A: Just one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.
This week’s RagnaRx largely focuses on how we approach change, particularly positive lifestyle changes. During the day I study ways to reduce brain injury in babies who are starved of oxygen during childbirth. In my evenings, I try to stay up-to-date on how to keep people fit and healthy for as long as possible, and disseminate that information as best I can via this blog (though that has taken a slight back seat recently as I prepare an exciting book project with Chloe Archard from Paleo Britain). In the time that I have left, I coach people. This is coaching on various aspects of diet, lifestyle, training, or (ideally) a combination of the three, depending on a person’s goals.
For the minute at least, coaching is a hobby and I do it because I love it. I recognise that I have a huge amount left to learn about coaching, which will come from experimentation, practice and adjusting things by working with real people; and by discussing challenges directly with my clients and with other coaches.
Recently I have experienced the whole gamut of coaching emotions, from the pleasure of seeing somebody make huge improvements in their health and body composition or hitting their fitness performance targets, to the disappointment of seeing people struggle. There are many variables and reasons why people might struggle to implement positive changes. However, often I see people fail to make improvements because they stray from following the advice that they have been given.
Listen to your coach
There is so much information available in the health and fitness sphere, that you could easily learn everything you need to know without ever having to seek advice from a coach (or doctor, nutritionist, physio, osteopath, dietician etc). However, what happens if two or sources of information that you trust completely disagree with one-another? There is no single unifying message, method, or formula out there. There are so many “diets” and training programmes out there that most people can’t pick one. They continually switch from one to another and wonder why they never get any results. Even worse, they combine different programmes and methods, and end up training 20 times per week and eating only bacon, alfalfa sprouts and cold potatoes. This is a fast-track to failure.
I have written before about how many different diets can work to improve health, despite disparate advice. The real key is that people are given one dietary programme to follow, and then don’t have to worry about all the other advice they get. Simply put, the best programme (be it for diet, or training, for example) is the one you can stick to.
For me, the role of the coach has three main aspects:
- To provide knowledge and (more importantly) wisdom. If you ask for a coach’s advice, you are acknowledging that they have information that you don’t have; coaches having spent more time reading, or learning from other clients and/or obtaining qualifications. Therefore, you need to be willing to trust in them, and do what they advise
- To save you from yourself. Unless we’re talking about sleep, sex or dark chocolate, more isn’t always better. A good coach can give you structured plan incorporating your preferences and goals, which also covers things that you hadn’t thought of. It removes any scope for over-analysis, deviation and doubt. You just stick to the plan.
- To provide accountability. I know that some of my clients do better just because they have somebody keeping an eye on them, who cares about their progress. Even the best coaches have their own coaches for just this reason.
If you ask me for my advice or coaching, I will give you all the time and energy I can spare and more. But if you ignore my advice and fail, how do I know if you failed because of what I advised, or because you didn’t do what I suggested? If I suggested things that you don’t feel you can do or aren’t suitable for you, and you don’t tell me, how will either of us learn what’s best for you?
I have seen the best success from people that have followed my advice, but not because I was always right in the first place. It was because they discussed things with me. This allows us to create a plan that you will stick to. I won’t be offended if you don’t like what I put in your training programme, or if you think that a life without beer isn’t a life worth living. I will either change things as necessary to make the plan viable, or help you to see why I’m right.
I was reminded of these points when I read this excellent article about listening to advice from a coach. Though this article is centred on training, it is valid for any lifestyle change. In fact, if somebody advising you about your training isn’t also talking to you about stress, sleep and diet; or if the person advising you on your diet isn’t also addressing your exercise patterns; you won’t get maximal benefit from the other positive changes that you’ve been making.
Every coach will also have their own way of doing things, and their own biases. You have to accept this. Different approaches could all potentially work to help you, but you have to pick one and stick with it. The same goes for any advice or training programme online that you choose to follow; it is very important to do your research first, but eventually you have to pick an approach and follow it for an extended period of time.
If you’re serious about changing things, your coach will be serious too. Don’t give them a month. Give them six months. Give them a year. That’s how long things take to really change.
Having a coach should make that whole process easier, but you have to really want to change.
Whether you’re a coach or somebody looking to get healthier some way, I’d love to hear your comments on this post. And, as always, please get in touch if you have any questions, either via Facebook or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).