Creating Connections: Inspiring Change

Creating Connections: Inspiring Change

  • By Susannah Steers
  • December 15, 2017


Today, I want to talk a little about one of the most important “soft skills” involved in teaching movement: the ability to inspire change.  I believe in my heart of hearts that people working in movement and fitness are change agents. We are change agents of the most fundamental kind.  When we do what we do really well – when we train people to move their bodies well, help them get active and healthy – we become catalysts for transforming lives.

But the kind of fundamental change I’m talking about doesn’t happen by accident. And it doesn’t come easily. You know it.  It’s easy to make a decision.  But even the best intentions in the world don’t hold up against the powers in and around us that RESIST change.  The cold, hard reality is that a lot of people start off well, and then, for one or a thousand reasons, just can’t seem to follow through. We’ve all experienced the weeks after New Year’s.  The class lists are stacked with new people. Department stores sell out of home workout gear, and the latest must-have self-improvement videos fly off the shelves. I’m sure we’ve all known at least one person who uses their home gym as a stylish coat hanger. There are statistics to show that as many as 60% of people who start an exercise program quit within 6 months. And within 2 years, that number jumps to 90%.  90% !!

But you and I know for a FACT that change IS possible.  There are people who DO break through old habits and patterns to create change. There are people who DO find a way to see beyond the now to whatever their goal is. Those people are the ones who can delay the gratification of eating that sugar laden doughnut; those are the ones who can continue to get up at the crack of dawn and go for a run. Those are the ones who will find a way to overcome the obstacles that will inevitably show up to challenge their progress.

So what’s the difference? How do some achieve spectacular success, when others fail? Is there anything we can do, as fitness professionals, to help the people we work with find the spark that gets them moving toward meaningful change, and keep them going long enough to achieve and sustain their goals? How can we inspire change?  I’ve found four things that seem to make the difference between motivating change and simply empowering indifference…

1. The BIG WHY

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE? What lies at the heart of your work? WHY do you do what you do?

This is about passion, about drive, about purpose. I truly believe that our success, in reaching our own personal goals and in helping our clients reach theirs, is largely dependent on our ability to recognize, to value and COMMUNICATE why we do what we do. When we can look inside ourselves, ask ourselves those questions and TRULY embody the answers, then we add rocket fuel to our ability to influence change.

In his book “The Golden Circle,” Simon Sinek describes how human beings make decisions based on our emotions.  His book is now a staple on every business marketer’s bookshelf, and whole marketing and leadership programs have been set up around what drives people to make decisions. Sinek’s theory is that people make decisions based on the beliefs and values that drive them.

So if making a decision is based on a value or belief, then it makes sense that in connecting to our values and beliefs around what we do, we can motivate ourselves to live our best versions of ourselves. When our purpose feels close – we can live our values more easily. And then, we can attract others who believe in similar things. It’s all about connections – to ourselves, to our work, and to the people who want to experience what we passionately offer up.

So we’ve got their attention – now what?  In this world, fitness, health and personal growth are multi-million dollar industries; and there is no shortage of “expert” advice.  Everyone has a popsicle stick to sell you.  “The key is this, or this.  Use this technique, this protocol, this system.  We live in a risk assessment world, where we’re all assailed with the STATS of our collective failures – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, on the increase, obesity rampant, …. Blah, blah, blah…

Maybe the stats work for some, but when was the last time that a statistic about something really gave you the conviction to make a change?  Maybe if it’s personal and you know someone who is dying of cancer, you’re more likely to do what you can to prevent it. But for most, those stats just don’t motivate. The skills, the tools, the strategies – and the stats – these are all tools that may help along the way, but they are not what INSPIRES people to change their behaviour in a sustained effort to achieve a result DIFFERENT from what they have done all along.

So how do we motivate them to make a change? 

WE DON’T. That’s right. I said it.  We Don’t.  We cannot motivate anyone to make a change that they don’t believe they need to make!  But we can help people find those internal motivations things that DO motivate them to change.Here’s the second thing we can do to inspire change.

2. Help them find an Intrinsic Motivation for their Goals

Our goals for our clients, and their goals for themselves may be different. To make fundamental, lasting change, the actions people take must have a connection to THEIR deeper core values. The reasons they choose to persevere in the face of fatigue & soreness, the reason they don’t simply turn back over in bed when the alarm rings for the morning workout – those reasons have to resonate from the inside out. Otherwise, whatever goal they’ve set out for themselves is a “should.” And “shoulds” are someone else’s information, someone else’s plan. A client might try it on for a while, but unless that drive is coming from a deeper belief that change is necessary, it probably won’t stick.  We can cheer them on, celebrate their successes, support them through their failures – but we can’t motivate them to change. That has to come from within. And that’s where INSPIRATION comes in.

Reaching for change requires that we do something DIFFERENT – That we change our habits; that we consciously CHOOSE to ACT in a new way. And there’s WORK in that. So the question boils down to whether we WANT the change enough to do the work. And to do the work when nobody’s watching. To do the things we know we need to do even when it’s hard. Even when it feels that, in the moment, it’s bigger than we are.

I had a real wake-up call around this a few years ago.  I wanted to find out what value my clients were getting from me – from their perspective, so I put together a little survey and asked them some questions about what they liked & what they didn’t like in our work together. I asked them what benefits they felt they were achieving as a result of our work together. The responses I expected were things like: better core strength, better mobility, less pain, more energy, etc…

What I got was…

  • I do a lot of volunteer work for a cause that is important to me, and I now have the strength and stamina to contribute more in the way I like to….
  • I can participate in life more fully…
  • I was contemplating an end to my dance career… but I realize now I’m not even close to finished!

So they did get the core strength, mobility and pain relief… but what it meant to them was much bigger. And that’s what we need to support!

When we can be open to who our clients are, what’s important to them in their lives, who they connect to, what they respond to, where they’re headed; these are the things that will give us the cues we need as professionals to be able to find the right words, the right actions, the right cues to connect to their most deeply held values. Once they make a decision to change based on those values – they’re off to the races. And then, I think, our job is just to help them stay positive and moving in the direction THEY most desire to go – and that’s more about helping them to stay committed, however we can.

3. Create & Support Commitment:

“Change isn’t created by the things we do sometimes. Change comes as a result of the things you do consistently.” That saying kicks my butt sometimes. It’s a little reality check. It doesn’t matter what my excuses are, what elaborate rationalizations I have for not doing something. What it comes down to, pure and simple, is whether I did, or whether I didn’t. So let’s talk about consistency – because I think consistency can tell us a lot about our true motivations!  Websters’ Dictionary was kind enough to offer 3  definitions for consistentcy that fit into our subject pretty well.

In terms physical activity, most people probably connect quite easily to this one.  It’s that quality of “stick-to-it-iveness” that gets the job done.  But as we all know, it’s easy to set a goal, easy to state a plan; but much, much harder to follow through.

  • degree of firmness, density, viscosity, or resistance to movement or separation of constituent particles – “boil the juice to the consistency of a thick syrup”

This definition speaks to the texture of the commitment to a goal. When you think about working toward your goal, how does your body feel? Is the goal a heavy thing, a weight on your shoulders, an onerous task to be completed despite whatever hardships may be heaped upon you? Is the light at the end of the tunnel worth whatever sacrifices you’ll have to go through to get there? Or does the thought of achieving your goal get you excited, help you find motivation and give you energy to proceed? How will life be better once you’ve reached your goal? Is there a goal at all? Or are stuck on the insidious hamster wheel of ”I can never be fit enough?” Tapping in to where our clients are in this process can offer pretty important insight into their journey & how we can help.

Think about it – If you have to fight intense internal resistance all the time, or if the body feels dense, heavy and hard when you set out on the path to achieving your goal, ask yourself why you’re feeling this way! Sometimes the resistance is simply a resistance to change. And often, that wears off after a few weeks. But if the resistance persists? Check in with yourself. That old Nike slogan, “Just Do It,” will only get you so far.

If you joined the local running club to improve your cardiovascular fitness and shed a few pounds, did you do it because health pundits say that’s what you should do, or because you like the support of a group and you enjoy running? If you’re killing yourself at Crossfit, is there some part of that workout that brings you energy and vitality – or do you simply feel depleted and beat-up when you’re done? If someone told you to do Pilates for your posture, and you can’t stand the pace of it – why do you stay? Sometimes we forget to listen to our own bodies, and we do what people tell us is a good idea, what’s popular, what’s getting OTHER people good results.  I’m all for trying stuff out, as much as possible actually, but it’s important to check in and FEEL whether the path you’re choosing is a good fit for taking you where YOU want to go.

And that brings us to definition #3. This one provides the foundation for all of the ones above.

  • agreement or harmony of parts or features to one another or a whole :

Now, this may be getting into the woo-woo stuff. But I’d like you to consider it anyway. Is the plan for physical activity in harmony with who you are, and how you like to live your life? Does it support the activities you want most to achieve – playing with kids, staying healthy & preventing injury, climbing Mount Everest, running a Fortune 500 company, building schools in Africa? Because if your movement doesn’t line up somehow with the rest of your life, you are likely to experience, at the very least, a difficulty being consistent with it.  Your physical activity will certainly change and evolve as you go along, just as the rest of your life does – does your program allow for that?

Consistency is a fascinating and complex concept. I love it, and I hate it too. Probably because to really be consistent, I have to be completely honest with myself, call myself on my “stories” and make sure that my goals are meaningful things that I deep-down really want to achieve. When I really want something, then it’s a lot easier to move toward it. I can have fun and ground myself in a sense of purpose that will help me through even the toughest days.

4. Deliver Excellence

Once you’ve engaged your clients’ hearts, inspired a change, and they’ve made a decision to change their behaviour and stick to it, then it’s time to bring all the skill you have to helping your clients get there.  Know your stuff. SEE who your clients ARE are, not just what you can do for them. Be positive. Keep learning. Search and research. Test. Find what WORKS. And if you’re working from your deepest why – this is the easy part.

You love what you do. Your clients love what they’re doing. You both achieve results!  Your clients are happy because they’re getting the expert support they need to get them where THEY really want to go. And you get the satisfaction of working with people you connect with, and you get better results too!:

Inspiring Change. We have to be in touch with our deepest purpose. Manifestation comes with meaning. It takes intrinsic motivation and a passionate, unshakeable commitment.

Live your why. Help your clients find intrinsic motivation for THEIR goals. Help them find commitment they need to get there Deliver Excellence

Every day we approach our work with passion and purpose, is another day we can help make people’s lives BETTER.  When we can support our clients with empathy and a genuine interest in what drives THEM, we can find ways to help them move mountains.  And the cool thing about that, is that in doing it, we’re likely to find MORE satisfaction in the work we do, and get BETTER RESULTS at the same time.

So if you haven’t done it already – it’s time for a little introspection. Take some time to explore your deeper values, and your intrinsic motivation. And then show up for your clients. Inspire Change and have FUN! Share your experiences in the comment section below!