For our clients to be successful and achieve amazing results, they need to change their lifestyle and behaviors to put our great programs into practice. This article outlines some of the theory behind behaviour change and also an introduction to one technique you can use with your clients to help them make permanent, life long changes.
Why Focus on Behaviour Change?
Put it this way, if you gave your clients the best exercise programs in the world, how effective would the programs be if your clients didn’t follow them? It would be about as much use as a chocolate teapot! Who do you think your clients will blame when they don’t achieve their goals? If they are unsuccessful, they are likely to blame YOU and YOUR program. Most clients would never blame themselves. Therefore, it is essential we help our clients take responsibility for their own health and vitality. By coaching, we can help them to do this.
Coaching is asking the right questions to allow clients to come up with their own solutions. Coaching is NOT giving advice. Giving advice only builds resistance to change. It is important to know when to coach and when to give advice. Coaching is also:
- Always believing there is a solution to every problem. If you lose that belief, being a successful coach will be unlikely.
- Emphasizing there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. Feedback can be from within or from another person.
- The meaning of your communication is the response you get. If you ask someone to do something and he does something different, this might mean there was something incorrect about your communication. You must take responsibility for your communication and the meaning other people put on that communication.
- If something isn’t working, do something else. Someone once said, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got” and “The definition of stupidity is attempting to do the same thing over and over expecting to get a different result.” Common sense I know, but people often need to be reminded of this.
To be a good coach, you must believe your client has the perfect solution inside himself. Once you lose that belief, you stop coaching and start advising, and we know what advice causes: resistance to change.
Coaching is helping your clients take responsibility for their own actions. Without your clients taking responsibility for their own health and well being, you are reducing the likelihood of success. As mentioned earlier, if your clients don’t take responsibility, the blame of failure will lie right at your door.
Stephen Covey suggests that, “Responsibility = the ability to respond.” People have the ability to respond in any way they choose to any situation. For instance, people can choose to be depressed and make poor dietary choices because they are overweight. Alternatively, they can choose to be positive and happy and do something about it. It is a choice we humans have.
Stages of Change
It is worth noting here that people go through stages of change. These changes are shown in Table 1 below:
An example of Precontemplation might be someone whose weight has crept up slowly over a number of years without notice. Therefore, this client has no intention of trying to lose weight. Your client may begin to notice his clothes no longer fit, and climbing the stairs at work is making him breathless, but he does not have any motivation to do something about it. He has now moved on to the stage of Contemplation.
As time moves on, this client may decide he needs to take action. He may look up health clubs but not call or visit them. This is the stage of Preparation. As he moves into the Action stage, he may pick up the phone, call a gym and book an appointment with a personal trainer.
Once he has continued to follow the regime for approximately six months or longer, he is in the Maintenance stage. It is important to understand people can slip very quickly from the Maintenance stage back into their old bad habits. It is especially likely during times of high stress. This is why I recommend my clients have at least one dedicated coaching session per month.
What Motivates People to Change?
People are motivated to move away from pain and towards pleasure. During coaching sessions, clients are asked to focus on their goals and how life will be different when they have achieved them. There should be more focus on pleasure to get them excited emotionally and cultivate confidence of success. Dwelling too long on current pain can put them into a "doom and gloom" frame of mind and make them uncomfortable with being out of their comfort zone. For many, working outside a comfort zone is the biggest stumbling block to success. Change is uncomfortable. Many people perceive change to be a greater pain than the pain they associate with being overweight, etc.
For instance, a client may need to start eating more healthy, but having to prepare meals to take to work with him each day may be a bigger perceived pain than his health problem. Change will only occur when the desire to change is greater than the resistance to change. Your job as a coach is to manage your client through that uncomfortable period and help reduce the resistance to change.
Stages of Learning
There are the four stages of learning (see Table 2 below):
When beginning to help a client, you will need to give him some advice. For many clients, they will not realize they do not know how to do certain exercises correctly, or they may think they eat a healthy diet. These people will be Unconsciously Incompetent. They will not realize they don’t know the correct way.
When you do give them the advice, they will realize they don’t know the correct way. Then they become Consciously Incompetent. This is often when they will be out of their comfort zone and will need your coaching and positive feedback the most to get them through this period of change.
After some time, they will be able to perform a front squat correctly, for example, but they will have to think about it. They will then become Consciously Competent.
Once they have performed enough repetitions (perfect, of course), they will not have to think about technique. They have then become Unconsciously Competent.
Each stage of learning can benefit from coaching. When your clients improve, they will have new things to learn, and the cycle will recommence.
When someone has got to the Unconscious Competence stage, they begin to form a habit. As Covey states, “A habit is when someone knows ‘how to do, what to do and wants to do.'"
A habit is the mixture of knowledge, skill and attitude. Knowledge is the "what to do," skill is the "how to do" and attitude is the "want to do."
For our clients to be successful, our programs have to become habitual. Therefore, they have to know what to do, they have to know how to do it and they have to want to do it. This can only be achieved with an intelligent mix of advice and coaching.
The Alignment Model
When our clients are not manifesting behaviors that would help them towards their goals, the Alignment Model is useful to understand why. Ultimately, every action (or behavior) has a positive intention. So when someone is behaving in a way that doesn’t appear positive or effective, the Alignment Model can help us to understand the reasons behind the behavior. The Alignment Model works in a hierarchical order, and it is often best to focus on the highest first area that is out of alignment. Each section is affected by those above.
- Spirituality: At the top of the Alignment Model is spirituality. In this sense, spirituality is your life’s mission or purpose. For most, Spirituality is often subconscious thoughts. For instance, you may have a client training to be a doctor, and he desperately wants to help people. However, this person may discover how medications are tested on animals, which might be against his spirituality. He then decides to leave the medical profession because hurting animals doesn’t sit comfortably with him.
- Identity: People identity with themselves as being a certain way. Overweight people may identify themselves that way (overweight) and therefore live a lifestyle of an overweight person. Changing identity can be achieved through using daily positive affirmations. One example of an affirmation could be, “I am healthy, lean and vital.” Affirmations should always be said in the present tense and with meaning.
- Belief: Belief has a huge bearing on behaviour. If someone believes that a particular task will not be successful or worthwhile, he is far less likely to do the task. Alternatively, he may do the task but not as well as if he believed it would be successful. If a client believes your exercise program will help him to achieve results, he is much more likely to do it than if he didn’t believe it would. Just look at what happened after Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile for the first time. Many others broke the barrier soon after. It is therefore important to fill your clients with belief that your programs work. Testimonials can be very useful to build belief.
- Capability: If someone does not have the capability to do something, he will require training before he can do it. When I became a fitness manager at a health club many years ago, I could not understand why the trainers did not talk to and service the members. After a few days, it was clear that the majority of them did not have the capability to do so. After some training, this was soon turned around. If your clients aren’t able to do the exercises you give them, they will feel inadequate and may stop exercising with you. Ensuring your clients are able to do the exercises you give them is crucial.
- Behavior: Behavior is what people do. If all of the above factors are in alignment, the correct behaviour normally happens. If someone’s spirituality, identity, beliefs and capability are all in alignment with a specific task, there is no obvious reason why a particular behaviour does not take place. If a client is not changing his lifestyle as required, it is usually one of the factors above behaviour that is out of alignment. Address the area(s) out of alignment, and the lifestyle change should follow.
- Environment: It is rarely the case that environment will stop someone from performing positive behaviours. Even someone who lives in a remote place with little financial resources can still lead a healthy, happy life. For instance, if someone lived far from my place of work and only had $100 to spend on my services, I would suggest he purchase a good book on exercise, nutrition and lifestyle and follow the guidelines provided.
The SCORE Model
There are many coaching models you could use. However, the one I have found effective and easy to use is the SCORE Model, which was taught to me by Nic Jarvis of The Alignment Partnership. It has three main areas:
- The Desired Situation - the Outcomes and the Effects of the outcomes.
- Present Situation - the Symptoms and Causes of the symptoms.
- Future solution and Resources required.
Beware, before using the SCORE Model, you must gain good rapport with your client. Attempting to use the SCORE Model without good rapport will normally result in your client becoming defensive and non-cooperative.
The Desired Situation allows you to fully understand your clients' desired outcomes, or goals. It also allows you to understand the reasoning they want to achieve these goals and the impact it will have on their lives. This helps to build motivation by making clients more aware of the pleasure they will receive when successful. If you don't find out the underlying reason for wanting to change, it is very difficult to motivate clients in the future.
When finding out their Desired Situation, you can use questions like:
- Where do you want to go?
- What do you want to do?
- What will be the results of that?
- Why is that important to you?
- What will you gain from achieving the goal?
- What impact will achieving the goal have?
- How will your life be different?
It is essential to paraphrase and use active listening skills. Asking a list of questions will not get you very far. For many, really listening to someone is a challenge.
It is also tempting to start giving solutions at this stage because you have a solution. However, just remember what advice builds.
The Present Situation establishes where they are now. What are the symptoms? What is currently going on? It is also an opportunity to ask clients what they believe is the cause or reason for their current condition. What has stopped them getting to where they want to be?
It is important not to dwell too long on the Present Situation so clients do not become stuck in a mood of doom and gloom.
What is important at this stage is to ensure your client is at cause and not at effect. What do I mean by this? Well, when an action takes place, it causes an effect. When a boxer punches his opponent in the head, there are a number of effects that might occur. One might be a split lip. In this instance, the cause was the punch and the effect was a split lip.
Clients who do not take responsibility for their own actions live in effect. You might hear them say:
- “I’m overweight because my parents are overweight.”
- “I was late for work because the train was late.”
- “I’m too busy to go to the gym.”
However, clients who get to cause take responsibility for their own actions.
- Despite their parents being overweight, they eat right and go to the gym.
- They take an earlier train to ensure they get to work on time.
- They arrange their life so they have time to go the gym.
People who allow external factors to affect them are normally the people you hear complaining about everything.
When asking your clients about their Present Situation, use questions like:
- Where are you now?
- How has this happened?
- What has stopped you getting where you want to be?
- What is stopping YOU from achieving your outcome (to get them to cause)?
Establishing future solutions includes asking the client:
- What is the best plan of action for them to be successful, the solution?
- What resources will they need to get there? What challenges will they face?
- Set SMART goals.
You can use questions like:
- What would you consider a perfect solution?
- How will you know when you are ready to change?
- How will you go about deciding on the best way to achieve the best solution?
Ask the question, “What can you do in the next seven days to move towards your goal?” Also, you can get them to set just three goals. This stimulates action and prevents procrastination.
Regular follow ups are required to obtain feedback, monitor progress and help facilitate further action towards the goal. Weekly follow ups are optimal, especially initially. You can do this during rest periods between sets or set aside dedicated time.
A regular review may include questions such as:
- “What were your goals (for the week)?”
- “Remind me why they are important to you.”
- “How did it go?”
- "What challenges did you face?”
- “How will you overcome those challenges moving forwards?”
- “What can you do in the next seven days to move towards your goal?”
Putting SCORE into a Personal Training Situation
In the initial consultation, discuss the findings from your intake forms to help build rapport. Asking questions about your clients will help to put them at ease and build rapport.
When you have built enough rapport (you should be able to sense it), begin with the Desired Situation. Once you have exhausted all of the reasons why they want their results, you can move on to the Present Situation. Once you have completed the Present Situation, you can explain to them the options open to them in terms of the assessments and sessions you provide and any potential referrals you feel they will need to be successful. This is the time to give advice. You may also wish to mention prices at this stage, if it is your first consultation.
Then, you ask your clients to tell you the perfect solution. If they come up with the solution, they will not have any objections. You can also cover any potential barriers to behaviour change at this point and ask clients to come up with solutions in advance of the barriers happening. Many clients do not think ahead of possible obstacles. Then, when they hit an obstacle, they feel overwhelmed and normally give up. If you can help clients to create a system or behaviour change to address any potential obstacles life may hand them, chances are they will always successfully overcome them.
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- Hunt P & Hillsdon M, “Changing Eating & Exercise Behaviour,” Blackwell Science, 1996.
- Covey S. “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Audio CD, Simon & Schuster Audio, 1999.
- Jarvis N and Patrick J, “NLP for Fitness Professionals”- Course Manual, Coach 4 Life, 2002.
- Flaherty J, “Coaching, Evoking Excellence in Others,” Butterworth-Heinmann, 1999.
- Landsberg M, “The Tao of Coaching,” Harper Collins, 1997
- Landsberg M, “The Tao of Motivation,” Harper Collins, 2000.
- O’Connor J & McDermott I, “Principles of NLP,” Thorsons, 1996.
- Lundin S et al, “Fish”, Hodder & Stoughton, 2001.