Mollie Martin by Mollie Martin

It’s that time of year when you and your clients are likely considering and setting goals for the New Year. After the challenges of this past year, many people may be looking for a fresh start and feeling a renewed commitment to adhering to healthy lifestyle habits.

Much has changed over the past year and many aspects of daily life are no longer the same. Schedule changes, working and learning from home, a lack of access to gym facilities—these are just a few of the challenges your clients have likely had to contend with over the past year. With your guidance, you can help them account for these changes by collaborating to set and achieve meaningful goals and identifying the motivating factors that will keep them going, even if life doesn’t return to normal as quickly as they might hope.

As a health and exercise professional, you are most impactful when you can help guide your clients to uncover and shape their own goals, as opposed to telling them what you think they should do. Your job is to help them figure out the root of their goals—the reasons why they want to accomplish them. Here are some ideas for how you can help them get started:

  • Help clients set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals. Each of these elements is necessary for ensuring that your clients can see progress and maintain focus on the steps that will keep them moving in a positive direction.
  • Ask your clients to review their schedules with honesty to identify the best times for workouts and physical activity breaks. Unrealistic expectations—such as a non-morning person committing to exercising at 5 a.m. every day—often lead clients to abandon their efforts before they even get started.
  • Talk to your clients about what is currently going well, what they need help with, and how they like to be supported in their efforts.
  • Encourage your clients to identify their strengths so they feel more empowered to take on new challenges.
  • Remind your clients that consistency is key, but it’s also important to have some flexibility in their schedule or planning to account for unexpected challenges or commitments.
  • Help clients create a timeline and set smaller goals that can be accomplished on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.
  • Ask your clients about their past experiences with goal setting and behavior change to identify what strategies can be applied now and how they were able to be successful. Use this information when creating new goals.  
  • Encourage your clients to keep asking why they want to achieve their stated goals—keeping the “why” at the forefront is particularly important on those days when motivation is lacking, and it can feel easier to abandon their efforts rather than push forward.

Identifying barriers and challenges ahead of time can be an effective way to address them before they become overwhelming. Help your clients create a list of barriers, challenges, and/or reasons that could be influencing their behavior-change efforts.

It can be helpful to remind clients how various health-related goals may influence or have an effect upon other goals. For example, exercising regularly may encourage a more healthful attitude toward nutrition and, as a result, healthier eating habits. Likewise, eating healthier or getting sufficient sleep may foster more energy and motivation for sticking to one’s workouts. Here are some ideas for categorizing various health-related goals, along with some examples:

To improve muscular fitness I will:

  • Work my up to completing body-weight squats/pull-ups/push-ups consecutively at the end of 8 weeks by completing my resistance training program 3 days per week
  • Complete repetitions on leg press machine using [_____] of weight during each full-body workout for the next 6 weeks

To improve my cardiorespiratory fitness I will:

  • Run for [_____] minutes non-stop 1 day per week for the next 10 weeks
  • Swim [_____] 1 mile per week by swimming a quarter-mile on 4 days per week for the next 3 months
  • Complete a [_____] mile bike ride in 4 months by increasing my riding duration by 10% each week until I reach my desired distance

I will eat healthier by:

  • Consuming [_____] servings of greens per day for the next three months
  • Following a macronutrient-balanced diet [_____] days per week for the next 10 weeks
  • Eating at least [_____] different colors of fruits and vegetables every day for the next 4 weeks

I will improve my hydration by:

  • Drinking half my weight in ounces per day or [_____] full water bottles for the next 6 weeks
  • Making sure I drink enough water to pass clear urine every time I use the restroom for the next two weeks

It can be so easy to give up on goals when life gets challenging. That’s why it’s critical to remind your clients that a day or even a week of setbacks will not ruin their path to achieving their goals. Help them look forward by envisioning what life might look like if they stick to their goals and make the changes necessary to live more healthfully and in line with their values and aspirations. These are the things that will keep their hope, motivation and enthusiasm for achieving their goals at a high level throughout the process of change.

And finally, it’s important to remind your clients that they are in charge of their change journey. While you are there to support them and encourage them every step of the way, it is the power and wisdom that they possess that will ultimately make them successful.

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