Here’s the truth: Telling clients what to do doesn’t work.
There’s a far better way. It starts with a simple question, and it ends with a plan that doesn’t just help clients thrive—it almost guarantees they will.So much so, we can tell you straight-faced: This method could change the way you coach forever. (It did for us.)
No one wants to be a minion. In the health and fitness industry, most people are trained to use a “coach-centric” approach.
It goes something like this:
“I’m the expert, and you’re going to do what I say. Because it’s good for you.”
That works… when your client’s a Navy SEAL. Read: highly disciplined, does what it takes (no matter the cost), and always follows the “chain of command.”
But everyone else? Not so much. That makes it a very ineffective strategy, at least in the long term.
They don’t see it as their plan; they see it as your plan. As a result, they’re not 100% invested. (Often not even close.)
The fix: a “client-centric” approach
The concept is simple.Before a client attempts any new habit or type of change, ask them to rate how they feel about it.
For example, say they’re not exercising now, but you want them to work out hard at least five days a week.
On a scale of 0 (no way in hell) to 10 (a trained monkey could do it), how do they rank their confidence that they will follow through?
Ask them, and emphasize the need for honesty. Not only is it okay for them to voice doubts and concerns now, it’s the absolute right thing to do. For everyone involved.
If they say “9” or “10,” you’re good to go. But anything less? You need to scale back the proposed plan, and ask again.
What does it take to get them to a solid 9? Maybe it’s only doing hard workouts four days a week. Or three days. Or perhaps it’s just one 20-minute brisk walk.
Sometimes you’ll have to scale back so much, you might think, ‘This will never work! It’s too easy.’ It doesn’t matter.
Because if they can stick with the change for 2 weeks, they’ll start to gain the confidence to scale up. As they do, you can push them a little further, as long as it’s not beyond their capabilities.
This makes them an active participant in their own plan, instead of an order-taking minion. They’re now adopting habits and making changes at a pace that’s comfortable for them. And since you’re making these decisions together, they’re helping create the prescription themselves. One that matches their abilities, preferences, and lifestyle.
The result: You get full buy-in. Which is the catalyst for sustainable change.
Now, that’s the basic version of the client-centric method
. You can keep it this simple to start, but if you want to take it to the next level, keep reading.
Supercharge this strategy
Okay, so you can ask one simple question, and make some serious progress with your clients. But if you want true mastery, you need to dig a little deeper by asking three questions.
- How ready are you to do this task?
- How willing are you to do this task?
- How able are you to do this task?
These might sound similar, but each can spark unique conversations and provide you—and your client—with greater insight and better strategies. Let’s look at them one by one.
1. “Are you ready?”
Being “ready” means you see the need for change and feel an urgency to take action. It doesn’t mean it’s the perfect time to change
. In fact, you can’t ever count on that.
Sometimes, clients say they’re not ready because they don’t feel like they have it “together.” Their lives are crazy, and now just doesn’t feel like the right time to add something new. But here’s the truth: There’s never going to be a time when things are magically easier. Life doesn’t come with a pause button.
Let’s say you’ve suggested your client stop using electronics 30 minutes before bed in the name of better sleep, recovery, and overall health. You ask, “How ready are you to do this?”
And… they give you a “5.”
They agree shutting down earlier would be good for their health (and sanity), but work is crazy right now… and they have all the emails… and they need to use every waking moment to stay on top of their inbox. Maybe it’d be better to do this later on, they say. Like in a few weeks, when their job isn’t so hectic. (The work gods laugh about this at their cocktail parties.)
The message: They’re not quite ready. But what if you scaled it back?
For instance, what if they signed off email just 5 minutes before bed? While 5 minutes might seem irrelevant, it could be what it takes for your client to feel ready now. It’s not 30 minutes, but it is progress.
In a couple of weeks, your client might be ready to shut down 10 minutes early, and ultimately, work up to 30 minutes over time. So eventually, you get them where you wanted—but you do it on their schedule.
2: “Are you willing?”
Being willing to change doesn’t mean you have zero reservations about doing things differently.
It means you’re game for pushing past those doubts.
Imagine you’ve trained to be a cliff diver for several months. Your body’s in great shape, and all techniques have been honed. You’re ready.
When you get to the top of the cliff, you start thinking, ’What if I slip? What if I didn’t train right? What if the tide is too low?’ But you jump anyway. Because you’re willing.
A coach was assessing a new client, and discovered he was drinking 10-20 Diet Cokes a day.
She told him he should drink more water instead. He replied: “Isn’t Diet Coke made of water?” (Smart client.) Plenty of back and forth followed, but it was more of the same.
The client didn’t say, “I’m not willing to give up Diet Coke,” but through his endless debating, yeah, that’s pretty much what he said. He wasn’t a 9 or 10; he was more like a 1 or 2.
Don’t push against a client’s resistance. You’ll only meet more.
Instead, get them to “notice and name” where their resistance is coming from, so you can explore the reason for it. You may find it’s not the change itself that’s the problem; it’s what the change represents.
Suppose you have a client who wants to improve their body composition, but doesn’t like the idea of “eating to 80 percent full.” This is one of the core habits in the Precision Nutrition coaching method, because it can help people better tune into hunger and fullness cues.
But after years of eating until stuffed, it can feel like a big—and unwelcome—change. Maybe your client rates this a 4, and voices their resistance like this:
“I like eating until I’m totally full. There’s just something so satisfying about it.”
You might ask them:
What would happen if they stopped eating until they were stuffed?
How would they feel?
Why don’t they want to feel that way?
They might respond with something like:
“My life is so busy and stressful. I feel like I deserve a big meal at the end of the day. It just makes me feel happy and comfortable. I’m afraid I’ll lose that feeling if I stop.” And there it is. They’ve just noticed and named the real reason they’re not willing to eat to 80 percent full.
From there, you can work with your client to find other ways they can comfort themselves at the end of a hard day, if they’re open to it.
3: “Are you able?”
Being able to change doesn’t mean your path is free of obstacles.
It means you’ve figured out how to remove—or dodge—the stuff blocking your way.
Let’s say your client lives on an isolated military base. They’re ready and willing to add lean protein to each meal—another of our core principles—but they don’t feel able.
Their food choices on the base aren’t so great. The grocery options are limited, and they often eat their meals in a cafeteria, so they have no control over what’s served.
The good news: The problem isn’t coming from your client; it’s coming from their circumstances. So by brainstorming together, you can “engineer” the habit to fit their life.
Maybe they could:
- Order portable protein options like packets of tuna or single-serving protein powders.
- Check the cafeteria menu ahead of time, and strategically plan around the most protein-challenged meals.
- Work on their meal prep skills to make sure there’s always a good option in the freezer.
- Discover smart solutions in the store they hadn’t considered.
If all else fails, perhaps it means accepting that eating lean protein with each meal just isn’t going to happen. But could they eat lean protein at two out of three meals a day?
Remember: Perfection isn’t required for progress.
What to do next
Let’s say your client is ready, willing, and able (for whatever habits and changes you’ve agreed upon). Now it’s time to see what happens.
Observe and monitor how they’re doing with the habit. Gather your data. You may want to keep track of the following in regard to their new habit or task:
- how often they’re getting it done
- how well they’re completing it
- the questions and concerns that come up for them
- how it’s impacting their chosen progress markers (weight, girth measurements, energy levels, and so on)
Ask yourself: Is your client getting closer to the result they’re looking for? Are there any patterns or trends that are becoming clear to you?
Once you’ve analyzed your data, decide what’s next.
If you determine the new habit isn’t taking your client in the right direction, maybe you want to try something completely different. If the client had a tough time completing the task, perhaps you want to scale back and make it more approachable (decrease from 5 servings of veggies a day to 3). Did they totally master their habit or task? Then consider increasing the difficulty (ramp up from 15 minutes of screen-free time before bed to 30).
And if they haven’t nailed the habit yet, but they feel confident they can, maybe you keep things exactly as they are for a little longer. No matter which path you choose, remember:
Your clients will tell you what they need to change. You just have to listen.