Maintaining the gains

As I discussed in my previous post, the path to change is seldom straight and easy. Even after a client has succeeded in sustaining their chosen health behavior over a period of months, they may still be susceptible to lapses or minor slips. During those times, it is critical for a coach to continue offering support and help the client determine what they have learned from their experience.

Maintenance occurs when a client has been regularly practicing the new behavior or action with no more than a few lapses or an occasional relapse after which they quickly and successfully return to regular practice. What started out as a goal has become a new habit. At that time, there are a few pathways for the client to consider:

 

  • The client may be ready to explore deeper commitment in the same focus area. For example, a client who went from being inactive to walking 3 days/week may wish to increase that practice to walking 5 days/week. Or they may choose to register for an activity such as a charity 5k walk.

 

  • The client may be ready to take on a new goal in a completely different area. Success in small goals often gives the client confidence to tackle more challenging behavior changes. For example, a client who is a casual smoker who increases their physical activity level may decide to quit smoking completely. Or a client who successfully reduces the amount of meat they consume may decide to go further and adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet.

 

  • The client may choose to complete coaching at this point now that they are able to successfully maintain the behavior change. Of course, the door is always open for them to return to coaching in the future if and when they want to take on a new focus area. However, I believe that the coaching process can also equip the client with the skills necessary to address future changes on their own. The skills they learn through the coaching process can be transferred to any habit or behavior they wish to change.

 

In the end, coaching is really a journey of self-discovery and exploration that empowers you, the individual, to achieve your highest level of health and wellbeing. There is no greater gift of self-love.

I hope you have enjoyed this series about the stages of the coaching process. Stay tuned for future posts about your favorite health and wellness topics!

 

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Assessing Action

When the client is in the action stage, they are doing and learning and adjusting action steps based on that learning. They may face challenges or obstacles, some of which they may overcome, others which may trip them up at least temporarily. The path to change is rarely a straight one so support and encouragement are critical to helping clients along this journey.

The next step in the coaching process is to help clients assess their progress and determine how to continue moving forward. Some key tasks include:

  • Acknowledging client successes
  • Helping the client learn from their experience, whether they were fully successful, partially successful or not successful
  • Supporting the client in identifying any barriers to change and strategies to address those barriers
  • Determining how the client wants to move forward (e.g., initiating new actions or refining current action steps)

I typically encourage clients to fill out and return a brief coaching session prep form prior to their session. This form allows them to capture successes, challenges, lessons learned and what they want to focus on in their session. It helps both of us prepare for an effective session and gives us both insight into potential areas to address during the session.

At each session during the action stage, I typically check in with the client about how things went since the last session. There are usually three possible outcomes:

  • Action was completed successfully
  • Action was partially completed (some lapses occurred)
  • Action was unsuccessful (client was unable to accomplish plans or relapsed)

The approach I take with the client depends on the outcome achieved. For example:

If action was completed successfully, I typically:

  • Acknowledge the client’s success and help celebrate little or big “wins”
  • Explore what the client learned through their successes
  • Review where the client is in the process of reaching their long-term goal/outcome and their vision of optimal health and wellbeing
  • If client goal/outcome is not yet met, determine additional action steps needed to keep the client moving forward

If action was partially completed or some lapses occurred, I do most of the above but also:

  • Help the client explore what was different on the days they were successful and the days they were not
  • Review action steps to see if any adjustments need to be made
  • Explore with the client what they will do if they encounter similar barriers or obstacles again

If action was unsuccessful in terms of the client’s plans and intent, I will:

  • Acknowledge the client’s attempts (if applicable) while recognizing the lack of meeting their goals
  • Assess what they learned from the experience and how to use that information going forward
  • Ask questions to determine whether we need to return to an earlier stage in the process (e.g., revisiting readiness to change or doing further work in preparing for action)

 

As I stated earlier, the path to change is seldom straight and easy. There will be twists and turns as well as successes and setbacks. A client may start off strong and then find themselves struggling when they face an unexpected obstacle. Another client may initially struggle to get momentum but then soar once they hit their stride. Each client is unique and thus, the process will be different for each one. It is my job as the coach to help the client navigate along this winding path, sharing in the peaks and valleys, reminding them that they have the power to change and make the choices necessary to reach their vision of health and wellbeing.

 

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Preparing for Action

When it comes to behavior change, setting a goal and identifying action steps is not always enough to ensure a client’s success. An often-overlooked step is helping the client prepare to take action. Taking the time to consider how and when a client will engage in their desired changes will increase the likelihood of the client successfully completing their action steps.

There are four primary strategies that I use when helping clients prepare for action including:

  • Exploring a typical day or week
  • Exploring potential barriers or challenges
  • Creating back-up plans
  • Establishing accountability

Let’s look at how each of these can help a client be as successful as possible.

Exploring a typical day or week

It is often easy for clients to articulate action steps when they are discussing the desired changes in general terms. However, we know that making changes in real life is not always as easy as it sounds. This is the main reason I often ask clients to get down into the details and think about what their schedule typically looks like, so they can realistically determine when and how they will complete their action steps. This allows the client to take a closer look at what is possible and what may need to change to allow for success.

For example, if a client would like to exercise more often, I might ask them to think about their current schedule and identify what days of the week would be best to add in the activity. Once they determine which days are best, we might delve in further to figure out what time of day will work best and/or where they will exercise. Exploring in detail like this often helps a client determine what is most realistic in accomplishing their action steps.

Exploring potential barriers or challenges

I have often found that this is one of the most helpful strategies to prepare clients for change. Many clients are excited to make changes and often assume that things will go according to their plan. But as we are all well aware, life often gets in the way and unexpected obstacles may arise. If the client does not prepare for these obstacles, their efforts may get sidetracked and they may get discouraged if they do not successfully complete their action steps.

After the client has identified their action steps, I will often ask something as simple as “What potential barriers or challenges could arise that might get in your way?” I may also explore what has kept them from succeeding in the past, if they have attempted this change before. Sometimes a perceived barrier may be a competing value. For example, a client may want to exercise at the gym after work but feel guilty that it will take time away from their family. If spending time with family is more important to the client, we might then explore how they can engage in physical activity that would involve the family, such as the whole family going for a walk after dinner.

Creating back-up plans

Once clients have identified potential barriers or obstacles to completing their action steps, it can be very helpful to establish back-up plans. Identifying a “Plan B” can help the client think through what they might do if they are not able to complete their action steps as intended. For example, the client who plans to walk with their family after dinner might need an alternative action if the weather is not conducive to being outside. They may want to have a family-friendly activity they can do inside, such as dancing to their favorite music.

Establishing accountability

A final key strategy in preparing for action is helping the client commit to taking action within a specific period of time and identifying the best way to hold themselves accountable to their plan. Many clients will rely on the coach as their accountability partner, but they may also have a friend, coworker or family member who can serve in that role. I typically ask the client how they want to be accountable to themselves and may inquire as to what worked well for them in the past.

Some clients choose to write things down and check them off once they’re completed. Others may want to track their progress on a calendar or even perhaps in an app. Still others may choose to reward themselves for accomplishing short- and long-term goals and actions. It is really up to the client to determine what will work best and they may want to experiment with different approaches until they find the method that works best. Going back to the client who plans to exercise with their family, they may find that keeping track of their activity on the family calendar is a fun way to get everyone engaged and also hold themselves accountable to their plan.

Once the client has thought through potential barriers, identified back-up plans and established accountability, it is time to take action. This is where the rubber hits the road! Next time, we will explore what happens once the client is in the action stage and reports back on their progress.

 

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