Hold the Musters

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis (Photo credit: Waltzzz)

My first impressions of Albert Ellis was that he was kind of a curmudgeon that practiced tough love with his clients and pushed the envelope of political correctness.  Ellis is the father of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy an approach that is a little more confrontational then most and looks at how we are basically our own worst enemy.  At the heart of this approach is the ABC cycle where and activating event triggers a belief that results in a consequence.  REBT shows clients how dysfunction of thought in this cycle leads to both productive and nonproductive out comes and behavior.  Often times a “D” and “E” are thrown in to acknowledge Disputing the irrational thought and the emergence of Effective new philosophies.

One of my favorite words of all times comes from this theory “muster-bation.”  This word was coined by Ellis and is used to describe a type of dysfunctional thinking that is rooted in black-and-white thoughts and false belief we are entitled to certain things.  Consider that client that you have who might say something to themselves like, “working with a personal trainer means I must lose weight.”  What happens to that individual when they don’t see weight lossright away, discouragement, depression?  This can be the beginnings of a vicious cyclewhere this type of thinking chips away at their self-esteem and motivation resulting in poor program adherence.

"People and things do not upset us, rathe...

“People and things do not upset us, rather we upset ourselves by believing that they can upset us.” -Albert Ellis (Photo credit: deeplifequotes)

Much of the time our clients aren’t even aware the impact this type of thinking has on their ability to work through the programs we prescribe.  Helping them to identify these thoughts through self monitoring is very powerful and builds situational mindfulness.  The better that they become at recognizing their dysfunctional thinking the more effective they will be at halting the thoughts and replacing them with more productive beliefs.

Have your clients try this for a week:

  • First, they need to understand what this type of thinking even looks like, this will help: (http://www.fenichel.com/Beck-Ellis.shtml).  Basically they are looking for thoughts that say, “I must do ____ to be _____.”  or “______ must happen in order for me to be _____.”  Try searches on Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or search dysfunctional thoughts.
  • Have your clients monitor and record these thoughts for a couple of weeks.  Ask them to write down the situation, how they are feeling and what was the result of the thought.
  • Take the thoughts that they recorded and have them come up with alternatives.  Instead of “I must lose weight to be happy,” try “It would be nice to lose weight for my health and overall being, the type of people I want to associate with won’t care how I look on the outside anyway.”
This takes a bit of practice to encourage the people you work with to be patient with themselves and take time to work through the process.

Micro Effort

I had an exhausting conversation with one of my clients yesterday, one of those individuals that insist he is incapable of change and I am wasting my time with him.  No matter what I said he kept coming back to the idea that food and inactivity are his drugs of choice.  The interesting thing is this person is a successful entrepreneur, has a wonderful family and just a all around high functioning individual.

Clients like this require a bit of special attention because no matter how many meal plans or workout routines you toss at them the negative mindset will persist.  A technique that I have found particularly helpful is to get them to commit to micro-changes.  This technique is draw from the foot in the door technique that says once you get the individual to commit to something small getting larger commitment later isn’t as difficult.  I ask my clients to just commit to 5-10 minutes on the treadmill or just 5 push-ups each day and build from that point.  Often times I find that the person will take it upon themselves to do more once they start with the minimal-effort item.

Ask for a little hope for more.

Are you an Innie or an Outie?

I love working with people, it is so interesting to discover the little quirks and nuances that make them who they are.  This is especially true when it comes to discovering what motivates an individual to keep them on track.  What motivates them in the beginning may not be the same thing the are channeling a couple of months down the road.  You may think that your client is trying to get in shape so they can be a good role model for their family only to find out it is all about vanity.

There are several different ways to look at motivation for this piece I thought I would explore intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors.  People that are highly intrinsically motivated may draw upon abstract factors like personal pride, individual drive or the desire to achieve.  At the opposite pole you might find that your extrinsically motivated clients might value reward based systems or need more vocal queuing.  Most individuals exists on the spectrum between these two extremes and just my lean a bit to one side or the other.

The fun comes in discovering what your clients tendencies are and a conversation about their past experiences with exercise and weight loss can be very revealing.  In the initial session just asking, “what are your top three motivating factors for losing weight and getting in shape,” cuts right to the chase.  Really understanding what is driving your clients to achieve will really go a long way when their motivation stars to wane.

Work, Life, Balance, WTH!


MMMMMMMmmmm Beer!

Oh, you can talk the talk but can you walk the walk?  I have a confession to make, I haven’t always been a shinning example for my clients and for a while it was, “do as I say not as I do.”  Now, I am not saying that I was hitting the drive-thru on a regular or surfing my coach when not in session but I managed to pack on about 60 pounds that I didn’t need.  Mostly, this was from eating heavy portion and pretending like craft beer didn’t have any calories in it while finishing off a bag of chips.  Under the eyes of the exercise gods I was a major sinner.  I actually remember training an individual at a private studio and over hearing another training comment on how out of shape I looked.  Yep, it was that bad.

The thing is I had it going on.  A busy personal training schedule, full time enrollment in graduate school and a girl friend that was an amazing cook.  I became very good at making excuses as to why I wasn’t hanging around at the gym after training sessions for my self-care.  Well, I have a paper to write, just a couple of hours until my next client, I need a nap, and going out with my girlfriend later need to rest up.  Excuses, excuses, excuses and you know what they say about excuses.

Finding balance is your life is a skill that takes time to develop and a lot of trail and error especially if you were brought up valuing certain things over others.  Just because you are bringing home the bacon doesn’t necessarily mean that the people in your life are happy with you or that you are making the most of your life.  I have met so many people that have well paying jobs that have completely forgotten what it even means to take time for themselves and just relax every once in a while.

Teaching your clients how to balance their professional lives with personal while still fitting in exercise and social events takes some time but can be very rewarding.

Here are some strategies.

Develop an Individual Wellness Plan: What does healthy living even look like for your clients, how do they feel about exercising on their lunch break verses exercising after work.  I use these plans to get an understanding of what we need to work on and what the end point even looks like for my client.  This also is a useful reference for those times when they are feeling a little less then motivated, have them review their desires and push through with action

Push the Minimum: You don’t always have to hit two-hour, no-pain-no-gain sessions in the gym, how about just going for a walk, or paying just a bit closer attention to what you eat that day.  One of the biggest de-motivators that I see are my clients perception of the work they have to do.  Have conversations and ask them, “if they don’t feel like running is going for a walk all that bad?”  If I can just get them to commit to the minimal amount we often times find that they want to do more once they get going.

Plan, Plan, Plan, Then Plan Some More:  When I decided it was time to lose that extra weight that I was carrying around I had to mark when I was working out and when I was eating on a calender.  If your clients are already using Outlook or Google Calender encourage them to put that workout on the same scheduler they use for PTA meetings.  If they plan to fit the self-care in then they to have to scramble to find the time.

Develop a Support Team:One of my favorite stories that I got from a client recently was how they got smacked on the hand by their eight-year-old reaching for more chips at a Mexican restaurant.  The more people your clients make aware of the effort they are putting in the more little hands they will have smacking them when they start to stray from the path.  Accountability is huge and it is just one of the things that goes a long with coaching individuals and my clients tell me all the time if I wasn’t there they would not be sticking to their program.  I say, the more the merrier, encourage them to get as many people in their life as possible involved.

Personal Training Overlooking Melbourne Catego...

Accountability buddy

Help Your Client Listen to the Voices in Their Head

There is no action without thought, if you don’t believe me try it.  Even mindless task like brushing your teeth, commuting to work or listening to your client complain about cellulite has cognition behind it.  Most of us are able to go through our day without even paying attention to the noisy mental processes behind mundane task.  This doesn’t always work to our benefit, just think about a time when you were out with friends at a Mexican restaurant and the bowl of chips in front of you magically vanishes?  It’s as if our brain goes on feeding autopilot while you talk sports/fashion and take in new information from the individual sitting in front of you.

When you are coaching weight loss with you clients one of the first things that will get the process started is to help them become aware of these thoughts.  I usually have my clients keep a two week journal of their thoughts, feelings and impulses behind each meal.  When we were younger eating was pretty much dictated to us, you were given a bottle either at certain times of the day or when you wouldn’t stop crying.  Your parents would take you to McDonald’s when you did well in school or wouldn’t stop saying, “I’m loving it” every time they drove by the golden arches.  While it didn’t seem like much at the time these occurrences were hardwiring habits that many of us have taken into adulthood.  Think about the last time you thought, “I deserve a drink for getting through such a hard week,” or “cookie dough ice-cream won’t get mad at me for not turning in the brief on time.”

A ball of chocolate chip cookie dough ready fo...

Cookie dough is my friend

We all have these thoughts bouncing around in our heads and as a professional part of your programming should include helping your clients to listens the productive thoughts.  After they develop their awareness around the foods they eat the next step is to get them to actively dispute the voices that have them ordering Frappuchio’s after work each day.  Disputing dysfunctional thoughts is a method championed by Albert Ellis the father of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT).  He would have his clients really pay attention to irrational thoughts like “eating will make me happy” and turn them around to “I eat when I’m hungry and while meals are a pleasurable experience I don’t need them to be happy.”

Helping them find their voice in the matter is a very powerful tool.  It will encompass everything from what they order at a restaurant to their ability to turn down double-fudge brownies at school functions.  So, encourage them to listen to those voices in their head just make sure the things they are saying don’e involve chain saws and hockey mask.


Break Them Down or Build Them Up: Do You Reward Consistent Behavior

As much as I hate reality television I know that it is a guilty pleasure for millions of people, otherwise they wouldn’t keep producing things like “Ice Trucker House Wives of Winnipeg.”  I have actually had clients that have asked me to yell at them like Jillian from the “Biggest Loser” which always makes me cringe and suggest a different trainer.  Speaking of Jillian, have you ever wondered if yelling and punishing your clients is actually motivating them to work harder?

Keeping people motivated through systems of rewards and punishment is a pretty tricky game that has a lot of nuances to consider.  It doesn’t matter if you are trying to get your kid to keep their room clean or if you are trying to get your client to stick to a fitness routine how you motivate matters.  The good news is we are all pretty much hardwired from birth to respond in specific ways to certain stimuli and in this post we are going to discuss impactful reinforcement.

According to AllPsych Online reinforcement means “to strengthen and is used in psychology to  refer to anything which strengthens or weakens the probability of a response.”  There are 4 different types of reinforcers that are used to illicit responses and while they all impact the individual they don’t all contribute to lasting results.  The following is a list of the four types of reinforcement:

  • Positive Reinforcement: This is where you are given something as a result of a objective achieved.  This of this as getting a new medicine ball of losing your first ten-pounds.
  • Negative Reinforcement: For this one something negative is taken away and is exemplified by that client that stops eating (or reporting) that doughnut every morning to avoid hearing you nag them.
  • Punishment: When you add something to the situation that the subject doesn’t enjoy like five-minutes of Burpees for consuming multiple doughnuts.  No surprise, this is the least impactful of the four often times leading to feelings of resentment toward the punisher and extinction of the desired action.  Yet, people still hit their kids, you have to wonder.
  • Extinction: Take something away because in order to get the desired behavior.  You have your shinny new medicine ball taken away because you gain ten-pounds back… Sadness 😦

Positive Reinforcement tends to work the best out of all of these and AllPsych notes “… it not only works better but it allows both parties to focus on the positive aspects of the situation.”  You can take it a step further by putting your client on a Variable Interval schedule where their progress is checked periodically and rewarded based on the results at that time.  Just think of that job that you may have had where your work is evaluated at random instead of just a yearly review.  You have to stay on your toes at all times in those situations instead of just stepping it up toward the end to get a good review and a raise.

Only as Healthy as You Think You Are

I love my job(s)!  I wondering how many people can actually say that about the work that they do day in and day out.  Working with individuals to improve their lives is amazingly rewarding and I have gleaned a lot of knowledge of the las decade-and-a-half.  This blog is about inspiring individuals and delivering information that professionals need to keep their clients motivated dedicated to long term life-style change.

I have been a personal trainer for over fifteen-years have worked with hundreds of people that were looking for answers their problem.  At first I thought that problem was being over weight and focused and how quickly I could help someone drop pounds.  The longer I stayed in the business the more apparent it came to me that this was much more about losing weight these individuals were looking for happiness.  There expectation was that they could go on autopilot with me for a couple of months and come out on the other end looking better and feeling happier.

The reality was people would lose weight, drop a waist or dress size, and they would stop coming to our sessions.  I will see them back a couple months later some pounds heavier then they were when they left and back in a funk.  It took me a while to figure out that there was more to getting people in shape then kicking their butts in the weight room.  I went back to school to earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology with an emphasis in health psychology.  I wanted to understand how to break through my clients greatest barriers to healthy living, themselves.

This blog will be part of a website that I have to give my followers and clients day to day updates and information around the psychology of healthy living.  I hope to develop some products based on this niche and create a small business that gets this information out to health and fitness professionals.  I want to inspire people from time to time but my focus will be on discussing strategies and developing a community around this topic.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Matt Lawson

Kick-it to the Curb: Diets Don’t Work

English: Barbie vintage booklet about how to l...

My last diet book

I hear something similar to this at least once a month.  “Hey, have you heard of the new cave-man, vegan, half-protein, partial lard, candy-corn, milk-steak diet?  My sister started it last month and has lost about 35 pounds with no end in site.”  Diet products are a multi-billion-dollar business that plays to the desire of individuals to lose weight without doing that much work.  They offer you a fast track to dropping the pounds through structure and promised results.  The problem is, they just don’t work.

However, there is hope and I am going to share the secret that those hundred-dollar diet books don’t want you to know.  It turns out that eating less fat and exercising are the keys to losing weight and keeping it off.  I know, mind blowing, right?  Niklas and colleagues whom studied data put out by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey  on over 4,000 obese individuals made some interesting discoveries.

“Those who exercised more and ate less fat were significantly more likely to lose weight, additionally we found a correlation between joining weight loss programs and greater reported weight loss, which may speak to the importance of structure in a weight loss regimen.”

The study also found that there was not a correlation between over the counter or prescription diet pills/supplements and long-term weight loss.

So, did I sufficiently burst your bubble?  Diets just don’t work.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when the client tells me the number of times that they have tried Weight Watchers.  You have to wondering why someone has to do  a program more then once if it is effective.  In order to lose weight it really is as simple as eating right and exercising, no magic pill or food is going to come along anytime soon and change that.

One of the best investments that you can make in yourself if you are serious about losing weight is it is going to take some research and planning.  Find professionals to get the information you will need to develop an individualized program that take your specific needs into account.  Most of all, you have to recognize that you are making a lifestyle change and it is going to take some time.  It took years to put the weight on and if your expectation that it will come off in months you are kidding yourself.