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#017 – The Science of Habits and Positive Behaviour Change in Work & Life (with Special Guest Lisa Belanger)


Lisa’s Bonus Resources

Lisa’s website –

Please scroll to Lisa’s introduction bio below for links to her national charity and two books.


Podcast Transcript


Welcome to the Working Well Podcast. I’m Tim Borys CEO of FRESH! Wellness Group. This show explores the diverse aspects of workplace health and personal performance. On the Working Well Podcast we dive into the foundations of what makes wellness work in workplaces around the world. We connect with corporate leaders, executives, and industry experts who are helping make life more awesome at work and home.

Join us to learn workplace wellness, best practices, personal performance tips, and access resources to jumpstart your personal and corporate programs.


Dr. Lisa Bélanger is an award-winning researcher, innovator, and is CEO of ConsciousWorks, a consulting firm teaching habits, skills and work design to be proactive with mental health and performance. Lisa holds a Ph.D. in Behavioural Medicine, an Executive MBA, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist and High Performance Specialist. Prior to the pandemic, she was traveling the world (with her two month old baby) visiting organizations to explore company culture, leadership, and the ability to destress from work. She is the founder of a national charity, Knight’s Cabin, which offers wellness programming to cancer survivors, and the author of two books Inspire Me Well: Taking control of your health and A Cup of Mindfulness: For the busy and restless. Her greatest accomplishments are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with her father, running the Paris marathon and snack holding for two tiny humans.

Lisa, welcome to the working world podcast. It’s so great to have you on the show. Tell me a little bit about you and, what the last 18 months have looked like for you?

So yeah, thank you so much for having me and the last 18 months I can’t believe it’s been 18 months. Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday and sometimes it feels like it was seven years ago that this all started. But I’m one of the geniuses that started a business two weeks before the pandemic shut everything down. And of course the majority of my work was based on people gathering from keynotes to webinars, to education and workshops. So it was very aggressive pivot right off the start. And then being responding to people’s needs. What I speak about is really about behaviors and habits, habit design, work design for proactive, mental health and performance. So it became a topic that people, all of a sudden were leaning into aggressively. So it’s been really great. Lots of life lessons way too little sleep and yeah, just really excited for what comes next. And what I mean by that is I think there’s still gonna be a lot of rapid change and a lot of movement in the work that I do. And then certainly in the work, a lot of people do.

Well and you have two young kids as well. So that just with kids at home and starting a business and being at home. I, I I’ve got two kids myself, so I can’t even imagine what you’re going through using the startup phases of your business.

They keep wanting to be fed and watered all the time. It’s just, it’s very inconvenient. I’m just kidding. It’s good. It’s been really challenging, but I also, I have these amazing memories and photographs now of my two month old daughter leaving a strategic planning meeting in front of a computer and all were on my chest. And you know, it’s going to be something we look back with both fond and not so fond memories, I think. But all in all of it, if nothing else, they’re going to get an entrepreneurial spirit very, very young.

Never, never too early to start them on the business side. Excellent. Well, you’re, you’re a doctor, you’re science focused. You love the love of finding ways that science can improve people’s lives. So the last 18 months has been the biggest global experiment we’ve ever seen. And vaccines aside, we won’t go down that road, but what’s the most exciting or compelling call it wellness or performance related science that you’ve seen come out of the pandemic?

I think it’s been to your point, the greatest social experiment. Particularly in my field, when it comes to behavior change. I don’t know how much people understood their, their habits were so ingrained in their physical and social environments. And then when both of those rapidly changed, very little habits were held onto, especially in the same way. So if you simply think about how you eat. Who you are, what you eat, how you eat when you eat, who you eat with it all changed overnight. And then of course, things like physical activity, things like work design, breaks, strategic breaks, effective breaks are no longer built into your day. There’s so many things.

Especially before they were conscious about it had just virtual meetings lead in one after another, after another, how do you lead? How do you demonstrate leadership? How do you model behavior if it’s virtual and not in office? Like there’s been so much from a work context and from a performance or a habit context that has been so interesting in generally we’ve been terrible at it. Like if I can, over-generalize there’s certainly people that have capitalized on this experience. . But with like our physical activity has dropped as a, as a world at an unprecedented rate. We weren’t doing great before and then having all of this happen.

And obviously like with gym has shut down, but more than that, you know, there wasn’t groups meeting there wasn’t the social dynamics of it. And as you’re well aware of physical activity is not something that we seek out because we love the physical sensation of it. Even if you like physical activity, you don’t go in a basement, shut off all the lights and go on a treadmill. That physiological response is the same as a panic attack.

It’s not something we typically desire. However, we love the social or the competitiveness or the outside or the whatever around this behavior. So when we remove a lot of that, it becomes really interesting. And then if you talk about stress, we have removed so many people’s stress and coping mechanisms, everything from watching sport to connecting with friends and being social to the gym to you can list off the things for me, it used to be certainly yoga classes, having a glass of wine with friends.

And having those removed has, you’ve really seen the effect of that. Then you’re adding on all the additional stress of COVID, whatever that means in everybody’s life. So it’s been a dramatic shift and what I hope comes from this is that we can be really conscious as we rebuild. So as we return to some aspects of our life, whatever that is, we can pick and choose and design our day a little bit more consciously than we did before.

Yeah, very true. And you said as, before we were aware of it, a lot of people, I guess, are aware of these things now, but so many people still haven’t adjusted and it still blows my mind when I talk to people or clients that are struggling with things. Have been going on for 18 months and the scheduling, the taking self care time out of the day, even some people are still uncomfortable to ask for permission to go to bathroom when there’s a meeting, it’s like, just get up and go to the bathroom. Yeah. There are lots of leaders that have haven’t adjusted to that too, too, is like, Hey, let’s shorten our meetings. So you have five or 10 minutes before the next meeting. Go do some self care or just go to the bathroom.

Yeah. It’s something that this is an opportunity to draw people’s attention to exactly that and make the norm a much shorter meeting. And then even when I’m hired for 90 minute, whether it’s keynote or a workshop, I will make sure there’s a break in there. People lose attention on average between 47 and 53 minutes. So what are you doing to like keep people around, they’re just gonna zone out. So do you capture people’s attention to do what you really want to do?

Breaks are incredibly effective. And then this idea of keeping people online. And staring at a screen for further time doesn’t quite make sense, but we’ve been built a certain way. It’s very hard to adjust our work design. We are all faced with adjusting it in some way, shape or form as we return to but acknowledging that it is a difficult shift, especially if you’ve been doing the same type of things for 30 odd years, to be able to say, well, actually it’s going to be like this. And then the other thing that I’m talking to teams with all the leaders with is how do you build a team virtually or in a hybrid model, what things do you have to take into consideration?

So if you’ve done it in a specific way, all I can assure you is that’s not going to work. And so you’re going to have to adjust. So within a hybrid model, are you making sure that those working from home as an example are getting as, as much face time or considered for promotions as the ones in office, how are you integrating junior new members of the team? And just taking again? I cant come back to this enough and yes, I named my company conscious works before the pandemic, but just having to be so much more conscious about these things and who we are as employees, as leaders and as employers on, you know, leveraging and understanding how people work the best. And then trying to take advantage of that instead of holding onto what was.

Absolutely. Yeah. And that when we talk about habits, what is the science saying about habit development? Like, is it as hard as people commonly think to make changes?

Oh, behavior change is very easy. Getting it pointed in the right direction is very hard. So it’s not hard to change our behaviors. The ones that we want to change can be really difficult. When I studied behavior change, when I was going through grad school, it was very much studies as if it was a conscious approach. And that’s typically the one that we take when we look at health behaviors are a lot of the science around health behaviors.

This is a full thought process. And I think we neglect how much of it’s just because it’s there and too easy. It’s easy and attractive therefore I’ll do it. We are very simple beings and we’re certainly creatures of habit and up social obligation or social norms. So you can adjust your physical and social environments to really influence what you do. So the conscious effort is knowing that, and then trying to let like these automatic processes and these automatic drives we have takeover these cravings, these innate needs that we have, for example, to belong or social, letting that take over instead of trying to rely on willpower, motivation. Willpower and motivation are not great at the best of days.

And then let alone add in really stressful days, added in a whole world of difference. Then it really gets impacted and then we become really hard on ourselves and we have this awful black and white language that we speak to each other, or we failed at developing that habit. No, you didn’t fail you have to just try again. That would be like taking the first shot in hockey, just being Canadian and making sure working in a hockey analogy into everything I do, but it’s you know, it’s like taking the first shot and being like, well, that didn’t go in. You would never do that. You would try again.

It’d be the second, third, fourth, fifth effort that gets the goal. Not that first time you try, but we have this really harsh language we use when it comes to behavior change that we have to adjust make it much more kind and graceful. I use the analogy of when a child learns to walk, imagine if we just were like, well, you fell down. I guess you’re not a Walker. And then walked away. We would never do that. So we get really encouraging and our voice goes up annoyingly like three octaves as we encourage them to go. But that’s what we have to do for ourselves and others right now and always, but specifically right now, it’s not been an easy eighteen months.

No it hasn’t. And yeah, those analogies are perfect, but yet we see so many people and even smart, educated, experienced leaders in business still are basically, if it was a toddler, they’d be berating them for not being able to walk. And we see that happen in business everyday, but that mind shift isn’t there to step back and look at hmm. How can we be more effective with this?

Yes. And like being able to be innovative requires you to practice innovation. And what I mean by that is one thing that I’ve done a lot of lectures on now is about your ability to handle change. And as humans, we’re horrific at handling change. So like, if you want to challenge us, just sit at a different chair at the dinner table and watch how much it stresses everybody else out even though there’s enough room for everyone.

So in order to do that, we have to do a few things to prepare ourselves our minds and our bodies for change. One of them is mindfulness. Being able to draw into the present to be able to manage your attention, to be able to shift your focus where you need it to be, to be able to respond to uncertainty and change in that way, physical activity, we know all the powerful effects it has on the brain creating DHEA which is at counteraction to cortisol.

Brain derived neurotropic factor, which would allows for new neural connections and strengthening old ones. These are all things we need to be innovative. And then practicing change. We are developed this very odd pattern of really rapid change for most of us. And then extreme monotony. You have to get yourself out of that monotony.

You have to create this neural density and diversity to be able to draw on these things, to be able to be agile. So as much as we used to talk about emotional quotion as being this really hireable, desirable skill, agility is now that. That element, we saw it in entrepreneurs and in startups before the pandemic. Is that being more of the discussion, you know, people asking founders about situations in which they were agile, but more importantly, what would you do if now you’re going to see this really resonating in, into our working world is how agile are you? Demonstrate it, can you respond to change?

Well and we’ve had, so as you said, sprints have changed this the past 18 months has just been, you know, drinking from a fire hose in terms of change. And the mental health side is one aspect of it. Because once we get down that mental health, you know, vortex that we’ll call it or funnel it makes it harder to manage and change and be flexible and innovative. So what what is science saying about how we can, I guess that comes back to resilience, but what is science saying about mental health and resilience and, and the, the whole change triad we’ll call it.

And I think, I think this discussion starts with, we are all, and I’m again, overgeneralizing, but there was such a significant burnout level before the pandemic. And then you add the pandemic on to it and burnout, if you’ve never really got, I know a lot of people know what it is or how it’s expressed but it’s cynicism, exhaustion and inefficiencies. You can see how this would not serve you if you’re going into a period of rapid change and being able to respond there.

So I think it starts there. It basically creates a fixed mindset, and then you cannot respond to change and it cannot believe in this growth. And then if you’re approaching your job with a level of cynicism, it’s really hard to do any kind of good work. And one thing that’s not talked a lot about is burnout is contagious. We are leaders in teams that experienced burnout there. The people around them are much, much more likely to experience burnout. Some from a logistics perspective, they’re taking on the work that that other person is not performing. The burnt-out person is not performing, but then there’s also that cynicism.

So cynicism is contagious. So being able to address that, which a lot of people and a lot of companies did not do that you have not done. And then they’re trying to make them resilient by bringing in resilience talk. And then what about supporting the behaviors you’re talking about in that resilience talk like that’s it’s education is the lowest form of influence and yet most companies stop there. So you can’t become resilient in a state of burnout. There’s certainly like things that you can do to improve, and there’s many different aspects of it. But with burnout and with resilience and in these conversations, stop saying, it’s an individual problem. It’s our job to take care of each other, period.

It it’s about the whole right now and not the individual. So we’re like, oh, you should be mindful. Yes, you should. But I also tell my children, they should do a lot of things that doesn’t mean they’re done. That’s not that’s not particularly helpful. So can you create a supportive environment? Can you create open honest conversations?

Can you have periods of time that you were supporting these behaviors we know that are good for for resilience. And then I just want to briefly address I think you asked a really big, big question. So I’m all over the place, but I’m all for open-ended questions. Yeah. I’m just trying to figure out what it is exact answer.

But I think one of the things that I haven’t seen enough discussion over is what about the burnt out leader? How the heck are you supposed to lead a team and positively influence people’s mental wellbeing if your burnt out yourself. And I think that this is something that we should be attacking as again, as a society, it’s not about the individual taking care of themselves. It’s about how can we take care of each other? So telling you said you know, talking about, oh, you need to address. You need to give yourself a period of self care every day. I hate that message. I have two children that need to be fed and watered all the time. A team at work. I run a national charity and the idea that I wouldn’t feel guilt and anxiety, even if I took that time.

I think we’re putting in a lot of pressure on ourselves. However, if my world was constructed where they’re like, you know what, Lisa. Here’s here’s a little moment of self care, and this is how we’re going to communicate about it. And this is how we’re going to create you some guilt-free space. That would be a very different conversation because I know it’s needed.

It’s not like that lack of knowledge that I have here. It’s, it’s very much about how our worlds are constructed and what are they expectations of self. And those tends to be those that have the greatest expectations of self tend to have the hardest time. Getting self care, but actually need it the most.

Absolutely. And you bring up a great point. The, the, the way something is said or delivered the message that is delivered and also that person’s perception of the message can really, you know, you can say this to five or 10 different people and you’re going to get five or 10 different responses because each person interprets it in their own way.

And yeah, that I, yeah, self care is a really thrown around term and I’m guilty of using it, but, but that is something that we all know we need to take care of ourselves. And that when we do, we perform better in all areas of life, but why is that not happening? Some of it’s systemic in the organizational culture, some of it’s our own thought processes, habits throughout the day. So how does someone rise up from that?

First of all, they need to, you know, what their self care is. So I think it’s been like sold very improperly of being bubble baths and candles and a glass of wine. Like that is not self-care self-care is literally engaging in things that, you know, are going to be positive for your mental wellbeing and your performance. That could be so many different things. And then when somebody tells you to relax, do you know what does relax you? Like, are you aware even what those activities are? And they’re certainly not everybody’s answers, not the same. The idea of laying on a beach somewhere causes me anxiety. It does not relax me too.

So to assume certain things right. You have to be explorative with yourself. You have to know what activities literally would take you away. You would forget to eat like you’re so ingrained in them. Heck they could be eating. But for me, I know it’s paddle boarding, which is wonderful two months a year where I live and that I don’t know what I’m doing that the next 10 months, but being able to establish what those activities are.

So for me meal plans is an act of self care because I get hungry and then I get hangry very quickly after. So if it’s already prepared or I already know what I’m going to have, it’s very different approach. Yeah. And so like just establishing what those behaviors are and really thinking through, and then seeing how you can construct habits and work design and data design around that. What are your non-negotiables, what do you need? So one of the lessons over the pandemic for me, I’m an extrovert. I typically get energy from being around people, but I was just unaware of how much alone time was built into my previous schedule. I traveled over a hundred thousand kilometers in the six months before the pandemic.

So there was in the car, in the airplane, in the lounge, in the hotel that was built in for me when the pandemic happened, we had five people in the home. I never had a moment to myself. What I didn’t truly realize. Emotional processing happens when you’re alone and solitude without the absence of other people’s thoughts. So I actually had to get up and I don’t mind this, so I know some listeners are going to be like ew no, but I would get up at five o’clock in the morning and walk by myself. For half an hour to 45 minutes and it was game-changing for me. And so that has become a non-negotiable. How can I get a half an hour to myself every day?

And be not watching Netflix, not reading just literally alone. And so for some people it’s connection that they absolutely need that has been taken away. So how do you establish that? But you have to be aware of these things in order to be able to develop something that makes sense around it. And being, being able to prioritize that is challenging, but asking somebody else to prioritize it for you is a little easier.

So for example, this has never happened. So maybe I should make it happen after this conversation. But if I told my husband, you know, I really need some time off and I need you to design it, do you to create it and make it happen? Or what he used to do do is drive up to the little lake, pump up my paddleboard and call me and say, it’s waiting for you. So then it becomes, I’m a more like a, more of a burden to say no, that I would be to say yes. And that makes it a lot easier. So in periods, Or periods of stress and times of significant need. Can you rely on others to help you out with that?

And a big part of that as you already mentioned, is communicating, knowing that for yourself and then being able to communicate that to your support team and your, those people in your life that are there to help.

And being able to say yes, if I get stressed or this is what would help and have them yeah, I think that’s awesome. And I know my wife and I, we, if we get a bit tense in our conversations, we’re often like, all right, let’s go move, like do a workout. Or for us, it’s usually something activity based and then we’ll come back and we’re like, what were we arguing about?

Oh, totally. Yeah, absolutely. And I. We, we joke around all the time. You know, if there’s tension in the house and there’s a pandemic happening, it’s a pressure cooker. So you have to be able to figure out ways to relieve that pressure. And it’s even for yourself too, right? Like if you’re in a stressful, Situation and you feel constraint in your ability to move around and I literally go out or visit people or what have you. It creates too much pressure. You have to know what the pressure relief valve is.

Yeah. And I, I believe there were a lot of people out there that haven’t communicated that with the people they’re living with, whether it’s their spouse or their family or roommates, and a lot of conflict comes from that.

And it’s it’s conflict being one thing, but obviously negative effects of that stress. Right. So I think it’s something that what I work with a lot of leaders on now, and obviously it’s always been important. I think the pandemic has just, again, brought it to the surface is self-reflection and self-aware. Because people can’t help you if you don’t know what helps. And if you’re not seeking that out. So it’s really, really important to just take those moments of self reflection and if you can do it daily, even better.

Awesome. And so we’ve talked a bit about the individual side. If we take that to the organizational side, how can leaders and executive teams set up a structure that’s helping employees, helping people across the organization, leaders and line level employees. How does it, how do we help them make that change at the organizational level?

Yeah. So this is what I studied for two years before the pandemic is this idea of leadership impact on, on behaviors and I was definitely looking at health behaviors when I was talking about this because a lot of leaders will buy in or do it themselves, but they’re not getting that like, systematic change. And when we talk about organizational change versus individual change versus group change versus influence, we actually talk in different languages.

And we talking usually about quite insignificantly, different behaviors and motives, et cetera. So at the organizational level, like it’s something that leaders need to start with self. They need to form the behaviors and selves so the way that the model in which I use the lowest rung on like a a staircase of influences you should, or you shouldn’t and then it’s permission.

Do you allow people to take five minute breaks between meetings or actually take vacation, disconnect and vacation. And how are you communicating that? And how are you communicating in a virtual world? Do you perform the behaviors yourself. And do you demonstrate it again? It’s very difficult to demonstrate some behaviors, one mindfulness, are you closing your eyes on camera in front of somebody?

Probably not. So how are you demonstrating that this is part of your day and that you’re performing the behavior. And then the next rung is inviting somebody. So if I came home from work and my husband, I really want him to be more active. And I said, you should go for a walk versus I’m going for a walk. Would you like to come with me? Those messages are very different. So being able to invite people and then the highest rung is whole modeling, not role modeling, whole modeling behaviors. What I mean by that is that for example, I have three olympians that live on my cul-de-sac and they’re all endurance athletes.

If I started endurance training program, when I asked them for help, maybe they’re kind of experts in the field if I was struggling or if I was failing, when I asked for help, I don’t know. Right. So this idea of leaders being able to have full honest conversations with are 360 conversations with individuals on their teams and that they lead about struggling about failing, about having to try again, about, having to reset, about frustrations, working in the virtual world, whatever they are that it is that full conversation, not just a look how great I am.

That can go so far in creating psychological safety, in creating meaningful conversations and being able to understand what the true struggles are and what people want from whether it’s habit development, behavior, change health programs, or if it’s simply our new workforce. And what does that look like? So leaders have more influence than I think they are even remotely aware of. And just educating is that lowest rung. So can you integrate, and can you think more holistically about who you are as a leader? What influence you possibly can have and how you communicate?

I think that’s, I like that a model and the whole modeling as well. I think that. And what you said about inviting somebody? I think, yeah. A lot of people are like, Point fingers. There’s a lot of pointing fingers in there in the fitness and wellness industry.

Yes. Yes there is. And it’s always in the fitness and wellness industry and I mean, I was in it, I guess I’m still kind of in it, but I was in it as a trainer and lecturer for so long, and then I’m going in and telling people, this is how they should be active when it’s my job. I am paid to be active for eight hours a day or whatever it was, what a naive place to come from to assume that people can prioritize it in the same way that I can, or in a very efficient way. When you think more about what is really attuned to people and how they prioritize and how they get reward systems, it needs to be much more immediate.

So this is where I think we can look at performance, work performance is a way to motivate and to inspire and to systematically influence people is you will get more done in less time. We have the research to prove that now, if you are active, if you get your heart rate up, you will be more creative when you will have this neuro density, you will, so it becomes very much something. My first podcast and my next season is should we be paid to exercise? You can see where I’m leaning. But exploring that from a research in an outcomes perspective to really make the case for it. Not just simply say, oh, that’s a nice to have.

I love that topic. Yeah.

I’m going to listen to that episode.

Yes. One listener.

Yes. But yeah, we, we always talk about intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards and trying to find ways to influence people, to make these healthier choices into integrated into their lifestyle. And we hear a lot about the reward systems in corporate culture, with the different perks that people can get following these challenges that happen, whether it’s a pedometer challenge or some walk around the world type thing, and they’re getting prizes and. Again, that I’d love to hear a bit more of your thoughts not to take away from take away from your podcast.

No, no, no. This will be my, this is my rant. Okay. I cannot stress enough for anybody that’s in corporate wellness the collaboration is the new competition. Competition is dead stop thinking of competition. So you why? So competition can get people moving . Literally can get people up, inspire certain personalities. Most it does not. It actually kind of makes them lean away from the conversation, what tends to happen. And so a personal example several years ago, I got my family Fitbits for Christmas.

My husband was moving from an active job to a sedentary job. And so I’m in Canmore, Alberta outside of Calgary. And my parents were in the east coast at the time. So they had three hours on us. And I was so impressed because my dad’s a financial analyst. He was like 10,000 steps. A day is good. 30,000 has to be better.

So by the time we even woke up, he usually had 10,000 steps. And I thought it was a genius because you can go online and you can see all the results. And my husband was keeping up. And I was like, this is incredible until I came home and the Fitbit was on my dog. So this idea of the competition goes, as far as the competition goes, not the behavior, not a sustainable approach to any kind of change.

So those that it does inspire, it ends with the competition. And those, a lot of people are not inspired by it whatsoever and actually pull back from it. If you address it from an innate need. So a belonging. Social perspective, you will have much, much greater success than a competitive one. There’s so many different ways to look at that and be creative around it. But I really encouraged to get away from the competition. And typically the people that it actually gets most gravitated towards, the challenges are people that are don’t need the challenges, but so ever they’re already people that are very competitive and active and like, already have this mindset. So. Taking a really different approach.

Absolutely. Yeah. We see that all the time with, with our clients as well. And it’s what are you, what are you rewarding? Are you rewarding that outcome? Are you awarding the process that that’s going into it and what’s that process tied? Yeah. And as you I’d love it, you said the, the people that are most interested are the ones that need it, the least.

Yes. Well, it ain’t even like I try to challenge companies to, should you call it a wellness program? You can have a wellness program that would ever call into anything and it can be very systematic and supported and social and making physical changes to the environment and make the behaviors you want the easiest.

And there’s this great study that looks at hospital cafeterias and water consumption and the researcher, what you would want it to do is improve water consumption, decrease, pop consumption. And so they had, they systematically changed where the water was and put it everywhere. So it was only in a couple of fridges before, and then it was, it appeared in baskets everywhere their food was in, in every single fridge with beverages and they saw water consumption go up 29%. And I mean, that was not by educating, not by insisting, not by telling you how much sugar is bad for you and you shouldn’t consume it. And yeah. Liquids, et cetera, is simply making it the easiest choice.

So when it comes to company wellness programs, when you call it a wellness program, those that need it the most tend to not engage with it. But if it is just something you’re systematically doing, this is how we do things. Now it’s a very different approach. And I’m not saying every company can do that. And I know budgets work a certain way, but just being able to be creative on how we design those.

Yeah. Well, and I, I would, I would argue that budget is irrelevant. It’s a philosophical, but it’s, it’s a, it’s a philosophical, ethical change first and foremost. And when, as you said, it becomes a systemic. This is the way we do things now. And that, you know, obviously money, it takes money to do some things, but I would argue that most companies are spending way more on things are detracting from wellness and it’s not about adding money to a wellness budget. It’s about reallocating funds and looking at, Hey, what is, what are we doing? That’s making things worse. Can we allocate something to shift it to an area that’s going to make things better?

Well, and so I I’ve, I’ve worked with organizations that exact, so I worked with an health, very large health organization that insisted on having a Coca-Cola machine on their floor, because there was one individual that loved Coke so much, like this was his drink of choice. You’d probably have two or three a day. And so they needed to keep it why? And I understand it’s then taken away something from somebody, but honestly challenging that. Why we know us systematically bad, that is for health and wellbeing. So as a health organization, what are you communicating to everybody else on staff?

And so I was fascinating column a column B a very large company here in Alberta. They try to do their best on health and wellness. They have a lot of unique policies and really good things, but they refuse to change the policy saying that you had to order healthy food when ordering in food. So not taking clients out that was different, but ordering in or getting catering into meetings because they felt like there is those people that absolutely love.

Let’s say pizza, let’s say pop, like whatever that is, whatever the food, the resource that it was, but they didn’t want to take it away. And I’m like, you’re not taking it away if you are funding it. So it’s one thing to say, you’re not allowed buying it. That’s very different. Or, or like creating this, an option that they can purchase with their own money.

It’s a very different thing to say. Company is actually footing the bill for this lunch. So we’re going to have, and they wouldn’t even say at least a healthy option. Like they wouldn’t even have any kind of policy around this. And I thought that was fascinating because it sounds like you’re just kind of throwing band-aids at things at this point, if you’re not able to figure out a way to bring a philosophy and a policy to support that philosophy to be able to implement something and say, it’s really, that’s how you say, that’s how you communicate. It’s really important to a company. Otherwise it’s just kind of lip service, right?

Yeah. I’d probably at least double digits. Number of times that I’ve gone in to do nutrition-related seminars and workshops and companies would have pizza at the back of the room.

Yeah, absolutely. My favorite is every single talk I’ve done on physical activity people are sitting every single one of them. And I always address the irony in that. And then try to get them up and get them moving a little bit. But it’s, it’s something that, yes the irony in this field is exponential.

I I’d love to hear what your thoughts more on, on the organizational side, how to overcome that, I guess we’ll call it the philosophical or the values based. How do we incorporate values into wellness related values into corporate culture?

It starts with leaders. And it starts right from the top. I’ve seen incredible companies have CEOs that were so passionate about this topic and they made it happen. Right. I’ve absolutely seen companies be like, and this is my favorite from an executive level. Oh yes they should. As in their employees should not, they should not that there’s any ownership here on the leadership level. They should do X, Y, Z. And then they’re still very much that that thought process of should we even have a wellness program, is that not the employee’s responsibility? And again, putting personal responsibility on it.

And then my argument back to this is if you’ve hired, let’s say 500 brains. That’s how many people you have in your company. Why wouldn’t you want them functioning optimal? Why wouldn’t he be feeling them appropriately? Why wouldn’t the discussion be around? How can we get these people functioning at their best?

So not only do they get to live a great life, have the energy to do things after where it kept the energy to do what they love with whom they love. But they’re functioning at work. Absolutely the employer’s responsibility. And then at that biggest and greatest level right now, which is incredibly frustrating position to be in is the traditional consulting firms and how hard they work their employees, and then make them stay after work to watch a seminar on work-life balance.

You literally then have this really conflicting message that is not going to resonate. It is equivalent to a physician smoking telling somebody to stop smoking. Right. So there’s this ingrained irony, I guess and a lot of things that are happening within this, this field, you have to be able to support what you’re lecturing, what you’re trying to improve and be transparent in your communication to do that.

When I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day, who was, we were talking about this, the leadership mindset around health and wellbeing. And as you’ve said, I’ve, I’m glad to hear it’s not just me. That’s had that experience as a CEO. That gets that’s. It makes it happen. Yeah, absolutely. Hands down and a CEO that doesn’t get it. You can have the most well-meaning leadership and teams within the organization. You continually run up against a brick wall. And so the, this person I was talking to said, he sees the future is boards influencing. So when the boards and the shareholders are like, Hey, this, we know this, the science shows that this produces a return. And if the CEO is not going to get on board with it, we’re going to replace a CEO because the board makes a decision.

Yeah, I’ve seen this happen too, where boards say, yeah, this is super important. We absolutely want this. We’re going to pay for the most extreme measures at the executive level. That is all we are going to protect our assets that are, you know, the ones that have the most influence.

Yeah. And we’re going to leave it there, or we’re going to hire somebody with not the appropriate background, not the appropriate knowledge and put them in a wellness position and then hope it works. Yeah, we’re not going to measure our success. We’re not going to have any data to say if this program has worked or not worked we’re going to do it from the seat of our pants.

And that’s why two recent studies coming out about fortune a thousand companies. Looking and examining the wellness programs and they don’t work. It’s not that wellness programs don’t work. It’s just, there’s a strategic part of it in our approach has a lot of behavior change. And certainly that being pulled from the top. And being, being championed from the top, it doesn’t matter how many group champions you have, if you don’t have somebody in the executive room and on the board or, or in that executive that is not even just champion it, but living, breathing it. And again, this is just how we do things here. Yeah. Take care of our people.

I love it. Absolutely. And so we, well, let’s segue a little bit into it, slightly different. You we’ve talked a bit about it before. Yeah, all the science is there. You’ve started your business right before the pandemic. Talk about how this science has helped your life. You already mentioned them five 30 in the morning walks, but what else? What else have you implemented? What have you incorporated? You said, yes, this is awesome.

Yeah. So right before the pandemic I was during my postdoc at U of C, I was studying the effective break strategy and probably because it was so bad at it. And then in February, I took my two month old daughter on a European trip to see how they take breaks, how they distress, how, how the businesses run really differently in Scandinavian countries than they do in north America. And what can we pull over? So there’s a few different things that have really helped is conscious effective breaks. Being able to break up your day, but doing something that’s actually effective. So not just grabbing your phone and scrolling through social media or watching Netflix or whatever it could be.

But making sure it’s connecting with each or connecting oneself and connecting with others. Bekah is there a traditional Swedish coffee break and my husband and I have brought it into our house in some way, shape or form which is just the importance, but like everybody Bekah. Everybody took their coffee break.

It was so weird if you didn’t we’re in north America, it’s kind of the reverse. So at 10 o’clock and two o’clock when we can we take her. 10 minutes. It’s not long. It’s just making sure that you actually do that and that you really enjoy coffee or baked goods or whatever that is. But yes, I would say the effect of breaks this science around effective brings you get either the same done or more done.

I did a systematic review on breaks during work time. There’s no reason not to take them. The number one reason people say is, oh, I have so much to do, but we actually know you’ll get more done or at least the same. So that is one being conscious about physical activity. I mean, that is just an absolute must in some way, shape or form. And then even because of our control over how you eat now, making sure that I have a sustainable diets of not doing that, like crash and burn of the quick carbohydrates. So being more conscious on that from a work design perspective grouping, and you need to have skin as much as possible.

So, so just doing one thing at a time. I’m trying not to let the competing needs of the email and everything else, those direct messages, et cetera. So having deep work everyday that has taken a while to actually design into my day, because at the beginning and startup mode, there’s just so much going on and you’re working with a team so you to kind of have to work with them while they’re there. And then get some of the deep work done well after hours. And then, I mean, I’ve been trying on sleep progressively failing on that. I blame my one-year-old immensely. Yeah, no, I’m gonna, I’m going to totally blame her actually. I think that’s only fair.

That is absolutely fair. Yeah. Sleep when you have kids under a certain age is. Elusive. Yes. You get some, but it’s not great. Yes. And, and I, I admit that it has made me be more conscious of the things I can control about sleep though. Cause like, obviously I can’t control her schedule. You know, I do try as much as I can, but there’s, there’s competing needs there. So being conscious about what, what I do, and then from a systems perspective, it is, I’m not typically a systems thinker, but since COVID, it’s, it’s all system design you, what is your system in which you are supporting whatever habits or behaviors that you want, because if you don’t have a system, it won’t be done. It won’t get done. So yeah. Designing way too many systems, probably.

That’s a lot of great takeaways that people can, can use in their life. And I love to see that I’m doing the checklist for myself and saying, okay, yeah. Okay. Worked on that. I’ve worked on I’m working on this. And one thing I think people often forget though, is that this type of change. Isn’t perfect. It’s not a straight line from a to B it’s it’s this convoluted two steps forward. One step back, three steps sideways. And we, as long as we keep that vision of where we want to go and place and we’re moving forward. That it might seem ugly, but we’re making progress.

Progress over perfection always. And the other thing that I want to make very, very clear is the number one rule of behavior change is only change one thing at a time. And so you can change multiple things, but only have focused on one. So if you’re like, I want to eat better and sleep better and exercise more, choose one. There’ll be great side effects from that one on the other two, but you want to keep your focus in one direction. It will improve your likelihood of success.

Awesome. So before we, I know we, I could, I feel like I could continue talking forever. You’ve got so much great information to share and I love that we share so many synergies and philosophies, so that’s great. Before we wrap up, though, what, what’s one thing you want people to take away? You mentioned the behavior change aspect. Is there any, anything else.

I think grace with self. I think that that’s an element that we’ve lost a lot of over the last little while. Maybe we didn’t have it to begin with, but I hear people frustrated with self over this last 18 months. There’s no reason for it. You did great. Whatever you did, you did great. I think that it’s really important to have this coming conversation kind of internal dialogue with self especially during periods that are really stressful. And it’s simply not yet. If you didn’t get something done, if you’ve failed at getting your run today, it’s just, you haven’t done it yet. Right? There’s always tomorrow. There’s always another chance. And just switching from fail to not yet can go so far.

Well, Lisa, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure and I hope we get the chance to connect again at some point, because I’m sure there’s so much more we can chat and discuss about it. Where can people find you?

Like my home address, I’m just kidding. conciousworks.Com is my company and we really specialize in the skills, the habits, the work designed to be proactive with mental wellbeing and performance. So really trying to capitalize on the science of leadership, the science of work, and certainly behavior change to get people functioning at their best to live. Oh their best life. That’s so cliche. I regret saying that, but essentially to live the depths of life, life that they want to.

Fantastic. And I will put those links in the show notes so people can connect to you from the, from the show notes. Thank you again. I look forward to the next time we can chat and we’ll catch up soon.

Thank you.


Thank you for listening to the Working Well Podcast. If you enjoyed the show, don’t forget to rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts. We’d love to hear your experiences and how you’ve applied tips from the show to your daily life.

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We’ll see you on the next episode.

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