By Dr. Ebun Ebunlomo
Associate Professor, Public Health, American Public University
A few years ago, my local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) gave all its members a free T-shirt to celebrate New Year’s. “I am why” was inscribed on the front of the shirt with a few words around it based on YMCA’s mission, vision and values.
My husband found this message so intriguing that he wore the shirt more than I did. Now, he’s taken full ownership of the shirt, as I can’t even tell you when I last wore it.
You may ask, “What does ‘I am why’ mean?” I wondered that, too. Given the qualities for which the YMCA is known, I interpreted the message as inspiring all YMCA members to recognize themselves as the “why” behind leading a healthy life.
The YMCA promotes healthy habits, spirituality and disease-preventing decisions. These include:
- Eating right
- Contributing to the local community by volunteering at local events
- Building positive social relationships
- Embracing the spiritual aspect of humankind
Knowing the ‘Why’ Encourages You to Develop Practical and Healthy Habits
How does this relate to you? Often, we offer people the “what” and the “how” about healthy living. Some of the “what” includes:
- Eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day
- Getting an annual medical check-up
- Exercising for at least 30 minutes five days a week
Some of the “how” involves:
- Taking 10-minute walking breaks during your work day
- Packing healthy snacks
- Aligning your annual medical check-up with your birthday
But what’s the “why”? For each of us, the “why” to lead a healthy life can differ. But the “why” is what will get us to do the “what” and learn more about “how.”
The “why” should make us think twice when we are tempted to eat that piece of high-calorie cheesecake on days other than our designated “cheat day.” The “why” should keep us on our daily exercise routine throughout the year (winter/holiday time seems to be the hardest for me).
Here are some of my “whys”:
- Spending more time with my loved ones
- Reducing my personal risk for hereditary diseases (e.g. diabetes and hypertension)
- Feeling good about myself
- Being as productive as I can be
- Maintaining a healthy state of mind so I can affect others positively
- Being a role model to other family members who may be struggling to lead healthy lifestyles
Asking “why” is a way to develop sustainable healthy habits, as we can see in the example of cultivating healthy behaviors. In fact, there are diverse health behavior theories such as Theory of Planned Behavior, which posits that understanding people’s motivations will get them to adopt a new behavior or keep them focused on quitting an unhealthy behavior. For example, becoming a parent gives some people the “why” they needed to quit smoking or to lead a healthier lifestyle in order to lead a good example for their children.
Knowing ‘Why’ Encourages Productivity in the Workplace
This behavior theory also works in industries that deal with motivating people to take certain actions. Successful businesses such as Apple often start with the “why” before they get to the “what” and “how” in their marketing strategies.
Having an employee population buy into the “why” facilitates supervision. Employees tend to follow through with tasks even when their supervisors are not around because they get the “why” behind even seemingly mundane tasks.
So I encourage you to ask yourself the “why” behind your desire to lead a healthy lifestyle. If you can, write down those reasons somewhere you can see them every day to remind yourself and keep yourself motivated. Consider reviewing the list every morning to routinely align your actions with those fundamental reasons for healthy living.
About the Author
Dr. Ebun Ebunlomo, MPH, MCHES, PHR, is a trained scholar in health promotion and health education, with over 10 years of experience developing, implementing and evaluating public health programs in clinical, community and work-site settings. She previously was an evaluation fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She received her Ph.D. in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences from the University of Texas School of Public Health.