We’re excited to feature this guest post from RedBird Fitness LLC!

As fitness professionals, we all know consistency is the key to lasting results. And honestly, most of our clients know that too. But there is often a disconnect between understanding at an intellectual level that exercise requires a daily commitment and implementing that knowledge for lasting behavior change. In order for our work to be meaningful, our mission achievable, our retention and referral rates high and our businesses thriving, we must arm clients with tools for behavior change.

How do we help our clients find the motivation for lasting change? The first thing to understand is that it doesn’t come from the trainer. A coach’s desire to help a client change their life is not enough. The coach’s job is to help the client understand their own “why,” and help them to change their internal dialogue about fitness.

Finding Their “Why”

Lifestyle change is hard. To do the work required, clients must have a clear understanding of why they are doing it – and that why needs to come from them. Our job is to lead them to their own reasons.

Because the voice inside our heads plays non-stop, we are more likely to listen to ourselves than anyone else. This is why it is crucial to get clients to articulate why they need to make a change, instead of hearing it from you.

Motivational interviewing is a powerful technique to facilitate and engage intrinsic motivation within clients to change behavior. In our introductory assessments or at the start of a private training package we use motivational interviewing to set the client up for success. Ask a client to rate their motivation for making a change—and their confidence in their ability to make the change—then ask them to rate those two things on a scale of one to ten. Whatever number they give, ask them why they said that number—and not a lower number. For example, if the client says “six,” ask them, “Why a six, and not a three?” This technique pushes the client to state their own reasons for being motivated—and leads them to also express their belief in themselves to achieve their goals. It also helps them change their own internal dialogue about their ability to succeed.

Stay Positive

This technique also helps clients frame their why in a positive mindset. According to Harvard Health Publications, changes made from a place of fear or guilt have been proven to be less effective than those coming from self-motivation and positive thinking. For example, in an analysis of 129 studies of behavior change strategies, a British research group found that the least effective approaches were those that encouraged a sense of fear or regret. The take-away: Encourage clients to stay focused on what they want to achieve — not just what they want to avoid. For example, rather than pushing clients to burn off calories from a cheat meal or avoid adopting obesity-related health problems, focus on the empowerment of being stronger, feeling vital or and jumping out of bed into clothes that fit great each morning.

Get Specific

In defining goals with clients, help them learn to be specific. Harvard Health also states that goals are easier to reach if they’re specific. Rather than saying “I’ll get more exercise,” have them make a plan by answering specific questions: “What are you going to do? How long are you going to do it for each day? At what time?” Have the client put it on their calendar. When they get clear and focused about what that goal really looks like on a daily basis, they begin to cultivate a routine.

Make an Emotional Connection

Visualization and emotional connections to a goal are great ways to stay focused. Once the client has a clear, positive goal and understands their why, help them to feel it. A great tool is to have them write what they will feel like each morning upon awakening once they have achieved their goal.

For example: “I wake up feeling excited, energetic and looking forward to the day ahead. My body feels supple, without pain. My skin is healthy and glowing. I feel well rested and mind is clear. The pain in my neck and jaw are gone. I am not afraid of getting injured doing my daily tasks. I am confident. As I get dressed I feel comfortable in my clothes, connected to my body.”

Have them post their statements somewhere that is visible on a regular basis and continue daily to visualize the emotions and sensations that stem from achieving their goals.

Create Community

You can’t be everything for your client. Lasting change has to come from something larger than yourself. This is why creating a fellowship and community among clients is vital to behavior change. Whether it is by training your staff to greet each new client with a handshake, making sure your teachers remember and use names in classes, organizing community events or using social media platforms to connect clients – creating a community that supports and inspires is key to client retention and motivation. When the desire to move or the ambition to realize a goal falls short, clients will continue to show up because they are connected to one another. It is through those connections that they will re-find the inspiration to stay on track and show up for themselves.

Understand Change is a Process

To avoid frustration and failure, help your clients understand that change is a process, not an event. One of the most widely applied and tested behavioral science models that examines this process is the transtheoretical model (TTM). TTM states that change comes in stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. The idea is that each stage is a preparation for the following one, so the stages mustn’t be skipped or hurried through. Also, as a coach or trainer you must understand that different approaches and strategies are needed at different stages. A final stage of the model often includes relapse. It is almost always true that your client will, at some point in their journey, slip off the beam. Studies show that those who understand that this is part of the process are more likely to quickly bound back on the beam than those who view this setback as failure. Change is not all or nothing. Create a culture that helps your clients to understand that the beauty of having a beam in the first place is that it is always there — waiting for them to get back on.

Elisabeth Kristof and Lee Vallely are co-owners of RedBird Fitness LLC. RedBird is a movement method, established in 2007 and built on 40 years of experience in the fitness industry. Vallely has a background as a professional dancer, club owner, corporate wellness expert and boutique studio owner. Kristof has an MA in journalism and 10 years of experience as a boutique studio owner. RedBird Pilates and Fitness is a studio in downtown Austin, Texas, with a national Pilates teacher training program and an online platform, www.rb360online.com. 

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