“I didn’t lose weight again this week…”
The seven words every coach hates to hear rang through my phone as Cindy’s text popped up on my screen Saturday morning.
I was supposed to have my phone off, taking the weekend to “be present” I think is what my husband called it. But this was an emergency! If I didn’t text her back by Monday morning she would surely fire me…
So I snuck off to the bathroom and pretended to be, well, ya know…but really my fingers were flying in a fury texting Cindy back everything I could think of to encourage her, console her and keep her happy…with me.
Cindy texted me every time she felt like she was going to lose control around food…and I didn’t know it at the time but I would jump to her defense in an instant because I really didn’t know what else to do to get her to stop this negative behaviour.
Don’t you agree that there are so many times when our clients don’t “fit” the case studies we were given as client examples to get our certification? It all seemed so easy when we first learned to do x+y with our clients and it should equal z. The fancy formulas and research papers they referenced felt bulletproof. No one was above science – they taught us. But the reality is that human behaviour (nevermind actually changing human behaviour) doesn’t happen in black and white. What are you supposed to do when your clients struggle to adhere to y and can never quite seem to reach the z?
Your Clients Aren’t Robots
In order to go beyond science and pull the curtain back on how change actually goes down, we need to dissociate your clients from the science. You’re making wild accusations, even if subconsciously, that are reinforcing your hardwiring as an “evidence based coach”. Things like “I’m missing something” or “she’s self-sabotaging again, maybe I’m not feeding her enough” are examples of this in action. But your clients are not robots, human behaviour doesn’t change just because the textbook you studied says that their physical body should be.
Logic actually has very little to do with your client’s ability to change for good. In order for a person to make a behaviour change at all, emotion must become a part of that equation. Even a client who does everything you say and consistently progresses every single week has a deep underlying emotion governing their behaviour – they receive a deep reward from pleasing you, from achievement and from being your star client.
There are literally thousands of emotions that your clients could be using to reinforce their old behaviours (or their new ones)…so how do we even begin to figure this out?
The only thing you need to understand is that every human behaviour is formed by an emotion. And that emotion is a result of fulfilling a basic human need, of which there are six. We will focus on the four that are most relevant to a weight loss client:
- Certainty (as seen in someone who can stick to a meal plan but struggles with the concept of intuitive eating)
- Uncertainty (as seen in someone who cannot meal prep because they get bored and need variety in their life)
- Significance (as seen in someone who wants to stand out, be seen and heard, and uses their poor relationship with food and body image to do that)
- Love & Connection (as seen in someone who’s food choices often mirror the social circles they are a part of)
Humans will seek to fulfill their needs by whatever means possible – this means that if your client’s predominant need is certainty – you will likely see perfectionism patterns, over-reactions when they make a mistake, and a strong need to have data to support what they are doing. If you can identify which need your client’s negative behaviour pattern is controlling their current behaviour, you now have the key to unlock how you are going to help them change for good.
Your Role Is Changing
Before you can identify these needs and understand how to effectively recognize the emotions that are causing the behaviours you see happening in your clients (a process that requires a great deal of intuition, trust and strategy on your part) you must first be willing to look in the mirror and evaluate where you still have growth left to do. I know you’re a great coach already, but in order to create this deeper change in someone else, we must first be able to move ourselves through it.
There are certain behaviours I see many coaches fall into simply because they don’t feel completely confident in their ability to create change in someone else. You’ve probably had moments where you suspect a client needs more from you. You may have even prescribed “mindset work” to them (things like journalling, meditation, intention setting). But when those things didn’t work, how did you respond?
Often times we get defensive and feel the need to prove that we are right, we make ourselves “too” available in a subconscious attempt to fill any value voids our clients feel from their struggles, or we simply undercharge because we are uncertain in ourselves.
Take a moment to recognize in yourself any of the following:
- The need to reply to your clients instantly when they text or email you
- Writing novels back to your clients basic questions
- Giving your clients access to you 24-7 (even though you tell them you aren’t available you still reply)
- Spending hours doing things for your clients that you would rather not be doing, but you are afraid to upset them (like researching hundreds of recipes)
- Getting nervous when a clients renewal is coming up, unsure if they will continue
How you respond to your clients when they struggle says everything about the work you still have to do yourself as a coach. There are likely 2 main needs that your actions and responses are shaped around – the need to feel certain that you know what you’re doing, and the need to feel significant in the journey your clients are on.
But does this type of behaviour serve you and the coach that you want to be?
Before you can lead your clients through deep change, you must be able to step behind your reactions and understand that this type of change requires you to trust yourself and release the need to prove anything to your clients. You cannot lead from a place of need.
To begin this shift, can you think of a time where you felt entirely unstoppable? The next time you catch yourself inside of these behaviour patterns I want you to stop yourself, bring awareness to what’s happening, move your body (jump up and down, snap your fingers, anything to change your physiology) and picture that unstoppable version of you.
Hey, it’s not for everyone. But I would much rather feel so confident in my ability as a coach that I never feel the need to “prove it” to anyone, rather than always getting an anxious pit in my stomach when a client texts me a simple question about their plan.
Rapport & Pre-Framing
“But, Laura, even if I wanted to help them in this way, I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know what questions to ask…”
It’s normal for your mind to come up with evidence to support your choice to stay the same. Your brain doesn’t want you to change, but the reality is that for you to become a master of change, you need to be willing to explore new parts of your natural skillset. We all have these abilities inside of us, but they require a great deal of vulnerability to uncover them.
Just as uncomfortable as you feel in asking the questions that will unlock the truth in your clients behaviour, so too your clients feel being on the receiving end of these questions. But there is a way to make this process run a little more smoothly, and can be done with any client, even one you are already in the process of working with.
Before you’re going to be able to evoke emotion in someone else effectively you must develop a certain level of rapport with them. In other words, they need to feel safe to expose their deepest vulnerabilities with you. Could you imagine your dentist asking you to describe what it feels like when you lose control around food? No, you would look at him like he was crazy. But that’s what your clients will feel like, too, if you don’t take the time first to establish rapport on this level.
Begin to do this by exploring with them the idea that your plan thus far hasn’t been as effective as either of you would like, and perhaps this means there is something a little deeper going on. Getting them to agree with you here opens the door to simply ask questions like:
- Would it be okay if we talked more about that?
- How would you feel if we started to explore how we can change the root of the problem instead of trying to just stick bandaids on you that eventually fall off?
- Help me understand from your perspective why it is you think it’s hard to stay consistent?
- Would it be okay if we spoke about other areas of your life that could be playing a role here?
By asking permission, you are pre-framing them for the deeper conversation you’re about to have. You’re also establishing yourself as an expert in a new way by owning the lack of success, taking the burden off their shoulders, and bringing them onto your team. The key is for them to never feel as though you are making assumptions about their life, and to show them that it’s normal for plans to need to evolve over time – this isn’t their fault and it isn’t a failure. It’s just a redirection.
The truth is that all you know is that there is a basic need that is being filled by an emotional reaction causing a specific behaviour. By asking better questions you can slowly begin to understand what that formula is for your client and help them to understand their pattern as well.
Asking Hard Questions
The biggest mistake that most coaches make inside of how they go about creating change in someone else’s life is that they wait too long to ask the hard questions. They wait until the client trusts them enough to offer up some golden nugget that changes the course of their plan. They wait until they feel like they have enough trust in their client to start to poke around under the surface. But by waiting too long, they risk losing the client before they’re really able to effect change. They risk becoming disempowered when a client faces failure too many times before you get to the real, underlying thread of pain by which you are able to begin the change process. Usually waiting to ask hard questions comes down to a combination of three things…
- You don’t know what to ask
- You don’t know how to ask
- You don’t know if you should ask
So here’s a really simple formula for you to follow to begin the process of peeling back the layers you have been waiting to peel themselves…
The direction a person’s life is going is the result of the actions they take repeatedly.
The actions they repeatedly take are dictated by decisions they make.
The decisions (conscious or subconscious) they make are determined by how they view that specific situation as it relates to what they have linked up to bring them pain or pleasure.
For example, a client is not self-sabotaging when they eat ice cream every night instead of the apple you recommended to them. They simply have linked up that at night when they feel lonely they eat ice cream to fill the void – this moves them away from pain and towards pleasure. Ice cream isn’t what is causing pain…being lonely is causing pain…which is ultimately causing them to eat ice cream repeatedly which is causing them to gain weight taking their life a direction they don’t want it to go.
Begin the process of asking better questions by starting with the external direction and guiding them down the process of uncovering the pain or pleasure source this is rooted in. Keep in mind that the linkage they have made will not always make sense to you, but there is meaning there to them and it’s your job to figure out what that is so that you can evoke change at the source.
Questions like these are good places to start:
- Help me understand why you believe that _____ is the cause of your pain?
- Why do you believe that losing weight will make you feel ______?
- What would need to change in your life for this to happen?
- Can you remember a time when you didn’t feel this way?
- Does eating _____ bring you pain? [“No”] So then what do you think is the thing that is really causing you pain in those moments?
Fear of Failing
Many coaches fear failing their clients more than they fear just about anything else – they worry about giving them bad advice, losing their trust, not getting them the physical outcomes they hired them for, or ultimately harming them emotionally or mentally. So then, I ask you this – why would that be painful for you?
Remember what I said earlier about moving away from pain or towards pleasure in every decision we make? The decision you make to not initiate these conversations with your clients moves you away from pain in some way. Often, coaches become coaches most often because we have overcome some large emotional event in our lives and we now feel pulled to help others overcome challenges in theirs.
If you think back to the moments in your life that set you on the course you’re now on as a coach, can you pick out 2-3 major emotional events that you overcame that brought you here? Perhaps you struggled with your own weight loss journey, or maybe you watched your mom struggle with an eating disorder when you were young. Maybe it had nothing to do with nutrition, and you just felt compelled to become a successful entrepreneur to earn the love of your parents.
Whatever that was for you…likely there was severe pain associated with that event, and moving away from it took a great deal of work. Now, faced with a client who you witness struggling with similar emotions, it can be rather difficult for you to engage them because you fear amplifying their pain or triggering your own.
The reality is that if you didn’t associate those emotions with pain, you wouldn’t think twice about asking them about what they were feeling, why they behaved a certain way, what has happened in their life that has caused them a great deal of pain, and the real reason they want to change their body? It would feel as normal as asking them what they ate for breakfast yesterday morning.
So if you fear the outcomes of these questions, it’s important to first look in the mirror and ask yourself why this could be? What inside of you is blocking your courage to become the leader your clients need you to become?
My Origin Story: The Client That Changed Everything
I believe that if you have an innate desire to help others change their life, that there is something very special about you. Something that you, uniquely have that sets you apart from everyone else in the world. That you have a natural ability to see in others the possibility that they struggle to see themselves. And that often times you don’t even realize this to be true.
This is exactly how it happened for me, and likely how it has already happened for you, too. I remember Brenda’s face like I still see her weekly. I was a freshly certified, green personal trainer working at an uppity private studio. Brenda, a wealthy woman who always wore one quarter-sized diamond ring on each hand (no exaggeration, she didn’t even take them off to lift weights) and funky glasses, was a 60-something woman who desperately wanted to distract the world from her true self. But I saw her deeply. I connected with her instantly. And she trusted me without fault. I reserved all my emotional energy for Brenda every day, knowing that what she would divulge to me would test my ability to hold firm my boundaries – back when I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing.
Brenda was the first client I started developing these natural born skills with. I had gut instincts with Brenda, I asked her difficult questions that no one else had the balls to ask her…and I helped her realize the root of her lifelong relationship with food was rooted in abuse and the desire to hide her soul under her body and everything she wore on top of it.
For the first time in her life, someone saw her. Me. And my willingness to trust myself enough to follow my instincts allowed me to change her life forever. I still have the card Brenda wrote me when I left that studio where she called me her “Angel”…
There is truly nothing more powerful than knowing you had a hand in changing another’s life beyond their weight or the food they eat. When you give someone the gift of being seen and accepted for who they truly are you have the power to set their life in a completely different direction just through your compassion and willingness to listen.
Your mission: begin this process by looking at yourself first. You cannot become the leader you want if you fail to move through these steps in your own life first. What you’ll discover, if you have the courage to move past what is holding you back, is the ability to initiate change in another deeper than anyone else because you will have unlocked your unique gift and used it for the first time.
To become the one Behind The Change, join my private facebook group where you’ll have access to LIVE training’s, daily inspiration, a community of badasses (I’m supa picky about who’s in this circle), and of course doses of Laura wisdom to keep ya on your toes and growing.
Thanks for being here friend! Can’t wait to pull the sparkle out of you.