Interview: Deborah Teplow, Co-Founder Institute for Wellness Education

Suppose things were different, what would you notice that would tell you that you've had a success? The question helps you visualize yourself in that changed state. So just by answering that question, the change has already begun.


This fundamental question for lasting behavior change surfaced along with many powerful insights during my conversation with Dr. Deborah Teplow. She’s the Co-Founder and CEO of the Institute for Wellness Education (IWE) which trains professionals and community activists to serve as wellness coaches to help people develop the critical skills that enable them to help themselves and others make positive, lasting behavior change.

We talked behavior design, mindfulness, wellbeing, how to reduce screen time and advice for entrepreneurs and organization leaders.

You can listen to our conversation here, and I've included some key takeaways below. I’ve also posted the interview on YouTube.

Key Takeaways

  • Any change has a cost. One of the secrets of behavior design or behavior change is to reduce that cost of change.

  • Whether its diet, exercise, or even relationships, the thing that works for behavior change is defined by whether the person can stick to it.

  • Two outcomes people mention no matter which of the 10 dimensions of wellness they focus on:

    1. Feel more optimistic
    2. Feel happier

  • On the importance of mindfulness, it helps to make behavior change less abstract:

    Suppose things were different, what would you notice that would tell you that you've had a success? It helps you visualize yourself in that changed state. So just by answering that question, the change has already begun.

    On the day you're feeling happy, what would you be doing? Break it down to what you would be doing. That leads to the behavior design.

    What difference would doing the change make? How would you notice? What would other people notice?

    Being mindful creates a granular, detailed discussion of that preferred future.

  • Much of IWE’s training is built around the 10 Dimensions of Wellness:

    1. Physical

    2. Nutritional

    3. Psychological & Emotional

    4. Behavioral & Intellectual

    5. Spiritual

    6. Medical / Dental

    7. Environmental - both mother nature and your personal environment. Environment also uses, air, lighting, safe of neighborhood, structure of your house, hot / cold, everything in the physical world that effects how you think, feel and behave.

    8. Financial

    9. Social

    10. Occupational - not just your job, but how you occupy your time, so that includes hobbies. Any kind of activities you do in your life.

  • It's easy to do be super star healthy at a spa or a retreat or rehab. In the real world, it’s different. It's not just you and your motivation or willpower which is what people often focus on, but it's:

    • Do you have the skills

    • What's the social setting

    • What are the social norms

    • Who's there to teach you / guide you

    • What are the rewards and incentives, disincentives, and the environment around you that cues, triggers facilitating change.

  • One of the most primitive motivators we have is belonging. We are social animals. Our brains are cued to interacting, and highly refined nuanced sense of either belonging / acceptance or rejection. So that plays a huge role in what we do.

  • How do you reduce screen time:

    • First question to ask yourself, what do you want instead? What do you want to be doing instead of being on the screen? If it's just, I don't want to be doing screen time, you'll never get there. Have a destination.

    • Why do you want to do it? What are your values? When we talk about making lasting change, Anyone can change for the moment. It's how you make that positive change last. Whatever change you make, it's got to align with your values. It's got to align with the person you want to be.

    • Are there skills you need to learn to do the alternative to screen time?

    • Who do you want to be a model for? Who is can be a role model for you? Who can teach you and guide you?

    • What are your social norms?

  • What are the stages of change? Why it’s important to rehearse for failure? The stages of behavior change are also referred to as the Transtheoretical Model of Change involves progress through six stages of change:

    1. First stage: No way Jose, Precontemplation. Not ready
    2. Contemplation: Yes, but.... stage
    3. Preparation: Taking steps to get ready. For example, I want to eat healthier so I sign up for cooking lessons.
    4. Action: Actually starting to do it.

    5. Maintenance: Pretty well hard wired. Not considered maintenance until you are doing it for 6 months. Different than “21 days to create a habit.”

    6. Relapse: Rehearing. It's not failing.

  • Important to notice which stage you are in because there are different strategies.

  • Be gently with yourself. Be kind with yourself. Set goals that are motivating for you.

  • People don't often anticipate there will be challenges and don't plan for what to do in the event of a challenge. Recognizing life has ups and downs. Being thrown curves is part of the process. Having a plan for when you hit a bump in the road is critical for making lasting, positive behavior change.

  • Entrepreneurs and leaders: Be kind to each other. Be nicer to each other. People have to feel they are safe and accepted. Teams perform better and innovate easier.

  • Visit the Institute for Wellness Education to learn more.