Jonathan Ross by Jonathan Ross
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Why is it so hard to get fit? Here’s a better question: What are you excellent at doing and what do you value that can help you get fit?

Notice where the focus is with these two questions: The first is external and focuses on the obstacles, while the second is internal and focuses on the opportunities.

This shift in focus and mindset is like a massive change in reality for your clients and for how you deliver information, inspiration and change.

Did you notice the subtle shift in your mood, motivation and mindset while reading both of the questions at the start? That’s the power of this approach. The change begins simply by asking the question. And as clients think about the answers, their resolve, resiliency and confidence expand.

Strengths-Based Coaching

Here are the essentials, along with some powerful examples and tips to put them into practice. First, strengths-based coaching assumes a client’s resourcefulness. This is the belief that the client has the capacity to see things through when times get tough. Second, it assumes that clients are experts on their own lives. You’re no longer the expert telling them what to do, you’re the “guide on the side.” In other words, you are a coach.

When you regard your clients as resourceful, you create an atmosphere for clients to reflect on apparent strengths and reveal habits, patterns, attributes or values that they may not have recognized as assets, especially those that they may have and use regularly, but do not think of as attributes that can help in pursuit of fitness. Many people have an odd way of compartmentalizing strengths that can be used in many areas of life.

Directing a client’s focus to strengths, assets and possibilities for the future and away from weaknesses, deficits and what went wrong in the past will have a powerful downstream effect on all the workouts, actions and behaviors that follow. It will also make your role as coach and the client’s pursuit of health easier and more enjoyable.

In addition to the revised question posed at the beginning of this article, here are some additional techniques to start putting into practice with your clients:

Turn Prior Challenges Into a Resource

Ask your clients bring to mind a difficult past experience in which they persevered and learned something important. Ask them one or more of the following questions:

  • What did you do that helped you get through this experience?
  • What strengths did you use?
  • What other kind of support did you need and use?
  • What did this experience teach you about how to deal with challenges?
  • How did this experience reveal a strength(s) you didn’t know you had?

It’s important to note that the client need not share with you the details of a situation; in fact, you may opt to provide these questions as a thought-exercise with the client sharing with you the answers to these questions rather than the details of the situation that presented the challenge. With those answers, you can now shift the focus to the current health challenges and ask:

  • Which of these strengths can you draw on now?
  • Are there any strengths you want to develop? If so, how can we use this situation as an opportunity to grow in those areas?

The Story of Growth, Resilience and Fitness

Ask your clients the following series of questions as a way to role-play with them to have an outsider’s perspective on their situation.

  • How would a reporter cover your story?
  • Imagine your health and fitness journey as one of compelling highs and crippling lows. How would a professional storyteller describe it?
  • What would a keen observer see as the turning point in your story?
  • If a journalist or documentary filmmaker followed you around, what would they see in you, your actions or your surroundings that would demonstrate your inner strength and commitment to improve?
  • What would co-workers, family, friends and neighbors say was a turning point in your fitness success story if they were interviewed for this feature?

These questions, which may not even need direct answers, stimulate significant and deep thought in a different direction for the client. The goal is to transform a client’s perspective to create a story of personal success using his or her own imagination.

Values in Action

Ultimately, we want to connect the values our clients possess with pursuing fitness to enhance what matters most in their lives. If a client has never thought much about this and you find it too daunting to try and direct the client toward discovering strengths, then employ the Values in Action (VIA) Classification of Strengths survey. I would also recommend you go through the survey as well, as it is an insightful exercise in self-discovery.

[For expanded study of these topics with CECs, see the ACE Behavior Change Specialist course, and specifically, pages 35-36 and 106-107, in the manual covering the process of cognitive behavior coaching.]

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