Skip to main content

The gentle art of nudging – Dame Laura Lee

BLOGS | 9th November 2021

What everyone can learn from the way Maggie’s treats people and nudges them towards healthier behaviour

Our chief executive Karyn McCluskey recently talked about how we should look at how cancer patients are treated when trying to help people battling addiction: Scotland’s drug-death crisis: How treating addicts as well as cancer patients would make a real difference.

She praised the work of Maggie’s cancer charity and suggested there could be centres like theirs to support and manage addictions.

We hear from Maggie’s chief executive Dame Laura Lee about what we could all take from the holistic approach adopted by their centres:

‘The vision of Maggie Keswick Jencks was for a new way of helping people with cancer. She had an idea for a place that felt warm and welcoming, a place of expert support and information, a place that made each person feel valued as a human being.

Her vision became a reality and now, 25 years after our first cancer support centre opened in Edinburgh, we now have 24 Maggie’s across the UK and a growing international network. We have helped hundreds of thousands of people to live well with cancer. We can’t promise to change the outcome, but we can promise to help give people the best possible chance. To find hope.

And one of the ways we do this is called nudging. A subtle hint, a suggested change, a gentle recommendation.

We have been doing this for 25 years and now politicians and health professionals are beginning to understand that when it comes to getting people to change their behaviour for the sake of the own health, nudging is far more successful than lectures and dictates.

We don’t tell people what to do, we don’t tell them what not to do and we don’t judge them. What we do do is use our expertise to gently guide them towards a healthier way of being.

And then of course support them to make those changes in a way that is manageable and allows the person to feel more in control of their mental and physical health. Our professional staff are experts at this. Some of it is instinct, but a lot comes from truly listening to the people they are supporting.

A person might be talking about feeling unsupported by a partner, but a few throw away comments about being unable to sleep might lead the cancer support expert to nudge towards is a sleep management course. Resentment at finding yourself as a carer, might be best met with a nudge towards healthier eating and gentle exercise. Ways of helping the person feel healthier, more energised and more able to care.

So for 25 years we have been nudging people towards taking small steps to give themselves the best possible chance during treatment, to ensure they have the energy to be carers or to protect against recurrence as best as possible. With that nudging though comes more than just the obvious physical benefits. Nudging rather than dictating allows people to feel empowered and in doing so feel better mentally and emotionally as well. Suggesting options, step by step, offers people choices when it might otherwise feel as if they have none. And while I am not an expert in other fields, I firmly believe what we have learnt in our 25 years of supporting people with cancer, as well as their family and friends, could benefit other people with different health problems.

Ultimately, behind every emotion, struggle and challenge lies fear and when it is all said and done, more than anything Maggie’s helps people cope with fear. We do this by listening, understanding, nudging towards the right support for them and refusing to judge when the slips come.

Who wouldn’t benefit from that?’