As a Fitness Professional, we accept that most of our coaching is client centered. We hope to develop a trusting relationship with the individual so as to build the foundation for change. We provide a program, training, nutrition coaching and our own support all with the goal of helping the client achieve whatever goal they have set out for themselves. We do all we can to provide a positive, informative, safe and fun environment for our clients. What happens, though, when your client leaves the gym? When they leave the comfort of your support and expertise?
This is where your clients support system comes in to play. Are the clients loved ones; friends, family, spouses, parents, coworkers etc. providing the same support you provide them?
Over the past few years of “dealing” with high strung parents and spouses, hearing horror stories involving family and coworkers I see a disappointing trend. The overwhelming majority of the “support systems” I see are doing more harm then good for their loved ones.
We’ve all been there. The overbearing parent who feels the need to speak for their child as they sit in the corner with their head down dreading every second of a consultation. A spouse who, being so “into fitness”, just “doesn’t understand” why their stressed out, overweight husband won’t get up early to run 5 miles with them every morning.
The fact of the matter is that these are the individuals who will influence your client the most. So what then is a coach to do to help improve their clients support system to provide a better environment to keep them motivated and on the right track? Well, you could just provide them with these simple yet crucial tips for becoming a better support system.
1. Avoid Negativity
A positive change requires positivity. During a disturbing and admittedly slightly inebriated (not on my part!) recent conversation with the fiance of a new client, she made the half sarcastic comment “you mean I shouldn’t call him fat and lazy?!”
[aesop_quote background="#282828" text="#FFFFFF" align="center" size="3" parallax="off" direction="up" quote="Shaming someone into change will yield nothing but the individual completely shutting down and avoiding any suggestion following out of spite."]
Now that is an extreme. What about when the client decides to make a less than stellar food choice and you roll your eyes or even say “are you really going to eat that?”
Still, obviously negative.
What about an innocent gesture such as packing the clients gym bag so they are prepared to go to the gym the next day? Often times this may be misconstrued as “you’re fat and need to go to the gym while I go out shopping or to play golf”.
Negativity also leads to negative self talk. Feelings of inadequacy or that “they can’t do it”. This is something you, as a loved one don’t see and is crippling for success and must be avoided at all costs.
Instead, keep an aura of positivity surrounding all things health and fitness. Obviously avoid degrading your loved one. Make subtle suggestions as to what may be a better option to eat (if you are qualified to do so). Offer to join your loved one at the gym so they don’t feel alone or as if they’re being punished.
If all else fails, the rule of “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it” applies. If you cannot provide a better actionable step or if you have nothing positive to add to a situation say/do NOTHING.
2. Understand and Accept that They are Not You
This is a shot at the person who “just doesn’t understand”. Guess what…
You don’t have to!
While you may be an important cog in their change, it is ultimately about them. The client; your loved one. As well as you think you know them, you can never understand their individual struggle. Often times they don’t even understand it themselves.
Don’t apply your habits, lifestyle etc. to your loved one. Just because you eat a certain way or enjoy a certain activity doesn’t mean they will enjoy eating the same way or enjoy the same activity. Furthermore, just because something works for you doesn’t mean it will work for them.
3. Understand and Accept that Choices are Situational
Managing choices on a day to day/moment by moment basis is an important part of any road to change. Notice I said MANAGE…not MAKE. There is a distinct difference.
MAKING a choice implies a split yes or no decision in a moment where impulse and pressure are abound. For someone who struggles with will power this often times leads to failure. This is akin to going out to your favorite Italian restaurant and struggling between the grilled chicken salad and penne ala vodka when you’re trying to adhere to a certain diet. Yea, you already made the “wrong” choice.
Oh is everyone having desert? Well I’m not going to be the only one without a creme’ brule!
MANAGING a choice starts with the understanding that the choice to not cook dinner, will lead to the choice of deciding to eat out, which will lead to the choice of the Italian restaurant, which will inevitably lead to the will power draining decision I just described.
Best case scenario; your loved one made the “right decisions” in that situation but now they are so drained from the internal fight that they will be more likely to make poor decisions thereafter. Worst case; bad decisions lead to feelings of inadequacy and more bad decisions. Failure is a slippery slope.
What are you to do in that hypothetical situation then? Use your 2nd grade foreshadowing skills and encourage eating in before they get to the edge of that slope!
This also includes work schedule/stresses, parties/events etc. If the situation does not allow for good choices, the situation must be changed or steps must be taken to manage choices before they become overbearing. Understand their struggle and help them avoid situations where failure is a high probability.
4. Understand and Accept that Failure is Inevitable
So, you’ve done a bang up job managing choices or you’ve gotten yourself and your loved one into a situation you just cannot avoid. Dinner with the in-laws who choose the restaurant because they’re paying? A child’s birthday party that you were forced to host perhaps? So, they end up choosing the crazy past dish, drinking too much wine and have more than their share of ice cream cake. Failure is inevitable from time to time but that doesn’t mean they fell off the wagon or that everything they’ve done up till now is a waste.
This is a hard pill to swallow but humor me for a second. If the client plans never to fail (i.e. makes less than stellar nutritional choices, misses a training session etc.) then what happens when they do? And they will! This, again will lead to feelings of failure or inadequacy and whoops, there is that slippery slope again.
I, on the other hand, make it a habit to prepare my clients for this inevitability. As stated before, situations don’t always allow for the best choices. Fortunately, one poor decision doesn’t break progress anymore than one good decision makes it.
Just this simple knowledge allows the client to get back on track soon after without feeling guilty and impeding progress.
Furthermore, just because your loved one succumbs to prior poor habits once in a while doesn’t mean it is open season for you to drag them down into more bad decisions. At its worst I’ve seen loved ones hold on to clients failures and use them as ammo later on in an effort to coerce them into “letting loose” more often.
At the very least, understand that mistakes happen but they by no means are the deciding factor in their success, unless you/they allow them be so.
5. Let the Coach do the Coaching
Last but certainly not least. Too many people feel they know what’s best for their loved ones. Whether it be a parent telling me their middle school daughter needs to work on their “foot speed” with ladder drills or an overbearing spouse who thinks Vegan is the best way for their hubby to shed some bodyfat.
Even if this is not you; if you are well informed or even a coach yourself anyone can tell you that it is almost impossible to coach a loved one for a host of reasons. That is why they have solicited the help of someone like myself instead of you in the first place.
Furthermore, as a coach, we like to deal with “big rocks” first. Understand that the route to success as determined by the coach and client may not seem like much. In fact, they may seem insignificant, trivial or downright backwards. Make no doubt about it, though, any positive, lasting change is progress. Any change that doesn’t last is failure.
For example; for a previously sedentary individual 2 days of strength training, while not ideal for body composition change, may be all someone can handle physically or more importantly mentally.
Most importantly, if you have done your due diligence in hiring someone like myself you are instilling a certain level of trust. A trust that as a fitness professional, we are equipped with the knowledge to help your loved one achieve THEIR goals (not yours) in the most effective, safest and most fun manner possible.
In addition, you must trust and expect that if a fitness professional does not possess the qualifications necessary that they will refer out to someone who does or pursue the necessary knowledge moving forward.
If necessary, contact the coach and ask for an explanation on a certain issue. Get on the same page as them. You are just as much a part of the team as the coach and deserve to know the plan and how you can help.
At the end of the day, however, you have to let go and trust the process as well as those who are determining it.
There you have it. A few tips for those sitting on the sidelines as their significant other, child, friend etc. attempts the extraordinary. You are an integral part of the change they hope to make. All I ask is that you remain patient, be supportive and do all you can to help them succeed…They need you!
Originally Posted August 21st, 2014 on Brandon Nurnberger's blog. All references to The Beastie Boys seminal work of performance art, "Sabotage" are the editor's additions.
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