Saturday, February 28, 2009

The tipping point

I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's book, "The Tipping Point."  It's about how social viruses spread and become epidemics.  I want to spread the virus of eating healthy.  Gladwell says there are three main ways:  1)  the law of the few; these are special people that make a big difference and spread the word:  the mavens, the connectors and the salesmen.  The mavens are people who know everything about some things and people turn to them for advice.  The connectors know lots of people.  The salesmen are good at convincing people.  2) stickiness.  The message has to stick, and not go in one ear and out the other.  3) the power of context.  Now I've already started forgetting how this one works.  oh yeah, depending on your situation and the environment around you, the message may or may not stick.  He gives an example of how crime went down in New york city when they cleaned the graffiti off the subways and cracked down on minor offenses.   Suddenly the standards for behavior, and the expectations went up.  

So, knowing all this, how to I spread the message of healthy eating?  Let's start with #1, the law of the few.  I could call myself a maven since I have been obsessed with this topic for a few years now and have learned a lot.  However, I am not a great communicator (orally anyway), though I'm sort of respected by my friends.  But I'm pretty introverted.  I haven't told most of my friends or family about my blogs because I think they would think I'm crazy.  You can see I have a long ways to go to become one of the "few".  However, I could work the maven angle.  And you don't have to be a communicator to spread the virus, you just have to know one and convince them to spread it.  Same with the salesmen.  The book gave an example of a great communicator:  the hair stylist.  I have a really cool hairstylist, cool enough to be convinced about this healthy eating stuff, and then spread the word.  I can't think of any salesmen I know...  okay on to #2)  stickiness.  This is hard because of so much ingrained thinking about healthy eating.  The automatic reaction from most people is "I'd rather enjoy life than be miserable and live a few years longer," not realizing that you will enjoy life more and be more happy when you don't have continous aches and pains.  But there is the very ingrained and strong association of healthy eating with deprivation.   So how to combat that?  There's the power of example.  Some of my friends and family were very interested to learn more about healthy eating after I lost 30 lbs and felt and looked so much better than before.   That seems to be the most effective.  For people who didn't know me before I became healthy, I don't have much influence.  Talking to people about healthy eating doesn't work very well--though I have to admit I haven't tried very hard.  I really don't want to come across as preachy and make people defensive.   So in fact, I shut down the virus before it can even have a chance to start because I am so reluctant to talk about it.  I have started to bring healthy treats to various functions, and the surprise is that people seem almost relieved to see fruit instead of muffins.  They go, "oh good, fruit!" (with some exceptions of course!).    So that is another good approach.  Yeah, I think the approach has to be through their stomachs and not my mouth.   Okay, on to #3), the power of context.   ummmm.   So what is the best environment (place & time, situation) to plant the seed in people?  I don't know.   Not meal time, unless it's a meal I have cooked.  Oh, I guess inviting people over for meals could be effective.   Unfortunately for completely unrelated reasons, I can't do this very often.  I had a vegan cooking class last fall and since then one of the students turned vegan!  However, I think that was a fluke.  She was motivated already when she took the class.  Ah, that's the key, identifying people who are already motivated.  Maybe you start with the mavens--get them on board first and then try to spread the word.   One thing I should do is start an ETL (Eat to Live, Fuhrman's program) meetup group in my town.  I'm kind of shy about such things but I really think I should do it.  Maybe that should be my first goal.  And I should convince my hair stylist.  And bring great healthy food to my church potlucks.  That's a good start.

So what book am I going to read next?  "How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie.  Ha!  

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