Behavior Modification

Behaviour modification is difficult, because we underestimate the parameters of change. There are a number of factors that influence our behaviours. The researchers at Vital Smarts break this down into what they call the 6 sources of influence. Their research shows that by harnessing at least 4 of the 6 sources of influence you improve your chances of making and sustaining that behaviour change to 90%.

It is important to understand that behaviour modification is NOT a way for you to manipulate your clients into reaching their goals. As a trainer, your role is to influence change, not manipulate your clients. It is unethical to force anyone to change their lifestyle. Rather understand your role in this process as that of a facilitator. Assist your clients in the processes of Goal setting, Crucial moment identification and Replacement behaviour engagement.

Too often we rely on what we call “will power” when we endeavour to modify behaviour. When a client fails to make lifestyle changes trainers too often assume that this is due to a lack of “will power”. They assume that their clients are simply not personally motivated enough to make the necessary changes. The truth is that Personal motivation is only one of the 6 sources of influence. Even with the best personal motivation in the world the client is still likely to fail in their endeavour to modify their behaviour.

Once your client has set their goals they are required to modify their current behaviours to reach these goals. In order to modify behaviour to achieve positive and permanent change you need to help your client figure out what behaviours need to be modified. There are two stages to this process, Identifying crucial moments and Engaging replacement behaviours.

Identifying crucial moments

The first step in this process would be to deconstruct your client’s day. This is the process of separating client’s average day into its components. For example, you client may identify that their day can be broken down into Home, Work and Gym. Often people have a particular segment of their life that is their weak point. Some people work hard in the gym and eat well throughout their work day, but when they get home the wheels fall of the bus and they slump in front of the television and indulge high calorie meals with little nutritional value. Some people eat well at home, but their job requires them to have little routine and they eat “on the road”, this is a common problem for sales reps, etc. Having a clear understanding of the segmented areas of your client’s lifestyle can greatly assist in the process of identifying behaviours that require change.
Once your client has deconstructed their day assist them with identifying crucial moments in each segment of their lifestyle when they engage in behaviours that are preventing them from reaching their goals. It is important to facilitate this process without dominating it. Let the client see for themselves where they can make improvements. This allows them to take ownership of these areas in their lifestyle and they are far more likely to change negative behaviours that they have identify as negative. Telling a client what their negative behaviours are creates room for them to disagree with you on a conscious or a subconscious level, either way this reduces the likelihood of change taking place. It is not necessary to list a lot of behaviours to change. Try to limit this process to one or two behaviours in each lifestyle segment. There may be more, but those behaviours can be addressed later on. If your client tries to change too many behaviours they decrease their chances of implementing positive and permanent change.

Engaging replacement behaviours

Once your client has identified the crucial moments and negative behaviours that are preventing them from reaching their goals you can assist them with finding replacement behaviours. These are positive behaviours that they can engage in the crucial moments that they have already identified.
It is important to make these replacement behaviours easy to do. Complex behaviours are difficult to implement so look for the simplest behaviours that will lead to change. For example, if a client is constantly on they move in their work day and they eat a lot of take-away meals, don’t expect them to wake up an hour earlier than usual every day to prepare the ideal meal for lunch. This would be an incredibly beneficial behaviour if your client can do it, but it is difficult to do. Rather look for a positive behaviour that does not require drastic lifestyle changes. Prepacking healthy snacks and/or having a list of healthy on the go food options don’t require drastic lifestyle changes, which increases the chances of making this positive change permanent.

The Six sources of influence

Below we discuss 6 sources of influence that if engaged correctly assure that behaviour modification endeavours are successful no less than 90% of the time (as proven by VitalSmarts). Given that the largest market for personal trainers is clients with weight-loss goals we will also look at how to use each source of influence in this context. Once you have a good understanding these sources of influence you will be able use them to help your clients make positive changes to their behaviours and reach any of their health and fitness goals.

Source One: Personal Motivation

In order to make lifestyle changes sustainable it is important to make good decisions pleasurable. If making good decisions is viewed as being painful or as a chore, then the client will eventually develop a resistance to these decisions and they will revert back to their previously damaging behavioural decisions. By making good behaviours pleasurable they become sustainable.

• By engaging your clients in torturous exercise and forcing them to eat “healthy” foods that they dislike you frame their positive behaviours as being painful. It is far more beneficial to program exercise sessions that are enjoyable and by finding foods that the client will actually enjoy eating. Healthy living does not have to be hard work and healthy eating does not have to taste terrible. You may find that the immediate results are not as good as your client would get with harder exercise and stricter diets but over the long term, you are more likely to achieve sustained behavioural change and ultimately healthier living.

• Developing motivational statements can also be great help in times of emotional weakness. For example, when the client feels like skipping a training session they could use a personal motivation statement to remind them why they are training. The more specific the statements the better. For example, a client that is trying to lose weight to reverse the effects of type II diabetes could say “I’m doing this for Jennifer, my daughter. I want to see her learn to drive a car, I want to give her away on her wedding day and I want to meet my grandchildren.” This type of statement reminds the client of the reach of their decisions and how by simply deciding to train can in fact change their life and the lives of their loved ones.

• Activity tracking and logging the client’s results can help motivate the client to improve in each session. The use of short term goals and competition with themselves awakens the competitor within the client. Fun, games and competition can all be great motivators during a workout.

Source Two: Personal Ability

We all have limitations and restrictions. When clients attempt to engage in behaviours beyond their current capacity they are likely to fail. As a trainer, it is your job to help your clients understand what they are capable of in terms of healthy living and help them to expand their capabilities.

• If an obese sedentary client attempts to lose weight by running 10km per day they are likely to sustain an injury that will prevent them from running. Even though the theory of running 10km per day to lose weight is a sound theory, it is practically not possible for this client. As the trainer, you can design an exercise program that will be effective without causing injury that will achieve weight-loss goals and progress the client to the point where they are physically capable of running 10km per day.

Source Three and Four: Social Motivation and Ability

Source three and four are dealt with together here, because they are so closely linked. The people that motivate us are the same people that give us the ability to continue with our current behaviours or modify these behaviours. Without realising it we habitually engage in behaviours based largely on interactions with the people around us. Within our social settings we have two types of people; enablers and disablers. Enablers are the people around us that allow us to engage in our behaviours and disablers are the people that prevent us from engaging in those behaviours. These sources of influence often act at a subconscious level but they can be consciously harnessed to assist in your client’s efforts to make lifestyle changes.

• A great way of harnessing the power of social influence is to make new friends. By meeting new people in the health and fitness environment your client is more likely to persevere with their quest for change. Often people who don’t exercise come from a social environment where they don’t have people to exercise with. By adding new people to their social group that share their interests in exercise and healthy living, the client no longer feels isolated in their endeavour. They are supported.

• Another crucial component of engaging the social sources of influence is to get the people at home to buy-in to your client’s desire to change. It is difficult for clients to change their unhealthy behaviours if they are constantly being motivated by their friends or family to engage in the unhealthy behaviours. When your client goes out for dinner and wants to choose the healthy meal option the people at their table can enable or disable this behaviour very easily. If your client is ridiculed for the meal choice or is tempted by a friend to choose something unhealthy then they are very likely give in to that social pressure. This is not to say that their friend is deliberately sabotaging their efforts, they just may not understand the situation. By recruiting key people in your clients social setting to be enablers of good behaviour, the client is far more likely to succeed in the endeavour. Having a friend say, “Good choice”. when the healthy meal option is chosen can go a long way to ensuring that your client develops healthy eating habits.

Source Five: Structural Motivation

Human beings value pleasure today far more than they fear punishment tomorrow. This is why we are all able to choose to skip an exercise session and enjoy the time off without actually worrying about the negative effect that this decision can have on our desire to reach our goals. It is also often more convenient to engage in unhealthy behaviours. For example, cooking a healthy meal takes time, tastes okay and requires a kitchen clean up afterwards. Take-away meals however, are easily accessed, taste “great” and don’t make a mess of the kitchen. The long-term goal of weight-loss in this situation is often outweighed by the short-term convenience and satisfaction received from the take-away meal.

• If you use both incentives and loss aversion strategies with your client you can create an environment that motivates change. For example, charts and graphs showing the effectiveness of your client’s progress can be great tools in assisting change. A weight-loss chart for example is a structural reminder of achievement. Inspirational posters, cell phone wall papers and computer screen savers can motivate clients during times of temptation. All of these tools use the client’s structural space to elicit a positive framing for healthy living. Similarly, by removing structural temptations and visual cues you can remove the reinforcement of negative influences on your client.

Source Six: Structural Ability

This source of influence relies on the notion of convenience. By nature, we organise our structural environment to make our lives easier. The things that we use often are stored in easily accessible places. If we sit at a desk for prolonged periods we generally have a chair that promotes comfort while at the desk. If we have a bowl of sweets within arm’s reach, we are more likely to eat sweets than if we were required to walk to the sweet bowl.

• Control the space by being aware of possible temptations. Remove temptations or at least make them inconvenient to access. This will reduce your chances of engaging in tempting and negative behaviours. For example, remove that bowl of sweets from your desk.

• Create a positive space by preparing your structural environment to assist you with engaging in positive behaviours. For example, keep an extra set of gym clothes and shoes in your car so you can take advantage of unscheduled free time. When a meeting gets cancelled you can go for a run or go to the gym without having to go home first.

Use tools like pedometers, accelerometers, calorie trackers, smart phone apps, etc. that will help you stick to your daily activity and dietary goals. Having a means of accountability will motivate your client to choose positive behaviours over negative ones