Vic Strecher was a stellar public health researcher and entrepreneur when his life lost all meaning. A professor at the University of Michigan, founder of the Center for Health Communication Research, and creator of an online health coaching company that was bought by Johnson & Johnson in 2008, Strecher was at the top of his game.
And then in 2010 his life fell apart when his daughter Julia died at the age of 21.
It wasn't unexpected, exactly. Julia had had her heart destroyed by a chicken pox virus at six months old, and had received a heart transplant and had suffered from health problems for her entire life.
But she had lived a big life despite her pains and limitations: softball team, girl scouts, traveling. And Julia wanted to give back, so she enrolled in the University of Michigan School of Nursing. And then, during a family vacation in the Caribbean, she died of a heart attack in her sleep.
Since Julia's first diagnosis, Vic's purpose in life had been to give Julia a big life, for however long as it lasted. With her passing, Vic lost his own purpose.
Until one day on a kayak on Lake Michigan, Julia spoke to him, telling him to move on.
Vic heeded her words, and in so doing, utterly transformed his career and the field of health communications and behavior. You see, he had found a missing piece of the puzzle that was so big, no one had really identified it before: purpose.
In his own studies and in his reinterpretation of the scientific literature, Vic pointed to finding a meaningful, transcendent life purpose as the key ingredient in sustaining even difficult behavior change. His new book, Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything, connects the philosophical concept of life purpose to concrete health outcomes.
And shows pretty convincingly that if you want to eat better, exercise more steadfastly, get more sleep, and do all the other things that our culture makes so difficult, the first and most important step is to connect the benefits of those actions with a big, juicy, meaningful, joyful purpose in life.
Our conversation was a total joy for me. Vic is not only a brilliant researcher, but a genuinely present and caring human being. He's been through a lot, and has transformed suffering into wisdom and compassion, which he generously shared with me.
I'm a better person for talking with him.
- Vic's early work using the internet to deliver algorithm-based coaching
- medical education neglects how to motivate behavior change
- the strengths and limitations of the Health Belief Model
- people smoke to control stress – so why do we stress them out by warning them of the threat of death from smoking?
- Vic's headstone epiphany
- how the CDC rejected Vic's offer to share his online coaching system with them for free – and how he was forced to build a $55 million company to license health coaching to Kaiser and Blue Cross
- the biggest research question: “why are people defensive?”
- the fine art of tailoring information to the user, and the risks and benefits of “filter bubbles”
- Julia's big life – and the impact of the possibility of her death at any time (“life went from black and white to technicolor”)
- the Lake Michigan kayak visitation, and Vic's journey to build a new purpose in his life
- “start teaching every student like they were my own daughter”
- the twin pillars of energy and willpower, and how to develop them
- wisdom of the stoics
- two types of happiness, and which one improves immune function
- how to deal with the Boring But Important stuff in our lives
- how exploring purpose defangs defensiveness
- Vic's latest company, JOOLhealth, and the purpose app
- and much more…
- Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.
Life on Purpose at amazon
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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.
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