December 21, 2016
Change Psychology and How it Applies to You and Your Fitness
WRITTEN BY Jesse O'Brien

The intersection of fitness and psychology is becoming more apparent and evidence-based. The most successful coaches and clients understand that in order to truly be successful, having a basic understanding of behavior modification—and the psychology behind it—is imperative to achieving consistency and long-term results.

The Problem

The best fitness professionals invest a considerable amount of time, money, and energy on staying up to date with the latest tools and protocols in order to sharpen their coaching abilities, but are not understanding the deeper ingredients in helping clients create lasting change. They are constantly researching and adding more resources, and modalities, to their tool belts without increasing their client success rate. A wise man once said, “The best predictor of success is previous success.” Kind of an obvious statement, but in my experience, there are not many coaches who are investing in upgrading their success rate.

Let's take a coach who would like to learn more about nutrition. Coaches might invest in a nutritional seminar that addresses the benefits of a food quality approach. Their clients will feel better, possibly improve their body composition and experience better performance, if they comply. It is a fallacy to assume that clients do not know what to eat. Yes, it is important for coaches to have a solid handle on nutrition. But this is not the missing link. Diving into behavioral psychology to understand why clients are following or not following what they have been prescribed is the secret ingredient. Clients are not stupid. They understand that a Snickers bar is a worse choice than chicken and broccoli.

What I am advocating for is that coaches need to spend an equal amount of time understanding behavioral psychology and helping clients unlock their own ability to change. It’s not always what you say, it is how you say it and how you attune to the particular client that will lead to positive outcomes.

The Solution

Step 1 - Start tracking the success rate of your clients. Obviously, the higher the success rate the better. What constitutes success? That a client has met their goal, or shows signs that they are on the road toward success? If a client is not making progress or is regressing, this would obviously not be considered a successful outcome.

Step 2 - Invest in learning about communication styles that lead toward evoking the client’s own motivation for change. Central Athlete has developed a partnership with Deep Eddy Psychotherapy. We hired one of their counselors for a one-year contract to educate our staff on communication styles, such as Motivational Interviewing, that promote positive client outcomes through educational lectures and mock consultations. Not only does our staff have an extensive background with principles of nutrition, but they also have the expertise to communicate in a way that leads toward increased compliance.

Dr. Charlotte Howard, a psychologist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy and creator of, elaborates: "Change clearly happens from the inside out. We are often like Sisyphus, whose fate was to push the rock up the hill every day and it would roll back down and the end and he would start over for eternity. We want something so we push the rock harder but we eventually get tired. Our time is better spent chipping away at the rock. What are the defenses that keep you stuck? You will always be pushing against them until you dig deep to understand what holds you back. Many times deep shame or self-hatred keeps us paralyzed or self-destructive, or childhood pain leads to numbing or self-soothing in harmful ways instead of facing our feelings head-on. Whatever your version of resistance to your highest radiance, we and the Central Athlete coaches are excited to help you care for yourself in a way that allows you to get rid of your rock and reach your goals."

Step 3 - Watch your client success rate improve over time. Metrics are your friend. If you collect information, it will give you insight into your ability as a fitness professional to actually do what people pay you to do - get results. If you are known as the coach who helps people achieve their objectives, guess what? More client referrals and more dollars coming in your door! Gone are the days of “personal trainers” being thought of as high school dropouts who decided to work at a Globogym with their fly-by-night training certification. The new-age fitness professionals who are entering the workforce are on the frontlines of the biggest dilemma our generation faces. They have advanced degrees, multiple areas of expertise and are highly motivated to make a difference in people’s lives.

Clients: Save your money on another twelve-week challenge and invest in a fitness professional who has a track record of success. Curious about how Central Athlete works with their clients? Schedule a free strategy session to gain insight into what may be your missing link.

Coaches: Find someone who can mentor you with behavioral psychology and communication styles that lead to long-lasting behavioral modifications. Remember, less is more. Arguably the most important principle of change psychology is this one: Give clients only one new habit at a time. One of my favorite books, The Power of Less, shows how you can accomplish more by doing less. Author Leo Babauta shares this interesting data:

Now think of how many new habits are required when we tell clients to “eat right and exercise regularly.” Grocery shopping, cooking, joining a gym, learning new exercises, drinking more water, getting to bed earlier… dozens of new habits! Sure, the type-A clients — the clients who fitness professionals often pray for — can handle all those new habits, at least for a little while. But those driven, type-A people are rare. Plus, let’s face it: They’ll get in shape anyway, with or without our help. So, keep things simple and play the long game. The challenge isn't not knowing WHAT to eat, or how to exercise; the real challenge knowing how to relate to yourself emotionally so that you can eat, and exercise, in a mindful and consistent manner that will lead toward your objectives.


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