As a new mother, I have a million new things to worry about. Is my baby healthy? Is she sleeping and eating enough? Is she meeting all of her milestones? In addition to all of the recommendations I get from her doctor about what she should be doing and when, I also have to wade through countless other sources of information that are constantly bombarding me with advice on the best way to navigate this new world. Keeping up with all of this often has me feeling misunderstood and unclear on what is the right thing to do.
As social marketing experts, we realize that an important component to behavior change is emphasizing credible studies and recommendations released by trustworthy sources such as the Centers for Disease Control, Health & Human Services or in my case, the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, what is sometimes overlooked is understanding how a person feels about a particular issue and then addressing that in a sensitive way to help motivate behavior change.
A recent personal example: Attempting to “sleep-train” my daughter. This essentially means putting her down in her crib at bedtime and not picking her up when she begins to cry. Instead, many experts suggest that I check on her periodically but let her “cry it out” so she can learn to put herself to sleep and self-soothe – skills that are critical to a child’s healthy development. While I realized the importance of my daughter adopting these skills, it took me several months to actually pull the trigger on sleep training. The challenge for me was breaking MY habit of quickly picking her up the second she shed one tear and soothing her with my voice and touch – a natural reaction by most moms, I’m sure. When I consulted online sources initially, I wasn’t moved. This is because much of what I was reading was instructive about how to influence my daughter’s behavior, but didn’t exhibit empathy for how I was feeling when I listened to my child sob. I felt that my daughter’s crying must be different and far more awful than others because what I was reading didn’t imply that other parents went through the same difficult process. After many more months of late nights and sleep deprivation, I finally turned to other sources such as mommy blogs and message boards and immediately felt a groundswell of support that encouraged me to successfully sleep train my daughter. The blogs and message boards proved to be credible sources for me because they addressed my behavior change need in addition to my daughter’s. While validating how I felt, these new sources also offered tips for how I could get through that initial rough period so I didn’t lose my nerve or patience.
As we apply social marketing theories to tackle various issues, we must consider emotion as a piece of the puzzle when helping prompt better understanding and action. Whether it’s a feeling of comfort, fear or joy, addressing how someone feels about an action or habit plays a big role in shifting their mindset. While data and studies may all point the target audience in one clear direction, if we don’t break the existing emotional barrier, all of the sound, credible information may fall on deaf ears.