Eliza Kingsford by Eliza Kingsford

Last Updated April 4, 2024 (originally published July 29, 2020) 


Does this sound familiar? You land a new client or a new participant shows up to your class and they are eager and excited to work with you. They enjoy the workout experience and are excited to collaborate with you to determine some next steps they can do at home to support their progress. You feel good about the session, hopeful that you are going to be able to support change with this client, only to discover the following week that they have not done a single thing they set out to do. Each week, you work together to come up with unique and important positive steps to take, but it is no use; they aren’t doing any of it. You (and your client) may be feeling like you are running up against a brick wall and you start to wonder, “Why won’t they just do what they say they are going to do?” 

You are not alone. This is a common frustration for people in the health and fitness industry. It can lead to judgments about the client’s willpower, discipline or commitment to health and fitness. Understanding human behavior and why someone does or doesn’t do something can help both you and your clients move forward in a productive way.

The Information-Action Fallacy 

In his book Tiny Habits, Dr. BJ Fogg talks about the “information-action fallacy. Most people think that if you offer people the right information it will change their behaviors. This is not true. Information alone does not reliably change behavior. If it did, everyone would eat a diet consisting only of nutrient-dense whole foods and always get adequate amounts of daily exercise. 

When you make assumptions about a client’s lack of commitment, you are missing an opportunity to ask better questions. What you really want to know is, “What is getting in the way of you being able to do this behavior?” 

Fogg offers a reliable formula that will help you determine if a new behavior is going to occur. Fogg purports that no behavior change happens when one or more of the elements from the B = MAP formula is missing:  

Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt 

A behavior only happens when the motivation, ability and prompt converge in the right way.

You can start by asking the “discovery question.” For example, “What is making this behavior hard to do?” You want to deconstruct any barriers to their successful completion of the behavior. For example, perhaps your client wants to walk four times a week for 30 minutes. Seems easy enough, but they aren’t doing it. Instead of giving up and moving on to new behavior, first understand what is getting in the way. Really dig deep here—is it time? Ability? Weather? Routine? Desire? Once you understand what is getting in the way, you can work together to remove those barriers. 

Creating Supportive Environments 

After you have identified the barrier, it’s time to create the environment that supports the behavior the client wants to achieve. Does the environment need to be altered to better support the behavior? Or does the behavior need to be adjusted to better fit the environment? 

Using the example of walking four times per week, altering the environment might include things like mapping out the specific route so the client knows where they’re headed, or getting a treadmill at home if walking outside is uncomfortable. Other possibilities include waking up 30 minutes earlier to fit in a walk or laying out exercise clothes the night before as a reminder. The key here is understanding what is getting in the way of walking consistently and adjusting the environment to fit the behavior. 

If the client cannot adjust the environment, can they adjust the behavior? For example, the walking goal could be completed by breaking up the walk into three 10-minute walks to make the behavior easier to accomplish, or by doing two 10-minute walks on six days per week instead of four 30-minute walks per week. Again, understanding the barriers is the most important factor. 

If you are a group fitness instructor, or a personal trainer or health coach conducting group sessions with clients, the ACE RRAMP™ Approach can help you develop a caring and task-involving environment. In a task-involving climate, individual effort and improvement, as well as camaraderie among peers, are emphasized. This focus reduces feelings of competition and intimidation, helps build intrinsic motivation and is the foundation of the ACE RRAMP Approach. 

Meanwhile, caring climates exist when individuals treat one another with mutual respect and kindness and when they feel a sense of belonging and like they are an important part of the group experience.

The ACE RRAMP Approach is built the following elements: 

  • Respect: Mutual kindness and respect are fostered and valued. 

  • Recognition: Effort and improvement are recognized. 

  • Alignment: Alignment and cooperation among participants is prioritized. 

  • Mistakes: Mistakes are recognized as a part of learning. 

  • Participant: Each participant plays an important role. 

Read more here: Introducing the ACE RRAMP Approach: A Practical Resource for Group Fitness Instructors. 

Final Thoughts 

The next time you find yourself feeling frustrated about your client’s apparent lack of discipline or willpower, try asking better questions and listening to understand their answers. By learning more about what might be getting in the way of completing the behavior, the client can adjust either the behavior or the environment to better suit their needs. 

If you are interested in learning more about how to create an environment that empowers everyone to succeed, check out this ACE continuing education course: ACE RRAMP Approach™: Cultivating Behavior Change through Group Fitness (worth 0.1 ACE CECs). In this course, you’ll learn how to incorporate each element of the approach into your cues, behaviors and programming. 


Mindful Movement: Coaching Clients to Become More Active

Inspire inactive individuals to find inner motivation for physical activity and experience its transformative benefits.

Learn More