Rebooting healthy activity with the coach-approach

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Your client shares: “I had a terrific summer! I visited my favorite summer place every weekend and over vacation, enjoying everything to the fullest – including the food. We ate out with friends and family most nights – enjoying some good food with great company. Well, I wish I could say I exercised most days as I did before the summer, but I really enjoyed time relaxing and sitting on the beach! Now it’s hard to imagine getting back to the fitness level I was at before, and losing the “ice cream” bulge.”

As a fitness expert it’s easy to be disappointed. You helped your client get to a solid level of fitness and lose 5 pounds over the past few months. You recall the productive conversation you had about strategies for keeping his exercise routine going over the summer. You lament to yourself that many of your clients go off your carefully laid rails from time to time. Then you start to doubt yourself and your impact.

What might you learn from the coaching approach?

Appreciate the good

We are naturally wired to notice first what is wrong, what isn’t working. Then we put on our expert hats and offer up our expert knowledge to fix or solve the problem. Let’s reboot…

How about starting by appreciating and savoring the good, with real presence, empathy, and authenticity. Given how hard your client works, including most weekends, allowing himself very little downtime, a first step is to appreciate and celebrate your client’s success in slowing down to relax and enjoy his summer. It’s a great strategy to recharge batteries for the rest of the year, you could note. He has engaged well in getting the downtime he needs, best yet you observe, as you’ve been working with him for a few years.

You continue the appreciative approach: I’m impressed that you really unplugged from your over-busy life and enjoyed your summer. Tell me about that. What positive impact did it bring? What gifts are you noticing? How can you bring the vacation “mode” to your life during the year?

Next is curiosity

Once your client’s positive experiences have been unpacked and harvested, now you can get curious about the mindset that led to setting aside his exercise routine. Your client might share first that he wanted to sleep in. By the time he was up, the heat had descended and it was too warm to walk fast or jog. And, he wanted to be outside, not in a gym, which felt like his usual routine and not a break or fun. Then you ask him to take his awareness deeper: what else happened, you say, which leads your client to explain that he gets too little time outdoors during the year and then has to make up for it over the summer. Then he shares that he really wants to find ways to exercise outside they gym so he doesn’t get so sick of it over the winter. He misses his youth when he had way more time to be outdoors.

Next is compassion

Now you show genuine empathy for his yearning to be outside more and not relying on the inside gym all winter for his workouts. That’s an interesting insight. How do you feel about this insight? He vents a little more about his frustration of being trapped indoors except in the summer. You sit with him and his frustration for a moment and show you understand how he is feeling until you know he knows that you get what it feels like. What possibilities does that open up, you then ask? His mind opens and he begins to explore some outside activities that he could engage in, certainly in the fall and spring, maybe a little bit in the winter. His energy meter goes up.

When you help a client name and experience negative emotions, the power of the negative to deplete the brain’s resources drops a little. Biologically, this step activates the pre-frontal cortex (gaining some distance and objectivity) and reduces the fire alarm response of the amygdala (decreasing overreaction). Teaching your client to take this step can spill over to everyday life, reducing the risk of an emotional hijack that makes him vulnerable to unhealthy choices and behaviors. It also generates emotional agility, so that he can switch to a positive reframe – what can I learn?

Time to rekindle motivation and build confidence

Now some positive emotions and energy have been generated by appreciating the good that emerged from the downtime, compassion for his frustration, and new ideas and optimism about fall, winter, spring, workouts. It’s a good time to explore where he started your session: how do I get back on track? He isn’t feeling so defeated now. He has more of the curious, creative energy needed to rekindle his motivation and find strategies and build confidence and hope. The challenge doesn’t feel so overwhelming.

Now you ask him with a beginner’s mind what’s driving him to get fit and trim this fall; what makes his fitness important to him now? Your client considers how important it is to be a role model for his kids, and connects with his desire to finish the year strong, not with self-doubt and frustration. From here you start a creative brainstorming process where your client comes up with a vision of where he wants to be by the end of the year and specific action steps next week. He leaves the session with a sense that he is back on track.

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