Sonoma County doctor uses new tool to motivate healthy decisions
As a family physician in Sonoma County since 1983, Ellen Barnett has always tried to help patients feel better by making healthy lifestyle choices. But it wasn’t until she empowered herself to exercise more that she came up with a method that would engage and motivate others.
Back in 2000, Barnett was on a treadmill at the gym when she thought to herself, “What’s going to keep me on this treadmill?”
“My kids were teens, and I thought, ‘They are going to get married and have kids,’ ” said Barnett, whose parents both died young. “Then I had an image of my grandmother, who would roll around on the floor with us.”’
That powerful image of her grandmother was exactly what she needed to help her lose 50 pounds over the course of a year while getting her blood sugar under control through exercise and diet.
“I had developed an image of health,” she said. “The light bulb is inside, and information will turn it on ... once you honor the light bulb.”
Barnett has taken a simple question — What Matters to You? — and is now using it to motivate people all over Sonoma County, from underserved teens and the homeless to seniors and cancer patients, to identify their own wellness priorities.
The international initiative, started by the Institute for Health Care Improvement, is supported by a coalition of local health care providers, including the Integrative Medical Clinic of Santa Rosa, where Barnett serves as executive director.
“My theory is that we engage people much more when we listen to them than when we talk,” she said. “Ask the question — what matters? — and then shut up for a minute. Help them link why they are there to what matters to them. This touches the need to be heard and to be valued.”
Relying upon her own experience, Barnett then developed a deeper program within the initiative called Imagine You, which provides techniques to clarify and set goals, reinforce those goals with a visual image and support the goals through a series of small steps.
Key to the program is to ask each person to draw an image that can remind them of their goal.
Marlene Lennon, a nurse navigator and nurse practitioner for St. Joseph Health Breast Surgery and Survivorship, was introduced to the Imagine You program when she herself was undergoing treatment for breast cancer in 2015. During that workshop, she drew a picture of herself surrounded by a circle of supporters.
Later, while leading an Imagine You workshop for others, she created a collage based on her drawing that also includes photos of nature and the reminder to have love and compassion for herself, because as a natural caregiver, she often loses sight of her own needs.
“I keep it hanging above my desk so I can look at it every day,” Lennon said. “It reminds me that I’m not alone in the world ... and it takes me into nature, which is one of the ways that I support myself. ”
Lennon said she has gotten positive feedback from the Imagine You workshops, because people can choose what they want to focus on and then come up with their own plan to get there.