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Nov. 29 2021

Behavior change is the underrated element for creating long-lasting healthy lifestyle changes


As fitness professionals, we are all well aware that nutrition and fitness are vital components that create a healthy lifestyle. But behavior change is the most underrated element for creating long-lasting healthy lifestyle changes. We may ask our clients questions to discover why they embark on a health journey, but are you asking your client the right questions for that behavior change? Even if a client is equipped with the proper exercise program design and healthy meal planning, motivation, accountability, coaching, or whatever you want to call it, is essential to drive that person to sustain those habits. Asking your clients the right questions can help them overcome the various barriers impeding their progress and help them adopt healthy habits to accomplish their goals and improve their quality of life.

Our first instinct is to provide advice to our clients and members because we are passionate about seeing them succeed. However, many people may have already given that client advice — a boss, colleagues, family, friends or partner. People give each other advice all the time on all kinds of issues. How often have you heard someone say, "well, I didn't ask for your opinion." The unique role that you have as a coach is to help your client find their own answers, allow them to feel genuine ownership and commitment, and support your client with sound, scientifically backed advice.

Scope of Practice
Fitness and wellness professionals can use different techniques, like validated screening and intervention techniques, to help progress clients to results in a guided self-help way. Guided self-help is a term used to describe a supportive, positive and goal-oriented professional-client relationship. It is meant to assist your client in recognizing the challenges preventing their success and identify the strengths that can be further engaged to achieve that success. Guided self-help is not a form of counseling or treatment, and it does not deal with signs and symptoms of pathology in a client. Instead, guided self-help aims to initiate the change process and facilitate ongoing support, consulting and coaching to sustain the change as long as deemed necessary by the client. Therefore, using guided self-help is within a fitness professional scope of practice.

Start with Active Listening. By starting with active listening, it will allow you to figure out the right questions. We should already be doing this; however, being constantly connected by social media and to our phone, it can sometimes be hard to focus exclusively on what your client is saying. It's important to calm your mind, filter out any internal distractions and concentrate on what your client is saying. Its key component is to use your client's language. We often unthinkingly translate our client's challenges and concerns into our own vocabulary and metaphors because it's comfortable for us. Fitness phrases and terminology may seem like common sense to us, but they may seem foreign to your client.

Reframe the Problem
However, there may be appropriate times where we can question our client's language to reframe a problem and challenge their thinking. Sometimes there is a need to challenge our client's limited thinking, and communicating and demonstrating a positive attitude is an essential part of the process. For example, if your client constantly describes their situation in negative or absolute terms ("I can't seem to lose weight"), challenge them to consider times when they had some level of success. By reframing, you ask powerful questions to help your client see their situation in a new light that makes change more possible. This generally leads to a fuller, more accurate account of the problem and one that opens up possibilities for progress.

Ask Appropriate Questions
When trying to discover your client's motivation and plans, "How" or "What" questions can be more effective than "Why" questions. For example, it is better to ask, "How might you go about making this change?" rather than "Why do you want to make this change?" When you start asking questions, ask one question at a time to avoid stacking questions on top of one another. The questions should be open-ended, and use yes-or-no questions sparingly — for clarification, to move on, or to highlight certainty (e.g., "Are you saying X?"). Although nobody likes "awkward" silence, allow silence so your client has time to think and can do most of the talking. The point of asking appropriate questions is to get to the core of your client's values, desires and beliefs. Establish what is important to your client by asking, for example, "What is the importance of this for you?" The International Coach Federation often calls these powerful questions.

Here are some examples:
● What might be stopping you?
● What if things do not work out the way you wish?
● Which resources might be available to you that you have not mentioned yet?
● If you had it to do over again, what would you do or say?
● Where are you too hard on yourself?

Be careful not to spend too much time on factual or circumstantial questions ("What is your relationship with this person?" "What did they say"). Look for opportunities to explore the underlying issues. Once they determine the importance and discover their deep-rooted "WHY," your client will be more likely to stick to the plan and stay focused to achieve their goal.

Running an effective coaching conversation requires some strategy on the coach's part, but focusing on behavior change and asking the right questions is an effective and efficient way to help motivate your clients to make changes and to increase self-awareness.