Crow Wing Energized

The Power of Social Cues


By Jackie Thurlow grew up in the Brainerd Lakes Area and attend Brainerd Senior High School where she graduated in 2011. From there she attended Minnesota State University-Mankato. In December of 2015 she graduated with her Bachelors of Science in Community Health Education, and within the next year will be receiving her minor in Nonprofit Leadership. Over the fall semester of her final year in her program, Jackie interned for Crow Wing Energized and became certified as a lifestyle coach for the National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP). She now is the Coordinator for the NDPP classes within the central region for Essentia Health and works as a community health specialist for Crow Wing Energized. 


It’s inevitable that social cues are everywhere. What others say and do can impact us in multiple ways whether we realize it or not. All too often there is that one friend who convinces you that pizza is the best answer for dinner every night this week. Perhaps you have a coworker who teases you for going on walks during your lunch break. Or, maybe your spouse nags you for bringing home fresh vegetables for a snack rather than candy and chips. These are all examples of social cues that could influence you in a negative way, or also called “problem cues.” It’s these negative actions that can cause an individual to move away from healthy choices and fall back into old habits.


Social cues do not always have to be negative. “Helpful cues” or positive cues can encourage us to make healthier choices. Maybe you have a coworker in the office that always brings a healthy lunch. Or, perhaps your spouse gives you a cup of fruit for dessert verses ice cream. Finally, it could be as simple as one comment from a friend saying “thank you” for going for a walk in the evening instead of sitting and watching a television show together. We need to surround ourselves with these positive cues because otherwise it will be too easy to slip and make a mistake within our healthy lifestyle.


Identifying negative cues verses positive cues can be difficult at times. Here is a listing to help remember what to look for and what to stay away from.


Negative cues:

Being offered (or pressured to eat) problem foods
Being invited to do something inactive
Being nagged
Hearing complaints

Positive cues:
The sight of other people eating healthy foods
The sight of other people being active
Being offered healthy foods
Being invited to do something active
Being praised
Hearing compliments
It’s important that we not only look for these social cues, but we also practice the positive ones. Just like thoughts, we need to remove these negative cues from our lives and focus on the positive. Whatever attitude and examples we lead will create a more positive environment. Try giving out a compliment, or select healthier options during lunch when everyone else picks a double cheeseburger. Perhaps you can turn it into a positive social cue for another individual.


Another way to combat against the negatives is to stay away from them as best as possible. This can be done by completely avoiding the situation, or changing situations around to work in a healthy matter. Planning ahead as best as possible is a great way to prevent a negative cue from having an effect on your decisions. Otherwise, you can change the negative into a positive. Sharing with others you goals of becoming healthier can sometimes gage respect and understanding of your true wishes on your journey to a healthier lifestyle.


If neither of the above works in your favor, put thought into your reaction to negative cues is something you have control over. Practice responding in healthier ways to offers that might not be within your goals for a healthier lifestyle. For example, responding in a gentle but firm manner. Saying, “No, thank you,” can be more powerful than you think. Finally, have patience as it takes time to change old habits.