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What Organizations Can Teach Us About Making Lifestyle Changes

Biologically speaking, humans have undeniable differences based on sex. But regardless of whether you’re male or female, we have far more things in common. You’d expect that health outcomes would be the same for members of either sex.

Yet research proves otherwise. Mortality rates and quality of health are much higher in women than men. This highlights the impact of lifestyle choices. Rather than any biological mechanism at work, women are simply more likely to follow healthy lifestyle patterns.

Lifestyle affects us on every level. It influences the details: a man’s choice of the best tooth-whitening kit for himself or grooming products for his hair and skin. It determines lifespan, medical expenses, and overall life satisfaction.

People might think that lifestyle is an aggregate of factors, many of which they can do nothing about: family background, genetics, work and social relationships, living arrangements, etc.

But your lifestyle is something you can completely turn around if you have the impetus and know-how to go about it.

How organizations change

Many people struggle with making lifestyle changes happen, even if they understand it’s necessary. Growing up, we might be accustomed to just going with the flow. We let others, such as parents or peers, exert considerable influence on our choices.

Lifestyle change is a skill. And like any skill, if you happen to have a relatively low proficiency level, you can always learn from the professionals.

While there are specialized coaches in this area, you can also turn to any organization from examples on driving change.

People have decades to try to turn their lives around. Most companies are lucky to survive a down year or two. Out of necessity, they are experts at making people change.

At the top level, leaders set the objectives. They may identify keystone habits that can set in motion a domino effect of improvement. They also ensure that efforts continue past initial success.

From the bottom, people’s efforts to improve are amplified by social interactions and the strength of personal networks. They will encounter organizational inertia and benefit by working in small groups.

Designing your way forward

The top-down approach to organizational change teaches us about the power of design thinking.

Sometimes, this requires a professional designer. Companies will consult with an interior or landscape designer, for instance, to create workplaces that are conducive to specific behaviors such as productivity or physical exercise.

At other times, however, all it takes is an insightful leader who can see the big picture and devise a system that gets people to buy in. This was the case with one-time Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill, who identified workplace safety as a keystone habit. Building on that, company performance began to improve.

To design a better lifestyle, then you need to understand yourself. Simplify the challenge by focusing on just one thing that, if you get it right, will lead to all-around improvements.

That could mean setting aside time every day to exercise, which makes you feel better, helps regulate sleep, and gives you more energy each day. Or it could be quitting a bad habit like smoking or drinking. It could even be pushing back against extra work to spend more time with your family.

Find that personal first domino that will tip many others. And once you see the early improvements, remember that those are the easiest victories, and don’t let up.

Working from the grassroots

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Designing from the top must also be met with effort from the bottom. This is true for organizations and individuals alike. It makes little sense to create a weekly schedule and to-do lists if you don’t actually stick to them.

In any company, the average employee doesn’t interact with every single colleague regularly. We work best in smaller units, not having to worry about the concerns of other teams or departments.

At the same time, our behaviors are also socially reinforced. We look up to certain people at work and are disproportionately influenced by those we spend more time with.

Whatever you have planned won’t necessarily work out when it comes to execution. Lifestyle change must happen in small increments. No one can retool their lives overnight.

Making this happen on a grassroots level means figuring out which small steps are attainable for you, given your current abilities. It also entails drawing on your relationships’ strength and knowing which people in your life will be helpful and which ones might prove a hindrance.

As you try to change your lifestyle for the better, act businesslike: be deliberate and pragmatic. Never stop trying, and always seek ways to make the challenge easier. This is how organizations make change happen.

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