It’s a busy, technology-dominated world—and most of us are continually spinning, twisting and turning in an effort to “get things done” and “produce.” We work, we raise families, we have countless responsibilities. The truth is, this is distracted living, and it raises stress levels, lowers productivity, interferes with our ability to focus and compromises the mind-body connection.
The Psychology of Behavior Change
Working with clients is as much psychological as it is physiological. Yes, as exercise professionals we need to collect and monitor specific metrics to evaluate client progress. Well-established programming principles and parameters inform the science behind the workout programs we tailor to our clients. However, making the scientific aspects of program design and execution the only or even primary focus is a short-sighted approach. As fitness and wellness professionals, we are remiss in our mission if we neglect to view programming through a holistic lens. Along with heeding sound scientific principles of program design, this means understanding, respecting and addressing the psychology of behavior change.
An effective program is defined not solely by its ability to aid a client in achieving a predetermined goal (strength, hypertrophy, general fitness/stamina, etc.). A successful program considers important psychological factors and is enjoyable. When clients enjoy the experience of exercise and movement, they look forward to subsequent training sessions. You, as the professional, promote an enriching experience, while your clients develop a greater sense of appreciation for their well-being and overall quality of life. It’s a win-win.
To be effective and help clients establish sustainable and meaningful behavior and lifestyle changes, you must incorporate teachable take-home skills (stress management, mindfulness practices, etc.) that can be applied daily outside of the scheduled sessions with you.
The positive and healthy changes clients make are not solidified during individual training. While those sessions focus on physical work and allow for teachable moments, the psychological work takes place at other times. To foster a comprehensive client experience that is both enjoyable and rewarding, you must also teach clients (and make it a practice yourself) to live mindfully rather than with a full mind.
(Note: While this column chiefly addresses fitness and wellness professionals who work one-on-one with clients, group instructors may want to suggest some of the mindfulness techniques to class participants, as well.)
Promoting Balance Between Physical and Psychological Strength
How can you integrate holistic opportunities for skill development beyond your training sessions? For example, if a client meets with you three times each week, what will she do on “nontraining days”? You will likely recommend some type of physical activity to complement the work performed in the session. Such activity might include a flexibility regimen, core training, light cardio, active rest or some other unsupervised form of movement. This is an excellent way to help the client reach her fitness goals.
But what about achieving balance—lifestyle balance—that includes proper and consistent stress management and mindfulness practices thoughtfully designed to strengthen the client’s mind-body connection? Establishing and then re-inforcing this connection allows the client to become centered, confident and capable of maintaining the healthy lifestyle practices she is developing, without being derailed by the inevitable daily distractions or upsets. (For a more complete list of the benefits of mindfulness, see the sidebar “Health and Wellness Benefits of Mindfulness Practices.”)
Incorporating “psychological wellness” training into a physical fitness program will help your clients stay on track and better manage threats or relapses down the road. Integrating mindfulness activities in sessions and as part of clients’ “take-home” skill development efforts is a way to do this.
Incorporating Mindfulness Practices Into Your Client Sessions
The concept of mindfulness gained mainstream popularity and respect when John Kabat-Zinn established the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) program through the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. His definition of mindfulness as “present-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of one’s physical and psychological experience” (Brehm 2014, pp. 203–204)” has become familiar to many. In other words, mindfulness is related to a mental state in which the focus is on the present moment and the peaceful acceptance of all facets of an experience or event. When we are mindful, we are aware of our own bodily sensations, emotions, feelings and thoughts.
How you elect to integrate mindfulness practices and efforts will vary from client to client. Not every person will respond to the same tool or technique, and you will need to be sensitive to a client’s personality type to find the best approach.
For more information, please see “Mindful or Mind Full?” in the online IDEA Library or in the September 2017 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.