Understanding The Change Psychology Of Coaching New Habits

We wonder why only half the people we work with have good results. Understanding Change Psychology and how you can be accidentally pushing people further away from positive change than toward it is SO important but rarely studied.

The way you communicate determines whether you’re make change more likely or less likely.

By pleading with certain people to change you can actually make them less likely to do it, regardless of good intentions. We go about talking to students of ours exclaiming they’re WRONG, what you’re doing is WRONG. When someone tells you you’re wrong, even if you know it – what happens? You get defensive.

Then you try and defend your actions even if you know you’re wrong. Then you go

“no no wait I need to explain why I’m doing it this way”

The psychology and internal dialogue is simple:

“You made me feel like an idiot, for being wrong and I’m going to justify my behaviours, even if I know I want to change them.”

As you self-actualise and repeat why you have these negative habits you consequently deepen your resistance to change.

When you start trying to convince other people that you have good reasons for doing things that even you want to change, you become less likely to change.

Understanding Why They Need To Change

You need to have a clear understanding of why change is important to them.

Ask: “On a scale of 1-10 how important is this to you?”
Anything less than a 9, begin by helping them find their own purpose and meaning within health and fitness. Find their ‘why’ so their change is not short lived but sustained and long lasting.

Asking Why 5 Times

In order to determine the true reason’s behind why they have the certain goals they have put it up against the 5 why’s.

E.G. I want to loose weight.


I want to look and feel better.


I want to impress/look better for/be/be able to/acheive



Shaping The Path

How do we make the path of change less scary to traverse.

Say we want to jog every morning – we can lay workout clothes on the bed the night before so it’s one less thing to think about and make an excuse over.

Drop sugar – removing the cookie jar from the bench top so it’s harder to access.

We can create an alarm every night to trigger a behaviour.

Shaping the path isn’t enough though you have to get ‘the elephant and the rider’ on board.

When people start off well with a nutritional habit but they just can’t stick it we then have our “rider getting tired” problem. When I try and tell my students what to eat but they never seem to listen the “elephant backing away” – the person is reasoning through emotion.

We need to start coaching to both sides of the brain. Everyone applies to the rational brain (knowledge) that points the rider in the right direction. But we need to make sure we get this right brain (emotional) “elephant” on board. That is often the most important limiting factor.

One Habit At A Time

Asking only to adopt 1 habit at a time.

The habit needs to be small and they need to respond with a “hell yeah of course I can do that” as opposed to “I mean it’ll be a challenge but yeah I think I can” They have to feel like its way easier than they’re capability and that you’re an idiot for asking them to do something so simple.

It has to be small, clear and measurable and a 9/10 on the confidence scale.


1. Has to be done daily to create consistency and positive momentum. 

 Keep the wheel of consistency turning. It’s okay if you can’t fit an hour workout in. Just do something. Anything. A little is better than nothing. 50 air squats. 30 pushups.

2. Easy to understand and measure. 

If I ask you did you eat more vegetables that’s ambigious and unclear. On the other hand if I ask you “did you eat the 3 servings of vegetables each being the size of your first for the past week” you have to say yes or no.

3. Feel Small But Strategic 

It will be small and they will think “that’s too easy” But don’t be condescending about starting this habit. Don’t call it a small or little habit.

“I’m going to give you one strategic practice”

Which is the biggest limiting factor standing in the way of their idea life right now? 

(i.e the thing that makes them feel awful/fatigued/unhealthy)

How do you pick your limiting factor?

They’re physiology might not function causing abnormal CNS function, hormonal control, energy levels and appetite because of the following things:

1. Nutrient Deficiencies (usually top of the list)

Most common deficiencies: Water/vitamin/mineral/protein/essential fatty acids/omega 3s.

So maybe we can start off with a simple Vitamin D & Omega 3 supplement.

Study: A study was done where they gave fish oil and a multi vitamin to prison inmates, the results were as follows:

35% reduction in violent behaviour 26% reduction in anti social behaviour. Then they gave it to children in school. They noticed a decrease antisocial/violent behaviour increase cognition and test scores. (British Journal of Psychiatry). I don’t have the exact link to the study but there is some relevancy.

2. Sleep

Everyone knows being sleep deprived increasing the propensity to gain put on fat due to eating more carbs – so simply sleeping more might really help control your hormonal function that influences your body composition. So before trying to change 100 different things about their diet, look at their sleep.

3. Food Amount

Measure quantity and manage portion sizes with portion size method / counting calories (myfitness pal)

4. Food & Macro Nutrient Breakdown

Determining carbs/protein/fat consumption based on individual such as insulin resistance / goals.

What really matters for this person?

How can you measure it?

What should you recommend?

How do you follow up?

Dialogue | Get The Person Directly Involved In Problem Solving 

Asking the question: On a scale of 0-10 how confident are you that you can do *action/goal* for *x* amount of time?

E.G. If I say “I really think the next step for you would be to eat more animal product, how many servings would you say you’re eating now?”

“2 servings a day”

“Okay I think it’ll be a great idea if we try going to 3 servings a day – what do you think? *response* Alright how confident are you on a scale of 1-10 that you can do that?”

This is engaging the student in a dynamic process of co-creation of the habit as well as ascertaining that that they can feel like they can accomplish it. 

If things were better with your exercise and nutrition what would do different in your life and what would you do more/less of to be proud of?

What have you had success with in the past – how do we do more of that?


 Example Nutrition Habits

An easy but simple first habit is to start with fish oil. Off the bat you’re likely to fix some deficiencies.

You’re starting with momentum. Starting 1-2 weeks of successful habits then moving onto the next habit.

People who eat are overweight to control eating speed – eat 10 raisins over 10 min.

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(Image Source: Precision Nutrition) 

Implementation Intention – If Then Plan

Normally when we have a goal we go “I want to achieve X”

Implementation method works like this – If situation Y happens – THEN I will do X.

E.G. If it’s 7AM on a Tuesday morning – then I will go for a run outside for 30 min.

When I get my pay check – I will immediately distribute 10% into my savings.

It’s about associating your desired outcome with a situational cue such as a time, location or event.

It means you’re constantly looking for situational cues and becoming more aware of opportunities in your surroundings.

It gives a clear and straight forward direction – its 7AM so you HAVE to exercise. This certainty makes it easier to carry through a behaviour.

 Coping Plans

Is the specific action you plan on taking when you encounter an obstacle.

If obstacle Y occurs – I will do X to overcome it.

E.G. If it’s raining outside before my run I will do a 5 min tabata workout.

You limit the amount of decisions and possible procrastination you take but implementing a mental system for automated behaviour.

Best BOOKS for understanding bahviour change

Motivational Interviewing


The Power Of Less

Crucial Conversations


The Blackmail Diet

Inspired By Precision Nutrition + Bite Size Psych

Written By Alex Sandalis