SWOT Your Way To Healthier Habits in 2014!
SWOT Your Way To Healthier Habits in 2014 by
Developing A Successful Health Strategy
According to a recent statistic from the University of Scranton and the Journal of Clinical Psychology, weight loss is the #1 most common New Year’s Resolution for 2014 and 38% of all resolutions made this year were related to weight. Many people set a resolution to lose weight without considering other elements of their health, root causes of unhealthy habits or the need to lose weight in the first place.
It is fairly common for people to stick to resolutions for the first month or two after the New Year then forget about them shortly after. Why is it so difficult for people to stick to their New Year’s Resolutions longer-term? Could it be that they are not setting a goal to resolve the right problem? Are they not considering factors that will impact success or failure? Are they only focused on the end goal without evaluating the process from start to finish? I wonder how many more individuals would be successful in changing their behaviors if they went into the New Year with a good strategy for how to achieve the goal.
One of the highlights of my 2013 was getting into business school at Washington University. My favorite course of the fall semester was Introduction to Management and Strategy. During the course, we learned about different frameworks companies use to identify problems and develop strategies that guide them to achieving their objectives. I began to think about how the frameworks discussed in strategy class could be useful for problem formulation and goal setting with my nutrition counseling clients. The process of an individual developing a strategy to improve his or her health could be quite similar to that of a CEO developing a strategy to generate sustainable profitability and a competitive advantage within an industry.
Strategic thinking in the corporate setting involves evaluating the external business environment, identifying resources a company possesses that could contribute to success, anticipating opportunities and proactively managing or eliminating threats or barriers that may be encountered along the way.
The essence of strategy within a business context can be answered by two questions:
1. What makes some companies profitable and successful while others are not?
2. If a company is performing better than its competitors, can it sustain this level of performance?
The essence of your health strategy can be answered by two similar questions:
1. What makes you successful in changing some health behaviors and unsuccessful in changing others?
2. If you are able to make positive behavior changes within the first couple months after the New Year, can you maintain the changes longer-term or are they inconsistent with your lifestyle and therefore, unsustainable?
One of the decision-making frameworks we learned about for problem formulation is called the SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. SWOT is a strategic planning tool that companies use to evaluate what they do well, what they don’t do well, opportunities they might take advantage of and threats that may hinder the process of meeting their objectives. SWOT is useful because it forces a company to explore internal, external, present and future issues that impact performance. Leadership within the company uses the information collected during the SWOT analysis to develop a strategic plan.
So how could this type of process lead to more successful and sustainable health behavior change? Here’s an example. Many people set a New Year’s Resolution to “lose 10 lbs” without evaluating whether weight loss is necessary, addressing underlying issues that impact eating behaviors and identifying factors that could increase the likelihood of success or failure. Instead, they opt for a quick fix fad diet that may work in the short-term but is not a good strategy for optimal health in the long-term. A SWOT analysis could help someone identify all of the aforementioned factors before they begin to work toward their goal, increasing the likelihood of success.
There are three main goals of this type of analysis for strategic planning:
- Gain a better understanding of barriers
- Identify underlying causes of a problem or challenge
- Develop a plan for accomplishing objectives
A SWOT analysis for a business decision may look like this:
Strengths are typically internal: resources, activities or intangible aspects that provide the company with a competitive advantage. Examples could include a highly skilled workforce (experience, knowledge), data, price advantage, added value of a product, innovative processes (technology), philosophy, values, brand image, leadership, or adequate financial resources/cash flow.
Weaknesses are also internal and typically represent areas for improvement. Examples could include lack of continuity in the supply chain, questionable reliability of data, poor reputation, sub-par marketing, unreliable products, below industry average investment in R & D, high employee turnover, high cost structure or debt.
Opportunities are part of the external business environment. They represent what the company could take advantage of now or in the future. Examples include partnerships, technology development, industry trends, global expansion, new product development or niche target markets that have not yet been explored.
Threats are also external and may be uncontrollable to some extent. They could potentially hinder a company’s progress by creating obstacles. Examples include changes in legislative policies, changes in market demand or customer demographic, environmental impacts (natural disasters, weather), entry of new competitors in the marketplace (more competition), unpredictable changes in the economy, stakeholder requests or lawsuits.
The outcome of your SWOT analysis will be your starting point for goal-setting. It will help you develop a successful health strategy because it will allow you to evaluate your lifestyle and characteristics of you as an individual. You cannot be successful in changing your behaviors unless you understand your environment and the factors that are contributing to the habits you want to change. Just as a CEO shouldn’t make an important decision about Marketing without consulting other departments like R&D, Accounting, Production, etc., you shouldn’t make decisions about your health goals without considering other aspects of your lifestyle that are impacting your behaviors.
You will begin to have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses which will help you manage or eliminate threats/obstacles and identify opportunities that will be most helpful to you throughout the process. The goal of your SWOT analysis is to leverage your strengths and opportunities, manage or improve your weaknesses, and eliminate or proactively address your threats so you can achieve the desired results. Your weaknesses and threats will be most helpful in identifying the underlying cause of the problem. The ideal combination of your strengths and opportunities will generate the most success.
Strategic “fit” is also important for long-term success. Strategic fit in a business setting is the degree to which a company matches its strengths with opportunities. The unique combination of strengths and opportunities need to be consistent with the company’s long-term strategy to generate a competitive advantage. Your goals need to “fit” with your lifestyle. If you hate going to the gym, don’t set a goal to go to the gym five times per week. Review your opportunities list. Is there a dance class you have been wanting to take? Do your friends play on a recreational sports team you could join? There are many ways to add exercise to your day without going to the gym. If your strategy and goals are not consistent with your lifestyle (work/school schedule, personality, activities you enjoy doing, etc.) the behavior change will likely be unsustainable.
To achieve your health goals this year, create a good strategy. Evaluate your lifestyle and environment, understand and identify the aspects of your personality and lifestyle that could impact success and use the information to target the underlying root cause of the behavior. Assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats before establishing your health goals will position you for success.
What is your health strategy for 2014?
Use the template below for brainstorming and creating your plan of action. An example is provided.
Strengths/Weaknesses: What strengths/weaknesses do you possess as an individual that will promote success or hinder progress?
Strengths: What do you do well? What resources do you have that you can draw on? What do other people see as your strengths in other areas of your life? Strengths in this context would be internal characteristics or resources that are unique to you as an individual and can be anything that will help you succeed. Examples could be motivation, knowledge, time management skills, commitment, readiness, ability to cook, goal-oriented, supportive friends and family etc.
Weaknesses: What are you not good at? What are things about your current environment or lifestyle that you could improve? Weaknesses are personality traits or some other factor that is likely more controllable than a threat to some extent however it could still present a barrier to achieving your objective. Examples include stress, lack of sleep, low motivation, lack of commitment to goals, lack of knowledge, lack of financial resources etc.
Opportunities/Threats: What factors of your lifestyle or environment will help you achieve your health goals? What may create an obstacle to achieving your goals?
Opportunities: Opportunities could be anything that is or could be available to you in the future. What opportunities are available to you? Examples include a gym membership, dance class, recreational sports, home workout equipment, cooking class, technology etc.
Threats: Threats are external factors that may or may not be out of your control at the present time or in the future such as work, travel, dining out, hectic schedules, culture, environment at home, etc.
Goal: Increase frequency of exercise to 3-4 days per week.
- Time management skills
- Stress/struggles with balancing work and play
- Tired after work
- Hates going to the gym; thinks working out is boring
- Dance class
- Exercise equipment in the basement
How can you use your strengths to capitalize on opportunities?
- Ask a friend to sign up for the dance class. Set a goal to attend at least 1 day per week to start.
- Use exercise equipment at home in the morning before work instead of going to the gym. Wake up 30 minutes earlier/go to bed 30 minutes earlier so this is feasible.
How can you find ways to manage or eliminate your weaknesses to take advantage of opportunities?
- Invite a friend to workout with you for accountability.
- Avoid the gym. Use workout equipment at home or participate in some type of recreational sport/class.
- Busy schedule
- Long work days
How can you use your strengths to protect against threats?
- Schedule work-outs in your planner.
- Workout in the mornings before the work day begins.
How can you minimize the weaknesses that make achieving your goals more challenging?
- Look at your daily schedule and identify ways to eliminate or minimize stress either at work or home. Find a way to counter stress by setting aside 1 hour per week for an activity that you enjoy.
- Try to get more sleep by going to bed earlier. You can achieve this by watching fewer hours of TV at night etc.