviors over time.
How Do Most Health Promotion
Programs Currently Deal
Individuals’ motivation to change is the most significant stumbling
block in health promotion and wellness. Many companies are finding
that health promotion programs are not achieving significant or
lasting changes in health behavior. Employees’ lack of interest in, or
reluctance to participate in, health and wellness programs appears to
be the main obstacle to changing health behaviors. Further, nearly
two-thirds of businesses say the biggest challenge to managing
affordable health care coverage is employees’ poor health habits: ‘‘As
companies struggle with low levels of employee engagement and face
limited budgets for financial incentives, there is growing interest
among employers to impose tougher requirements for members to
receive financial incentives around health engagement activities.’’
The state of the art in building motivation for health promotion
programs includes the use of incentives. The role of wellness
incentives is to motivate those who are not intrinsically motivated
to participate in wellness programs and/or adopt healthy
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behaviors. After all, intrinsically motivated people do not need
wellness initiatives—they will do it on their own! The size of this
group is usually also affected by the novelty effect that occurs
when the program is new. However, this group is usually a hard
sell when it comes to any form of health promotion or wellness. So
how do you reach those people most in need of intervention?
It is human nature that people will engage in new behaviors if they
believe there is a reasonable reward (incentive) for it. Some believe
that it is inherently wrong to try to motivate people towards health
using money or other rewards. But it is difficult to fight human
nature, which says that we are often hardwired towards instant
gratification. The real rewards of health—feeling better, living longer,
and worrying less—seem attached to a distant future. Wellness
requires fully embracing delayed gratification, where the reward may
be as elusive as the avoidance of a chronic disease. We clearly need
some way to help people move toward health improvement by
providing salient rewards along the way.
The universally attractive reward is money, particularly larger
amounts of money, which has been successful in getting employees
to participate in HRAs, biometric screenings, online learning
programs, and health coaching. Research supports the use of
incentives: for example, in one corporation, HRA use without
incentives was found to be only 26%, but with incentives, HRA use
rose to 93%.
Wellness incentives in the form of reductions in
health plan premiums and cost sharing have been found to be
Incentives are very helpful in getting people to try
something new, and to start along the path toward better health.
Most wellness programs have used some form of incentive to
provide the largely extrinsic motivation for initial participation or
adoption of a new behavior. Unfortunately, most wellness
programs have not intentionally introduced strategies or actions to
help convert this extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation.
Some Examples of Wellness
Example 1: The Wellness Challenge
One example of a single hospital-based employee wellness program
that used a strong monetary incentive is the Wellness Challenge.
The program was originally developed by the staff of Providence
Everett Medical Center in Everett, Washington, and is now
administered by HealthForce Partners of Bothell, Washington. This
pioneering program was first implemented in 1991. The program
was designed to reward employees who meet or achieve a minimum
of 8 out of 10 wellness criteria during the program year, including:
1. Three out of four calendar quarters without an unscheduled
2. Completing an HRA
3. Attending Wellness at Work educational sessions
4. No lost work time due to injury
5. Minimum of 75 points from participation in the hospital’s
6. Declaration of seat belt use at all times when in a vehicle
7. Blood pressure below 140/90 mm Hg at four quarterly points
during the year
8. Participation in nine or more wellness program activities
9. No tobacco use in last 3 months
10. Less than $250 of personal health claims cost (excluding
The program supported participants in reducing modifiable health
risks such as elevated blood pressure, overweight status, high choles-
terol, smoking, and physical inactivity, as well as self-care practices.
Employees who meet the Wellness Challenge by meeting a
minimum of eight wellness criteria received a pretax wellness
bonus that increased each successive year until a cap was reached
($250–$400). Those who try, but meet less than eight criteria, are
given a smaller reward to encourage continued participation. The
core concept is that employees can be influenced to improve their
long-term health status and minimize their utilization of health
care resources by being rewarded for improvement. This becomes
a win/win situation for the employee and employer.
The incentive criteria provide a balanced approach to short- and
long-term clinical and behavioral health risks. Biometric screening is
used in the incentive-based model to enable the individual to meet
specific criteria and to qualify for the rewards through achievements
as well as participation. The biometrics generally function to
reinforce the clinical and medical objectives of the program and to
help individuals manage their own health more effectively in the
context of the criteria used by the incentive program.
The major outcomes of the program included an average
program participation rate of 51% over a 10-year period. The
hospital has calculated health care cost and sick leave savings for
1992–2001 in excess of $13 million. This results in a 1:6.82
average annual cost-benefit ratio for each of the 10 years of this
strongly incentive-based program model.
We believe that this incentive-based program model is a
valuable approach to attract employees into program activities that
often have relatively low levels of participation. Group education
activities such as workshops, support groups, and group provision
of information are useful, but are infrequently used with other
menu-based programming options. We believe that one of the keys
to the success of a program like the Wellness Challenge is its
combination of significant incentives and targeted education.
Example 2: Asset Health
Another example of a hospital-based employee wellness incentive
program with a strong educational focus was implemented by a
renowned northeastern university health system in October 2009.
This is a large (more than 15,000 employees) health care center in
multiple locations, with a diverse work force including doctors,
nurses, sanitation, administrative staff, and cafeteria workers. The
program, Asset Health, offers a Web-based communication and
education system focused on comprehension as a basis for behavior
change. It includes clear linkage to employee benefits (health
savings accounts, flexible spending accounts, health reimbursement
accounts, and health plan linkages) and management of personal
health care finances, including budgeting, investing, and saving. In
addition, it provides tutorials on wellness topics that provide specific
guidance on how to implement behavior change. The goal is both
teaching and motivating ‘‘consumer’’ behavior to help employees
take direct and active responsibility for their own health and health
care. The core message is, ‘‘Your health is your most valuable asset.’’
If people value feeling healthy as a core part of their identity, and an
important factor in protecting their families, then it is likely to
become a major motivation for behavior change.
To enter the program, employees completed an HRA and one
Web-based course, ‘‘My Family and My Health.’’ The course focused
on health as an asset and ways to protect it through direct actions.
Employees were encouraged to feel ‘‘direct and active responsibility’’
for their health, and to understand its ties to their personal and
financial security. From there, employees regularly took further
courses within the program’s Learning Management System based
on their interests, including the items shown in Figure 2.
Financial incentives were built into the program through the
use of a point system with record keeping on a quarterly basis,
which translated annually into a possibility of $360 of payroll
deductions. Additional optional activities included:
NHealthy Prevention—Participate in appropriate screenings and
NHealthy Actions—Complete Asset Health courses, exercise,
participate in events, work with health coach
NHealthy Lifestyle—Complete actions such as drinking eight
glasses of water a day, eating a healthy breakfast, wearing a
Quarterly e-mail communications were sent to all employees to
remind them about their participation in the program.
The preliminary results documented that the program had a
major impact on employee health and employees’ health care
decisions. Most importantly, employees demonstrated significant
knowledge gains based upon the health care center’s internal
evaluation. The adaptive testing data showed greater than 90%
proficiency in multiple key areas of health care knowledge. More
than four out of five employees surveyed found high value in the
Asset Health program, and indicated a high likelihood that they
would change their behavior in the specific areas in which they
trained. In all, 75% of employees participated in the Asset Health
online courses, including going on to take optional courses in areas
of interest beyond those needed for the incentives.
Both of these incentive program examples demonstrate how
incentives can help employees take the first step of engaging in
program activities. Once there, they begin to learn how to improve
their health, and what steps to tackle in their own health journeys.
Along with incentives, both programs emphasized targeted
education to build the employees’ knowledge and resources for
implementing behavior change. We believe that these programs
are effective in getting reluctant individuals to extensively engage
in worksite-based health promotion and wellness programs.
Employers now attract 40% to 80% or more of employees and
spouses to their wellness programs, largely through the use of
significant extrinsic financial incentives such as a substantial
reduction in their health plan premium contribution. However, to
capitalize on that short-term high level of participation, we must
introduce additional program features that will help to further
enhance intrinsic motivation, and help participants maintain the
important changes they have frequently only recently begun.
What Does the Research Literature
Tell Us About Motivation?
The behavioral health scientific literature supplements these
conclusions with evidence from controlled empirical studies.
meta-analysis of 111 randomized controlled studies
concluded, ‘‘Financial incentives, if they are big enough, can
influence discrete behavior at the individual level in the short
Studies of behavior change, such as smoking cessation,
showed that incentives worked to increase attendance activity.
Similarly, participants in a weight loss program who were paid
showed better attendance.
In a recent survey, 58% of employers
are offering incentives to participate in health and wellness
programs; of those, 24% also offer them to spouses and
Recent numbers from Hewitt Associates show that
47% of employers either already use, or plan to use, financial
penalties over the next 3 to 5 years for employees who do not
participate in certain health improvement programs.
The fundamental fact of motivation is that human beings cannot
be forcibly compelled to change their behaviors, such as what and
how much they eat, what they feed their children, or whether they
smoke or exercise. These behavior changes may be initiated by
extrinsic sources of motivation, or factors outside of the individual
that influence how they behave. The science of learning called
behaviorism has this as its core tenet: Reward the behavior you
want, and you will get more of it.
But 50 years of psychological
science has confirmed, over and over again, that in humans, rewards
have a complicated relationship to motivation.
Human nature is
such that we do not necessarily internalize motivation based on
rewards. In fact, rewards can backfire, so that we are less likely to
choose to repeat behaviors that were supported by incentives.
For example, in a recent study, students at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology completed a variety of tasks involving
remembering strings of digits, performing motor skills, or playing
Different groups were given either small, medium,
or large financial rewards based on their performance. For
mechanical skills, where no thinking was involved, higher rewards
did lead to better performance. But if the task involved cognitive skill
in even a rudimentary way, the larger reward led to poorer
performance. Health behavior change may fit into this latter
category: It requires cognitive effort to establish new, healthier
behavior. And it is not only in the laboratory: In 2009, an analysis of
50 studies of ‘‘pay for performance’’ plans in corporations concluded,
‘‘We find that financial incentives … can result in a negative impact
on overall performance.’’
This finding is one of the most robust in
the behavioral sciences, and also the most ignored.
Why are extrinsic reinforcers less effective over the long term? An
early study by Lepper et al.
argues extrinsic rewards can become
the reason for the behavior, rather than enhancing intrinsic
motivation. In a field experiment, children who showed interest in
playing with special colored markers were asked to agree to play
with the markers in order to obtain a ‘‘Good Player’’ award. The
results showed that children who expected a reward showed half as
much interest in free play with the markers following the study
compared to those not promised a reward. A classic study by Deci
showed the same effect inadults. Those paid tocomplete interesting
puzzles did fewer during a break period than those never rewarded.
Even in children, the self-perception that their interest in an activity
is due to a reward led to little interest in doing it without one. As a
result, incentives may actually work against new behaviors because
people stop doing the behaviors on their own.
Why does this happen? Rewards are problematic because people
tend to think about the causes of their own behavior. People ask,
‘‘Why am I doing this?’’ If paid to perform, people regard the
incentives as the cause for their behavior, removing the need to
‘‘own’’ their behavior. Consider this classic study by Festinger
are asked to perform a boring, difficult task, and you are paid $20 to
do so. Now, you are asked to convince someone else that the task was
actually fun. This is difficult because you know you did it simply for
the money. Alternatively, suppose you were paid just $1 for doing the
same task. Now, when you tell others it was fun, you can’t rely on the
incentive as your self-justification. Instead, you have to reconsider the
behavior, and why you did it: Was it really boring, or was there some
more interesting aspect? Did you actually enjoy it? You must have,
because you certainly would not agree to do it just for the dollar!
Without the incentive, people are forced to provide their own moti-
vational account for their behavior: ‘‘I did it because I wanted to.’’
In the short term, people will perform a broad range of behaviors
for an extrinsic incentive. However, the incentive approach itself
does not assure increases in the intrinsic motivation needed to
sustain behavior change over time. This ‘‘introjection’’ approach of
a compelling reward gets people to perform the behavior, but not
necessarily to believe in (or understand) its value. Incentives play a
key role in health promotion programs by getting reluctant
employees ‘‘in the door.’’ The good news is that people do not
necessarily need to be forever externally rewarded for their
behavior with few exceptions. In addition by using scientific
principles, and a high degree of intentionality, people can learn to
identity their own internal values for new behaviors, and then can
be weaned from external rewards.
So, incentives can form the basis for the development of
intrinsically oriented behavior. Once people have become engaged
in the desired health behaviors, they can then learn, and internalize,
their own perceived benefits. The major theory of human
motivation, called self-determination theory,
grating the new behaviors into internal values. Through
integration, the regulation of behavior is assimilated into one’s
core sense of self. As a result, the behavior becomes self-
determined, and can then be maintained primarily by intrinsic
motivators. Decades of studies have demonstrated that self-
determination is the key factor in long-term motivation. For
example, one client gave this feedback: ‘‘I started logging my
footsteps with a pedometer as part of the incentive program at
work; but now, I see that I feel better from walking more, and I’ll
keep doing it after the program ends.’’ By using incentives to
initially engage employees in learning, and to initiate new
behaviors, they can experience for themselves the personal
benefits of the activities. Then, they can recognize primarily
intrinsic values that will motivate continuing the new behavior.
Self-determination theory points to three facilitating contextual
factors that promote the process of internalization:
Nproviding a meaningful rationale
This means in a practical sense that employees should not
simply, for example, perform an HRA for an incentive; instead,
they should learn about the results in a way that is meaningful and
memorable to them. The goal is that, at the end of the assessment
process, they have learned where they stand with their health, and
what concerns are priorities for them. This, not the external
incentive, is the real reward from participation that they take away
from the experience, and that they can internalize as valuable to
them. Similarly, addressing the emotions that often surround our
health is another factor that can enhance intrinsic motivation.
For example, because biometric screenings are effective in
detecting individuals in need of specific medical interventions,
health professionals are puzzled about why some people don’t take
advantage of them. However, the possibility of finding health
problems may be so frightening that some people avoid the
opportunity to discover them. In addition to recommending
screening, addressing concerns about the testing process and
possible findings may encourage people to participate. Finally,
choice is critical to intrinsic motivation. Imagine being assigned a
movie to watch vs. choosing one for yourself. Even if it’s the same
movie, the mere act of choosing makes your experience of it much
more personal. In building intrinsic motivation, one of the
cornerstones is that it must be the individual’s choice: It must
mean something to you. So, providing as much choice as possible
in knowledge delivery, action opportunities, and program follow-
up will help people to integrate a wellness program into their self-
determined and self-selected goals.
What Programming Strategies Can
Be Used to Enhance
Self-determination theory asserts that intrinsic motivation is
enhanced when an individual decides, based on accurate
knowledge, of his or her own volition, to change his or her
behavior. The successful program examples above show that
wellness programs can intervene by offering extrinsic incentives to
learn about health and wellness, and to begin selected behavior
changes. We believe these programs will work even better when
implemented in a way that minimizes a sense of pressure, fully
informs the individual, and promotes individual choice. These
factors help people to integrate program interventions more fully
into their own value framework, resulting in increased intrinsic
motivation to continue healthy behaviors over the long term.
Now, let’s look at some possible programming strategies, plus
some practical examples of each, that have the potential to
enhance intrinsic motivation. We believe these strategies may help
individuals to internalize reasons for, and benefits of, health
behavior change over the long term. These programming
strategies are identified in Figure 3.
Help to Identify Personal Intentions and Benefits
Psychological science provides a wealth of knowledge about how
to support people in their intentions.
For example, a recent
study showed theories of motivation were successful in accounting
for short-term weight loss.
These theories suggest intentions are
more likely to result in action when they arise internally, rather
than being imposed by external forces.
One approach to making
decisions, and a much more powerful one for our personal
decisions, is to follow one’s own sense of identity. ‘‘Who am I?’’
‘‘What kind of situation is this?’’ And, ‘‘What would someone like
me do in this situation?’’ For one employee, her answer was her
new role as a grandparent: ‘‘I want to be here to see my grandchild
graduate from college.’’ For another, her health behavior
motivation arose from a desire to ‘‘finally fit into a size 10 dress.’’
People will obviously differ in their values and in what works as
their internal motivators. But wellness programs can help them
identify, and keep in mind, the values of importance to them. By
looking to an internal value, people become actively responsible
for their health, and motivated to take action. Imagine a
‘‘reminder’’ screen saver for these two individuals, and how such a
screen could be customized to tap their self-determined goals.
Programs aimed at building personal intentions have an impact:
A meta-analysis of 47 experimental tests of intention-behavior
relations found that changes in behavioral intention do foster
significant behavior change.
This analysis examined studies in
which participants were assigned randomly to treatments that
successfully increase the strength of intentions relative to a control
condition. Then, differences in actual behavior were compared.
The meta-analysis across studies showed that a medium-to-large
change in intention led directly to a small-to-medium change in
real behaviors. Health promotion programs that help clarify and
emphasize personal intentions can enhance intrinsic motivation
and increase long term behavior change.
When this approach is utilized, the necessary first step is to start
with building the individual’s identity: ‘‘I am a person who cares
about my health.’’
Helping people identify the rewards that work
for them will help them move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation.
A telephonic wellness coach working in your program can focus
on the individual’s identity as a person who cares about his or her
health. As part of the coaching process, motivational interviewing
techniques can be used to help uncover personal intentions and to
revisit them throughout the coaching process.
munication messages can include, ‘‘This is for you and what you
want to accomplish with your health.’’ In all wellness program
communication and incentive communication, always highlight
the personal benefits of meeting the qualifying behaviors for the
incentive program. Another example involves incorporating the
individual employee’s personal wellness goals into the criteria that
are used to qualify for the incentive reward.
Provide ‘‘How-To’’ Health Knowledge
Education that frames choices is among one of the most important
factors in shaping an individual’s decision-making process.
Logically, knowledge is the gateway to behavioral change because
it precedes and informs the motivation to change behavior.
Knowledge about potential health risks may be necessary to
initiate the self-regulatory processes that lead to an appropriate
For example, a study of a simple health
behavior—receiving flu shots—found that patients with no prior
immunization history were more likely to have the shot only when
given an informational brochure, and not when given an
When faced with health issues, people seek out
information, increasingly through online sources.
cases, simply receiving needed information can be a powerful
factor in motivating behavior change. Of course, people often
know they are making poor choices, and yet make them anyway.
However, knowledge and comprehension of choices are often
prerequisites to successful behavior change.
Outcomes are likely to improve if programs move beyond
educating about facts to knowledge management, or the provision
of information in directly applicable form. Knowledge manage-
ment educates for action, providing a ‘‘how-to’’ of behavior
change. For example, milk is the single largest source of saturated
fat in the American diet. Is it enough to tell people that fact?
Instead, one study gave people a specific plan: ‘‘Next time you
reach for milk at the grocery store, get 1% instead of whole.’’
The campaign included commercials pointing out that one glass of
whole milk has as much saturated fat as five strips of bacon. Before
the campaign, low-fat milk sales were at 18%; after the campaign,
they were at 41%, and even later, still at 35%. In addition to a fact,
a simple, specific plan was passed along, and major, sustained
changes in health behavior resulted.
Research studies demonstrate the importance of knowledge
management in health behavior change. A short intervention
a school-based nutrition program was presented in two 30-minute
sessions over 1 week. Significant posttest improvements occurred
in knowledge, intention to eat fewer fried foods and fewer sweets,
looking more at food labels, and limiting TV watching. A
systematic review sponsored by the U.S. Preventive Services Task
Force found that even brief behavioral counseling interventions
reduced the number of drinks taken by problem drinkers by 13%
to 34% for as long as 4 years.
And a 2003 review commissioned
by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that
‘‘counseling and behavioral interventions showed modest weight
loss sustained over at least one year in obese adults.’’
An important part of building knowledge is the packaging of
information in usable chunks. A great wealth of evidence indicates
that spacing out presentation of information over time produces
much better performance than presenting it once for the same
amount of time.
In general, shorter practice sessions spaced
widely apart produce the best effects for long-term retention. In
many cases, two spaced presentations are about twice as effective
as two massed presentations.
Other studies have also shown that
testing can be a means of improving learning, not just of assessing
its results. The simple act of practicing recall can boost your ability
to retrieve the information later.
Recall is a means of motivating
and improving mastery of the material through the benefits of
practice, so that the material is more accessible in memory. As a
result, testing incorporated into learning has the benefit of
preparing the learner to recall and make use of the information at
The use of online learning modules on wellness and consumer
health topics can be used with brief quizzes that are connected to an
incentive. Practice vignettes for medical self-care can be used to help
provide how-to knowledge. Watching a brief video that portrays how
a patient talks with his or her doctor can be used to enhance a
patient’s sense of knowledge regarding health care use. Listening to a
sample wellness coachingcall can help individuals choose to utilize a
wellness coach. In all communication within the program,
emphasize that the wellness program, and specifically the incentive
program, is expected to be a permanent fixture, and suggest that the
individual can get the most personal benefit by participating.
This approach emphasizes acquiring greater personal control over
one’s behavior, and helping to increase personal satisfaction levels
by being able to more successfully control basic impulses and
behaviors. The concept of greater mastery over one’s own behavior
can be integrated into the wellness program’s philosophy and goals
in order to make this connection more explicit. The advantage of
this approach is that it can potentially have other spillover effects by
providing a higher level of sustained behavior change over time.
One of the most rewarding personal outcomes is to successfully
overcome a difficult challenge. Identifying a personal challenge,
such as completion of a fun run or triathlon, to take on as a goal
often heightens and crystallizes the individual’s motivation. This
type of intrinsic motivation is catalyzed by striving for a greater level
of accomplishment than one has achieved in the past. Setting goals
provides a declaration of intent that helps to motivate towards
achievement. Challenge participants to accomplish their own fitness
or weight loss goals, or to improve their health screening scores by
next year. Encourage participation and completion of a fun run. Get
people to think about what personal health and fitness goals are
important to them, and then stress the reward of meeting that
personal challenge. This personal reward has no cost, and can act as
a source of reinforcementfor specific actions. Challenges engage the
employee’s inner motivation and struggles, leading to a personal
story of accomplishment.
Helping individuals formulate wellness goals as part of a coaching
process is a prerequisite for this strategy. Other examples of this type
of program strategy include conducting workshops on techniques
for increasing self-control of impulses. Self-esteem workshops also
emphasize the importance of self-determination in increasing self-
control. Program communication messages that emphasize personal
wellness goals is another way to advance this strategy.
Foster a Sense of Belonging and Recognition
The personal sense of value that is derived from being a part of a
program is the primary intrinsic motivation referred to as
As a basic need for all human beings, the sense of
belonging can sustain motivation beyond the point of flagging
interest. This strategy includes the affiliation with others based on a
common purpose or level of achievement. Status is associated with
belonging and is usually highly valued by participants. Visible
evidence of membership in a fitness program, such as a branded T-
shirt, is a good example of this type of motivational strategy.
Providing monogrammed sweats or shirts for all program participants
is another example; when the sweats or shirts are worn, the
internalization of the group’s values begins.
One way to increase feelings of belonging is to recognize group
members for their achievements. Many programs use concrete
symbols of membership status, such as program T-shirts or
milestone decals or pins, as inducements for accomplishment.
Some of the more traditional approaches include certificates
of achievement; being singled out for special comments and
accolades; and being written up in a work publication that
acknowledges a special wellness achievement such as becoming
tobacco free, losing a significant amount of weight and then
maintaining the loss, participating in a triathlon or marathon,
climbing a mountain, or completing a long bike trip or sea kayak
trip. Recognition is almost universally appreciated and powerful as
a source of motivation.
Fostering a sense of belonging and recognition can include
providing the opportunity for participants to ‘‘make a difference’’
through their involvement in programs. This encourages
participants to take part by advising, assisting, or mentoring
others in program activities, and can provide a direct reward as a
result of their personal involvement. A sense of accomplishment
from making a contribution can enhance personal satisfaction
and improve mood in the workplace.
This strategy of ‘‘doing
good’’ can also help build stronger cultural affiliation and support
for the program. By providing information on group success,
and combining goals such as fund raising for a known charity,
people can also take pride in their personal contributions to the
Possibilities include use of peer leaders or mentors in training
sessions, an employee advisory board to help refine the program’s
direction and policies, and use of wellness mentors to provide a peer
support opportunity for those who want to successfully make a
specific health behavior change. Program communications can
include messages emphasizing the value of belonging and recogniz-
ing the contributions of others to the program. A wellness program
intervention can be used to raise money for a recognized charity.
Harness the Power of Others
Observational learning is a key component of much of the day-to-
day learning that guides our behavior in life.
As we observe others’
actions, we mirror them internally through mental simulation of the
activity. For example, watching a child eat an ice cream cone, we can
imagine the sense of pleasure with the taste, along with a poignant
sense of loss when the coneis suddenly dropped.We understand and
empathize with other’s feelings by experiencing them within our
Seeing what happens to others, hearing their stories,
and watching scenarios of their experiences can help us feel more
familiar with new situations. Our brains function to take advantage
of our witnessing someone else’s life experiences.
So, a very useful strategy in learning is to present instruction in
concrete forms designed to depict others’ experiences. Through
multimedia demonstrations like video and audio recordings, we can
virtually experience the life events and emotional reactions of others.
Although an ad depicting the dangers of smoking may be compelling,
seeing the video story of the 20-year-old son missing his mother who
died of lung cancer can provide a more powerful influence.
Narratives are powerful sources for meaning making.
alization’’ of instructional materials to present first-person experi-
ences appears to benefit the learner on a variety of motivational
For example, watching videos of others taking the time to
consider their health behaviors may encourage the learner by
demonstrating how others meet similar goals. More specific, tailored
interventions may help to personalize goals.
In fact, recent studies of behavior change have shown that
behavior change occurs simply by providing information about
what other people are doing. Recent studies have examined specific
consumer behaviors around energy use, such as the reduction in
electricity use within the home, reusing linens in hotels, and
littering in public places. They found that giving people specific,
normative information that relates to them works to motivate
changes in behavior.
In one study, hotel guests were told, ‘‘75% of
our guests use their towels more than once.’’ This targeted message
alone resulted in more guestsusing their towelsmore than once. But
the biggest changes happened when the information referred to
people just like ‘‘you’’—your neighbors! In a home energy use study,
flyers with comparative information on neighbors’ energy use were
distributed to homes within a subdivision. Homes that used more
power than average changed their energy consumption over the
following months to be more in line with the neighborhood.
interventions involved solely information about the behavior
choices of ‘‘others like you,’’ and produced measurable changes in
behavior. These principles have also been successfully applied in
influencing physician practice patterns.
Watching a video of how to interact with one’s physician with discussion
of the value of the demonstrated behavior is an example of this strategy.
Another example is using an MP3 file on an eHealth portal that
includes the content of a couple of sequential wellness coaching calls.
Additionally an online HRA summary page can utilize ‘‘what-if’’ toggles
in which an individual can assess the effects of specific health behavior
changes, such as quitting smoking, on his or her own cardiovascular
disease risk or cancer risk. In addition to the individual’s financial
reward create a desirable group competition incentive reward to
reinforce peer support. Use percentage participation by size of unit and
then move to add average number of criteria met.
Identify Action Steps
Once new information is acquired, it must be put into action to be
useful. It is not a trivial undertaking to apply new health
promotion information to your behavior. The best time, place,
needed resources, and methods for putting information to use may
not be apparent. It is critical that planning for its implementation
takes place during learning. When we want to make a change, we
can often identify what we need to do to make it happen. We can
form intentions for our future behavior, and imagine what will
follow. But specific plans are needed on how to initiate new
behaviors. Research shows you are more likely to be successful if
you plan some specific behaviors you can do that will help lead to
the outcomes you want.
In fact, behavior change has been shown
to be much more likely if specific action plans are provided.
Behavioral studies demonstrate the impact of very specific
instructions on creating new behaviors. In one study, college
students were asked to bring canned food to a booth on ‘‘Tressider
Plaza.’’ Only 8% showed up with a contribution. Other students
were asked instead to ‘‘bring a can of beans, and think of a time
when you will be nearby the drop-off booth to conveniently stop
by.’’ These very specific instructions led to a 42% donation rate!
Providing specific, concrete suggestions, and helping people
anticipate how to act on them, greatly improved outcomes. In our
own research, asking people to plan ahead about what they need
to perform the behavior, and when they will do so, led to a 50%
improvement in their remembering to perform the behavior.
Providing specific direction places an ‘‘action trigger’’ in memory,
so that the planned behavior can be spurred by cues in the world.
This approach has already been shown to be effective with selected
health behaviors. A study of hip and knee replacement patients
showed that simply asking them to plan when they would perform
specific health behaviors cut their recovery time in half. Setting
action triggers to remind them to follow their intended behaviors,
such as when and where they would take a walk in the next week, led
to faster recovery.
A meta-analysis of 8155 participants in 85 studies
found that those who set up action triggers for their behavior changes
performed better than 74% of the people on the same task who did
not develop specific action plans.
For example, a 2010 study
followed women for 2 years, measuring their consumption of fruits
and vegetables using food diaries.
Half of the women were informed
about the importance of consuming more fruits and vegetables, and
the other half were informed and then asked to plan how they would
accomplish this increased level of consumption. Both groups
improved their intake over the first 4 months (from less than half to
one serving per day). But by setting their action triggers in advance,
the planning group maintained a higher intake up to 2 years later,
whereas the information-only group returned to their baseline levels.
Adding instructions on planning very specific action steps greatly
increased the effectiveness for long-term behavior change.
Having a wellness coach assist in the development of an action plan
for increasing the individual’s level of physical activity is one
example of this programming strategy. Another example is the
inclusion of a detailed action planning sequence in an online
lifestyle improvement program, or the inclusion of that action
planning sequence in a self-guided change booklet on stress
management practices. Having program communications recom-
mend the establishment of personal wellness goals and an action
plan for achieving the goals is another way to enhance intrinsic
motivation and improve behavioral change success.
Support the Individual’s Creative Process
By encouraging people to take personal ownership of their health,
the wellness program can provide an outlet for individuals to
express themselves and their values through the choices they make.
Participants can express their personal creativity in the ways they
choose to participate, and involve themselves and their families in
‘‘their’’ wellness program. Some people enjoy expressing their
and wellness programs can benefit by maxi-
mizing the opportunities for employees to identify and establish
their own personal take on what works for them. The advantages of
this strategy are that it is inexpensive, it makes use of the creative
potential of the group to invent effective solutions to the health
challenges faced at a worksite by other employees, and it can
reinforce more of the quality-of-life types of issues in programming.
Another potential advantage of this strategy is that depending on
what the creative opportunity involves, it can also reinforce a
greater sense of ownership and personal connection to the program.
Whereas the wellness program can be a standardized offering, the
program pursued by each employee can be completely personal-
ized, including time, attire, activity, location, and effort. Rather than
providing a rote ‘‘script,’’ encourage the ‘‘art’’ of healthy living, and
acknowledge the many individual differences thatgo into devising a
healthier lifestyle that works for each individual. What exactly is a
‘‘healthier lifestyle?’’ It depends on your starting point, resources,
and imagination to create the changes that are possible for you. It
also helps to celebrate the small successes we make in improving
our lifestyles. This is individual, creative, and very thoughtful work.
Wellness programs need to support every employee in each small
step they take to become ‘‘healthier.’’
Some examples for this programming strategy include conducting a
healthy recipe contest with a cook-off and ‘‘taste-off,’’ with the
winners receiving clear recognition for their accomplishments.
Offer a writing opportunity for use with a wellness blog that includes
publication of personal stories of how individuals are choosing to
‘‘make health happen.’’ Using as one of several wellness criteria a
requirement for writingout your own journey to a healthier lifestyle
is another example of this programming strategy.
Make Change Fun
Behavioral studies show the addition of appropriately designed
motivational embellishments to a learning activity—controlling for
cognitive factors—produces corresponding increases in learning
from the activity.
In school studies, both boys and girls showed
significant, and equally large, preferences for a motivationally
embellished ‘‘game’’ version over the relatively unadorned ‘‘drill’’
version of math activities.
Furthermore, game-based instruction
raised students’ subsequent interest in the subject matter itself.
Adding the game element to the instruction led to direct
enhancement of interest and learning. Wellness programs can
utilize this programming strategy for enhancing intrinsic motiva-
tion by offering humor, fun, and lightness as a part of learning.
Malone and Lepper
identified four basic sources of internal
motivation—challenge, curiosity, control, and fantasy—each of which
might be targeted by a wellness program. Humor, along with factors
like surprise and attractive design, is a very effective motivator in
facilitating behavior change.
Humor is also highly valued by most
people and a wonderful anecdote to the usual seriousness of work life.
It attracts people and helps bring them back, and so it can be a
positive and popular part of wellness programming.
Consider Volkswagen’s experiment to see if making stairs more
fun would spur subway riders to take them instead of the escalator.
When ordinary stairs within a Stockholm subway station were
changed into ones that functioned as piano keys, a 66% increase in
the use of stairs resulted.Fun is a wonderful source of motivation for
desirable behaviors that are also health promoting.
Some examples of this strategy include providing workshops on
humor in the workplace, providing a ‘‘game show’’ contest to test
knowledge of health, or creating a quality of life–oriented approach
to cultivating a sense of humor. Placing cartoons with a health
message on a special area of Web sites or bulletin boards with links
to wellness program announcements is another example. Including
the use of ‘‘new’’ games atthe start of a workshop on resilience as an
icebreaker or new experience for participants is another possibility.
We believe that health promotion and wellness programs have been
successful in motivating people to participate by providing incentives to
get them started. This first step in behavior change is often the hardest,
and the use of incentives to motivate adoption of new behaviors has
been promising. Extrinsic incentives are needed to help people begin
new behaviors that don’t necessarily feel good on their own, or have
benefits that may be abstract or too distant. Applying extrinsic
incentives has worked well at getting people into health promotion and
wellness programs and at getting participation rates up significantly.
We believe that the next important step for health promotion and
wellness practitioners is to fully or partially wean people from extrinsic
incentives by helping them notice and appreciate the intrinsic value of
these health behaviors. With the wealth of findings from the
behavioral sciences, we know how to enhance intrinsic motivation
that will lead to long-term behavior change. Together with providing
knowledge, examples, action steps, and some fun, this approach has
the potential to lead employees towards developing their own reasons
and rewards for improving their health. Increasing the variety of
features within a wellness program may have the potential to enhance
intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, these intrinsic motivators may be
much more likely to last through the experiential period needed for
adoption of long-term behavior change.
Colleen M. Seifert, PhD, is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and
Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Larry S. Chapman, MPH, is
President and CEO, Chapman Institute, Lake Forest Park,
Washington. Joseph K. Hart, JD, is with Asset Health Inc., Troy,
Michigan. Paul Perez, CWPC, PCC, is in Edmonds, Washington.
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Keeping Women Active: An Examination
of the Impacts of Self-Efficacy, Intrinsic
Motivation, and Leadership on Women’s
Persistence in Physical Activity.
Lloyd KM, Little DE.
Physical inactivity in women is a worldwide problem that has not only
been well-documented but has provoked much government concern
and policy activity. However, an even more important issue is
encouraging women’s persistence in physical activity. The purpose of
this study was to examine the links between women’s experiences of
participation in a government-funded physical activity festival, their
intentions to continue participation, and their participation behavior
six months after the festival. Results from semi-structured, in-depth
interviews with 20 women revealed that enhanced self-efficacy,
intrinsic motivation, and supportive leadership had motivated the
women’s future intentions to participate. Follow-up surveys showed
their levels of interest and participation in physical activity had been
maintained. These results enhance our understanding of the
relationship between key outcomes of women’s physical activity
participation and their persistence in physical activity.
Women Health. 2010;50:652–669.
Exercise Motivation of College Students
in Online, Face-to-Face, and Blended
Basic Studies Physical Activity and
Wellness Course Delivery Formats.
Sidman CL, Fiala KA, D’Abundo ML.
OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to assess exercise
motivation among college students self-selected into 4 online (OL)
and face-to-face (F2F) basic studies’ physical activity and wellness
course delivery formats. PARTICIPANTS/METHODS: Out of 1,037
enrolled students during the Spring 2009 semester, 602 responded
online to demographic questions and to the Behavioural Regulation
in Exercise Questionnaire, which assessed exercise motivation on 5
subscales. RESULTS: There were no significant differences (p ..05)
in exercise motivation for students across course delivery formats, but
there was a significant difference in age and employment status
between the completely OL and F2F course formats. CONCLU-
SIONS: Health and physical educators can utilize these findings to
better understand that physical activity and wellness students are not
necessarily trying to avoid physical activity when selecting the OL
course format, but are more likely trying to balance work and school
responsibilities and need greater flexibility in time and location.
J Am Coll Health. 2011;59:662–664.
Motivational ‘‘Spill-Over’’ During Weight
Control: Increased Self-Determination
and Exercise Intrinsic Motivation Predict
Mata J, Silva MN, Vieira PN, Carrac¸ a EV, Andrade AM,
Coutinho SR, Sardinha LB, Teixeira PJ.
OBJECTIVE: Successful weight management relies on at least two
health behaviors, eating and exercise. However, little is known
about their interaction on a motivational and behavioral level.
Based on the Hierarchical Model of Motivation the authors
examined whether exercise-specific motivation can transfer to
eating regulation during a lifestyle weight control program. The
authors further investigated whether general, treatment-related,
and exercise motivation underlie the relation between increased
exercise and improved eating regulation. DESIGN: Overweight/
obese women participated in a 1-year randomized controlled trial
(N 5239). The intervention focused on promoting physical
activity and internal motivation for exercise and weight loss,
following Self-Determination Theory. The control group received
general health education. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: General
and exercise specific self-determination, eating self-regulation
variables, and physical activity behavior. RESULTS: General self-
determination and more autonomous exercise motivation pre-
dicted eating self-regulation over 12 months. Additionally, general
and exercise self-determination fully mediated the relation
between physical activity and eating self-regulation. CONCLU-
SION: Increased general self-determination and exercise motiva-
tion seem to facilitate improvements in eating self-regulation
during weight control in women. These motivational mechanisms
also underlie the relationship between improvements in exercise
behavior and eating regulation.
Health Psychol. 2009;28:709–716.
Older Adults’ Intrinsic and Extrinsic
Motivation Toward Physical Activity.
Dacey M, Baltzell A, Zaichkowsky L.
OBJECTIVES: To examine how motives discriminate 3 physical
activity levels of inactive, active, and sustained maintainers.
METHODS: Six hundred forty-five adults (M age 563.8)
completed stage-of-change and Exercise Motivations Inventory
(EMI-2) scales. Exploratory factor analysis established psycho-
metric properties of the EMI-2 suitable for older adults.
RESULTS: Six factors emerged in the EMI-2: health and fitness,
social/emotional benefits, weight management, stress manage-
ment, enjoyment, and appearance. Enjoyment contributed most to
differentiating activity levels. Moderators of age and gender were
delineated. CONCLUSIONS: Intrinsic motivation and self-deter-
mined extrinsic motivation distinguish older adults’ activity levels.
Am J Health Behav. 2008;32:570–582.
The Effects of Choice on Intrinsic
Motivation and Related Outcomes: A
Meta-Analysis of Research Findings.
Patall EA, Cooper H, Robinson JC.
A meta-analysis of 41 studies examined the effect of choice on
intrinsic motivation and related outcomes in a variety of settings
with both child and adult samples. Results indicated that providing
choice enhanced intrinsic motivation, effort, task performance,
and perceived competence, among other outcomes. Moderator
tests revealed the effect of choice on intrinsic motivation was
stronger (a) for instructionally irrelevant choices compared to
choices made between activities, versions of a task, rewards, and
instructionally relevant options, (b) when 2 to 4 successive choices
were given, (c) when rewards were not given after the choice
manipulation, (d) when participants given choice were compared
to the most controlling forms of control groups, (e) for children
compared to adults, (f) for designs that yoked choice and control
conditions compared to matched designs in which choice was
reduced or designs in which non-yoked, non-matched controls
were used, and (g) when the experiment was conducted in a
laboratory embedded in a natural setting. Implications for future
research and applications to real-world settings are discussed.
Psychol Bull. 2008;134:270–300.
By Larry S. Chapman, MPH
Motivation is at the heart of health
promotion and wellness. We cannot
overestimate its importance. The
authors in this edition of The Art of
Health Promotion make a strong case
for adding programming modifica-
tions so that we capitalize on the
effect of the extrinsic incentives we
use and, at the same time, enhance
intrinsic motivation to the greatest
extent we can achieve. I believe that
this makes a lot of sense.
At the same time, I don’t view incentives the same way
that many of my colleagues do. That shouldn’t be a surprise
to anyone. Here are some of my reasons:
1. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation represent a
false dichotomy. I believe that this false dichotomy
comes from our inability to correctly identify the
interrelationships and fluidity between intrinsic and
extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation can be-
come intrinsic motivation and vice versa. This
happens through learning and experience, and I
believe it is a much more fluid situation than we
recognize. My own reasons for doing a particular
thing always seem to vacillate between internal and
2. There seems to be a relatively strong bias against
anything that smacks of behaviorism. Incentives
always seem to be panned by psychological and
behavioral research. We also seem to use a great deal
of research on young children performing meaningless
tasks for minor incentive rewards as inherently valid for
application to working adults. Yet our global markets
operate with enormous numbers of incentives at all
levels. Meanwhile, the ‘‘research’’ says they don’t
‘‘work.’’ Seems like a contradiction to me.
3. People often decry the cost of incentives as being
infeasible. I often hear the view that you shouldn’t use
incentives because they will have to be increased over
time and they imbalance the economic return associ-
ated with health promotion and wellness. My response
has always been to recommend using employee dollars
to finance the wellness incentive, ideally in the form of
increased premium contributions for health plan
coverage, and then waiving or ‘‘forgiving’’ them for
wellness participation and achievements. This ap-
proach eliminates any cost associated with incentives.
The employer still pays all the costs of the wellness
4. Some things will always need ‘‘incentives.’’ The view
that we should always try and wean people off
incentives over time is a popular one. Yet if we
consider our financial compensation for working as an
employee as an incentive, I personally don’t see a time
when we can stop paying people and still expect them
to come to work. In fact, I see wellness behavior as very
similar to work behavior. I believe that we will
ultimately have to pay people to do wellness, even if
we pay them with their own money.
5. Wellness needs to be a regular choice or option. All
of the various behaviors of wellness need to clearly be a
choice for each individual, but we will still need a
periodic nudge to engage. I believe every individual,
regardless of age, needs at least once a year to have a
meaningful opportunity to ‘‘get on the wellness bus.’’ In
order to make that opportunity meaningful, I think it
will have to be associated with $500 to $2500 of value.
Intrinsic is good, but I don’t believe wellness behaviors
will happen without at least an annual meaningful extrinsic
incentive for the vast majority of our populations.
Larry S. Chapman, MPH, is Editor of The Art of Health
Editor in Chief
Michael P. O’Donnell, PhD, MBA, MPH
Associate Editors in Chief
Margaret Schneider, PhD
Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld, PhD
Shirley A. Musich, PhD
Kerry J. Redican, MPH, PhD, CHES
Barry A. Franklin, PhD
Lucy N. Marion, PhD, RN
Karen Glanz, PhD, MPH
Michael P. Eriksen, ScD
Kelly D. Brownell, PhD
Cary Cooper, CBE
Kenneth R. Pelletier, PhD, MD (hc)
Kenneth R. McLeroy, PhD
Larry S. Chapman, MPH
James F. Prochaska, PhD
Daniel Stokols, PhD
David R. Anderson, PhD, LP
Antronette K. (Toni) Yancey, MD, MPH
Health Promoting Community Design
Bradley J. Cardinal, PhD
The Art of Health Promotion
Larry S. Chapman, MPH
Leslie Spenser, PhD
Ron Z. Goetzel, PhD
Shawna L. Mercer, MSc, PhD
The Wisdom of Practice
and the Rigor of Research
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