Trainers Client Motivation and Mindset: Asking the Right Questions

client motivation

The mind is the driver to everything we do as humans.

As humans, we move away from pain and toward pleasure.

As personal trainers, it falls on us to motivate our clients. For most, the best way to accomplish this is, through a technique where bringing out the pain one feels about themselves. This helps to self-induce change in their life. Ask your clients the “right” questions while becoming vulnerable about yourself. This triggers a reciprocation effect.

My name is Corey Nielsen, I’m a trainer in Utah who specializes in fat loss. I started my career working at a “big box” gym for roughly 2 years. I’ve continuously pushed, critiqued, and developed myself into an entrepreneur and independent trainer. Through hard work and dedication, I’ve learned not only about the business but, more importantly, how to achieve optimal results with my clients.

I spent years learning proper form, techniques for exercises, nutrition, and some of the most beneficial ways of implementing these factors into my training. However, I still struggled to reach more than half of my clients to achieve their goals. I knew there was something missing in my training.

This is when I found a different aspect of training. It surrounds working on their mindset. The mind is in control of everything, and if the mindset isn’t ready for change, then the change is almost guaranteed to not happen. An example of this would be a smoker who knows it’s unhealthy, and keeps saying they’re going to quit, but never does. Or someone who keeps saying they’re going to start exercising, but can’t seem to get themselves to do it. Their mindset isn’t ready for a change.

This is how an average and traditional consultation goes:

I ask the client what their goals are.

They usually respond with these answers: losing weight, toning up, and getting stronger. It really seems as though everyone wants the same thing. I’d then follow up with asking why they wanted these goals. The typical response is to feel better, be healthier, live longer, have more energy, etc.

Again, without fail, almost everyone states the same response. I couldn’t help but wonder if all these people truly wanted the same thing, or if I’m asking the right questions?

It’s well known that as humans, we move away from pain and toward pleasure. Surround an individual with enough pain in a certain aspect of their life and they’ll do anything to remove it. I questioned if these people weren’t in enough pain in order to make the efforts to create weight loss? Conversely, maybe there’s not enough pleasure to gain by achieving the body they want, so they struggle to put in the effort? I found myself thoroughly confused, but I kept searching.

I didn’t discover the missing link until I went through my own self-development. I read book after book, and attended a few seminars. This changed my life. I was forced to look deep within my soul, and through that process, I learned about the psychology of humans.

The truth is, the reason they want this new body is so much deeper than they are willing to get with you. Or, they were in denial about what was going on in their life.

People don’t want to lose weight just to look better. They don’t want to tone up so they feel better and live longer. They don’t want to get stronger so they are healthier and can pick heavy stuff up. There are levels far beyond this.

The fact is, once most overweight people are willing to reach out to a personal trainer, it’s because they are miserable about how they look. They feel judged by those around them for being fat. They feel disgusting and hate themselves. They hate what they see in the mirror. They possibly feel depressed that their significant other doesn’t want to touch them. Or maybe they’re lonely, and think that a better-looking body would attract a life partner. They feel pathetic when playing sports with their children. They hate the fact that they’ve let their body get to this point and it makes them feel depressed, hateful, possibly have social anxiety, and are negative towards many areas of their life.

They may not even realize they feel this way. Lots of people run from emotional pain and don’t deal with it. In the long run, this doesn’t work, however, some never come to the realization surrounding this fact. I believe it’s our job to help bring this pain out.

If you can bring this pain out, then you possess leverage in order to drive them to their goals. These pain points are real. They are such strong emotions and have a tendency to create someone to take action. If you don’t trigger these pain points, then the likelihood of them succeeding significantly declines.

Should you perform this method on the first consultation?

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. I’ve tried and it will have a tendency to push lots of potential clients away. Remember, they don’t know you and just speaking with a personal trainer can be uncomfortable. Furthermore, asking these questions will create a huge amount of vulnerability that most are unwilling to expose.

I recommend training someone until they “hit that wall.” Specifically, this is the point where they start losing motivation, struggle to exercise and are not eating healthy. At that point, it’s time to have “the talk.”

All individuals are unique, meaning some go months before they feel unmotivated and want to quit. Conversely, others may start hitting that wall in a month. Thus, be conscious and ask questions to determine their feelings and mindset. Hopefully by this point you’ve built up enough rapport in your relationship that they’re fully comfortable around you.

I like to open up about myself with my clients, getting vulnerable first. I tell them about my struggles and the things in my life that are/were hard. In other words, I talk about the areas that most would hide from other people. This helps to create a comfort zone for them to open up towards me.

Next, I recall and bring up their original goals. Asking them if anything has changed. I highly recommend that if the client tells you their goals have changed, ask them why? The last thing you want to let them do is back out on their goals just because it’s difficult. The fact is, if they’re not reaching goals in this area of their life, then they probably aren’t in other areas as well. This is unacceptable if they ever want to become the person they desire.

For example, let’s say someone wanted to lose 50 pounds and they’ve already lost 20. Ask them why they want to lose 30 more. Once again, they will probably respond with “being healthy, looking better, feeling better,” or something to that nature which is generic.

Follow up by asking why again. At this point, they may say something to the effect, “because if I look better then I’ll feel better about myself.”

Again ask why. “Why do you think if you look better you’ll feel better?”

They’ll respond “because I’ll have higher self-confidence.”

Now I ask, “why or what would higher self-confidence give you?”

The client should respond with the real answer why they want to lose weight. This will look something like “because I feel judged by others when I’m fat,” or maybe “I feel my husband/wife doesn’t find me attractive anymore.” Or, “every time I look in the mirror I feel depressed about how far I’ve let myself go.”

Now we have some real information. These responses are deep underlying issues that will help to push someone to change. These are real drivers and pain points that we as trainers can use to motivate our clients.

How do you use pain points to achieve results?

We as personal trainers are accountability partners. We build a plan that is reasonable which will deliver results. From there you get them to buy-in. Once you have their commitment it’s your job to motivate and make sure they’re doing what it takes in order to make it happen.

Every time your client skips on doing what’s necessary to obtain their goals, you bring out those pain points. My response is, “remember that person who was miserable and depressed because of the way they looked and felt? Is eating healthy and exercising harder than being and feeling like that person?”

This is so strong and motivational. This will drive them to obtain results. Without these pain points as drivers, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle that’s nearly impossible to win. The pain needs to be strong enough for them to put in the effort. Because for most, the pleasure surrounding being healthy and strong isn’t enough. If it was they wouldn’t have hired you and they would have accomplished these goals years ago.

In summary

Remember you’re dealing with a real person. Get them to be comfortable with you so they will open up. Use your words wisely, don’t accuse or assume, just ask questions to lead them down the direction you want. Everyone has mental pain surrounding themselves and who they are, it’s our job to make them realize this. This will create motivation like never before. Enjoy this new tool and the success that your clients will achieve, but be careful to use it wisely, it’s extremely powerful!

What do you think?