This is an interesting question that definitely explores the psychology aspect of our role as a trainer. Initially, you might think “why would anyone be resistant to achieving their goals?” However, I’ve seen it so often with clients, potential clients, people that aren’t even my clients, etc.… it’s a common issue that is sometimes erroneously perceived as a lack of motivation. However, emotional resistance is something that goes deeper than motivation.
A client can be motivated to change but, simultaneously, emotionally resistant. For example, I’d be willing to bet that most trainers reading this have worked with a client who had New Year’s resolutions to get in shape but it somehow fell flat. The motivation was there… the client took that all important step to approach you. Whether they recently had a health scare/wake-up call, wanted to get rid of the spare tire around their belly or incorporate more healthy habits into their lifestyle, they knew they needed to take steps towards their goals. They may not have known what the next steps were (which is why they came to youJ) but they knew they had to take them. HOWEVER, their level of motivation was not as strong as their power of emotional resistance. In other words, their motivation to change was not enough to elicit change…
So, what exactly IS ‘emotional resistance’? Basically, it is whatever influence(s) that causes someone to stay in their comfort zone, rather than taking that step towards making a change.
Everyone is different, so clients may have very different reasons for being resistant to change…
- Fear of the unknown – Staying in your comfort zone is a lot less scary than trying something new.
- Having to adapt to a new routine – change can be uncomfortable; people tend to be creatures of habit
- Lack of confidence – no one wants to fail at something, so their mindset might be “I don’t want to embarrass myself in the gym/I’m too old to do this/I’ll look out of place/ etc.”
- Short-term benefits outweigh the long-term benefits – i.e., instant gratification… “I should get in a workout, which is one of the steps in my overall fat loss plan, but I’m pretty content to sit here and binge watch Game of Thrones while eating this delicious pizza.”
How do you help your client recognize whether they have any emotional resistance to their physical goals? Think about what a good training program addresses beyond the physical aspects. Through your initial and follow-up consults with your client, try to get to the root of why they chose to come to you – and keep coming back to that throughout their training to remind them.
Help your client accomplish smaller, manageable goals along the way and keep the focus on the journey, not the outcome. The more ‘quick wins’ that your client achieves, the more confidence they gain and the greater their progress.
Your role as their coach/personal trainer is to help them come to their own conclusions about their wellbeing and reasons for changing. Your client needs to be internally motivated in order for their behavior to change and doing it for themselves, not for anyone else.
As I mentioned, there are so many reasons why a client might be emotionally resistant and, therefore, many different questions that could be potentially asked. Questions to consider include:
- What would you like to see different about your current situation?
- What makes you think you need to make this change?
- What would happen if you don’t make a change?
- What would it take for you to change?
- How can I help you get past some of the difficulties you are experiencing?
As your client progresses, these questions will gradually shift towards a line of questioning that underscores and encourages the changes they’ve been making. I recommend doing some research into motivational interviewing to learn additional lines of questioning.
Above all, be empathetic, be respectful, and ask open-ended questions to try to recognize what is driving your client’s emotional resistant to change. Then you can start to address the issue and help them move past any emotional roadblocks that are standing in the way of their goals. Remember – the change needs to be driven by your client, not by anyone else.
Nova Southeastern University, 2013, Guided Self-Change Clinic, “Motivational Techniques and Skills”
Moore, Margaret, MBA, 2010, “Wellcoaches Coaching Psychology Manual”, pp. 41-47; 63-72
She has a B.S. in Business Administration from Framingham State University and a M.S. in Physical Education/ Strength & Conditioning from Bridgewater State University. She is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and with USA Weightlifting as a Sports Performance Coach.
Moe lives in Boston where she keeps busy crossing things off her fitness bucket list.
Latest posts by Maureen Faherty
- How do I keep my clients on track in the New Year and maintain their motivation? - February 2, 2017
- How important is emotional fitness to gaining physical fitness? - October 5, 2016
- I recently injured myself and cannot demonstrate new exercises to my clients. Do you have any suggestions for what to do when I can’t physically demonstrate what they should do? - June 28, 2016