Most people know they should be exercising, and yet a very small percentage of people exercise regularly enough to experience any significant fitness gains. There is obviously a gap between someone knowing what they should be doing and actually doing it. For most non-exercisers, they probably have attempted to start an exercise program in the past, but within two to three months, 80% of them have dropped out. For whatever reason, they have not found the motivation to stay on track. Something is obviously wrong with the methods that most people take when initiating their exercise goals.
Most of our clients consult with us because they want to change something in their lives. They're not happy with their present level of fitness or the way their bodies look and function. But if your clients want to change something, they have got to make changes! Makes sense, doesn't it? But change is difficult. Most people attempt major changes in life without setting up a framework for success. How can your clients get anywhere without a map or a game plan?
Let's look at it this way. Imagine someone is going to build a house. Do they just start building? Of course not. They spend some time developing the architectural plans and laying out exactly what they want the house to look like before they begin the building process. What about if someone wants to start a brand new business? Do they just begin? No. Any successful businessperson will tell you that a business and marketing plan is required and systems need to be in place before they venture forward. But with exercise, most people undergo very little preparation. Most just get started and then wonder why, a few months later, they just can't seem to find a reason to continue. You could imagine that if houses were built without an architectural plan, 80% of them would fall down too.
So the message is clear. In order to help your clients succeed, you must convince them that a certain level of planning is required before they begin an exercise program. Take the time to help them develop a strong foundation for success.
It's Never a Matter of Capacity or Ability!
If your clients really want to achieve their fitness goals, the majority of the time they are physically capable of achieving them. You've just got to help them come to terms with how bad they really want it.
Many clients have a goal of weight loss (say, losing 10 pounds), and for a lot of people, this is just not enough reason to keep them going day after day, no matter what other obstacles surface in their lives. The key is helping your clients get so emotionally excited and involved in their goals that they stick to the program long enough to enjoy the benefits.
The problem with most exercisers is that they negotiate their exercise programs all the time. Imagine this. You're running really late one morning for an appointment. You're already 15 minutes late, and you haven't even left the house. Would you leave the house without brushing your teeth, or would you take the extra two minutes to brush your teeth even though you know you're already so late? Without a doubt, you'd brush your teeth! Why? Probably because you can't imagine going through the pain of having such bad breath all day. Now, let's imagine a common scenario among exercisers. They decide one evening that they're going to wake up early the next day and workout for an hour, so they set the alarm. The next morning, the alarm goes off but they're still exhausted, so they press the snooze button, deciding that they need an extra 10 minutes of shut-eye and they'll just do a 50-minute workout instead. Ten minutes later, the alarm goes off again, and they press the snooze button, deciding that a 30-minute workout will be sufficient. They complete this process until finally it's too late to do the workout before work, and they decide they'll do it at lunch instead. Lunchtime comes around, and their colleagues are heading out together to grab a bite to eat. They don't want to miss out on the networking opportunity, so they decide they'll just do their workout right after work. But after work, they're tired and hungry, so they decide they'll eat dinner first and then workout afterward. After dinner, they're stuffed and decide to just veg out on the TV and get back on track tomorrow. Tomorrow becomes the next day and the next. Finally, they decide to get back on track next week. Then it becomes next month. And soon, they've given up all together. Why does this happen to so many people? The reason is that most people associate more pain with exercise. They hate every second of it. They watch the clock and can't wait till its over. And they will find any excuse to be able to justify getting out of it. The goal is for us to help our clients get to the point where they actually associate more pleasure with the exercise process and pain with imagining their life without it. Most of you are at this point. You can't imagine life without exercise. It feels so great when you're done. You feel horrible when you go too long without exercise. But it takes quite a few months before people actually lock in and start experiencing these types of sensations. Most people drop out before they actually get to this point. It's our job to help and nurture our clients through those critical first few months when the chances for them dropping out are high.
Step One - Belief
If your clients can actually envision themselves achieving their goals, they will have a much greater chance of obtaining them. But if they can't imagine the possibility of achieving those goals, they are doomed to fail before they even begin. So it's our job to ensure that are clients truly believe they can achieve the goals established. So how do you help your clients to develop a belief in themselves?
- Share your story. Sometimes our clients believe that we have it so easy. They believe we were born motivated and with "perfect" bodies. But many of us have had to work hard to achieve our own goals and have also struggled through the process. Share your background with them, the experiences you have had and the steps you have taken to achieve your level of physical fitness. It’s completely acceptable and appropriate to let clients know that sometimes you struggle. There may be days that you don't feel like working out or are tempted to indulge in something that you know is not that healthy. Share with them what you do in those situations to stay on track.
- Introduce your clients to others who have achieved significant benefits. This will give these people who have achieved success the opportunity to share their stories with your client. Your client will leave understanding that these people were in their shoes before and have succeeded. Again, this will instill in them the belief that "if they can do it, so can I!"
- Teach your clients that consistency is the key to success, and radical changes are not necessary. Sometimes clients believe that the level of effort and commitment will be so severe in order to achieve their goals that they honestly don't believe they can endure for the long term. We must teach our clients that small, consistent changes often bring about the best, most lasting results. If someone undergoes a radical change to their lifestyle by perhaps starting a really restrictive diet or a very aggressive fitness program, they know as soon as they begin that they aren't going to be able to stick to it forever. In fact, most can't wait untill it's over so they can get their life back to normal. But as we know, as soon as they return to their past lifestyle, any benefits that we're achieved will be lost. The key to success is developing a program that is realistic enough so the client can actually imagine following it forever. Because let's face it, if your client wants to lose 10 pounds and keep it off for the next 10 years, it's not what she does during the eight-week diet that matters but actually what she does over the next 10 years.
- Help your clients experience "Results Momentum." When working with a client, if you set a large "Ultimate Goal" for her but neglect establishing smaller goals en route to the Ultimate Goal, the client does not experience success until she reaches the Ultimate Goal. When a client is not experiencing success, there is a greater chance she will decide the effort is not worth the reward - since she hasn't quite experienced the reward yet. So the key is setting up systems that enable your clients to regularly achieve success. You see, with each success they achieve, it will give them the confidence and self-esteem to achieve the next goal and the next after that. So what you need to do is take that large Ultimate Goal and split it up into smaller goals - action steps that will take them closer and closer to the goal. Each time they can check off a task they were able to accomplish, it will instill in them the belief that they can actually make it to the Ultimate Goal.
- Be conservative when designing program goals. If you have a client who has struggled with exercise or has never exercised in the past, she is a prime candidate for dropping out. With this type of client, you will need to establish goals that are much more conservative. For example, a client may tell you she can commit to exercising five times every week. However, you may discover that she has struggled with exercise all her life. To suggest to her that she should go from no exercise to five workouts a week may be a bit too much of a change to her current lifestyle. And she may adhere for the first few weeks but then, a couple of weeks later, something may come up and she is forced to skip a few workouts and only make it in for three. How does she feel? She feels like a failure. But shouldn't she feel great? She did three workouts - a lot more than she was doing before she got started. But because the goal was five, she feels like a failure. And each time a client fails, it makes it easier and easier to fail over and over again until she drops out altogether. So although a client says she can commit to an aggressive goal, first review her history and her present lifestyle. If you believe the goal may be too aggressive, establish a goal that is more conservative and let her know the goal is say, three workouts. If she gets in any more, that's just a bonus. This will ensure that when she only hits three, she still feels like a success.
- Let them know that the effort involved in the first few months will eventually subside. Do you remember when you first started exercising? It was an effort, wasn't it? But by enduring through those first few months, you actually got to the point where you began to enjoy your workouts. Remind your clients that this will happen. And the key is that they remain committed during this stage. Also, remind them that anything worth achieving is worth working for!
Step Two - Vision
Helping your clients achieve their goals starts first in their minds. They must be able to actually see themselves accomplishing the goal. They must get to the point that they associate more pleasure with getting to their goals and more pain with not getting to their goals. This can begin first in their imagination.
Get your clients to shut their eyes and relax. Then guide them through the following thoughts:
- Visualize the fitness level you want for yourself. See yourself accomplishing the goals you'd like to achieve. Think of all the things that you've ever wanted to achieve in the physical realm. What would you be doing? Have you ever dreamed of completing a fun run, marathon or triathlon? Have you ever wanted to hike a challenging hike? Cycle somewhere exotic? Learn to kayak, inline skate or scuba dive? Imagine anything and everything - regardless of the money involved or whether you believe you're physically able to accomplish the goal. What would your fitness level be? What would your physique look like?
- Now, color in the details. Be thorough in visualizing yourself pursuing your goals and achieving them. Color in all the details so that you get a real sense of what it will feel like to be at the fitness level you envision.
At this point, your clients should have a really good picture of where they want to get. If you are consulting with a client, and she is struggling with the process, explain to her these few scenarios. Ask her if she remembers the story of Alice in Wonderland. Alice comes across the Rabbit and asks him, "Which way do I need to go?" And he says, "Well that depends on where you want to go." She replies, "I'm actually not sure." And the rabbit responds, "Well, then it really doesn't matter which way you go!" You see, if your clients can't clearly imagine what they'd like to accomplish, how can you effectively help them get there? They've got to lock into what their goals are.
Also, explain to your clients that most high-level Olympic athletes use visualization to help them achieve top performances. The athletes see the performance over and over in their heads before the actual event. So when it's time to perform, they've already "done" it a number of times, so they just have to repeat it. And just because your clients are not getting ready for a high-level event doesn't mean they can't benefit from the process.
Now, you've got to help your clients come to terms with some concrete reasons why they should take the action to move away from their present levels of fitness towards their big goals. At this stage, the key is to get them to establish the pleasure sensations that they'll achieve when they accomplish their goals, and the pain they'll be forced to endure if they just stay where they are right now. You can have them use their imaginations through this process also.
Ask them to shut their eyes. Again, ask them to visualize achieving their fitness goals. Now, ask them to compare it to where things are at right now and why they want to change. Perhaps, none of their clothes fit. They don't have the energy to do the things they want to do. Their blood pressure is skyrocketing. Their back is aching. Their cholesterol is high. Their doctor told them they need to start exercising or they will be at risk for numerous health problems. Once they've established some concrete reasons to change the way things are now, get them to imagine how things will be when they achieve their fitness goals. For example, how fit will they be? What will their physiques look like? What will their energy levels be like? What will they be doing with their spare time? Finally, encourage your clients to take time every day to visualize going after their dreams and imagining success.
It may also be helpful to have your clients establish positive affirmations. These are phrases that an individual uses to state what they want and desire as if it has already come true. They can include statements like, "I am getting stronger and stronger every day," "I feel great" or "I've never had so much energy in all my life." Have your clients establish affirmations that they can connect with and use every day. Have them begin each session by stating their affirmations verbally or in their minds.
Step Three - Goals
Now, it's time to help your clients transfer their goals from just a dream to reality. By writing goals down, reading them and seeing them in black and white, you help your clients reinforce the fact that the goals are real and achievable.
Grab a piece of paper and take your clients through the following drill.
- Write it down. Write down all the fitness goals that you would like to achieve. This is your personal fitness wish list. Write down anything you have ever thought of achieving with regards to your own individual health and fitness. Which goal, if you achieved it, would make this year unbelievable? Have you ever wanted to hike the Grand Canyon, complete a marathon or triathlon, cycle through Italy, learn to scuba dive or inline skate or rock climb, cycle the Oregon coast or would you just be happy with working out four times a week consistently? What are your health and fitness wishes? The only rule with this wish list is that none of your goals can be related to your body. Stay away from listing a goal such as losing 10 pounds or four inches from your hips. Keep this list positive and focused away from body image.
- Narrow it down. Your clients can't obviously tackle all their goals simultaneously. At this point, have them choose one to three goals they could pursue immediately. Have them find a challenge that excites them and is within the realm of possibility with regards to time required to train, money involved etc. Generally, most people find that one goal is sufficient; however, you will work with some clients who like to multi-task and may want to establish a few goals that they could simultaneously work toward.
- Get SMART. Helping your clients set goals is the key to success. But it is not enough for them to say, "I want to get into shape." What does that mean? Getting in shape for one person might mean being able to run a marathon, whereas someone else may have no desire to complete this type of event and instead, getting in shape for them means just being able to run for 10 minutes without feeling like they are going to die. So the key to helping clients establish effective and realistic goals is that they are SMART. SMART is an acronym that stands for goals that are:
- Specific - Be sure every goal your client sets is as specific as possible.
- Measurable - Be sure you have established some type of concrete, objective, quantitative way to measure whether they've actually achieved the goal or not.
- Attainable - Be sure all goals are challenging for your client but are still within the realm of possibility and they can actually see themselves achieving the goal.
- Reward-based - Establish some type of reward once they have achieved the goal. This reward needs to be personal. It might mean a shopping spree, a massage or a weekend get-a-way.
- Time frame - Establish a deadline for each goal.
Here are some examples of SMART goal setting:
- Hike the Grand Canyon for one week from May 1st - May 8th (Reward = Day at the spa)
- Train for and complete the half marathon on September 10th (Reward = New outfit)
- Sign up for the scuba diving course that starts March 1st (Reward = Trip to Cancun to scuba dive)
- Train for and complete the 5 km walk/run on July 1st (Reward = 10 sessions with a Personal Trainer)
- Cycle around Oregon for one week from August 14th -21st (Reward = New bike)
You'll notice that most of the goals listed are event or activity oriented and here's why:
- There is a deadline that cannot be adjusted. When people know that the deadline can be adjusted, it makes it easy for them to negotiate with their workouts. For example, if the goal is to lose 10 pounds by September 1st, they can justify a lousy week of training by reasoning that they can wait one more week until September 8th before they hit their weight loss goal. But when a client establishes a goal of completing an event, they cannot call up the event organizer if they've got off track and ask them to postpone the event for one week so they can get back into shape! When a client is training for an event, they know that every workout up to the day of that event will directly affect their performance, so this helps improve their adherence and compliance to the expectations.
- There is a very strong sense of accomplishment when the goal is achieved. When someone achieves a weight loss goal, you do not see them running around and bragging about it to everyone they know. They hope people notice, but they generally don't publicly announce it. However, when someone completes an event like a fun run, triathlon, cycling adventure or a hiking challenge, it becomes the only thing they can talk about for weeks. If they received a T-shirt from the event, they wear it almost too much! They'll bring their medal and photos to show everyone at work. People who have accomplished these types of events get a big boost to their self-esteem and confidence.
- Once you've completed the event, you can't take it away. When someone loses 10 pounds, it is very likely that they will gain that weight back. Most often, they feel like all that hard work was a waste of time since the weight has returned. But once someone completes a challenging event, that can't be taken away. They can always say that they did it. They'll always have the T-shirt, medal and photos.
- It puts all that fitness to good use. Working out just for the sake of working out is not as fun as actually training for a purpose. When you've got your sights on preparing for a challenge, it makes it much easier to stick to your program because if you don't, you know you won't be sufficiently prepared.
- It takes the focus off of somebody's body. People who establish weight loss goals almost always set themselves up for failure right from the beginning. You see, when someone achieves a goal, the next step is to set a new goal. So with an event, someone might finish a 5 km fun run and then decide the next goal will be to try a 10km run. Then maybe a half marathon. Then perhaps a duathlon. Then maybe a triathlon. Then perhaps a Hiking or Cycling Adventure Trip. There is always a more exciting challenge to attempt. But when someone establishes a weight loss goal, a more negative scenario evolves. They lose the 10 pounds they wanted, but they're still not happy with their body. So they decide to try for another five pounds. But they're still not happy because they've still got these bulges here and there. Can you see that if you establish a weight loss goal for your clients, they will never be thin enough to be happy? They will never be satisfied with their body, and they will desperately, with no chance for success, seek to perfect it.
- They will change their physique. In the process of training for an event, like a half-marathon, your clients will definitely lose body fat and develop their muscles, but the focus is on something so much more positive. By focusing on the actions your clients can take to get ready for their challenge, you will promote significant physical changes.
If you have a client that is having a hard time deciding upon an event, establish goals that are almost "event-like" in nature. For example,
- Complete 36 Resistance training workouts by December 31st - within three months. (Reward = Massage)
- Be able to exercise on the cardio machines for one hour without stopping by February 1st (Reward = Weekend get-a-way)
- Complete 80 Cardio workouts by April 1st - within four months (Reward = New pair of shoes)
- Be able to row 2000m in 10 minutes by February 1st (Reward = New furniture)
- Be able to run a mile on the treadmill in eight minutes by October 1st (Reward = Dinner and a movie with spouse)
Each goal is clear, easy to measure and has a deadline. Have your clients review their goals to ensure they are specific, measurable, attainable, reward-based and time-framed. Help them to revise their goals to make them as SMART as possible.
Stay tuned next month for steps 4-8 to building and maintaining peak levels of motivation and follow through with clients of all levels!