We Make Communities
by Steven M. Ledbetter
5 minute read
I’ve been working with people to help them meet their health and fitness goals since 2008. I still work with anyone who shows up on my front door at 9AM every morning. I’m a coach, but in 2013 I stopped coaching people and started making a real difference. When I started graduate school for health psychology in 2011, I was a Personal Trainer. I went to school to learn more about sport, health, and exercise psychology because I needed to answer a question that I kept hearing from clients: “why can’t I just make myself do it?”
So I dug in. I dug into Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory. And Deci & Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory. I dug into habit-formation, Ego-Depletion, and spent thousands of hours learning and practicing counseling skills. I interned (and still do) with Dan John. I also kept coaching. One-on-one, classes, semi-private, corporate wellness, online, paid and free. But something kept coming up…
Every theory of behavior change, every day I spent with Dan, and every practical experience I had pointed to a glaring fact that was becoming more obvious to me. A fact that you can see in the every successful behavior change intervention in the history of humankind.
"Communities change people; people rarely change themselves."
Yes, traumatic events can change people. And a small handful of people have maintained the level of focus and willpower necessary to incrementally change their behavior on their own. But it’s time we all agreed that these are the exceptions not the rule and telling people otherwise in blogposts, fitspo Pintrest pins, Nike ads, magazine covers, landing pages, and content marketing is either misguided or outright malicious. Our clients change because they meet and are welcomed by people who introduce them to a “new normal.” At first it might be us, the coaches, but we are shooting ourselves (and our clients) in the foot if we keep clinging to the mistaken thought that we are all they need for most of them to change their lives.
Think about the times in your life when you changed your behavior. Maybe you had a coach, but who else did you have? Did you make friends at the gym? Did friends or a partner join you in making small changes to your diet? Have you ever picked up a new hobby? Did you meet cool people who did it too? Look at the changes in your life and remember who was around you at that time. See what I mean?
When I started running Habitry groups (what I call my communities of change), I was doing “group coaching.” And they went OK, but I couldn’t handle more than 12 people at a time. So it was around that time when I started asking people these weird, “open-ended question” things I was learning in school. And I started answering questions by asking the groups, “well what do you think?” And I learned something really amazing:
These people are smarter than me.
When you put together all the people who are struggling to learn something, change something, integrate something into their lives, and you simply make it safe for them to share with one another, they come up with better shit that you because they’re in it. Neck deep. Thinking and planning and struggling and sharing every damn day. So I stopped thinking that I was “coaching a group.” And I started thinking that I was “making a community.” And I’ve never looked back.
When you’re “making a community” instead of “coaching a group” your job changes. I was no longer the “Keeper of the Answers.” And while I was still the resident expert in what clients needed to do, I was no longer the expert in how they would do it. To paraphrase Ed Deci, my job was to create the conditions in which people felt safe to motivate themselves. To provide them with a structure, autonomy to explore that structure, positive feedback in relation to that structure, and a strong sense of belonging with all the people on that journey with them.
After I made this switch in thinking, all my metrics went up. Consistency. Persistence. Results. I also went from working with 12 people at a time and feeling overwhelmed to fostering communities of more than 10 times that in a few hours a week of work. It also meant that I had to rethink my one-on-one clients. I had seen how powerful community could be and experienced too many clients who were just paying me to avoid making hard, scary choices about that “new normal.” They thought paying me was change enough. And now I knew just how wrong that was.
So instead of “coaching,” I started thinking about my one-on-one time as the time to brain storm a new “what.” A new plan. Then my job was to get them into my community. To show them a new normal. Because once we had a plan, there were better people than me to help them with how to keep doing it.
If you have 2 or more clients, you have a community. But they need to talk to each other. You need to give them a platform to share their struggles and learn a new normal. To inspire each other to have the courage to stay focused and trust your advice; your “what” with their “how.” It can be scary to cede that control over these conversations, but you now have a bigger problem than your own fear:** now that you’ve read this and you know the power of community in helping your clients actually change their behavior… can you really ignore it?**
It’s 2015. I’m Coach Stevo and this is Habitry, Co. We make communities and we want to help you do that, too.