There are few things more frustrating and perplexing in the life of a health coach than feeling like you have worked with clients on a committed plan of action for the week ahead, only to hear a couple of days later that they haven’t followed through. While clients seeking help with weight loss can often be coached to voice strong, intrinsic motivators for change, when it comes to taking action, the fear and burden of commitment can be a formidable obstacle. Motivation is the positive energy of desire that says, “Let’s do this!” while commitment cringes back, “Do I have to?”
Fortunately, your toolbox is deep when it comes to coaching clients over the commitment hump. Learning to listen for when commitment is on shaky ground and shoring it up with these five coaching strategies will enable you to help clients embrace commitment as an empowering part of their weight-loss journey.
Make sure to secure a firm commitment. Clients often demonstrate “mobilizing change talk” that can be mistaken for commitment language. “I want to work out three times this week” signals desire but leaves the door open for life to interrupt (Miller and Rollnick, 2013). You can pull for stronger commitment language by asking for specifics like “What days of the week and what time of day will you go to the gym?” Listen for your client to articulate his or her plan in language that signals a solid intention, such as, “I will do my cardio workouts on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday after work.”
Right-size action steps to support commitment success. When clients struggle to hold themselves accountable throughout the week, they may be signaling a lack of readiness to take action. Revisit and revise problematic action steps to make them less intimidating and ensure they are doable under a variety of conditions. Breaking down things into smaller, attainable pieces allows your clients to feel the energy of success and build self-efficacy around their ability to make and keep their commitments. Consistent success, no matter how small, is more powerful than big, shiny wins when coaching for sustainable lifestyle change.
Ask a scaling question to explore roadblocks. Clients often ride the positive energy of the coaching conversation into their commitments and fail to consider how they will follow through under less than perfect circumstances. Using a confidence ruler such as, “On a scale of one to ten, how confident are you that you will get to the gym three times this week?” is a way to explore obstacles and proactive strategies for addressing them. If their confidence level is high, ask them to tell you more to elicit additional change talk. If the number is low, dedicate time to troubleshooting and developing a contingency plan to strengthen their commitment.
Normalize and practice weekly recommitment. It’s easy for clients to experience feelings of failure and self-doubt when they fall short of their intentions. Encouraging them to become curious instead of critical around the details of their missteps can normalize the ups and downs of a weight-loss journey and also provide valuable information for shaping more achievable actions steps. Additionally, work with your clients to make “recommitment” a weekly wellness practice as a way to revisit their powerful “why” and reaffirm their resolve to take action.
Strengthen and widen their support systems. A strong web of social support can fortify commitment and create an environment that doesn’t sabotage follow-through. Arlonski (2014) suggests building social support into a client’s wellness plan to ensure this powerful tool is not overlooked. Go beyond discussing the benefits of a support system to co-creating tasks that build one into your client’s wellness plan. Brainstorm with your clients ways to share their commitments and accountability needs with key people. For instance, your clients may benefit from collaborating on scripts to use when asking partners, coworkers or friends to support their weight-loss efforts in specific ways.
Never Give Up. It can be easy to default to the idea that clients don’t respect the coaching process or lack the determination to succeed at weight loss when they continually drop the ball after making weekly coaching commitments. However, your most important role as a health coach is never to lose faith in a client’s capacity to change.
Framing commitment as an empowering skill rather than a force of willpower enables you to target your coaching efforts in this area. With patience, practice and persistence, it won’t be long before motivation says, “Let’s do this!” and commitment answers back, “I’m all in!”
Arlonski, M. (2014). Wellness Coaching for Lasting Change (2nd ed.). Duluth, Minn.: Whole Persons Associates, Inc.
Miller, W.R. and Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change (3rd ed.). New York, N.Y.: The Guilford Press.