Editors note: Throughout this article there are examples to download and use for your business. In all cases a picture is included. Simply click on the picture to download the .pdf to your computer.
You know those clients you just love training?
They show up early before every appointment to hop on the foam roller. They’re excited to be at the gym and are fully engaged in the task at hand. They remember the names of exercises and the basics of the proper technique. They’re adaptable and coachable. They fill you in on their nutritional successes and request guidance and advice on any struggles they may be having.
They’re just flat out awesome and make you love your career as a trainer. However in my experience, these clients form the minority of most trainer’s client roster.
What if I told you that there’s a way to cultivate this type of behavior in every single client that’s supported by research and practice?
We Have Got to Change Our Assumptions
We all have certain assumptions about human behavior, some with evidence and some without it that guides our interactions with other humans.
One such assumption is that humans have an innate drive to seek out pleasure and avoid discomfort. That we don’t care to be challenged and avoid change and growth at all cost.
We believe because this is the default setting for everyone those of us who enjoy the opposite are rare and special individuals that possess innate and highly valued personality traits such as self-discipline and diligence.
But what if your assumption about the human condition is all wrong? What if the exact opposite is true? What if these assumptions are negatively affecting the way we approach, coach, and interact with our clients and ultimately our client’s results?
According to the definition of Self Determination Theory, this assumption is wrong and it’s negatively impacting our ability to help our client’s succeed.
What is Self Determination Theory?
The Theory arose from the work of two psychologists at the University of Rochester named Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. Self Determination Theory definition assumes that all people have an innate tendency toward growth, self-integration, and psychological consistency. Deci and Ryan believes that our social environment can either foster this innate drive or hamper it.
Deci and Ryan identified three psychological needs that form the foundation for self-motivation and self-integration. These three needs being competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
Competence meaning the need to experience confidence in one’s skills and the ability to control their own destiny. Autonomy being the need to feel in control of choosing their own actions. Relatedness being the need to connect with other people and feel accepted and supported in these relationships.
According to Self-Determination Theory these three physiological needs can be fulfilled or neglected by one’s social environment. An individual’s social environment can either nurture a person’s feelings of competence, autonomy, and relatedness or it can be so controlling and overly challenging that it can retard one’s self-motivation.
Taking their investigation of what cultivates self motivation further research conducted by Deci and Ryan found that there are also three factors of the social environment that directly affect the satisfaction of the three psychological needs for self-motivation. These three factors are structure, autonomy support, and involvement.
So if our goal is to produce clients who actually believe that eating a healthful diet and moving constantly are important habits to leading their best life then we must devise strategies to promote structure, autonomy support, and involvement in our client’s environment (don’t worry these strategies are coming). Which will lead to fulfillment of their need for competency, autonomy, and relatedness.
Self Determination Theory provides us with the perfect framework with which to work from when trying to create a legion of awesome clients who are engaged, self-directed, self motivated about their change process and make us love our careers even more.
Motivational Interviewing is a client-centered, directive method for enhancing intrinsic motivation to change by exploring and resolving ambivalence. It was originally developed for the treatment of addiction to alcohol, but has since found efficacy in all other sorts of behavior change from smoking cessation to weight-loss.
I credit Dr. Berardi of Precision Nutrition for introducing me to this strategy and peaking my interest in learning more about it.
Motivational Interviewing seeks to encourage the development of intrinsic motivation toward a behavior change by helping the client explore their motivations and to uncover any that may be in conflict with one another.
Rather than try to directly persuade the client to change for certain reasons, which due to cognitive dissonance we know this will only drive the client further into the stance of not changing, it takes the approach of allowing a client to overtly express their ambivalence in order to help them reach a satisfactory resolution of the motivations in conflict.
In this technique the practitioner’s job is not to directly persuade the client to change. Rather the practitioner’s role is to help the client own the responsibility of deciding to change and what is the best possible way to go about doing it. The practitioner does this through helping the client identify and refine their motivation and providing support and guidance.
According to Miller and Rollnick, Motivational Interviewing has four principles that include the expression of empathy, development of discrepancy, rolling with resistance, and support for self efficacy.
Expressing of empathy meaning displaying empathy for the client and making them feel respected, accepted, and understood.
Development of discrepancy being helping the client to see how their behavior is at odds with their core values or long term goals and allowing the client to see the pros and cons of the current behavior and new behavior.
Rolling with resistance is the importance of avoiding arguing for change or attempting to counter a client’s argument against change in order to minimize resistance from the client and the formation of cognitive dissonance.
Support for self-efficacy meaning to foster a belief in the client in their own abilities and skills. These are the four important characteristics necessary to successfully use this technique in practice and hopefully promote change talk from the client.
Now let’s look at some specific ways Motivational Interviewing would be used in your training practice and what other strategies you might use to ensure that the three components necessary for a self-motivating social environment are provided.
How it Looks in Practice
According to Self-Determination Theory, providing structure to one’s social environment involves setting clear and realistic expectations about behaviors and the results of these behaviors. It means setting definitive and achievable goals that are accompanied by positive and frequent feedback.
You can provide your client with structure in their social environment by practicing the development of discrepancy principle within Motivational Interviewing. This would involve sitting down with a client and talking with them about their behavior and goals.
You want to ask the client questions that provoke thought and allow them to answer the questions without any prodding or leading on your part. You want to ask them “Why?” repeatedly in order to find the underlying motivation behind the behavior they would like to change.
Then you want to explore the pros and cons of changing this behavior. You want to ask them to compare the list of pros and cons and ask them if they believe changing the behavior is worth it. Meaning do they gain more than they lose when the behavior changes.
During this discussion about the clients behaviors and goals you want to give positive feedback wherever it’s appropriate.
The next component of a self-motivating social environment that we need to provide our clients with is Autonomy Support. This means opening up our clients eyes to the fact that they can exercise control over their behavior. You have to help your client feel confident in their ability to change their behavior. You want to reduce their doubt and fear of failure.
Motivational Interviewing allows you to provide autonomy support to the client by avoiding any attempt at coercing them into participation or activity in the behavior. You will take any resistance they give you and roll with it.
Don’t argue with any objections they provide simply acknowledge them and offer different viewpoints on the problem or direct them to another possible option that circumvents the objection all together.
Encourage the client to explore as many different options for this behavior change as possible. Ask them how they feel about each option and whether or not they think they can succeed at it. Finally make sure and allow the client to make the decision about what and how they are going to change something.
The final component necessary for creating a social environment that successfully stimulates a client’s self-motivation is involvement. Involvement means that a client feels that there are other people with whom they connect. The client needs to feel that these people are invested in them and their well being.
You as the practitioner can provide this through Motivational Interviewing by speaking to your client in a way that demonstrates your understanding of their feelings. Talk to your client about their concerns regarding the behavior change and what obstacles they’re worried about overdoing.
Share personal experiences and anecdotes about your own struggles and failures. Let the client know that how they feel is okay and normal. And most importantly avoid judging the client’s actions or thoughts and never assigning blame.
Involvement can also be provided to the client through intentionally developing a community at your gym between your clients and yourself. This community will enhance the involvement you as the practitioner are providing the client. It will give them other people to connect with and share with who they can depend on for support during this behavior change. This is one reason why advocating for your client’s involvement in some form of group training is so beneficial. It also dilutes the strain on you as the practitioner needing to be the only emotional support for the client if they don’t have a great support system outside of the gym.
I hope that you take this information and use it on a daily basis in all the interactions you have with your clients both formal and informal as this is not just a tool, but also an approach to human interaction and cultivating interpersonal relationships.