Motivation Plus Mobilization: Coaching For Success At Lifestyle Improvement

Just can’t seem to get moving?

“I just don’t seem to have the motivation to really make changes.” This is a lament frequent to the ears of health and wellness coaches. Our clients are often puzzled by a lack of success in their efforts to start living a healthy lifestyle, or keep such efforts going. They blame it on either a lack of motivation to get started, or that their motivation fades as old habits reassert their rule.

Coaches help their clients examine and re-examine whatever sources of motivation they have mentioned. They help their clients revisit their desire to change and what drives it. They look at fear-based motivations such as not wanting to have an illness get worse, or not wanting to develop the maladies that have been prevalent in their family. They look at the love-based motivators like caring enough about ones self, wanting to be there for their grandchildren as they grow up, the intrinsic joy of dancing, swimming, tasting delicious and nutritious food, etc.

Perhaps the coach concludes, like their client, that these motivators just ‘aren’t enough’. The next step is to begin a usually fruitless search for additional motivators. Their client runs out of ideas and coaching descends into ‘what about this?’ suggestion after suggestion. What is really going on? What’s a more productive avenue to explore?

Got the gas, but no car?

Your client may have enough motivation. They may in fact, have listed three, four or more reasons they want to change. They may possess a terrific combination of motivators. Motivation is like the fuel for a vehicle to run on. The problem might not be the fuel, but the lack of an actual vehicle! The vehicle is a methodology, a structure, and a process that facilitates change. To get where they need and want to go, the client needs both a vehicle to carry them and the fuel to put in it.

How do we mobilize motivation? By providing our client with methodology. I’ve always been amazed at how simple successful change can sometimes be when clients have a well-developed way of achieving it.

Coaches often hear their client’s frustration at wanting to improve their lifestyle, but not having much of a history of success at it. If we inquire if they have ever started their change efforts by first taking stock of their health and wellness in a really clear way, we find they rarely have. If we ask if they have ever begun by first developing a thorough plan as to how they will make their changes happen, we often find them admitting that they usually just get their will powered amped up and set some sort of goals. Rarely have they ever carried out their change efforts with the help of an ally who helped them with support and accountability. And, all too seldom have they ever keep track of their efforts at change and actually written it down.

A mentee of mine was recently coaching a middle-aged woman who complained of a lack of motivation holding her back. As we began listening to the recording, the coach helped the client describe at least four strong motivators that had propelled her into action. She realized that when her children were younger playing with them had provided her with more activity and energy. Now her energy was low and she wanted to reclaim that. She also talked about hoping for grandchildren and wanting to be a very active part of their lives. The client was concerned about her advancing age and not wanting to lose the health she had. She didn’t want to become a burden to anyone. She went on to list at least two more motivators.

As the client described her lack of success at change, her conclusion was that she was just lacking motivation. She described coming home from work tired and just fixing a quick (though not necessarily healthy) meal and watching television in the evening. “I just don’t have the motivation I need” the client lamented. She intended to be more active and intended to eat better. All she had for a plan were intentions.

Doing a great job of coaching, my mentee gently confronted his client and recited the substantial list of motivators that she did, in fact, have. He questioned whether it was a ‘lack of motivation’, or something else that was missing.

Clients try to figure out what is keeping them stuck. Unless it’s a matter of identifiable internal or external barriers, clients often say it’s a lack of motivation. They are looking for an explanation and, frankly, they often don’t know what else to call it.

Co-Creating The Coaching Alliance

An often ignored part of coaching is the work it takes to Co-Create The Coaching Alliance. In addition to getting acquainted with our client and hearing their story, an important part of our first session with a client is to convey to the client just how coaching works. Clients are used to meeting with consultants, not coaches. They expect to be able to provide the consultant with lots of great information and hear the expert recommendations. We spoke about this from the coach’s point of view in our last blog post: “Making and Maintaining The Shift To The Coaching Mindset” The client also needs to make a mindset shift to get oriented to this new way of working with someone.

Coaching is about co-creating agreements. We co-create with our client agreements about how we are going to work together. Some aspects of our working together are negotiable and can involve compromise. However, we are not going to compromise the nature of our coaching relationship. That is, we are not going to agree to just be our client’s educator, and let go of the role of coach.

Part of what an effective coach does is to explain, in a succinct fashion, exactly how coaching works, how it is structured and what the benefits of this structure are. The client-centered nature of coaching is conveyed with real reassurance that the client remains the one in the driver’s seat.

Part of the coach’s job is to facilitate the client’s use of the coaching structure. The coach does this by showing the client how advantageous it can be to operate with a solid plan, to track one’s progress at making changes, etc. The coach provides tools that make these processes easier. Mobile apps for tracking can be recommended and then, importantly, integrated into the coaching accountability.

Mobilizing Motivation

Motivation can be puzzling and elusive, but when it is present a methodology, a structure, is what the client needs in order to mobilize it. By providing our client with the vehicle, we help them get where they want to go.

Word Origin – Coach: In the 15th Century the Hungarian village of KOCS was the birthplace of the true carriage or “coach” as the word evolved in English.

In other words we might define both types of coaches as:
A coach takes you from where you are at, to where you want to be!

A Thousand Pots of Brown Rice: A Mindful Way To Be Well

A Thousand Pots of Brown Rice
A Thousand Pots of Brown Rice

We all want to be as healthy as we can be, and are usually anxious to get there quickly, like it was a destination we could actually arrive at. Mastering a wellness lifestyle is rather like mastering any art, craft or skill. It’s more of a journey than a destination. Lifestyle means a way of living, and doing it well requires enjoying the journey.

The world around us sells the quick-fix. Becoming fit is presented as a dynamic and exciting adventure. Health foods are presented as not just nutritious, but delicious, exotic, fun and intriguing. The images of “well people” in the media portray beautiful individuals at their peak of physical fitness, exuberance and youth. The weight-loss marketing world attempts to entice us with programs that promise to be both exhilarating and expeditious.

For people who make real progress at improving their health, the reality is that change is slow, methodical, repetitious, and often plagued by lengthy plateaus. The folks who lose weight, get in shape, maintain good health and make it last are those who discover the secret of finding intrinsic reward in the mundane.

A Thousand Pots Of Brown Rice

masteryBkCoverIn his classic book Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment (available online for free at ) George Leonard describes the path to mastery as one of short bursts of increased performance followed by slowly ascending plateaus.


mastery curve better

Practice, practice, practice. The key is to learn to enjoy the plateaus and know that eventually there will be progress. We live most of our life in these plateaus. Losing weight, smoking cessation, and other efforts are fraught with plateaus. Brown rice! Again? Great musicians, golfers, Yogis, all learn to love the practice. Living a wellness lifestyle is really practicing a way of living…over and over again. To keep it alive we have to notice. Noticing – being aware and mindful of the here and now – allows us to discover intrinsic joy through our senses and our emotions. There is great sensory satisfaction in the taste and smell of well-prepared wholesome food. There is real joy in the act of movement waiting to be discovered. There is true emotional satisfaction when we effectively execute a lift, a dance move, or leap over a small stream on a hike. The key is to notice.

Fortunately brown rice does taste good, kind of plain, but good. We can always spice up the brown rice in our life. Throw in a little cumin, some sort of variation to liven things up. Think of how this applies to a workout routine, a new route for that noon-time dog walk, or nurturing a new friendship to bloom instead of just sticking to our usual crowd. This helps, but what gets us through 365 days in a year, is enjoying our practice, simple as it is, of living a well-life.

Five Keys To Mastery

In Mastery, Leonard describes five keys to mastering anything, be it music, tennis, computer programming, or, in our case, living an outstandingly well life. He points to: 1) Instruction; 2) Practice; 3)Surrender; 4) Intentionality; and 5) Pushing The Edge. Here’s how this applies to our quest for mastering a wellness lifestyle.

1. Instruction

older-woman dumbells
In a world of infinite choices about what to eat, how to exercise, meditate, etc., the challenge is to separate the whole-wheat from the chaff. This is where we need to do our due diligence on the sources of our wellness information. Part of what Leonard is referring to as Instruction, means finding valid and reliable sources for health information that don’t have a commercial interest in persuading us to see and buy things their way. It may mean seeking out real expertise appropriate for our needs. A certified diabetic educator will do a better job helping you set an effective self-management course than just looking things up online. A fitness trainer with solid professional credentials can help you find ways to strength train that will keep you at it for life because you’ll learn how to do it right from the start. A professional nutritionist or registered dietician can help you far more than your friend, or nearby clinic that wants to sell you all kinds of dietary supplements.

2. Practice

Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis

One can approach practice with either a mindset of The Imperative, or The Volitional. As a junior high school student I approached my trumpet lessons under the imperative mindset. I avoided practicing all week and then a night or two before my lesson I would get in a couple of 20-30 min. practices starting with those boring scales and exercises. I did want to be in the high school band, my parents had bought this shiny trumpet for me and were paying for the lessons, so… As I got older, I found that I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment as I mastered my lessons and could play tunes I relished. Playing in the actual band and especially the jazz band, was straight-up fun and spurred me on. Today whenever I think of a professional musician, like trumpet-master and bandleader, Wynton Marsalis, I think of the thousands of hours of practice that got him to where he is today. Think of a famous martial artist, the Bruce Lee type. How many times did they do their repetitious katas to get to where they could draw upon any move in a nano-second and execute it perfectly? To get there, at some point they practiced because they wanted to – the volitional.

The wellness lifestyle that is lived with a volitional mindset is one of choice and preference. We eat well because we have gotten to the point of preferring to eat that way by finding the intrinsic reward in doing so. Yes, we may be enjoying the added benefit of reducing some key dietary health risks, but what motivates our choices is pleasure and preference. We have discovered that healthy food can taste good! We walk, bike, lift weights, practice Tai Chi or Yoga, or both, because we truly enjoy such practices. We will do our best to prioritize the time to do activities we enjoy on a regular basis.

When we operate out of the imperative wellness mindset we choose the grilled chicken salad at the restaurant because we “know” it’s good for us. We may still crave the juicy hamburger and fries, but we twist our own mental arm and “do the right thing.” The imperative mindset around exercise is very self-defeating. We can easily maintain our “I hate exercise” mindset while doing what we are “supposed” to do. It will take less of a barrier to provide an excuse to skip today. The health-risk reduction approach to motivating us to be well actually counts on us employing the imperative wellness mindset. After all, it’s imperative that we do these things in order to be avoid illness!

We often start our wellness efforts with the imperative mindset. That’s fine. Until we achieve a bit of conditioning even walking can be tiring, or strength training can make us sore. My quads were screaming after my first Tai Chi lesson! Eating brown rice is not very thrilling to begin with. Also, fear may push us towards the imperative. Borderline cholesterol or blood sugar levels can scare us into action and get us started! For the changes to be sustainable, we want to work our way towards the volitional wellness mindset where practice becomes our new way of life, and we love it.

3. Surrenderfool

The path to being well doesn’t have to be boring. When we surrender to trying new things, to allowing ourselves to perhaps even appear foolish, we often discover rich rewards. Overcoming our initial fear and getting out on the dance floor, trying a food we can’t pronounce at first try, allowing ourselves to ask for support can open amazing doors.

Surrendering is not giving up. Here we are talking about surrendering our ego, our persona. What unnecessary limitations do we put on ourselves that hold us back from new opportunities? Do we really need to avoid vegetarian dishes in order to maintain some kind of image we have of ourselves? Can we try something that seems foreign to our own culture? This is where the word “try” has a positive spin. Instead of referring to a half-hearted effort, here we mean trying something like trying on a new pair of shoes to see if they fit. Think of all the pleasing surprises that have awakened new interests, new skills, new tastes, and new opportunities in your life.

4. Intentionality Das Ziel anvisieren

The way forward in living our lives better works best when we do it with full intentionality. Envisioning our best life possible and lying out a concrete plan to get there works much better than just mustering will power. Seeing us living our well-life vision can provide a motivational tipping point that pulls us towards practicing all of the day-after-day, mundane steps that make up a wellness lifestyle. We choose the healthier food option, or to get up and move not because we want to lose forty pounds, but because we want to live the kind of life we will have when we’ve lost those forty pounds!

Mind games? Yes, but better to engage in positive and purposeful mind games, than to slip into the negative mind games of self-deception and stuckness. Setting our intentions positively is a proven process that leads to success. Creating a well-life vision that motivates and then creating an actual Wellness Plan to get there gives us a road map for achieving the life we truly desire. These are the basic tools at the heart of all effective wellness coaching.

5. Pushing The Edge


Finally, pushing the edge means extending our efforts just a bit further than we thought we could at first. It means walking in the rain anyway, sacrificing an old pattern to adopt a healthier one, taking a step that is safe, but for us very bold.

The key here may be distinction. Life in our “comfort zone” may be living up to its name, but as one quote goes, “nothing grows there.” Think about most of what you’ve achieved in your lifetime and your reflections will show that at some point success required vacating your comfort zone. We want to move into what is for us a stretch. It may be doing 15 chest presses instead of our usual 12. It may be allowing us to dance until the band goes home! The challenge is distinguishing between a “stretch” and a “risk” or even a “danger”. Sometimes a well-considered risk pays off. The new person we met agrees to get together socially. Perhaps we get out on the dance floor and no one really stares at us after all.

The 1000 Pots Of Brown Rice Approach cautions patience. At middle-age, if you go from never running to pushing yourself to run mile after mile, day after day, in less than a week you will probably have the painful condition called shin splints, or some other injury. Jumping on a radical, unproven diet craze may upset your metabolism, digestion, or worse. You’ve gone beyond risk into the danger zone.

When we are firmly on our wellness journey and have both a well-life vision and intrinsic motivation working for us, we push through more barriers. Suddenly going out on a walk in foul weather becomes a mere exercise in selecting the appropriate clothing. We tolerate a growling stomach a while longer in order to cook a healthy meal instead of capitulating to the expediency of an unhealthy pre-packaged meal. We take the “risk” of rejection by trying out a new social group of some kind. We get more “comfortable” with “stretching”!

Dr. Michael Arloski
Dr. Michael Arloski

The Coach’s Takeaway

In my next blog I’ll share what it takes to develop Mastery of Wellness Coaching, but for now let’s look at how the content above can help us coach our wellness clients more effectively.

1. Go for sustainability. To coach our clients towards lasting lifestyle improvement the changes have to be sustainable. Sustainability requires both motivation and access or ease of maintenance. Our client will be performing these healthy lifestyle behaviors for the rest of their entire life.
2. Motivation sustains. Embrace imperative, fear-based motivation for the value it brings, but coach towards the embrace of intrinsic motivation. Help your clients develop the skills of mindfulness around their wellness activities. For example, ask for them to describe in detail their experience of a recent walk. Where did they go? What did they see and notice? How did they feel through their senses – warmth of the sun, gentle wind on the face, etc.? Help them reconnect with the positive feelings of performing the wellness behavior. Coach for the co-creation of a Well-Life Vision that provides a motivational link between what they want the behaviors (day-to-day) to get there.
3. Move from the Imperative to the Volitional. Coaching’s client-centered approach helps people to realize that they are in charge of their own wellness. All the aspects of their Wellness Plan are of their own choosing. We are empowering individuals to achieve what they want for their lives. As we coach clients who are still stuck in the blame game, we need to ask them “How’s that working for you?” Helping them leave victimhood behind is a great step. As client’s begin their wellness journey because they feel they “should” (the imperative) we can support them in practicing their wellness activities and action steps that help them get to the point of better physical and emotional/psychological conditioning. Then they are more ready to experience the more positive, intrinsic rewards in the same activities that took so much effort before. Maximizing on that motivation makes the shift to the Volitional Wellness Mindset.
4. Reassure. Clients need support and reassurance that life on the mundane plateaus will finally lead to success. Coach them with your own support and coach for connectedness. Growing other sources of support in their relationships, families, workplaces, etc. are key to lasting lifestyle change.

Leonard likes to say that most of a Master’s life is living in the plateaus. Make them enjoyable ones

Meaning And Purpose: A Key To Wellness

The meaning of life is just to be alive


Those in the helping professions have long observed that people who have a sense of meaning and purpose appear to do better with their lives in general and their health in particular. Research over the last ten years is showing us that our observations were spot on. A clear, if even very simple, sense of one’s values, meaning and purpose is linked with greater longevity, fewer heart attacks, better diabetes management, less depression, less sedentary behavior, less Alzheimer’s Disease, and even better sex!

In a previous blog I explored “Meaning and Purpose and the Motivation to Be Well” (  Now let’s take a deeper look at the power of this topic.

As early as 1977 (High Level Wellness) wellness author, Don Ardell included Meaning and Purpose in his model of wellness under the dimension of Self-Responsibility. “An aim in life can help you obtain the kind of rewards needed for fulfillment and balance, and is crucial to your feeling “centered” and reasonably content with your life.” Ardell notes that the famous stress researcher, Hans Seyle “believes that a goal or purpose in life is fundamental to positive health and well-being.” Ardell continued to emphasize meaning and purpose in his 1982 book 14 Days To High Level Wellness by including it as one of his five dimensions of wellness and continues to write about it to this day.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

LFIO-bigBusiness leaders, life and executive coaches have continuously linked Meaning and Purpose with better work and career performance. Kevin Cashman, author of one of the best books ever written on leadership (Leadership From The Inside Out) ( included “Purpose Mastery” as one of his “Seven Pathways To Mastery of Leadership From Within”. He sees it as a way to lead by expressing our gifts to create value.

“Purpose gives meaning and direction to all life. It is the context that frames all of our life experiences into a meaningful whole. If we have it, all the challenging experiences of life serve to forge our identity and character.

Purpose may be the most practical, useful connection to an effective life. It is bigger and deeper than our goals. It is life flowing through us. Purpose releases energy. The higher the purpose, the greater the energy. Purpose also frees us. The more profound the purpose, the greater the sense of freedom. Purpose opens up possibilities.

Purpose is not a goal to be set. It is not something you create. It is something you discover. It calls you.” Kevin Cashman

For Cashman, having purpose allows average-performing individuals and organizations to become highly effective ones. He urges us all to live our lives “On Purpose”.

In recent years there has been more attention given to this topic in the media and in the work of people like researcher Victor Strecher at the University of Michigan ( He sees a direct connection between having a purpose in life and how we behave, particularly in terms of choices that affect our health. For Strecher, lacking a sense of purpose is just as great a health risk as any other (e.g. smoking, obesity, etc.). He believes that when we start thinking “bigger than ourselves” (self-transcendence) we behave in ways that result in great health.

Clarifying our values is a key step to developing our sense of meaning and purpose. Strecher cites research showing that cigarette smokers who affirm their core values are more open to anti-smoking messaging and less defensive about it. He also found that people are more likely to participate in diabetes risk assessments if they have just completed their values list.

Evidence of the connection between health and having meaning and purpose continues to mount. In research published Nov. 3, 2014 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of Michigan researchers “found that people with greater senses of purpose in life were more likely to embrace preventive healthcare: things like mammograms, prostate exams, colonoscopies, and flu shots.” (

The longevity connection has increasingly found support as well. Dr. Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago studied 1,238 older adults using a sense-of-purpose evaluation. “When comparing scores, Boyle found that those with a higher sense of purpose had about half the risk of dying during the follow-up period as did those with a lower sense of purpose. And that was true, she said, even after controlling for such factors as depressive symptoms, chronic medical conditions and disability.”
“What this is saying is, if you find purpose in life, if you find your life is meaningful and if you have goal-directed behavior, you are likely to live longer,” she said.
“Though much other research has found that having a purpose in life is crucial to maintaining psychological wellness and can be important for physical health as well, Boyle said she believes the new study is one of the first large-scale investigations to examine the link between life purpose and longevity.” (

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Small head cropped1The Coach’s Take Away

Despite the recognition of the importance of meaning and purpose in personal and professional growth, and numerous studies linking it to the previously mentioned health benefits, the topic is often absent in wellness and health promotion programming. Such programs often use a less-than-holistic approach that focuses on concrete, measurable and objective goals (such as weight loss, health-risk reduction, etc.). Unfortunately some wellness and health coaching work is done the same way. While the rigor of a behavioral approach is appropriate, we must not forget the whole person. This may be where it is good to remember that “wellness coaching” or “health coaching” is really a part of “life coaching”. Our best work comes forward when we help our client to improve their lifestyle by helping them improve their life.

Such whole-life coaching can include helping our clients to create a Wellness Plan that is based upon their values. In helping people get clear about what they truly want in life and develop a Well Life Vision, we help them get more in touch with what their sense of meaning and purpose is. Such a Vision guides them in co-creating with their coach, a Wellness Plan that will best serve them. When the client lacks clarity about their values and sense of meaning and purpose (again, no matter how simple it might be) it will be harder for them to see an imperative motivational link between the goals they are attempting to achieve to improve their wellness, and the action steps they are taking to get there.

Helping Your Client To Discover Their Sense Of Meaning And Purpose

Getting in touch with one’s meaning and purpose is not something that can be artificially injected into a coaching process. People arrive at more clarity about meaning and purpose at many different stages in life. Some folks find it in their youth, others not until the golden years. What a coach can do, however, is help their clients make the seeking of meaning and purpose more of a conscious process. For many it is a matter of getting in touch with the meaning and purpose that they already have.

1. Help your client to get in touch with and clarify their values.

Powerful questions in the coaching conversation can challenge a client to look a little deeper. “What would it look like…” questions are very effective here. “So, what would your life look like once that weight loss is accomplished?” “What would your life be like smoke-free?” “If there was nothing in the way and you could spend a day doing exactly what you want, what would that look like?” “Who else would benefit from you managing your diabetes at a truly effective level?” Also explore “What really energizes or excites you?”

A fun exercise to help your client get in touch with values is to have them describe what they would do on a vacation of their choosing. Present the exercise in a way like this: “Let’s say you have two weeks to take a vacation and there are no obstacles in the way. You can afford it easily. You won’t get behind at work. No problems. Just you doing what you would like to do for two weeks. Describe for me, in detail, what your vacation would be like.” Each person’s vacation story tells so much about them. While one person would backpack the Appalachian Trail, someone else would take an organized bus tour of the Civil War Battlefield sites in the Mid-Atlantic states. From this conversation draw out what values showed up.

2. Ask them to what degree they feel they are living their life in accordance with their values.

The Institute of Stress at McGill University (where Hans Selye did his pioneering stress research) says that the greatest source of stress we can have in our lives is to be living our lives out of accordance with our values. Be prepared for some sadness and possibly regret. Empathize and help your client explore the compromises they have made, the trade-offs, and what they are ready, or not ready, to do about this. Help them to identify what steps they may be ready to make to live the life they really do want to live. This process may have a tremendous and positive effect on their wellness plan.

3. Help your client to live their life “On Purpose”.

As you explore what is important to your client, help them construct “experiments” that can help them to be more in contact with what brings them joy. The pet-lover may want to volunteer with an animal shelter. The nature-lover may want to see what environmental action organizations are in their community. The closet-writer may benefit from risking joining a writers group.

4. Encourage Self-Reflection

Busy lives end up lacking in time for self-reflection. Putting one foot in front of the other, caring for a family, developing a career, etc., we often get out of touch with our true self. As your client values the process of exploring meaning and purpose, encourage them to keep a personal journal. Encourage them to read books that will help with self-exploration and personal growth. (Victor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search For Meaning heads the list.)

Solo-time is a self-reflection practice that can have tremendous value. This may be as simple as setting aside an afternoon to spend quietly alone as you set all work aside. Or it may take on the commitment of a personal quest adventure like The Sacred Passage ( You might also introduce your client to the idea of a “technological Sabbath” where they “go dark” for a day (no media of any kind, internet, texting, or even phone use)and spend the time more purposefully.

5. Make the development of a greater sense of meaning and purpose a conscious part of the Wellness Plan.

Instead of seeing meaning and purpose as something that just evolves on its own, help your client to engage in a purposeful quest to achieve a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Through the coaching process experiments and action steps can be set up to carry on this exploration. The goal is not to attain clarity on any particular timeline, but to begin the journey and do it consciously!

It may seem challenging to fit a personal exploration of meaning and purpose into a wellness program, or into a coaching process, but if lasting lifestyle improvement is what we are after, it may be one of the most valuable endeavors we can pursue.

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov


Lessons From Albert Bandura For Wellness Coaches


“Self-efficacy or belief in one’s ability to perform determines whether behavior will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and whether the effort will be sustained.”

“People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.”        Albert Bandura

From ancient philosophers to Sigmund Freud and down to today’s latest psychological research, people have been attempting to understand what drives human behavior. If you were to pose the idea that what we do as human beings is a result of what we think and how we interact with our environment you would get few arguments. Yet such a theory is a relatively recent development in the study of psychology. Social psychologist Albert Bandura ( was primary among the people who have helped us validate the idea that our behavior is an interplay between what we observe in the world around us, how we self-reflect about it, and how we decide to go forward with action.

“With the publication of Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory, Bandura (1986) advanced a view of human functioning that accords a central role to cognitive, vicarious, self-regulatory, and self-reflective processes in human adaptation and change. People are viewed as self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting and self-regulating rather than as reactive organisms shaped and shepherded by environmental forces or driven by concealed inner impulses.” (Pajares, 2002)

Bandura Model RD



Model Of Reciprocal Determinism – Bandura

Because Social Cognitive Theory sees our behavior as part of a reciprocal, continually interacting circle, our counseling or coaching efforts can directed at the personal, environmental and behavioral factors.

For the wellness professional who works with people to help them improve their lifestyle behavior this is an easy theory to sign on with. We see our clients continuously facing inner and outer barriers that challenge their attempts at behavioral change. Inner barriers include the Personal Factors that Bandura talks about: cognitive, affective and biological events. Or more simply put, the ways in which our thoughts and belief systems limit us; the ways in which our emotions override our logic in self-defeating ways; and our own emotional-biological connection. Outer barriers include the Environmental Factors that add stress and/or support to our lives.

In wellness and health coaching (referred to hereafter as wellness coaching), effective methodologies go beyond simple assessment and goal-setting and recognize that what derails the best laid wellness plans are usually these inner and outer barriers. Central to the coach approach is the contention that human beings are accepted in coaching as being “naturally creative, resourceful and whole.” (Kimsey-House, H., Sandahl, P., Whitworth, L., 2011) ( They are seen as having the ability, with the right support, to positively impact their world and their own lives.

“Social cognitive theory is rooted in a view of human agency in which individuals are agents proactively engaged in their own development and can make things happen by their actions. Key to this sense of agency is the fact that, among other personal factors, individuals possess self-beliefs that enable them to exercise a measure of control over their thoughts, feelings, and actions, that “what people think, believe, and feel affects how they behave” (Bandura, 1986, p. 25). Bandura provided a view of human behavior in which the beliefs that people have about themselves are critical elements in the exercise of control and personal agency. Thus, individuals are viewed both as products and as producers of their own environments and of their social systems.” (Pajares, 2002)

What wellness coaches observe is that there is often great disparity regarding the degree to which their clients believe that the efforts they make to improve their health and well being will be effective. Do they believe that they can affect their own health, and to what degree? For the wellness coach and client, this is the very essence of “self-efficacy”.

mtn climb hand up“Of all the thoughts that affect human functioning, and standing at the very core of social cognitive theory, are self-efficacy beliefs, “people’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances” (p. 391).” (Pajares, 2002)

“Self-efficacy beliefs provide the foundation for human motivation, well-being, and personal accomplishment. This is because unless people believe that their actions can produce the outcomes they desire, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties. Much empirical evidence now supports Bandura’s contention that self-efficacy beliefs touch virtually every aspect of people’s lives—whether they think productively, self-debilitatingly, pessimistically or optimistically; how well they motivate themselves and persevere in the face of adversities; their vulnerability to stress and depression, and the life choices they make.” (Pajares, 2002)

Many clients arrive to wellness coaching having experienced failure experiences which have negatively impacted their self-efficacy. Discouraged by perhaps numerous attempts to quit smoking, manage stress, or attain and then maintain a healthy weight, their belief in the own ability to succeed at lasting lifestyle improvement has been damaged. Yet, as Bandura has shown us, this belief needs to be strengthened for the person to garner the motivation to change and the tenacity to succeed.

How do we then build self-efficacy? Fortunately effective wellness coaching methodologies have built into them the very factors that Bandura has found effective.

“Reality is not so much what happens to us; rather, it is how we think about those events that create the reality we experience. In a very real sense, this means that we each create the reality in which we live.” ~ Dr. Albert Ellis

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded on our thoughts; it is made up of our thoughts. A man’s life is the direct result of his thoughts… We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” ~ Gautama Siddhartha (Buddha)

Though he’s not quoted as saying so, the essence of Bandura’s work would agree with the old saying that “We create our own reality.” Most human motivation is cognitively generated, Bandura argues. We anticipate our actions with forethought and figure our chances of success largely based upon our past experience in this arena. This forms beliefs about what we can and can’t do. We set goals and form plans to realize the outcomes we desire. The way we set those goals is largely determined then by our perception of our past experience and our level of self-efficacy. This combined with our current thinking yields our performance in attempting to reach our desired outcome.

Causal Structure


Perception of our Past Experience affects our Self-Efficacy. This in turn affects our expectations and the level at which we set our personal goals. This is then filtered through our thinking, or as Bandura puts it, our Analytic Strategies and this combination of Personal Goals and Thinking affects our Performance or outcome. So, if I have a history of failure at weight loss and low self-efficacy about succeeding at another attempt at losing weight I will set personal goals that may be minimal, or may be unrealistic. I then attempt to achieve these goals using strategies that are influenced by my lack of confidence, discouragement, and self-doubt, and my performance, or outcome suffers.

A Coach Approach Difference



Let’s say I now have a wellness coach helping me with the process of change. Firstly as I speak to my coach about my Past Experience, and they help me reframe my experience less negatively. I get empathy and support, even acknowledgement for how challenging weight loss has been for me, but I don’t get sympathy. My coach helps me discover what in my past experience was effective. What did work that I can use again?

My coach also works with me to improve my self-efficacy (see below) and help me build my feelings of greater self-esteem, self-confidence and helps me recognize and acknowledge my strengths that I can use in this change process. My coach is using the Positive Psychology approach that is inherent in coaching. Together my coach and I co-create a better set of Personal Goals that are optimistic, yet realistic. Through the coaching I discover more of the motivation that I have for improving my life, including losing weight. The coaching helps me see the motivational link between what action I am taking and how it will help me reach my greater desired outcome of living my healthiest, best life. This motivation helps me produce greater effort, push through barriers and, with my coach’s help, strategize though both internal and external barriers. The result is an improved Performance.


Now, when I look at my recent Performance I am encouraged by at least some level of progress. I now begin the Causal Structure of Change process again, and this time I begin by basing it on my Recent Performance, not my Past Performance. This helps push a higher level of Self-Efficacy within me. I set even better Personal Goals. My Thinking, my Analytic Strategies are more positive and effective and this all yields even better Performance. We are now on a positive circle of action and success that can be repeated, instead of a vicious circle of defeat.


How To Build Self-Efficacy

Most wellness professionals are already very familiar with the term self-efficacy and set improved self-efficacy as a desired outcome in virtually all of their wellness programming. Wellness coaches seek to help clients have greater belief in their ability, capacity, and confidence in positively affecting their health and improving their lifestyles. The question is “How?”.

Bandura (1997) identified four sources of information that affect our self-efficacy:
• Mastery Experiences – Self-mastery
• Vicarious Experiences – Role Modeling
• Verbal Persuasion – Social Persuasion
• Physiological Cues

Let’s look at how wellness coaches can help clients improve self-efficacy by working with these four factors.

MtnSummittSmallMastery Experiences

Mastery experience is the strongest and most effective source of building self-efficacy. As we say in coaching “Nothing succeeds like success!” An effective coach helps their client recognize and acknowledge themselves for even the smallest accomplishment. Many clients are notoriously poor at giving themselves credit for what the do accomplish and coaching can help them reframe this.

The coach helps their client avoid repeating self-defeating strategies they’ve used in the past and helps them devise more effective experiments at change. As clients set in place a wellness plan that sets out manageable goals and specific (easy) action steps that are in alignment with the client’s “readiness for change” (Prochaska, 1994) ( the probability of success is much greater. As the client experiences “mastery” it is very self-reinforcing and self-efficacy beliefs elevate.

bluezonesYogaAmazing OldsterVicarious Experiences – Role Modeling

A cornerstone of social psychology is that we all learn from one another and this influences our own behavior. Much of Bandura’s work has been around modeling whether it was the famous BoBo Doll Experiment (Bandura, 1961), or filming people crossing the street against a traffic light just because a well-dressed man carrying a briefcase did so. When we see someone being successful at certain behavior we are more likely to try it ourselves. Thus the omnipresence of fad diets and all the fitness trends we witness. Television and the internet serve to expose us to even more models to imitate. Self-efficacy, then, can be affected by observing what others experience.

People who observe a model successfully perform in a challenging situation are more likely to develop an expectation that they can acquire the same skill (Alderman, 1999). So, coaches can encourage clients to find models that will both encourage them and perhaps show them strategies and the skills they need to be successful like their models.

What we know about effective models is that they need to be people we feel positive about and can relate to. Most fitness and wellness magazines, for example, forget this and continuously hold up exceptional examples for us to follow. We may find it extremely hard to identify with celebrities, or a seventy-five year old ultra-marathoner who was an All-American track star in college. Models who are seen as having similar attributes (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) as ourselves and who have struggled imperfectly, but persevered and succeeded at a similar task are most effective.

coaching-1Verbal Persuasion – Social Persuasion

The messages we get from others can have a profoundly positive or negative effect upon our efficacy expectations. When one receives encouragement that “you can do it” our belief in our own capacity for change increases. For these positive verbal statements to be effective though, they must be believable and conveyed by someone the person sees as trustworthy.

The term “persuasion” may be a bit misleading for the coach. The reality is that we really can’t “persuade” someone to be well. It’s not a convincing sales pitch that works, but instead the kind of “I believe you can do it, I believe in you!” statements that a coach sincerely makes that go beyond simple cheerleading.

At the heart of good coaching is what we call “coaching for connectedness” (Arloski, 2009). A key to successful and lasting lifestyle improvement is coaching with the client to help them consciously develop a system of support that will help them attain and maintain the changes they seek. This social support is a central part of Bandura’s message. When clients find walking buddies, social groups with positive peer health norms, or learn how to ask for the support they need, they are much more likely to succeed.

RelaxMP3Physiological Cues

Individuals sometimes judge their capability to perform a task by their own physical/emotional experience as they face the task or perform it. If they doubt their ability, possibly fear the consequences of failure, etc., they may experience anxiousness, increased heart rate, sweating, etc. Awareness of these symptoms can trigger even more self-doubt and fear and plunge self-efficacy beliefs further down and affect performance.

Bandura contends that individuals have the capacity for self-regulation. We can affect our physiological states through our awareness, our thought processes and through techniques of breath and relaxation. Wellness coaches can help their clients to become aware of these patterns of anxiousness and help them seek out methods for self-management. Coaching takes it further by helping clients establish accountability around practicing these self-management techniques. Positive mental rehearsal can also be used to reduce anticipatory anxiety and increase confidence in one’s capacity for positive performance. The coach and client can even rehearse in role play for an upcoming event for the same purposes.

Theory and Practice

Social Cognitive Theory (formerly known as Social Learning Theory) helps us see ways to be more effective in working with our clients. It also is very validating to the “coach approach” taken by professional life coaches and professional wellness coaches. There is tremendous congruity between what coaches do and what this theory advises.

Alderman, M. K. (1999). Goals and goal setting. Motivation for ahievement: possibilities for teaching and learning. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Arloski, M. (2009) Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change. Updated Ed. Duluth, MN: Whole Persons Associates.

Bandura, A.; Ross, D.; Ross, S. A. (1961). “Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models”. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 63 (3): 575–582. doi:10.1037/h0045925. PMID 13864605.

Bandura, A. (1977) Toward A Unifying Theory Of Behavioral Change. Psychol Rev. 1977 Mar; 84(2):191-215.

Bandura, A., (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37, p. 122-147.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman

Kimsey-House, H., Sandahl, P., Whitworth, L. (2011) Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. Nicholas Brealey; Third Edition.
THE Coaching “Bible”! Best book on basics of coaching and coaching skills.

Naydock, G. R. How Would Bandura Increase Self-Efficacy In Therapy.

Pajares, Frank (2002) Overview of Social Cognitive Theory and of Self-Efficacy, Emory University, Archived at:

Prochaska, J., Norcross, J, & Diclemente, C. (1994) Changing For Good. New York, NY: Harper Collins/Quill. 1994 Harper Collins, 2002 Quill reprint.


Content is the copyrighted material of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc., 2014 and may be used only for educational purposes and only when complete credit is given for its source.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., Ph.D., CWP, is a psychologist, certified wellness coach and Founder and CEO of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. and Dean of The Wellness Coach Training Institute.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP

Forging A New Wellness Path: Leaving Health Risk Reduction Behind

It's time to cut a new trail...innovate wellness!
It’s time to cut a new trail…innovate wellness!

Attending Lifestyle Medicine 2013 ( in the Washington, D.C. area this week I was heartened to be around so many enthusiastic people from the medical world who have embraced the realization of just how behavioral health is. The conference was “small but mighty” and had doubled in size since the previous year.

Dean Ornish ( spoke for two riveting hours. While he started out with the obligatory review of his professional research on the reversal of heart disease, etc., his last hour was spent focusing almost entirely on how the really key ingredients in health are social support, connectedness, and a person’s spiritual connection or meaning in life.

Dr. Dee Edington
Dr. Dee Edington

We heard from some of the real innovators and leaders in the field like David Katz, Caldwll Esselton, James McDougal and others. Someone on the schedule that I was really looking forward to hearing was Dee Edington  (  It would not be exaggerating to call him the “Godfather Of The HRA” (health risk assessment). His thirty-five years at the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center ( forged much of what we know today about health risk assessment and the tons of data that came from researching this field. As wellness programs developed during the 1980’s they all started with giving their populations an HRA and building their wellness programs around the results. HRA’s are still in widespread use as there is tons of evidence that when you can help a population reduce their number of health risks everyone is healthier and healthcare costs are significantly reduced.

HRA’s are hugely incentivized by employers who will offer health insurance premium discounts and/or hundreds of dollars in cash to employees for merely completing them. One upside is that HRA’s today are often what get someone through the wellness coach’s door as they do a follow up interpretation session.

Over the years however, many of us have seen little value in HRA’s from the client’s perspective. Being told that if you eliminate a number of your risky (and often much-loved) lifestyle behaviors will add about 7.2 years to your life usually falls far short of providing what you would call stimulating motivation for change! Most of the coaches that I have trained who are already out there working with clients say three things about HRA’s: 1) we love them for the aggregate data they provide; 2) client’s do not find them motivating (fear based motivation is easy to deny and just doesn’t last); and 3) so many employees do not trust their employers to keep it confidential that they “fake good” on them when they fill them out.

So, for me, Edington’s talk was much anticipated. Dr. Edington began slowly talking boldly about how upon visiting the Lifestyle Medicine website he was disappointed to see that their definition of Lifestyle Medicine was not about health…it was about disease.

“Lifestyle Medicine (LM) is the use of lifestyle interventions in the treatment and management of disease.” (

He then went on to remark how despite accomplishments in many areas, the impact of all our work in medicine, health promotion, etc. the health of the nation is in many ways no better today than it was thirty-five years ago when he began this work. The obesity epidemic and all the chronic diseases (lifestyle driven) that go with it are killing us. Looking back disheartened, he said that our health-risk reduction approach was a mistake. Looking back over thirty-five years and 12 million HRA’s administered, he said “I’d like to take most of them back. I was part of the problem.”

Here was the man everyone listened to for years and who lead an approach to wellness programming that thousands of companies and organizations followed, admitting that we have been on the wrong track all this time. What a huge realization, and what a huge admission!

“We’re in the mud, the muck, talking about risk factors and disease.” he said. What about health? What about real wellness? He urged us to consider instead of running away from healthcare costs, to run toward health!

It was another speaker who quoted Einstein that day (Arthur Franks) but it could just have easily fit into Dee’s Powerpoint presentation.

einstein-quotes-solve-problemsThe big challenge we face according to Dee is this question:

“How can you beat the natural flow of decreasing population health status?” His research was not all for naught. It showed us that if we provide nothing for the healthy people in a population to help them stay healthy they will become those high risk individuals with increasing health problems.

“Disruptive innovation!” is what Dee Edington is calling upon all of us in the health and wellness fields to do. We clearly need some new thinking if we are truly going to make a dent in the health problems we face. Innovate. Be bold.

Dee even chided the Holy Grail of “Evidence Based Medicine”. If you are oh-so-carefully following EBM he reasoned, “You are a follower. Be a leader!” he urged.

The outcome measures we should be shooting for are not these fearful risks, they should instead be things like “Engagement in life! Love, compassion and resiliency.”

Lifestyle medicine by it’s very nature is a form of “disruptive innovation”, as the wellness field was in it’s early years. What I now question is have we forgotten our innovative roots? In the late 1970’s when we got this wellness field moving it was indeed revolutionary. We shook up the status quo of remedial care and found more and more effective ways to look at what really influences health. Behavior. Culture. Belief. Connection.

As the years passed and every wellness program struggled for funding, and as the business model conquered the healthcare field with chilling completeness, we embraced the statistics, the algorithms, the data and, I think in many ways lost our way.

I would stand with Edington and ask us all “What is our vision of health and wellness?” What is our way forward so that we might once again embrace the whole person; mind, body, spirit and environment? We began this wellness journey almost forty years ago on the shoulders of Abraham Maslow and others who looked for ways we could help people live their best lives possible. When people are in fact on that journey to live their best possible life they are on the path of wellness. Let’s be the allies that help people find their way.


The Bonus Benefits Of Exercise

Michael Arloski hiking in Conamara N.P., Ireland
Michael Arloski hiking in Conamara N.P., Ireland

Harvard’s School of Public Health ( is quick to tell of all the prevention advantages of exercise. We know that getting more movement and exercise into our lives can help prevent the onset of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and osteoporosis. Exercise can be vital to positively affect the course of these illnesses once they are diagnosed as well. What is perhaps even more motivating is not just avoiding illness, but discovering how exercise can improve our mental functioning and improve the quality of our lives.

“Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain sparkfunction” says Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey (Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain). He and fellow neuroscientists are showing us that exercise can combat the toxic effects of stress and make us more resilient. “Adding exercise to your lifestyle sparks your brain function to improve learning on three levels: First, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, mood, and motivation; Second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and Third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.” Research is showing us that exercise can help lift depression, improve memory and mental performance, relieve insomnia, boost immunity, and even help stave off Alzheimer’s.

It’s always nice to get a bonus. An unexpected pay-off for some effort of ours puts a grin on our face and increases our chances of continuing that activity. Often we see people create a wellness plan and do their best to increase activity, improve their nutrition, etc., only to find that the changes they hoped to see are slow in coming. The person seeking weight loss may hit a plateau and the scales just stare back at them. Rather than sink into discouragement, we might ask “What else am I noticing?”

When people focus on the scales as the single indicator of success they set themselves up for some real motivational challenges. As we improve our wellness the scales will move in the right direction, but while we are getting there we need to fuel our motivation by noticing what bonus benefits we are gaining. When we take stock of our whole lives we start to realize that we may be sleeping much better, have more energy, feel less fatigued, be able to walk, hike or bike longer, or simply get up off the floor or out of a chair with greater ease.

YogaTaiChiBenefitsFocusing on the benefits of exercise alone, research is showing us astonishing bonuses we didn’t even anticipate. The windfall of advantages we gain can motivate us through that weight loss effort and provide incentive to the person with a slim body type who mistakenly thinks they don’t “need” to exercise.

Diversify the exercise you do. Include flexibility, strength and endurance though a variety of activities and cash your bonus checks often!

Small head cropped1The Coach’s Take Away
Convincing or persuading our clients to exercise is not an effective strategy in wellness programming, or especially in coaching. However, if your client is:

• Someone who is up for increasing their mental performance at work
• On the edge of readiness to begin exercising
• Someone with a slim body but unaware of the multitude of benefits exercise offers
• Someone with or without a “weight problem” but who needs the benefits of exercise to more positively affect the course of a chronic illness
• Someone you are coaching around stress, insomnia, etc.

Then sharing this kind of information may provide just the “tipping point” leverage they need to make some lifestyle improvement.

James Prochaska always says that people underestimate the benefits of change, especially exercise, and overestimate the costs. Help your client tip the scales in a healthy direction. And…don’t forget to be the sharpest coach around by taking advantage of these benefits of exercise yourself!

Healthy At Any Size: Coaching Weight Loss Clients To Be Fit and Healthy


What’s your strategy for the healthiest holidays ever?

The fear of adding those holiday-midwinter pounds often drives people to the bookstore for yet another dieting best-seller. The desire for quick results is understandable and nothing delivers like a low-calorie diet. The infomercials promise miracles and we keep on seeking a solution that we know sounds too good to be true. Of course those same low-calorie diets are impossible to sustain us for the rest of our lives. The pounds usually come back. Our bodies just need more energy.

no-dietingThe truth is, diets don’t work. What does? Sustainable lifestyle improvement. Sorry, we can’t promise that this approach will be fast, but it will work, and it will last.

“Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier.” These words introduce you to the website for an organization and an entire movement known as “Health At Every (or Any) Size”. Linda Bacon, a nutritionist at the University of California, Davis, says this new approach came about “to halt “the collateral damage” — food and body preoccupation, self-hatred and eating disorders — that has resulted from the failed war on obesity. H.A.E.S. is based on the idea that “the best way to improve health is to honor your body,” and it supports the adoption of good health habits simply for the sake of health and well-being rather than weight control. (

Teaming up with Lucy Aphramor, a National Health Service specialist dietitian of Coventry University in England, they reviewed over 200 studies on weight loss and concluded that the evidence just isn’t there that dieting helps us attain and maintain healthy weights or healthy lives.

Perhaps our notion of our own “healthy weight” needs a total makeover. Instead of focusing only on what the scales tell us, how about looking at our overall wellbeing? “Bacon and Aphramor insist that adjusting lifestyle habits with an eye toward improving markers of well-being like reduced blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, reduced stress, increased energy and improved self-esteem — independent of any weight loss at all — is a far more desirable goal for people of all sizes to pursue.”

Pursuing being as healthy and vibrant as possible with physical vigor and mental and emotional peace of mind may be what trumps every diet out there. Weight obsession needs to be replaced with both individual awareness of what truly nourishes us on many levels, and the science that focuses on real wellness.

The Coach Approach

When a wellness coaching client tells me “I want to lose 30 lbs.” The first questions I ask are “What will your life be like when you succeed at losing that weight? What will your life look like? What will you be doing and enjoying that you’re not doing now?”

Far too often clients get into self-defeating thinking by seeing the “goal” as the number on the scales, and its easy for coaches to simply fall in line with this simple goal-setting approach. Until the magic number is attained it’s too easy for the client to minimize their weight loss accomplishments with a “Yes, but…” attitude. I will only be successful when I lose all the weight I’m trying to lose. Internal barriers to change are every bit as powerful as external. It’s time to explore better outcome indicators.

Explore with your client the best markers of improved health and well-being would look like for them. Would tracking improvements in the markers Bacon and Aphramor referred to above be smarter? Get an agreement from your client about what they would like to see improve and tie it to their motivation to be well. Help your client notice the richly motivating unforeseen benefits that show up as they make progress. Celebrate improvements such as reduced pain in the knees, better sleep, more energy, etc.

dont-forget-to-love-yourself-2When someone who has struggled to live at a weight that is healthy for them is told that weight loss is simply “calories in and calories out” it is insulting and dismissive of them as a person. We human beings are wonderfully complex and our life journeys are fascinating. Embrace your whole-client, just as you urge them to embrace themselves.

Dr. Michael Arloski is a psychologist, certified wellness coach and a certified wellness practitioner who is the founder and Dean of The Wellness Coach Training Institute where the very best in Wellness & Health Coach Certification Training can be found.

The Challenge of Being Well And Being Male

Men Helping Men Be Well !

Living a healthy lifestyle presents challenges for everyone, but what are men, in particular, up against when it comes to being well? Stereotypes aside, let’s look at what we know about men’s health during Men’s Health Week 2020.

In January 2012 a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (, showed a disturbing trend for American males. “In the 1999-2000 survey, more women than men were obese, but by 2009-10, the rate of obesity was almost identical among the sexes. In 2010, 35.5% of men were obese, up from 27.5% in 2000. About 35.7% of women were also obese in 2010, roughly the same rate as in 2000. The rate of increase is startling, doubling in only twenty-five years.

What do obese men stand to lose? Plenty. In addition to greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, they also face the possibility of a lower sperm count, lower testosterone levels and those surveyed in some research reported lower ratings for sexual quality of life. Overweight and obese men, like women, face prejudice and discrimination socially and in the workplace.

Yeah, right! Discouraging more than motivating.


One of those challenges is stress. As men experience more stress, and get older, their already decreasing testosterone levels are exacerbated by rising cortisol (stress hormone) levels. This seems to increase body fat, especially in the midsection, and decrease muscle mass. Stress management is one key, along with increased activity, including strength training, and healthier eating (better nutrition and portion control) to attaining and maintaining a healthy weight.  Men need the support of partners, families, employers and each other to succeed at being healthy. It’s so much easier to take the time to workout, to practice some form of relaxation practice, etc., when those who care about you can convey a sense of permission for self-care.  Men are also three times more likely to carry out a suicide to a deadly end than women.

Despite all of these facts, the problem remains. Fear just isn’t enough to get the motivational job done. The few magazines that focus on men’s health also push unrealistic images of six-pack abs that probably discourage as much as they motivate. Relatively few programs exist for healthy weight loss that focus on men and their unique challenges.


The strategy of increasing movement throughout the workday and at home also pays off. Instead of sitting in the bleachers, walk constantly around the field during your kid’s sporting event. Get involved in “silent sports” like biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, paddling, etc. and leave the “noisy toys” at home.

Not all stress can be exercised away.  Men need to process what’s going on for them, yet only 1 in 4 men (in a British study feel able to talk with friends and family when feeling stressed. The bottom line is that men need more societal permission to attend to their own mental/emotional and physical health and wellbeing.

Encourage your male friends to get in for their medical check ups and “know their numbers”, like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc. Help each other out. As comedian Red-Green says “We’re all in this together!”



The Optimistic Advantage in Being Well

Half FULL! Right?

Considering how happy most folks are to see 2011 fading in the rear-view mirror, it’s amazing what a collective sense of optimism there is about 2012. An Associated Press-GfK survey found that 62 percent of those surveyed are optimistic about what 2012 will bring America, and 78 percent were personally optimistic about the new year. ( This validated my experience at a big New Year’s Eve party where there wasn’t much talk about resolutions, but there was a surprisingly positive and hopeful view of the coming year.

We all know that New Year’s Resolutions often fade away quicker than losing teams in the football playoffs. Optimism, however, works! When it comes to being successful at changing behavior, especially health behavior, the optimists have an upper hand.

In a huge study of 100,000 women (reported on a BBC website American researchers found results that mirrored those of an earlier Dutch study on men. Published in the prestigious medical journal Circulation, the study showed that “optimistic women had a 9% lower chance of developing heart disease and a 14% lower chance of dying from any cause after more than eight years of follow up. In comparison cynical women who harboured hostile thoughts about others or were generally mistrusting of others were 16% more likely to die over the same time-scale.” Another study in The Archives of General Psychiatry (Nov 2004) states that major depression is a known risk factor in cardiovascular death – this isn’t new news. Optimists have a 55% lower risk of death from all causes and a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular death than pessimists. ( A study in the February 27, 2006 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, found that the most optimistic elderly men had a 50% lower risk of cardiovascular death over 15 years when compared with the least optimistic. These are only a few of the studies out there, but we’d have to say that being optimistic is a significant advantage. (

Mildred Norman walked over 25,000 miles spreading peace.

“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.”– Peace Pilgrim

When social scientists study optimism though, as usual, the simplistic becomes more complex than we thought. In the comprehensive book Health Behavior Change and Treatment Adherence: Evidence-based Guidelines, authors Leslie Martin, et. al. ( find optimism to be an advantage for healthy behavior, but not without it’s contradictions.

When Optimism Becomes Too Rosy

One downside can be when optimists consider health risks. The overly optimistic person wants to assume that their casual sexual partner is certainly free of any STD’s. They may forego their annual medical check-up for years and years because they are so positive that they are completely healthy.

Optimists expect positive outcomes, but don’t always realize that they may need to take action to change their own behavior in order to affect those outcomes. This is where wellness coaching can help a client get the results they want by implementing a real plan to get there.

Optimism doesn't guarantee success, but it helps!

Optimism is no “free pass” to success at behavioral change. Martin,, found that optimistic self-beliefs don’t operate equally across all type of change. Some people might feel very optimistic about starting a change process in some areas and not in others, or “competent to start a new behavior but frustrated and pessimistic when facing the inevitable difficulties and barriers in its long-term maintenance.”
They also found that “Optimism may help when meeting primary prevention goals such as eating a healthful diet or when initially faced with a health crisis. Optimism may be less helpful when dealing with the ongoing challenges of treatment for a chronic illness or when making assessments about risks…”

Martin and crew do conclude though, that “Optimism… appears to be a major determinant of goal-directed behavior and tenacity. Optimistic people persevere and keep trying despite difficulties!”

Coaching is an intrinsically optimistic process and profession. It believes, and coaches themselves believe, in the potential of the human spirit. I love to say that coaching was grounded in Positive Psychology twenty years before Martin Seligman and others started using that term. Their research has done a great job of validating the coach approach.

Wellness coaches will forever encounter less than optimistic, even flat-out pessimistic clients. Many times we are working with people whose hope and optimism has been dashed by one failure experience after another. Lifestyle change goals like weight-loss, stress management and smoking cessation are frequently attempted and met with disappointment. Such a client needs to have what Albert Bandura calls “Mastery Experiences”. It’s the old coaching maxim of “nothing succeeds like success”. Call them baby steps, or whatever you like, but success does build on small, high-probability successes. We can enhance that success probability with good coaching. As self-efficacy rises once again, hope and optimism is generated, re-kindled. The fire of change is ignited once again!

“No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.” – Helen Keller

What are your thoughts on optimism and behavior change? Please add your comments here.

Get a Vision! Motivation that lasts.

What gets you to put on your exercise shoes? What causes you to check out more carefully what you are choosing to eat? What helps you remember to put time for yourself on your calendar? Perhaps it’s a vision, in your mind, of you living a life that is truly healthy and well.

“Why don’t people do what they know they need to do for themselves?” Motivation, the great mystery. As a wellness consultant I’m constantly asked, “How can we motivate these people (to be well)?” Perhaps we need to be asking, “How can we help people discover what motivates them from within?”

Wellness motivation from the inside-out

External inspiration is like eating carbohydrates. A quick burst of energy, then the fire burns out. If it wasn’t good “kindling” and didn’t have something solid to ignite nearby, you don’t have a lasting “fire in the belly”. Internal motivation is all about finding that solid fuel that will sustain you when all the catch phrases, poster quips and slogans are burned up.

Fear can get you started but a vision keeps you going.

Instead of running away from death and ill-health, how about running toward being healthy and well? While fear might initiate lifestyle change, it does a poor job of sustaining it. What lasts is having a real vision of what it means for you to be healthy and well. Try this:

Construct in your own mind, a picture (like a movie scene) of you living your life to the fullest. You’re as healthy as you can possibility be, life is fulfilling and meaningful, you’re happy and feel connected to all that is around you.
• Hold that vision in your mind. Write it down and reflect upon it.
• Whenever you have an opportunity to make a choice about doing something right here, right now to be more healthy and well, let that mental picture come into your mind.
• Realize that this simple act of wellness in the present can help you get to the realization of this vision of yours in the not-so-distant future, or even be the practice of living that vision in the present moment!

Be well!

RESOURCE: – download the article Coaching For Motivation.