I’ve said this before in my other PTontheNet articles, but it bears repeating. Your clients don’t come to you to learn how to exercise. No, they come to you to learn how to change. And although I have graduate training in both exercise physiology and nutrient biochemistry, as a coach, helping people change is the biggest part of what I do.
So I’d like to start off this article series with eight important lessons on change. These lessons are based on what I’ve learned over the years through my online coaching program.
As you go through these lessons, keep an open mind, read them all the way through, and ask yourself honestly: “How many of these am I actually helping my clients with?” If you really want to help them lose fat, then at the end, I suggest you pick one lesson and start using it right away.
Lesson #1: Measure what your clients want to improve.
In our coaching program, we keep data on everything clients want to improve. If they want to lose weight, they step on the scale. If they want to be more precise and lose fat, we get out the calipers and measure body fat. If they want to fit into their skinny clothes, we have them try those clothes on once in a while. If they want to feel better, we actually ask them how they’re feeling, have them write down how they’re feeling, and then review it every few months.
Basic stuff right? You’d be surprised . I work with professional athletes and teams, I consult with major gym chains on their personal training practices, I work one-on-one with clients from all walks of life from all over the world. Believe me: practically no one does this. In fact, sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who really does this stuff. And the reason is because it works! There’s an old saying you’d be wise to follow: “What gets measured gets done.”
Lesson #2: Take photos of your clients.
Admit it: your clients care—at least a little, and maybe a lot—about how they look. Have them admit it too. And then remind them it’s okay! In fact, it’s healthy and normal . Who doesn’t want to look great?
Well, for the same way you’d measure weight loss if your clients want to lose weight, you’d better take photos if they want to look better. In our coaching program, it’s built into the program: every few weeks, our clients step in front of the camera and snap a few photos.
Understand that it’s normal for your clients to not be totally at ease about taking photos of themselves at first. Just know that it’s a) a very important step toward self-awareness, without which they simply cannot change, b) the best way to document their hard work, and c) possibly the most motivating thing they will ever do for themselves.
(And remember, everyone starts in the same place: out of shape. If you need some evidence, take a look at these Men’s and Women’s “before” photos; think they were comfortable taking those shots? Then look at the “afters” and think about how they felt then.)
Lesson #3: Have your clients do something every day.
One of my colleagues once put it best: if something is important, do it every day; if it’s not important, don’t do it at all.
Change happens only when you slowly tear down old habits and build new ones in their place. That has to be daily, in my experience. In fact, that’s one of the reasons exercise alone doesn’t work—doing something 3 times a week isn’t enough to build a new habit. That’s also why personal training isn’t very effective (unless it combines nutrition and daily habit building.)
As a result, we have our clients do something every day. A workout to do, a lesson to read, a habit to practice, fellow clients and coaches to chat with. Every day, there’s something. And if you want to help your clients get in the best shape of their lives, make sure you’re doing the same.
Lesson #4: Make it easy.
To ask your clients to do something every day, you have to make that “something” easy enough that they’re 100% confident they could do it every day for 30 days. That often means scaling your (and their) ambitious plans way back.
Unfortunately, most people bite off way more than they can chew. They commit to working out an hour a day, eating four healthy meals, cutting out chocolate, running a marathon, cooking more, waking up earlier—nothing less than a complete overhaul of their lives.
Maybe they’re able to do it all for 3 days, a week, some people even a little longer perhaps. But inevitably, they miss a day, then two...then it all falls apart. They lose confidence, feel guilty, beat themselves up, and go back to doing exactly what they were doing before: nothing. All or nothing.
Instead, make it easy on your clients, way easier than you think at first. Instead of asking them to eat 4 healthy meals a day, ask them to eat 1 healthy meal a day and give them permission to leave everything else the same. Can’t commit to that for 30 days? Hell, ask them to eat an apple a day. Or take fish oil each day. Or switch from their morning latte to a green tea, or water. Instead of working out an hour a day, how ’bout a 10-minute walk? Is that too much? What about a 5-minute walk?
Sure, your clients might think that’s ridiculous. That this sort of commitment won’t do a thing. But that’s just their ego talking: they don’t want to look foolish or admit that something so easy might be all they can muster right now. All I can say is: stop that. That kind of thinking will keep them stuck exactly where they are. Help them let go of their ego, accept where they are, and commit only to something so easy that they could do it without thinking for at least 30 days straight.
[Note: the principle is valid no matter how advanced a client is, too. I have elite athletes training 2 hours a day wanting to jump immediately to 4 hours. Why not start with another 15-20 minutes at first? Again, the ego has to be put aside.]
I despise “all or nothing” thinking. Instead, I have my clients commit to “always something” — no matter how small at first.
Lesson #5: Practice only one habit at a time.
With my coaching program, we have clients work on just ONE habit at a time. Often they find this frustrating at first, because they expect to be able to do everything, right away. But that’s just ego-driven impatience, and unfortunately change doesn’t work that way.
Numerous studies show that people are typically quite successful when they limit their change to one behavior at a time for, say, 3-4 weeks before introducing a new one. BUT: introduce even 2 new behaviors at once, and the failure rate is nearly 100%.
That’s a tough lesson to learn. In fact, one of our $10,000 grand prize winners actually complained that the one thing he wished was different about our program was this one-habit-at-time thing — why couldn’t we have taught him all this stuff at the beginning?!!
Well, because then he would have failed.
Again, your clients have to put their ego aside and change their expectation: people can only change one behavior at a time. So pick one—anything positive will do—and give them permission to leave everything else in their lives as-is, at least for now. There will be plenty of time for the rest, trust me. People overestimate how hard change will be, and underestimate how long it will take. Stick to one habit at a time, and your clients will get there.
Lesson #6: No “wondering & worrying” questions.
Ah, another tough lesson to learn. Change is an uncomfortable process, always. Your clients leave what they know (their habits, their lifestyle, their environment) and by trying something new, they take a tentative step into an unknown and uncertain place.
So the first thing clients do is try to resolve that tension, try to make it “certain” again, by asking all kinds of frenzied questions and working themselves into a panic:
- “What about this supplement, or that?”
- “What do you think about this theory/guru/article I read/study that was published?”
- “What about when (unforeseeable future event) happens — what do I do then?”
- “What about (rare, irrelevant and highly unlikely situation) — what do I do in that case?”
- etc., etc.
With our clients, we call these “wondering & worrying” questions, and we have a strict ban on them, because although they’re well-intentioned, they don’t reduce anxiety at all. In fact, they do the exact opposite, whipping people into a froth of nail-biting and distracting them from the only two questions that matter:
- What should I do today?
- How do I do that?
The first question is asking for the next step, the “right now.” That’s the only thing your clients should concern themselves with, because it’s the only thing they can control. The second question is asking for clarification and instruction, so that they can do what they need to do properly.
Those are the only two kinds of questions that lead to calm, focused action. They’re all we allow our clients to ask, and they’re all you should allow too.
Lesson #7: Make sure they get a little help from their friends.
We call this “social support”—and it makes all the difference in the world.
Who your clients have in their social circle—and what they do, and how they think—will have an almost magnetic pull on who they are. In fact, there is interesting new research showing that obesity spreads almost like an epidemic. The people in your clients’ lives will forever be pulling them, even unconsciously, toward being just like them. As another of my colleagues likes to say, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
That’s all well and good, except when it comes time to change, because as your clients change, those same people will be pulling them back to the way they were — usually not intentionally or maliciously, just . . . just because. They can’t help it.
When it comes to fitness and fat loss, the same applies. Now this doesn’t mean your clients need to scrap their friends and family and beg the local yoga teacher to adopt them. It just means that as they start to get in shape, they’d better get some other like-minded people in their lives, or they’ll soon be putting the pounds back on faster than they lost them in the first place. I’ve seen it time and time again.
That’s why we coach in groups, with a social component to it: our clients can interact daily with people who are just like them, chasing the same goals. No matter where they are in the world, no matter where they’re starting, they will find people in the group just like them who get where they’re coming from. That reassurance, and even the mere realization that they aren’t alone in this, exerts a new sort of magnetic pull — this time, though, toward the life they want and not the one they’re leaving behind.
So take the opportunity to form groups or introduce your clients to new people who are doing what they want to do. Encourage them to take a yoga or spin class, joint a friendly team sport league, even reconnect with a fit friend they maybe haven’t talked to in a while. Anything. Because if they don’t, beware the subtle but powerful pull back to where they were.
Lesson #8: Make them accountable to someone.
As much as clients need to be picked up when they’re down, as much as they need be helped and supported from time to time, as much as they need some positivity in their lives...they also need someone to kick their ass back into gear when they’re slacking, and help them snap out of the simple laziness that we all fall into from time to time.
With our clients, that person is their coach, whose job it is to stay on top of them as much as it is to support them. If you miss a day, okay, fine; miss two, and we’re on you. If there’s a legitimate problem, we’ll help find a solution; if there’s just an excuse, we’ll call “bullshit” and get you back to being honest with yourself again.
Everyone needs someone to hold them accountable, especially in the beginning of a new process that they’re unfamiliar with. So, are you that person for your clients? If not, who is?
Tune in to parts 2 and 3, where we’ll explore the power of mentorship and social support, as well as discuss the exercise myth.