Influencing behaviors: it’s organic! by Lauren Piontkoski

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Lauren Piontkoski works as an Area Director for Residential Life Programs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she serves as a liaison for faculty and in-hall academic support, develops programmatic initiatives to support women in the STEM field and co-supervises graduate/post-doctoral resident tutors. Additionally, she finds herself utilizing her recently acquired group fitness certification through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) as a bootcamp instructor in the Greater Boston Area. Lauren can be reached via Twitter: wickedrunnah

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Influencing behaviors: it’s organic!

Two years ago I began a fitness journey, and I never thought it would have snowballed into the lifestyle I have now. It is was one that I started alone and continues to grow into an ever evolving community. This community consists of my peers, family, friends, students I work with, co-workers and staff members across campus. How cool is that?

This fitness journey I speak about was one that involved being more active, making time to exercise and changing unhealthy behaviors that had been developing through my stint in graduate school and as a new professional.

There’s our metaphorical “fish bowl” effect we often to refer to in our field and one that we swim in constantly during the academic year. And for us, that means: we are noticed. On campus and through social media, we are noticed through what we wear, eat, say, drink, how we interact, where we hang out, favoritism, how we carry ourselves and most importantly, our behavior(s).

Here comes the influencing part. My campus network started noticing that I was utilizing the gym, noticed I was running, taking the stairs, I created fitness (yoga/zumba) programming in the residence halls, changed the candy in my office to healthy snack bars, drank water and naturally…was shrinking in size. They asked me questions, they wanted to know how I stayed motivated and the best part, they wanted to join in.

Below are some ways I noticed my behaviors changing and shaping into a healthier influence on others. After reading, I also encourage you to take a moment to reflect on how you may directly or passively influence healthy behaviors. Enjoy!

1) I put down the cookie

At social events or programming that consisted of free food, I started to change what I would naturally reach for. The cookies changed into vegetables and the soda turned into water. Role modeling healthier choices made myself feel good but also allowed for others to rethink what they were reaching for.

 2) The candy bowl

It’s a way to get students in your office, right? It’s a mid-afternoon snack when you are hungry, right? But…as we all know, the candy bowl can become a sugary temptress. I chose to switch to sugar free candy or nature valley bars. It worked!

3) Shared my experience

Naturally, we talk about what we are passionate about. I often shared difficulties and urges (wanting four cookies instead of one), I shared my excitement for upcoming road races, I would invite others to come swimming, I shared success’ via facebook and instagram. What was I doing? Promoting my own accountability by sharing my experience.

4) Invited others to join

Having a support system, motivating others and working towards a common goal creates buy-in. When there is excitement and support behind something, you often find more consistency and maintaining of whatever you are working towards. Involving others helps you learn and grow and you never know who you could meet and how big your network can get. (Examples: go to the gym with a co-worker, have a healthy pot-luck with your office, invite others to join a road race or go walking, create passive programming to support health and wellness,, share SAfit blog posts J).

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