I have found that the easiest client to coach is one that doesn’t already have perceived ideas about what it takes to be healthy.
In previous coaching articles I have written how important it is to have a ‘growth mindset’ compared to a ‘fixed mindset’, when it comes to changing what you currently have to something better.
A growth mindset allows you to take on board new ideas and attempt challenges you might have thought impossible to overcome.
A growth mindset is one that sees change is possible through hard work, grit, resilience and can be achieved through learning what is needed to be done.
A fixed mindset is one that believes that change is difficult, challenging and therefore it is not possible to improve on what you have, and that habits of a lifetime can’t be changed.
A fixed mindset is also one that already knows what will work and won’t work, when it comes to achieving the results you want.
It is the second type of fixed mindset I want to tackle in this article.
People who have already created a belief about why they are unable to achieve what they want or believe that whatever they try will never work, will always search out and find proof to justify their belief.
The economist J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”
What is the point of trying if you always end up with the result that you don’t want?
How is it someone has this belief and mindset, where someone else thinks they can achieve what they want and will keep working and searching for what will help them achieve it.
Beliefs are created based on the environment you are in and the people you socialise with. Confidence in what you believe comes from the experience of your environment and people who you have encountered through your life.
Even when new evidence and facts come to light, most people will still stick to what they already believe. A good example is an ongoing exercise myth that lifting heavy weights will give you big muscles. This belief is still widely held, which leads to many people staying away from strength training and the massive benefits it brings to health.
Lifting heavy weights can’t build more muscle unless certain hormones are produced. These hormones are produced in large amounts (needed for muscle growth) according to one’s gender and a consistently large amount of training over a 2-3 year period, not to mention consuming a very strict diet and living a very restrictive lifestyle.
Still, I get clients apprehensive about being asked to lift weights to help them become stronger and fitter, which they will achieve more easily than creating huge muscle growth.
What's going on here? Why don't facts change our minds? And why would someone continue to believe a false or inaccurate idea anyway? How do such behaviours serve us?
It is because as humans we have a greater desire to fit in then change the way we think, no matter what the evidence or facts are telling us.
James Clear wrote in his book Atomic Habits, “Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in, to bond with others, and to earn the respect and approval of our peers. Such inclinations are essential to our survival. For most of our evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in tribes. Becoming separated from the tribe—or worse, being cast out—was a death sentence.”
Understanding new things is important, but not as important as remaining part of our current social group. If a new belief is in conflict with what the people closest to us think, we are more likely to stay with our current belief.
Many times I have had clients tell me how hard it has been to change what their family eat, even though they know that what they are eating isn’t good for their long-term health. Even parents who want the best for their children will stick with illogical beliefs to keep the peace and keeping the peace is important in any family situation. Constant conflict isn’t the solution, no matter how helpful a new belief will be.
The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker put it this way, “People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true.”
We don’t always believe what we say we believe, we say we believe them because they allow us to look good to the people who are important to us at the time.
Kevin Simler put it well when he wrote, “If a brain anticipates that it will be rewarded for adopting a particular belief, it's perfectly happy to do so, and doesn't much care where the reward comes from — whether it's pragmatic (better outcomes resulting from better decisions), social (better treatment from one's peers), or some mix of the two.”
Proof Doesn’t Change Our Beliefs. Friendships Do
Changing your beliefs can require you to change how you interact with the people in your life, and in some cases change the people in your life.
For most of us, they can be harder to do then the actual changes that are needed to improve our health and our lives.
My role as a health coach is to educate, support and guide my clients through the process of change. To achieve something different, change is always required and change is difficult.
Changing my client's beliefs and mindset is only half the answer. Getting them to change the beliefs of people close to them, is the true challenge.
If that is not possible (and in most cases it is impossible), then finding a compromise is the next best thing.
If you are looking to change your health and want to have a future where you are fit, strong and independently healthy, you first have to believe you can achieve it. This might (and more likely will) involve changing your current belief about what it will take to achieve it. The next step is to help people around you start believing in what it will take as well.
They don’t have to necessarily change themselves (even though that will make your journey easier), but having them also believe in what you are doing is the right thing to do, will greatly enhance your chances of success.
Without the people you hold dearly being on your side, your journey to a healthy life will be more challenging and harder than it needs to be. Never force someone to change how they think or what they believe in. It will only result in them fighting back and reinforcing their own belief.
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami once wrote, “Always remember that to argue and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.”
Be willing to compromise so both sides end up working together for a better result then they are both currently achieving. Win:Win is always better than Win:Lose, Lose:Win or Lose:Lose.
Be kind first, be right later.