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Tag: behavior change

Helping Someone Solve Their Own Problems

This one is hard because, in my opinion, you help more when you try to help less. It’s like dating: if you reallllly like someone (a.k.a. they are hot), it never happens. Part of that is our negativity bias, but you also don’t want to sound like too much of a know-it-all.

There's a pile of green good balls on the ground with a butterfly sitting atop them. The heart says, "Brain, LOOK!" The brain, staring at a single black ball of bad, responds, "Not NOW! Can't you see I'm BUSY?!"
Credit: The Awkward Yeti

I have learned to say less. I want them to do all the talking if possible. Partly because I don’t like talking. But mostly because listening is where the magic happens. They will tell you everything you (they?) need to know.

I just try to ask leading questions and be on their team. If I knew what they knew, thought what they thought, and believed what they believed, what state would I be in? What goals would I find realistic? What habits would I be interested in changing?

This works for general goal setting, but I have to tell you that this alone doesn’t do much other than help them stay in the gym rather than backpedaling. The people who see the most results are the ones who are just embarrassed by their body, their health, and their actions.

So not everything can be sunshine and rainbows.

Weekend Watches: How to Fix a Broken Diet

Here’s a seminar from Precision Nutrition on nutrition coaching.

This video/article offers a good outline of what to do when giving nutrition advice and when to do it. I read the written transcript of the seminar because it was quicker, and I’m glad I did so because I picked up some useful information.

There’s also a link in the article with some tricks on calorie counting worth reading.

Have a great weekend!


Photo credit: Roslyn.

Book Review: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Rationale for reading: Hope to improve my ability to keep clients accountable. Recommendation from Zach Moore.

Book summary: Quote from Ariely: “Our irrational behaviors are neither random nor senseless—they are systematic and predictable.” (p. 239)

Review summary: Use relativity to your advantage. Set a new anchor and be more like Starbucks. Don’t switch between social norms and market norms. Keep your clients feeling positive emotions. Shut the doors that suck your life force away. Manage expectations.

Suggested audience: Anyone who interacts with people, especially if you coach them to change their habits.




Dan Ariely became interested in behavioral economics after he was hospitalized, sustaining injuries from an explosion.

If you want a visceral reaction, just think about how painful it must have been to have bandages ripped off of his entire body. Over and over and over again. As someone who has been in a moderately-severe motorcycle accident, the effect this thought has on my body is amazing.

Predictably Irrational” is an amalgamation of Ariely’s research that provides insight into how our minds work. There’s a lot in this book, so I’m going to pick a few points I think are more applicable to fitness and talk about those.


Product Decoys and Dating

Relativity is a great way to illustrate how reality is based on our perception of the things around us. Take this picture, for example.

The blue circles are the same size! I still don't believe it.

Both the blue circles are the same size, but the environment (black circles) around them make them appear much different.

Think about this in terms of selecting which gym membership you want. You have two options: (A) gives me 1x/month one-on-one personal training for $199 and (B) gives me 4 semi-private training sessions and full use of the gym during the month for $199. It’s difficult to compare A to B.

But let’s say I throw in a third option (B-) which gives me 4 semi-private training sessions for $199/month, but no use of the open gym. Now I may not know if A is better than B, but I surely realize that B is better than B-. And if B is better than B-, it’s probably better than A as well. People are more likely to pick option B.

How can I use this as a fitness professional? I can set up training packages in a way that drive people to the most beneficial package. I could include a free group forum so that clients can keep themselves and others accountable. I can see them for shorter times but at a higher frequency. The possibilities are endless.


Starbucks and Paying for a Trainer

Mark Twain once wrote the following about Tom Sawyer: “Tom had discovered a great law of human action, namely, that in order to make a man covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

I’m reminded of the Romeo & Juliet effect from Cialdini’s Influence: Stop telling me I shouldn’t date her if you don’t want me to date her. All you’re doing is inciting a (predictable) fire of (irrational) passion.

Ariely presents the concept of arbitrary coherence, which is really just another illustration of perception.

Let’s say I have someone who has never worked out in their life, never worked with a trainer, and never even had a gym membership. What do they know about how much working out should cost them? Nothing.

Well, almost nothing.

They’ve seen commercials on TV and the billboards on their commute that say, “Join LA Fitness now for only $30/month!”

“Wow, exercise is cheap,” they think. Then when they come to you, they say, “LA Fitness costs $30/month. Your LOWEST price is $199/month. That’s ridiculous!”

They can’t see the added value that you bring that makes you worth the extra money. They think all exercise is just exercise. Now you must show and tell them why you’re better. Remember, if you don’t convince them to stay, you can’t help them.

In order to avoid the negative effects of arbitrary coherence, think about Starbucks. They’re a coffee company, right?

Not quite. What are they really? Are Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts the same experience?

Starbucks sells pastries, tea, French presses, and whole coffee beans. They have all those fancy machines back there to make those Macchiatos, Frappuccinos, and Caffè Mistos. They sell a venti coffee, not a large coffee. For two places that both sell coffee, they couldn’t be more different.

Ariely calls this “setting” a new anchor and avoiding the old anchor. If they tried to come out and compete with a similar company selling a similar product, they would lose. But if they set themselves apart from the rest…

As a fitness professional, I must find a way to have more value. I must offer something that you can’t get anywhere else. I think the best way to do this is through personal interactionshow people you care about them. Look at Mark Fisher Fitness. They are the Starbucks of the fitness industry.


Social vs. Market Exchange

This section is about framing your relationship with your customers. A social exchange is like a friendship. A market exchange is like a business proposal. Ariely never defines a winner between the two, but he does make sure you know the difference and how they interact.

An example from the book is the scenario of asking your friends to help you move. If it’s a few boxes, or maybe just some of the big things, that’s fine. Asking them to help you move everything, however, is not okay. Pay someone and stop taking advantage of your friends. Similarly, asking your neighbor to get your mail for free while you’re out of town is acceptable. Asking him to do your taxes for free is not.

As a business owner, do I want to establish social norms or market norms?

Let’s say I establish a social relationship with my clients. They know I care about them. They love that about me. It’s easier to ask for referrals. However, it gets harder to ask for money from them. Harder to raise your prices. Harder to sell more services to them.

If I establish market norms, they expect my prices to rise occasionally and it doesn’t phase them. Conversely, I have more trouble establishing that personal relationship that gets great results in fitness. They aren’t as emotionally tied to me.

Either way has it’s advantages, but you can’t have it both ways. Don’t treat them like family and then sick your lawyer on them if their a few days late on their payment. It’s likely that they will feel betrayed.

I see the answer in fitness to be anywhere you want it to be. Personally, I lean more towards social norms because it keeps me happy and I attract the type of clientele that will stick around, but I don’t completely abandon market norms because I have difficulty asking for money as it is.


Get Clients Aroused (Wait, What?)

My friend, Jae Chung, and I just had a conversation the other day about hitting on the clients more.

Not actually hitting on the clients, but maintaining an appropriate level of banter. It makes the session more fun for the client; they don’t want to work with a dry personality. All you’re trying to do is to make them feel better than they would if they hadn’t come to see you. There’s a reason my Facebook profile picture has been up for so long: smiles, sun, and bright colors.

Me and my Pre-Warped Tour outfit, four years ago

Man, I miss those sunglasses.

Ariely did some research on how his subjects perceive themselves and compared those responses to their responses when aroused (yes, in that sense of the word) and concluded, “They were simply unable to predict the degree to which passion would change them” (p. 97).

Stop right there.

I’m not suggesting you do—that—with your clients. What I’m suggesting is that you give them a positive emotional experience. My goal is always to make you feel better than when you came in. Change their emotions and you turn them into a new person. Change them the right way and you turn them into a happier person.


Keeping Doors Open

I helped a friend move things out of storage into his garage the other day. You’d be amazed at what people will hang onto. To an impartial outsider, it looks irrationalbut it’s still predictable. Everyone does it.

Let’s take a trip back in time to 210 BC. Chinese commander Xiang Yu led troops across the Yangtze River in a fight against the Qin dynasty. Imagine yourself as one of Xiang Yu’s soldiers. Your group lands on shore and sets up camp for the night. After you lay down for bed, you start to dream of flames engulfing your ships. What a hellish nightmare.

Then you awaken to find it’s real.

You alert your sleeping mates and charge the attackers, only to realize that it is your commander who has set your ships ablaze.

He tells you, “Now that you have no ships, you only have two options: victory or death.” They went on to win nine consecutive battles.

Xiang Yu knew that if the option to retreat existed, his troops would not fight with everything they had. This is perhaps the most extreme example of closing doors that history has known.

How do we keep doors open in our daily lives? Well, my friend can hoard his old suitcase, or soldiers can leave an escape route open, but it can happen on a personal level as well. Do you have an ex who is still available to you? It’s not as hard to break up (appears temporary) as it is to cut them out of your life (appears permanent), especially when they were the one to dump you. Or you may have found yourself staying in a relationship for much longer than you should have because it’s safe.

Any doors that drive us crazy should be shut because they sap your energy away from the things that matter.

As it pertains to fitness, this principle means find new friends who support your healthy lifestyle goals. I need to be aware that keeping old doors open could be what is preventing you from reaching your goals.


Fulfilling Expectations

If there’s vinegar in your beer, do you want to know about it? My prediction is no, at least not until after you’ve already had it.

There was an experiment that Ariely described where they let subjects taste test two different beers: one normal, one with vinegar in it. They controlled everything except when they told the subjects about the vinegar.

If a subject was told there was vinegar in the beer they had just drank, they were more likely to enjoy it. But if told prior to drinking, they had already decided that vinegar would make the beer gross.

The most famous brand in the world

Similar research has been done comparing Coke and Pepsi: people like Coke more, but only if they know they’re drinking more. The Coca Cola brand makes the product taste better. The Coke drinkers who knew what they were drinking had more activation in an area of the brain, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, that helps with associations among other things.

Drawing a correlate to fitness, this is a lot like the section on arousal. I want you to feel happy when you work out with me. So happy that you start to anticipate the happiness. I want it to be difficult for me to make you unhappy. I want to be the cue that triggers your habit to be happy.

Testimonials help this as well. As I’ve talked about before, this is social proof: “If it worked for other people, it can work for me.”



Instead of being wordy, I think one sentence from Ariely is a great summary of this book.

“Our irrational behaviors are neither random nor senseless—they are systematic and predictable.” (p. 239)

Pick up this book so you can learn to recognize these behaviors and use them to improve your results.

When was the last time you were irrational and should have seen it coming?

Book Review: Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Rationale for reading: Hope to improve my ability to keep clients accountable. Recommendation from Zach Moore.

Book summary: In order to make change happen, you must direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. In not-shorthand language, that means you need to appeal to logic, emotion, and the environment.

Review summary: Great read with great information that has formed my framework for behavior change.

Suggested audience: Anyone who interacts with people, especially if you coach them to change their habits.



If you’ve been reading these past few reviews (one and two), you know by now that Operation Interpersonal Intelligence is in full effect over here at I read Made to Stick by the Heath brothers years ago and it was one of the best books I’ve read. Their writing is simple, direct, and fun.  Switch gives Made to Stick a run for its money.

You don’t need to be a PhD to be successful with changing the behavior of others. This book has given me the framework into which I can fit all of my experiences. It’s a system with three steps:

  1. Direct the Rider: give clear direction. The rider knows where we’re going.
  2. Motivate the Elephant: what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The rider can only force you along for a short period of time. Ultimately, the elephant will do what it is emotionally inclined to do.
  3. Shape the Path: introduce the right environment for change. If backsliding is simply not an option, it won’t happen.


Direct the Rider

There a three pieces to providing the rider with direction. First, find the bright spots.

What would you do differently if you woke up tomorrow and magically your goal was accomplished?

Stop focusing on all the things you do wrong and start focusing on the bright spots. Focus on the solution, not the problem.

Second, script the critical moves. It’s to get crippled by some grand list of things you have to do before you die, which could be on Friday with the way your stress levels are:

  • Buy more vegetables
  • Buy healthy meat
  • Cook more vegetables
  • Find money to buy healthy meat
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Don’t go out to eat
  • Don’t have sweets
  • Don’t stay up all night
  • Don’t skip workouts

We can rephrase a few of those to be more productive – more solution focused – like we just talked about. But first we have to ask, “What is the biggest issue here?” If you try to change everything at once, you become paralyzed and make no decision.

If you, however, have never had a vegetable in your life, we start there. Week one goal: buy vegetables on Sunday and eat them on Tuesday and Friday night.

Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday are completely arbitrary, but they shed light on the fact that you must be specific. You must have a plan. Ambiguity is the enemy of change.

Third, point to the destination. Draw out a postcard of where you’ll be in three months (or six, twelve, etc.). You need a black and white goal. This quote from the book says it all:

“When you’re at the beginning, don’t obsess about the middle, because the middle is going to look different once you get there. Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending and get moving.”

Every step does not need to be detailed, but you do need vision. Things will change and you will learn to ebb and flow. Worry about now.


Motivate the Elephant

To motivate the elephant, you need emotion, so find the feeling. This isn’t a problem for you because you’re reading this blog, but how do you find a feeling when someone is oblivious to the fact that they need to change? We all have positive illusions that make us think we’re more thoughtful the the average person or a better driver than the average person. How do we dispel these illusions without raining down negativity?

Create a crisis. Those famous trainers like the ones on The Biggest Loser know this. They know how to make people cry. It’s not about putting someone down, it’s about helping them.

There’s no more time for maybes. There’s now or never. And I will help you.

Positive feelings

It is so important, however, to avoid negative emotions (my feelings evidenced by my notes in the picture above). Crying because you’re ashamed of yourself is less beneficial than crying because you can see the way you want to become. I’m not going to say that shame is ineffective (I’m sure there’s research somewhere), but I would avoid it as much as possible. This is an area of further that I could afford researching further if anyone has any references to share.

Stick with positive emotions because they open you up, relax you, and give you confidence. I want you to be curious, not stubborn. Happy, not angry. Feel included, not excluded.

Next, you must shrink the change. Remember the Power of Less?

Even if you simply ask someone to drive to the gym is an acceptable goal for a certain population. Yes, that’s all they have to do. It seems remedial, but that’s a step in the right direction. They probably won’t just turn around, either, because the hard part of making the decision to go is already over.

Understand what the next action is. It’s not working out three times a week. It’s going to the gym. No, it’s having gas in the car. No, it’s getting into the car. No, it’s putting on clothes you can publicly sweat in.

Lastly, grow your people. Adopt a growth mindset. Expect failure. Welcome it. Everyone has failed. In fact, I would bet that the more successful you are, the more often you’ve failed. The key is to learn from it.

I've failed so much that once I saw success it was nothing to me but BLINDING.


Shape the Path

Shaping the path is all about making it easier to get to your goals and harder to backslide. Tweak the environment to aid in this. For example, if I need to get things done, I have a very specific set of things I do:

  • I go to my desk that doesn’t have electronics around it
  • I leave my phone face down or upstairs
  • I remove books from eyesight that don’t pertain to my current project
  • I put on music without comprehensible vocals (Explosions in the Sky or Sigur Ros)
  • I listen to this music with noise canceling headphones
  • I face a wall instead of a place where I can see people
  • Usually I consume caffeine
  • Any book I’m reading is propped up so it isn’t laying flat on the desk
  • I have a pen to follow words I read and write with
  • I have a highlighter or two
  • I have bookmark tabs so that I can come back to an important point I want to remember
  • I have a certain pen I use to write on these tabs
  • My feet are flat on the floor
  • I will alternate between sitting and standing
  • I start my day with resets to reposition my bones (my boss Bill Hartman has been using a mouthguard lately to do this)

Put these together and you have what I have found to be the best study environment. It’s easier to get to my goals and harder to backslide.

Now consider weight loss. If I want to stop eating ice cream, I can tweak the environment by removing all ice cream from my house. No more bored eating of desserts while I’m at home. If I go out to eat, I can remove temptation by going to a place that doesn’t have ice cream. Simple as that.

Next, you need to build habits. This is only a chapter in Switch, but Charles Duhigg wrote a whole book about it.

Find a trigger for your behavior. Mine for studying is waking up. I do it first thing in the morning. If you’re trying to eat better, maybe your trigger for cooking is going to the gym – as soon as you get home, you’re turning the stove on.

Lastly, it’s time to rally the herd. Surround yourself with like-minded people. If you’re trying to be happier, you better stop hanging out with your “friends” who put you down and complain about everything (or at least see them less). If you’re trying to be healthier, your husband better not be eating donuts every morning for breakfast in front of you. You are the product of your environment. There’s a great story about medical interns working long hours in the book and how they changed behavior in the hospital.



This is my new framework for change:

  1. Direct the Rider
    1. Follow the bright spots
    2. Script the critical moves
    3. Point to the destination
  2. Motivate the Elephant
    1. Follow the feeling
    2. Shrink the change
    3. Grow your people
  3. Shape the Path
    1. Tweak the environment
    2. Build habits
    3. Rally the herd

Change doesn’t happen overnight. Be sure to remind yourself throughout your journey of how far you’ve come. Think about the wins you’ve had, both big and small.

Change looks daunting in the beginning, but little wins make that change a little smaller every time. Inertia makes it hard to get rolling, but it also makes it easier to continue. Pick a goal, start small, and watch your success snowball.

Overall, this book is great. I highly recommend you pick up a copy and read all the stories. There’s even a great summary page at the end that I will be referencing in the future.

Anyone read it already? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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