Ready Or Not

William James, an early yet eminent psychologist of the 19th Century wrote about human behaviour with respect to physical exercise:

Human perfection means the ability to cope with the environment [that surrounds him]. But the environment will more and more require mental power from us and less and less will ask for bare brute strength. Wars will cease, machines will do all our heavy work, man will become more and more a director of nature's energies and less and less an exerter of energies on his own account. So if our future means man will only need to digest food and think, what need will he have for well-developed muscles at all. Even if this day ever dawns, muscular vigour will always be needed to furnish the background of sanity, serenity and cheerfulness to life, to give moral elasticity to our disposition, to round off the wiry edge of our fretfulness and make us good humoured and easy of approach.
[William James, 1899]

Nowadays we understand a little more of the association between the mind and body. Only the most hardened opponents of voluntary human movement will contest the benefits of exercise on our psychophysiology. It's now both intellectually reasonable and clinically proven that movement of one form or another, of increasing intensities, duration, frequency and complexity will be of some benefit to all of us in some way.

However, in the field of personal training we're becoming evermore knowledgeable as to the routes people can take to change their physical body, yet we've not offered the same respect to the mind as a controller of it. We should understand more of the psychological preparation that's needed before a task can be completed. We're not just speaking of achieving physiological goals, just as important are the psychological motives behind creating them.

Motivation is a word we hear often in the realms of exercise. Pragmatists within the industry will describe themselves as being, amongst other things, 'good motivators'. But motivation comes from within, it's a vision of achievement and represents more than just words of praise, pats on the back or material rewards. It is ultimately the driving force behind goal achievement.

An overused statistic claims that more than 50% of those who sign up to a new exercise programme will drop out within the first 6 months. And how many of the remainder will successfully adapt their behaviour to include exercise as part of the rest of their lives? Whilst a higher degree of adherence is achieved by those who are able to employ a personal trainer to supplement their motivations (or lack of them) even they may only have achieved a temporary adaptation to their behaviour rather than developing a new one. A wise man once said; '.it's impossible to fundamentally change a persons character, we can only expect to influence tweaks in their behaviour'. And that is what we must aim to do in our clients. Behaviour is like a culture; to tweak its nature takes time, subtlety and patience. It includes moods, temperaments and stressors. So as guides to our clients would this not be a good place to start our ongoing investigations into their likelihood to create, achieve and maintain their goals.

There's much evidence that we have recognised the necessity to acquire information from a client and knowledge of how they tick. We do see lifestyle questionnaires, food diaries and daily logs available for our clients to complete. The information from these exercises is an invaluable insight into the lives and behaviours of our clients. Ultimately, therefore, if we apply this new knowledge and learn to look for psychological barriers rather than just the physical ones, we are in a much stronger position as a guide and facilitator to our clients true goals.

For example: Lucy is finding it difficult to concentrate at work and seems to be less productive than her colleagues. She talks to her office mate, James, who's noticed that she drinks 4 or 5 cups of coffee a day and he suggests she drink less. With his help Lucy decides to set a goal to drink no more than 2 cups of coffee each day next week and see if it makes a difference. But James has also noticed that she often meets Penny who seems to own shares in a coffee company. Lucy easily succumbs to the temptation to have a skinny latte with her. James suggests that instead of fighting the temptation, every time she plans to meet Penny she should drink less coffee beforehand. James keeps count!

Here we can see problem recognition, a guided and clear goal, a psychological barrier, a suggested tweak in behaviour and a way of monitoring progress. It's a better solution than blaming stress and just trying to live with it and it can be implemented immediately.

Let's continue our roles as highly effective exercise prescribers, so long as we continue to improve our knowledge as the science of human movement evolves. But let's also start recognising the influence of the human mind. The exercises we prescribe must be based on the individual's capabilities and goals. If we are only spending a fleeting moment listening to those goals then we're missing an opportunity for our clients and ourselves.

As the industry searches for ways to continually increase its shareholder value, we should start to consider more thoughtfully the ways in which we retain our customers rather than simply look for new ones once the others give up. It's a win-win situation. The customer becomes a healthier and fitter and the industry perpetuates.

The next step within the Industry of Personal Training will be the recognition that as much work should be done on the mind to influence some kind of behavioural change as we currently aim for in the body to influence some kind of physiological change. Personal Training is a valuable tool that is used by those who wish to facilitate change in their own physiology, but the important question here should be: Are they in the right frame of mind to tread the path and stay on it?

part 2. The initial assessment process
part 3. Motivational techniques

DaxMoy : Personal Trainer in London