Tag Archives: behaviors

Excuse Me: How Missed Workouts, Diet Fails, and Fitness Rationalizations Can Lead Our Clients to Change

no excuses

The excuse. It’s a bad, bad, thing. Or is it? Most of the messaging that we hear regarding fitness is still deeply entrenched in the view that excuses mean that we’re either weak-minded or that we just don’t want to be fit badly enough. If you look at enough fitspo, you might conclude that if we simply dig deep, commit, and suck it up, we’ll finally nail our goals. It’s a smug and ultimately ignorant view of how people change their behaviors.

A perfect illustration of this sometimes well-intentioned but futile view on behavior change arrived on Facebook recently.  A personal trainer posted in an industry group, voicing his frustration with a client. “I’ve never met someone with so many excuses,” he lamented. He rattled off a list of concerns: missed sessions due to sick kids, refusals to plan meals, and so on. He wanted to help her, but believed that if she wasn’t willing to put in the work he was wasting his time. A few other fit pros supported him, echoing his sentiments.

“Don’t waste your time”.

“Sack her”. 

“Our business is about results. Don’t be afraid to fire her”. 

A few, however, were on the right track.

“Your client is the best source of her solutions.” 

“You might need to scale back.”

Yes. This. The problem with looking at clients as ‘non-compliant’ or ‘combative’ is that we miss the reasons that they’re resisting change.  As fitness professionals, we need to do better. We must meet our clients where they are at and work as partners to troubleshoot the barriers they encounter. And most importantly, we need to accept that our clients really do have all the answers inside of them. We facilitate that change and handle the details.

So let’s back up a step. Do you recall a situation where someone told you what you needed to do but it wasn’t something you were really motivated to do already? How did you respond? Most likely, you dug in your heels a bit and resisted changing.

not going to change

Think about a doctor telling her overweight patient that he needs to start exercising. If the idea of exercise isn’t already a priority, or feels too overwhelming, that new routine is unlikely to stick.

Psychology professor James O. Prochaska developed a model in 1977 for the stages of change that we go through for specific behaviors. The first two, pre-contemplation and contemplation, are where many people sit for years with certain behaviors such as exercise.

These stages have no moral value: it’s not wrong to be in pre-contemplation, the stage where one sees the most excuses being made. To be in pre-contemplation means that a behavior really isn’t even a priority to a person. A person in pre-contemplation doesn’t believe that they need to change what they’re already doing.

By contrast, the stage of contemplation demonstrates a person’s acknowledgement that they need or want to change. However, this is where many people get stuck for a long while. They may be ambivalent or they may lack the tools or support to actually move forward.

The most interesting part about this model is the non-linear design. In other words,we don’t move in a neat continuum from total denial to maintaining a new behavior. Life is far messier. We often move back and forth. Understanding this reality can color the way we strategize for the long term. Fit pros need to develop unique approaches for where their clients are in the present moment.

As trainers, we begin by partnering instead of commanding. We need to listen and ask instead of telling people what to do. 

Excuses are opportunities. They are open doors that allow us to explore and grow. People  who find themselves making excuses might want to consider the following:

  • How confident do I feel about what I’m doing to change? Do I need more guidance?
  • How important is this change in my life?
  • Why did I make a change in the first place? Do the things that I make excuses for actually fit well into my life? (Do I have enough time to train for the triathlon I vowed to complete? Do I actually enjoy running?)
  • If what I’m doing isn’t currently working, what is one small step that I feel confident about taking?
  • Why do I put up the roadblock? Is there a deeper reason that I am not succeeding in my plan?

Resistance does not make someone a failure. Instead, it is a gift– it’s a giant clue that indicates the need to scale back a plan or to re-assess how well it actually fits into someone’s life. If a personal trainer, a dietitian, or other health pro encounters excuses, what they likely need to do is accept that what they are asking is either too much, too soon, or not the best fit.

Prochaska, JO.; DiClemente, CC. The transtheoretical approach. In: Norcross, JC; Goldfried, MR. (eds.) Handbook of psychotherapy integration. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press; 2005. p. 147–171. ISBN 0-19-516579-9.

Making SMART Goals Work For You



As promised, we’re going to move from taking our New Year’s resolutions from pie in the sky dreams to actual habit change. SMART goals are popular not only in the fitness world but in business too. The SMART goal system is a framework that allows us to work on our behavior change instead of focusing solely on the outcome.

I learned about SMART while studying wellness coaching through the YMCA, and I think it’s a valuable tool, as long as it’s coupled with some other work.

First of all, as described in the first post of my New Year’s Healthy Habits series, it’s important to spend some time thinking about why you want to make a change and if it’s something that you really feel motivated and passionate about tackling. If not, you’re likely going to scrap the whole thing when the going gets tough.

Also, crafting a useful SMART goal requires creating a habit change that is actually a single habit instead of a string of changes that have to be made. A goal of losing 10% body fat might necessitate the following habit changes:

  • tracking food intake
  • creating an exercise plan
  • actually getting to the gym a number of days per week
  • getting more sleep
  • changing the kinds of foods that you buy at the store
  • making a shopping list and menu plan each week to prep
  • learning how to strength train

Holy buckets, that list looks intimidating! No wonder so many people never even make it past the first week. However, each one of those habits is actually a great starting place for a SMART goal when attempting to pursue that larger goal of losing 10% body fat. That’s really the outcome, not the behavioral goal that gets us there. So let’s take one of those and use the SMART concept to make it work even better.

Getting more sleep
This is one that I need to do better at. It’s important to me because I know that a good night’s sleep lowers my stress, improves my performance in my workouts, and helps me eat better all day. Let’s apply SMART.

S- Specific
We don’t want to be vague here. I’m going to get at least 7 hours a night of sleep instead of “I’m going to get more sleep”.

M – Measurable. This is a bit redundant, but I’m setting my measurement at 7 hours per night. 8 would be a gold star for me.

A – Attainable. Is this a doable goal for me? 8 is pushing it, though 7.5 is my sweet spot. I know that 7 is doable if I make it a priority. If it’s not realistic, scale back here and rework the goal.

R – Relevant. Is this really important for my life? If it’s not something that’s actually important to me, I’m not likely to stick with it. For me, it is because it affects the way my body functions and for my life, it’s a biggie.

T – Time frame. Setting a behavior goal for indefinitely can feel like a huge proposition. If I say “I’m going to do this forever” in the back of my head I’m not very confident that that’s the case. But for the next 2 weeks, I can make a commitment to trying this new habit. If I succeed and feel better, I’m more likely to keep it going. If I fail, I can take a step back and reassess what worked and what needs changing.

Try applying these parameters to a habit that you want to implement into your life. You’ll be one step closer to success! Have a SMART goal that you want to share? Leave a comment below!



Finding Your Why to Get Your What

whyIt’s a week before Christmas and everyone is busy with last-minute errands, baking, and other preparations for the holidays. Probably sometime soon after we’ve all enjoyed a good number of yummy treats to celebrate, we’ll start thinking about the year ahead. With  1 or 10 glasses of wine of course. For many of us, that leads to the annual New Year’s resolutions.

I don’t much like resolutions, mostly because they’re so hard to keep. I do love the idea of a clean slate. The new year feels like an empty notebook on the first day of school, pure and shiny and full of potential. However, after a few days or weeks our enthusiasm usually wanes. Before long the resolutions are forgotten, put away on the shelf until the next year. Rinse and repeat, right?

What I’ve found to be much more successful for creating change in our lives is to focus on our habits rather than the outcome we desire. If we work on our behaviors, we’ll find those end goals a lot easier to attain.

This is the first in my “Healthy Habits” series of how-to articles for the new year that will help you create a road map for those healthy outcomes that can sometimes feel overwhelming to achieve.

Today’s task is simple.
I’ll bet most of us have figured out what we would like to do differently in the new year. Have it in your head now? Great! Now, let’s take a step back. Why is it important to you? Write that “what” down if you want, and then beneath it write why you want to make the change. Hate writing stuff down? That’s cool. Just start rolling around those ideas in your head. There’s no pressure to do anything.

If you came up with a big list of reasons, that’s great! Or maybe there’s one really important “why” on your list that is compelling enough to you to make that a change that you’re ready to work on next year.

Maybe you’re falling short of reasons. If that task was really difficult, ask yourself if that goal was really so important to you after all. Ask yourself how important it is to change. If it’s not that important to you, it might be a sign that the goal isn’t something you’re really ready to work on right now. That’s okay too! Sometimes we tell ourselves that we need to change because we feel like we’re supposed to.  Ain’t nobody got time for that! We’re a lot less likely to make a long term change in our habits if we don’t internally feel like they’re really important to us.

So that’s it for today. Work on your why. It’ll make a big difference in what lies ahead for what you choose to change and how you get  there. Want to share your own what and why? Leave a comment below! Congrats on making the first step in discovering how to make a sustainable change that will last far beyond January.