7 October 2010

Lessons from health promotion

Mark makes the simple but seemingly obvious point about why the health promotion sector has been roundly failing to get people to change their habits. If you don’t have time to click through the stories, the short version is that the most senior elements of the medical profession are still attempting to get people to take control of their own risk behaviours for health - smoking, drinking and getting fat - by issuing a ethical and moral appeal direct at the individual. Mark points out that it cannot work on it’s own. We are social beings and it’s too hard to act individually swim against the tide of what everyone around you is doing. 
Kids that go to boarding school end up with totally different accents from their parents - almost permanently. Go on a holiday where there isn’t a culture of sitting around, drinking, eating and not doing much (like a mountaineering trip) and you’ll probably come home a pound or two lighter, without even trying.
Some goes for your sport performance, training, whatever. The best way to get into a national team is to spend a stack of time with everyone else who is doing the same. I feel that it’s not necessary to make this a permanent move. It’s about hardwiring a new set of habits, norms, standards. It takes a bit of time to get there. But once you are there it’s possible to operate in isolation with only sporadic refreshers. In other words, beyond a certain point you can partially insulate yourself from settling for a second rate effort at being good at sport, even if you regularly train with others who do.


Alexandre said...

That's a great point, but I feel I should mention that many mountaineering trips involve lots of eating, drinking, sitting around a campfire/stove and waiting for the weather...

Dave MacLeod said...

It's true - Some mountaineering trips are a lot better than others.

Christian Knol said...

Absolutely agree - it's really hard if not nearly impossible to get a professional mindset concerning your sport on your own.
And if you look at really good climbers, or other sportsmen they are most time surrounded by a similar motivated circle of friends.
Alltough I think that it's possible to create such a mindset in your group via positive feedback - so if you get positiv feedback of your actions from your social circle and vica versa I would say that this can get you into your new training habits or whatsoever...

Climbing health promotion student said...

just wanted to say that health promotion is not at all about blaming the victim like the UK physician seems to be doing.

"Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions." (WHO)

(Try to replace "health" with "climb" in the definition above. That would be somthing to study..:-)

Anonymous said...

huhu, it's so true I want to cry. What to do if you're stuck somewhere where you are stronger than everyone else?

Greg Parker said...

I agree that surrounding yourself with a dedicated group of strong climbers, can help push and inspire you to become better. However, I think it can work backwards as well. I compete as a professional whitewater kayaker and have seen the group mentality work both ways in professional kayakers.

A group is beneficial if there is no ego involved. When all members work cooperatively to accomplish a common goal, everyone will improve. This involves sharing beta, providing feedback and suggestions, and motivating each other to work/train hard.

However, if ego is involved, and often it is, the group will limit the progress of each individual. This can happen several ways:
1. If a group member holds anything back because they want to be the best, they hinder the progress of the group and ultimately hinder themselves as well.
2. If members are afraid to appear weak in front of each other, they won't push themselves. They won't leave their comfort zone and as a result won't improve. For example, a poor crack climber may avoid cracks because they don't want to appear weak.
3. A weaker climber may be limited because they rely on others and are never pushed into a difficult situation. For example, they may follow a stronger climber up a pitch instead of being forced to lead it themselves. Or this can work mentally as well. For example, "My strong friend can't do this route, so I can't either." Maybe the route fits their style but if they don't think they can or don't try, they won't know. Continuing to believe you are weaker than other group members, can be a huge mental problem.

Don't get me wrong, training with a group can be effective, but some groups do more harm than good. Hopefully this makes sense and isn't too long. I'll look forward to your comments.

Dave MacLeod said...

Greg - It's true that these situations can crop up sometimes. My feeling is that the type of group that acts like this are very rarely operating at a high level. I think it's much more common that experienced and competent athletes understand all to well the problems you describe.

However, this sort of self-limiting behavior is quite common at recreational levels. I wrote about this a lot in 9 out of 10. It's got to be avoided ruthlessly.

Good points Greg, Thanks!