What’s Behind Your Client’s Counterproductive Habits?

A Personal Trainer’s Guide to Results

As a fitness professional, there is no doubt that you have encountered clients who struggle with behaviors that seem to be counterproductive.

They often are doing things that do not align with their stated goals, and sometimes, things that are in direct opposition to those goals.

As their fitness guide, you give them science-based strategies that would definitely produce results.

They stick with them for a limited timeframe, but then predictably revert back to their unproductive previous habits.

It can be confusing.

Do they not actually want what they said they wanted?

Do they just lack discipline?

Are they to blame?

The repeated outcome seems to be frustration on both of your parts.

What should you do?

Luckily, the science of psychology has the answer.

You want to help them, so it is important to understand why they are persisting in these behaviors before you take action.

To change any behavior, you must first understand why it exists. It is easy to view some behaviors as simply weaknesses or lack of discipline on the part of the client. However, this is often an oversimplification that does not take into account the underlying causes and motivations for a particular behavior.

All behaviors, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t, serve a purpose or a root cause. Psychology has identified four major root causes of behavior. They are:

  1. Escape
  2. Attention
  3. Tangible
  4. Sensory

(Click any of the above root causes for a quick video summary of each from our series Becoming the Ultimate Fitness Coach.)

The root cause of counterproductive behavior can vary from person to person; however, one common factor is that it serves a purpose for the individual, even if the purpose is unintended.

For example, if someone struggles with “comfort food”, they may feel overwhelmed and find solace in the hormonal impact of high-fat/high-carb foods.

To them, the comfort food may serve as an escape from feeling overwhelmed or worried.

Telling this client to stop eating comfort food leaves their anxiety unaddressed, so despite their attempts, they will often revert back to the previous behavior to attend to that stress.

In order for any behavior change to be successful and lasting, you and your clients must identify what root cause their counterproductive behavior serves —what need it fulfills—and then find other ways to fulfill those needs without engaging in those unhealthy habits.

This process requires some fundamental knowledge on your part and some intentional exploration with your client, but, once they have identified their root cause and implemented a healthier replacement behavior that fulfills that same need, they will be far more consistent with the new behavior and be far less likely to revert to the previous one.

Counterproductive behaviors are complex and require a more nuanced approach than simply telling your client to “stop.”

Before attempting any kind of behavior change with your clients, take time to understand what root cause their habit serves for them so you can work together on finding healthier alternatives that meet those same needs in more positive ways.

With patience and understanding, you can help your clients break free from counterproductive habits and move closer to achieving greater well-being, health, and fitness in their lives.

If you’re ready to integrate behavioral science into your fitness practice so you can consistently produce better results for your clients while earning more income, become a certified 360 Wellness Coach. Learn more and enroll here