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.
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.