Frustrated and Desperate When Clients Never Listen?


Hi Mark, I’m a personal trainer based in southwest Sydney. My question is how do you get your clients to improve their compliance on their nutritional plans. I’m noticing clients have a tendency to do well for a couple of weeks and then blow out. This cycle repeats and it’s frustrating because I know how important the nutrition side of things is. What tips could you give to help clients improve their compliance. Thanks in advance. Keep up the great work

– James Huynh

Great question! And so-so many ways I can answer it. I’ll break it down into these three main parts:

  1. Set your goals according to your values
  2. Homeostatic function of the mind
  3. Self sabotage

1. Set your goals according to your values

I did an amazing consult with a young lady. She told me she wanted to compete. Being the curious young cat that I am I asked all kind of questions like:

  • When did you decide that?
  • How long has that been a goal?
  • Why?
  • What’s your biggest challenge and why has it taken you so long to decide that?
  • What keeps getting in the way?

I am genuinely curious as to why people want to do anything other than sit and play Watch Dogs on their PlayStation 4. So to me I start by finding out and discovering, who is this person and why aren’t they playing Watch Dogs?!

It became abundantly clear from her answers that her career was of extreme high importance and the thing that was “getting in the way”; was her main inspiration. So in this I teach you a lesson:

“Set your goals according to your values”
At the Louvre in Paris... Man I wish I could speak French!
At the Louvre in Paris…
Man I wish I could speak French!

Don’t set goals that are doomed to fail from the get-go. Example: For me, it’s setting a goal around learning how to speak French. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to speak French, however, I have only been to Paris once and everyone there spoke English so the need for me to dedicate precious, precious time and energy to be able to speak French fluently is not particularly high on my values. Sure, after being in Paris, I wanted to speak French, but my inspiration for actually dedicating my self to learning French- was simply not there. You might even say I need some outside ‘motivation’ to keep me ‘on track’.

However, after holidaying in Europe, I did come back to my gym ‘inspired’ to train and eat super well. You might even say, no one and nothing stopped me from doing twice a day workouts and prepping all my food so I could get my strength and body back after being in Europe as fast as possible. I felt ‘inspired’ from within.

In saying all of this, one key take home point is to help clients align goals to their values. If career is of highest importance, ask, how is training and eating well going to help you in your career and make more money? If they say, no, those two don’t link, you have some work to do. You are not going to change someone’s highest value, but you sure can communicate to them what’s important to you in terms of what’s important to them. Help them create realistic expectations based on their values. If you don’t, you are setting both your clients up for disappointment and yourself up for frustration.

So after she finished talking I said “I don’t think you will make it in thirteen weeks for this comp. What I am hearing is you have a lot on your plate and NOT competing doesn’t make you a bad person either. What happens if we changed your goal to a photo-shoot? Make it a little less stressful?
She smiled with a smile that was like I just released her from a jail of conflicting values… she said “that would be great!”

2. Homeostatic Function of the Mind

Are your clients really off track? Are they really ‘blowing out’? Just a suggestion, they may just achieve the level of results they are content with and feel the need to ‘relax’. Unfortunately for them (and for you) ‘relaxing’ means eating a whole cake, a box of Tim-Tams, Pizza, Starbucks double whipped (low-fat) espresso mocha with reduced fat marshmallows and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

You see, they have been 70 kilos for their entire life. They saw you at their worst, 74 kilos and they felt like crap, they just wanted to be 70 kilos again. They started training with you and got to 65 kilos and now they feel great! You helped them achieve 5 kilos more weight loss than they really wanted! To go further actually scares the pants off them. They will have to buy a whole new wardrobe… Can you imagine?

Binge eating

What will my partner think of me if I lose more weight?

What about my parents? And my friends?!
They will think I am some pseudo-health-nutcase!

Nope, 65 kilos is where I belong. IN FACT! If I see 64kilos on the scales (which they do almost every week) this is actually a sign from God telling me I need to eat a whole cake, a box of Tim-Tams, Pizza, Starbucks double whipped (low-fat) espresso mocha with reduced fat marshmallows and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Someone’s self image is responsible for this scenario. This one is not all bad, these people are actually often quite happy. Best thing you can do is to ask them, “where would you like to be and what’s holding you back?” Often they say, no, I am quite happy with my weight loss thank you sir. Or, they may say, 60 kilos, but that’s not realistic, or words to that effect meaning, they’re happy just training- and there is nothing wrong with that!

So stop injecting your values of further weight loss as a trainer on to them.

Let them be. They will come to you when they are ready for more. Trust me- I have done this before.

3. Self-Sabotage

This one is quite simple. It’s the person who has linked more drawbacks with achieving their goals than benefits. This is your classic, scared of success persona/don’t know how to deal with success. In short, they’re scared of what life would be like if they did achieve their goal.

I could give you the exact description of how to pick these clients but I won’t do that for numerous reasons. Mostly these guys are really soft-spoken individuals who are a pleasure to be around (at least in my experience).

There’s just that one thing that happened that one time that they’re still holding on to (usually).

Point of advice, refer this one out to Demartini or an NLP consultant if you plan to train them. Things will start getting seriously deep, seriously fast. It’s out of your scope as a trainer. Even for me, I have studied both of these coaching modalities in depth and still refer out to other practitioners because if they are paying me to train them (which they are) I want to focus on the training- not problems or issues with the past.

I have taken many one off consults around self-sabotage and 95% of the time I uncover the issue and then refer out for someone else to deal with it. From my experience, the issues are almost always way-way out of scope for any trainer.

Plus everything I say usually ends with them crying (in a good way).

Most trainers freak out at the sight of tears, personally I get excited because I know tears usually mean that they are on the edge of a breakthrough.

When I see tears I always congratulate them for stepping up and being authentic. Then I suggest, “When would “now” be a good time to let go and move on?” (Embedded suggestion with a slight head nod to confirm now would be a good time).

Please remember, often people think that they need a different approach to nutrition, examples; count your macros, don’t count macros, reverse diet, clean eat, etc. I have been saying the same thing since I started. It’s the relationship you teach your clients to build with the foods they eat that really matters. We train humans not machines. Different things work for different people – not JUST because people are so different bio-chemically, but because people are different.

At the end of the day, most clients (including competitors) have other things in their life that need time, money and energy- not just training. Although, lets face it, training and hard work makes everything in life that much sweeter.

Mark Ottobre

Owner and Director

Enterprise Fitness

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