More sports, eating healthy, no alcohol – now comes the time of good intentions. However: Not even every third person actually succeeds. Christmas and New Year become the time of missteps. How this can be changed, how you can overcome your weaker self, is the subject of research by Professor Sonia Lippke, Health Psychologist at Jacobs University in Bremen. Her advice: Plan as concretely as possible, and always adapt your own strategy again and again to reality.
Intentions are good, finds Sonia Lippke, because they are the basis for change. But after the first step, there has to be a second – and that is where many of us quickly stumble. "Concrete planning of goals and development of strategies to deal with possible stumbling blocks are important," says the 42-year-old scientist. For instance, if you plan to get your heart rate up through exercise three times a week for 30 minutes, but then decide to skip it because of backache, you should instead go for a walk or do light back exercises.
"Everyone should look for the right strategy and then adjust it as needed. If you fall short of your good intentions one week, you should think about what you can do differently in the coming week to help you succeed." The scientists calls it "self-regulation competency." "The feeling of being able to accomplish something, in combination with the creation of action and coping plans, has a positive effect on the formation of long-term habits and satisfaction – regardless of age, sex, or occupation," explains Lippke.
Promotion of health in everyday life and at work is an issue close to her heart. And her primary emphasis is prevention. "I don't want to wait until the baby has fallen into the well; I want to prevent diseases from occurring!" Lifestyle is of astounding importance for people's health and well being, but for many, it is infinitely difficult to change it. Understanding why this is, and helping people concretely, that is the mission of the psychologist.
That is why basic research is less her thing; Sonia Lippke prefers research with a practical application, cooperation with companies, health insurers, or retirement insurance programs. "These partners translate our research into concrete programs; together with them, we can really get things moving." For instance, she deals with the question of how to smooth the way for persons with long-term illnesses back to employment and into society. "Often, people who can't work also don't take part in social life anymore. It is a vicious cycle that we need to break through," says Sonia Lippke.
The mother of three children also tries to apply her research findings to her everyday life: eating lots of fruit and vegetables, drinking enough water, and exercise, especially bicycle riding. In her office at Jacobs University, there are height-adjustable tables; sometimes meetings take place standing. "We all sit much too much," she says. "For everyday office activities, occupational health physicians recommend 50 per cent sitting, 40 per cent standing, and 10 per cent movement."
Her students profit from her research; she integrates them, gives them many practical examples in her teaching. "When I'm engaged in research, I am always considering how I can use examples from everyday life in teaching." "Research-based learning" she calls it; in contrast to "bulimic learning", cramming down facts that are quickly forgotten again. "I want my students to see: Their knowledge has relevance – not just for the seminar room and grades."
The young people getting their degree with Sonia Lippke come from all over the world. "The international life and work at Jacobs University is unique; I value it very highly," she says. After all, she herself grew up in Mexico and Spain, and taught and did research in the Netherlands, China, and Canada. "Totally delightful", that's her opinion of the interchange with scientists of other disciplines and the transdisciplinarity that is fostered at Jacobs University. For instance, Sonia Lippke joined forces with a chemist to offer a course on nutrition. She provides support to one doctoral researcher together with a computer scientist. "That is exciting and very instructive – for everyone involved."
Questions will be answered by:
Professor Sonia Lippke | Professor of Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine
s.lippke [at] jacobs-university.de | Tel: +49 421 200-4730
Picture: WFB Bremen/Jonas Ginter