Does it ever feel like you want it for your clients more than they want it for themselves? Like no matter what you say, how many bomb new recipes you provide, or how many times you “switch it up” at their request – nothing you do ever seems to get them to stick with it?
As their coach, what are you supposed to do when Becky just can’t seem to stop self-sabotaging? And more importantly, is this something that you should be able to coach her through or should you write her failure off as “not your fault, you did everything you could…sometimes people just aren’t ready to change…”
The answer is pretty simple, actually. It just requires you to get a little leverage (and learn how to ethically use it) so that Becky can start showing up for herself instead of showing up in the Krispy Kreme line every morning…
More specifically, I’m about to give you the jedi-skills you need to make even your most difficult clients coachable so you can sleep soundly at night trusting that your approach is (in fact) more effective than a Dr. Phil episode.
Understanding Why People Change
There is one reason, and one reason alone, that people will change how they act, think or feel about something. I’d like you to think of these three things (the combination of behaving, thinking and feeling) collectively as “patterns” we establish over the course of our life.
Every pattern we have created over the course of our life was done so in response to something that happened to us in our environment (a trigger). We combine that experience with a belief about it being either good for us or bad for us.
As an easy example, imagine that when you were little your mom would buy no-name coffee because you were too poor to afford anything else. She would make it really watery and never had any sugar to put in it because that cost too much money. Even though your environment is not the same as it was when you were younger, the smell of cheap coffee (your trigger) is linked to a great deal of discomfort (or pain) for you because of the association (or belief) you have about what that means. And so because of that you only buy expensive Starbucks coffee.
Is it possible, however, that someone who did not have that same life experience could enjoy no-name coffee? Yes, of course it is – the no-name coffee is not the source of the pain.
So then with your clients, is it possible for them to also link negative experiences to behaviours that you perceive to be normal, or even enjoyable? -Yes!
Is it also possible, then, for their negative behaviours (the one’s you’re trying to help them change) to be linked up with a certain amount of pleasure for them? – Of course.
If an action that brings a certain degree of pleasure for your client (even if it negatively impacts them in other areas – like eating fast food for example) is attempted to be replaced by a behaviour that is perceived as uncomfortable or painful (even if the long term result would be pleasurable) your client will not be able to achieve this long term.
They will always fail and resort back to old patterns because of the large amount of energy (or willpower) it would take for your client to fight their natural tendency to move towards pleasure and away from pain (based on the meaning they have associated with those actions)
So then, knowing this…do you still believe that self-sabotage is real if your clients are seemingly just subconsciously reacting to environmental triggers Let’s discuss that next…
Is Self-Sabotage A Myth?
The idea of self-sabotage assumes that you are making a conscious decision to defy something or someone that is intended to be for your benefit. It’s assuming that your client is “giving in” or not staying dedicated to the process. But knowing what I just taught you about why we make choices…do you still believe this to be true?
Self-sabotage is simply the point in which your clients willpower ran out. It’s a sign that the behaviour you’re trying to change brings them more pleasure and takes them away from more pain than the behaviour you’re trying to replace it with.
You’re assuming that they are making a conscious choice to “give up”, but the source of the problem is not found at the decision stage. The source of the problem is found at the belief stage – more specifically, the meaning they give to something that happened around them. Their brain is deciding for them if this is bringing them pain or pleasure based on their model of the world.
So if we use Becky as an example, let’s say that you gave her the goal to not eat fast food for 2 weeks. But you failed to uncover that when Becky was little, her mom would take her to Burger King whenever Becky was upset about something (which was often, since Becky had a hard time making friends at school). To Becky, Burger King is linked up with feeling connected, loved, seen, and happy. So what happens when Becky has a hard day at work, or she has a fight with her husband, or she feels stressed about her VISA bill that just came in the mail…her past tendency would have been to go to Burger King. But now that that isn’t an option…how long do you think Becky will be able to last without an alternative behaviour that could give her an even more powerful shift towards pleasure (love, connection, significance and happiness) and away from pain (stress, sadness, fear, etc).
Probably not very long…probably less than a week if she really did have all of those underlying stressors going on in her life. So then when she “gives in” to her habitual patterns this causes her to falsely label herself as “self-sabotaging” and feels like a failure.
So then, if we know that Becky isn’t self-sabotaging…how do we help her change this behaviour? We’re going to talk about leverage next – how to find it, how to ethically use it (and basically how to become a jedi-master so you can help Becky change for good).
Finding (And Using) Leverage
So to recap, we know that changing our behaviours isn’t only about changing our decisions. It’s actually more about changing the source of our decisions – the underlying patterns that we have accumulated that guide the decisions we consistently make. Simply put, we need to figure out what is causing us to make these habitual choices in terms of :
- What core needs is this choice fulfilling for us (even if negatively)
- And what must we believe about ourselves or the world/others in order for this choice to fulfill this need?
In Becky’s case, going to Burger king when she is feeling stressed, angry or anxious is fulfilling the core needs of love, connection, significance and certainty. In order for this choice to fulfill this need Becky needs to believe that Burger King is going to give her the elevated state that she is seeking, that this is the best option for her to create the most pleasure and remove the most pain the fastest way possible, and that there are no other options available to her that could achieve the same result.
She doesn’t consciously think these things, obviously, she just habitually ends up in the Burger King drive thru and can’t explain her “lack of willpower” (which we will get into next).
So then to find leverage that you can use to help her change this habitual pattern is going to require you to find something else in Becky’s view of the world that could bring her the same (or more) pleasure and move her away from the same pain she is using Burger King to escape from
If you can do this, you have found an alternative – great work! But for this to truly become a new pattern that replaces her current one we must also help her associate Burger King with deep pain, instead of pleasure. THIS is called leverage. And where you look for this is inside of her primary needs. Important to note here is that you dont have to know everything about the core human needs, how people fulfill them, or the exact psychological processes that are going on with your client.
You simply need to begin looking for patterns – these are the strings that if pulled on will unravel the leverage you’re looking for.
The patterns you’re looking for are going to be found using your most valuable skill as a coach. This is your innate ability to listen intently and hear not only the words they are saying, but also to develop the skill of unravelling the meaning behind these words (often before they have connected the dots themselves).
There are 4 “tells” that should trigger your spidey senses to pay closer attention…
- The first is emotion – this will most often be uncovered when the client feels like their current beliefs are beign challenged, or when change (or the suggestion of change) makes them feel uncomfortable. This can often be picked up in changes of tone of voice, speech patterns (ie: hesitation, bluntness, resistance, etc) and body language. If you are just learning to pay attention to signs of emotional changes, I suggest trying to do your calls over zoom so that you can pay attention to what you’re seeing as well as what you’re hearing.
- The second is adherence – if your client cannot “stick to” their plan, assume that there is a deeper reason why this is other than simply “a lack of willpower”. Ask questions that will lead them down the path of figuring out why this plan does not fit their needs or beliefs. Before changing the plan, consider that possibly the plan doesn’t need to change, in fact just their view of the world might need to be adjusted.
- The third is lifestyle – always beginning your client’s journey with the end in mind is my biggest piece of advice I could give you. For example, if your client values her social life (in fact, she meets many of her core needs by being social in this way) removing social activities around food would require a great deal of willpower on her part (and would 100% be a temporary means to an end). Does she really need to give up her social life, or do we simply need to reframe which parts of this are actually giving her pleasure and meeting her needs? Perhaps she has incorrectly associated the food with pleasure, when in fact it’s simply just being around her friends that create the biggest pleasure source for her.
- The fourth is language – the words your clients use are powerful keys that will unlock where there are strings you need to be pulling on. Are there specific scenarios that always shift them into negative language patterns? What are the words they consistently use to describe themselves, their progress, their life, etc? Often, people will use the same words consistently when they are unhappy about something – if you can pick up on the words they use consistently then you will have created a roadmap into their mind and often be able to predict their thoughts and behaviours before they are even aware of them.
As you have seen thus far, your clients actions are intricate, specific, predictable and most often completely subconscious. The way to create big change in someone is not simply to zoom in on their poor choices, but rather to have deep conversations about their life, why they believe they are making these choices, and from their perspective what they are positively getting from making the choices they are. Things like: how do they feel before and after their actions? What is their internal dialogue like before and after? What phrases do they commonly use when they feel bad about their behaviour? Why do they wish they could stop – what do they believe stopping this behaviour will give them?
By asking better questions, you create better roadmaps to true transformational change.
Why Most People Don’t Do This
Your clients likely blame their failed weight loss attempts on a handful of things: willpower, dedication, and motivation being the biggest ones you will undoubtedly hear them say. This is working under the assumption that the choices they are making are always conscious…that they are always in complete control.
If every choice you made required conscious effort you would never be able to operate in the world as you know it. Everything from simply standing up from your chair and walking across the room would require conscious thought. Our brain learns patterns we consistently use and pushes them into the parts of the brain that operate subconsciously.
If we can create a subconscious pattern for things like standing up to walk across the room, or opening a door, without having to think about how to do it, if we should do it, when to do it, why we’re doing it, etc…isn’t it possible that we can also create subconscious patterns for reactions to our external environmental triggers – like going to Burger King?
Of course it is. Behaviours are simply consistent actions we take in response to external stimuli based on what we perceive to bring us pleasure and move us away from pain. Knowing this, you can feel excited about the opportunities here to create massive change in someone’s life in ways they will perceive to be almost like magic. Behaviours that no diet has ever been able to “fix”, you can transform just by having conversations that will guide the plan you create for your client.
Ultimately the choice is yours, coach. You can develop the skills that could allow you to guarantee change in your clients lives…or you can continue to say a little prayer with every plan you put together hoping that this is the one that will make a difference for them. I challenge you to get uncomfortable and try some of these skills on for size – you’ll be surprised how natural it will feel to begin to coach in the way you always felt you should be.
By the way…if you want some serious doses of Laura wisdom to keep you on your toes and growing, I want you in my super dope group
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You can also catch me on The Unfiltered Coach Podcast every Wednesday where the hubs and I are committed to helping you step into your power and build the biz of your dreams.