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cyclist at top of steep mountain

Do you ever feel that you’ll never overcome certain habits? You’ve tried everything, and still can’t change your behavior? It can be frustrating and discouraging.

Instead of feeling discouraged, consider hiring a habit change coach or joining a coaching group. As the saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over, and expecting a different outcome.”

What is habit change coaching?

Habit change coaching is directed at making positive changes in an individual’s lifestyle, attitude and behaviors. Like other forms of coaching, habit change coaching is grounded in principles from several different psychological approaches, including:

• Positive psychology
• Cognitive behavioural theory
• Motivational interviewing
• Applied relaxation training
• Appreciative inquiry

The two key principles of habit change coaching

1. The client decides where to go

The common thread through these various approaches is that the coach supports the client to make their own decisions about the habit change. A trusting and supportive atmosphere is used to explore the client’s feelings – positive and negative – regarding the proposed change.

Rather than operating as an expert, the coach takes the role of trusted advisor to the client. The coaching session is more collaborative than typically seen with other professional relationships, and a lot of attention is place on co-creating solutions.

2. The coach drives the car

This is not to say that the coaching session is entirely client-driven. Quite the contrary: the coach employs directive use of empathic listening, points out discrepancies in the client’s reasoning, and identifies areas of resistance. The coach follows a structured roadmap to help the client talk about the how and why of change, which leads to making a plan of action.

What happens in a habit change coaching session?

A typical habit change coaching session lasts 30 – 60 minutes and follows this structure:


  • The coach invites the client to talk about the desired habit change.
  • Talk about current behavior. The coach encourages the client to talk freely about what the client likes and dislikes about their current behavior.
  • Talk about behavior change. The coach asks the client to talk about what the positive and negative aspects of habit change would be for them.
  • Summarize what client has said. The coach summarizes the key points of what the client has said to check their understanding of the client’ perspective.


  • Acknowledge challenges and affirm strengths. The coach regularly and explicitly acknowledges challenges the client faces, and points out personal strengths the client has already demonstrated.
  • Ask for decision. The coach asks the client what they want to do.
  • Are they ready to make a change?


  • Brainstorm ideas. The coach elicits the client’s ideas for habit change.
  • The coach may also contribute suggestions, but only after client ideas are exhausted.
  • Develop action plan.
  • Set up conditions for success.
  • Identify obstacles to change and develop support structures.

How to coach anyone

How do you help someone who is big time stuck with their goal and nothing you, or they, are doing seems to help?

It is NOT uncommon for your staff or coaching clients to find themselves in this position.

Typically, “stuckness” indicates that…

The client needs a much bigger game to play.
If the goal is too small, some clients simply aren’t motivated enough to fire on all cylinders.

The client needs a smaller game to play.
If the goal is too large, some clients get overwhelmed or feel that they’ll never get there. So, either make the game smaller or identify important milestones along the way and target those.

The client’s paradigm needs to be shifted or expanded quickly.
If the client is thinking too small, or too historically, help them to upgrade their paradigm.

The client may need to start doing the opposite of what they’ve been doing.
Don’t laugh at this one. It can work. Just ask the client what would happen, or what they would feel if they started doing the opposite of what they’ve been doing to reach this goal. If nothing else, it’s a creative exercise. Remember, the client is stuck, and it’s not a natural state to be stuck, so sometimes a 180 or 90 degree turn is what’s needed.

The client doesn’t really want the goal even though they say they do.
I see this a lot. The client has a goal in mind but it’s actually a “should” goal vs. a “want” goal and so they don’t get very far with it. The trick is to help the client work on “want” goals, or to shift the “should” into a “want.” “Should” goals, while important, are likely to derail the client. “Want” goals, however, usually keep the client motivated. Again, it’s a cool coaching skill to help the client reframe or redesign a “should” goal into a “want” goal.

The client needs a very different goal.
In my experience, the client is rarely able to clearly, simply, and cleanly articulate what they most want, so an important part of the coaching process is to tease out what matters most to the client using words that are meaningful to them (vs. jargon, vague or Hallmark card, mushy language).

The goal needs a very different strategy.
There are many ways to cause an outcome; these are called strategies. Our job as a coach is to help the client find the most appealing and effective strategy that gets them from point A to point B without going through point Z. And if the client isn’t making progress with their goal, consider using a different approach/strategy instead.

The client may be concerned about perceived loss or consequences.
Hey, success can be very, very stressful because a person is replacing the old, the known and the familiar with something else. Welcome to evolution. Even if everything is going to be terrific when they reach their goal, the fear of losing someone’s love, their old friends, their routine, etc., can be more than enough to get a client stuck in the present.

The client is resisting the pressure they may be feeling from you.
Clients can be touchy. Sometimes, your eagerness is off putting, or the client will sense pressure if you’re more excited about or committed to the goal than they are. Clients may resist so much, they actually get stuck around the goal. If this happens, ask the client how much pressure they are feeling from you. And ask yourself whether you’re pushing, pulling or otherwise trying too hard.

The client’s environments are not properly set up to support this goal.
The types of goals that people set today are much more complex than the goals our parents set, and the environments we are surrounded by need to be tweaked in order to give us the 24/7 support we need. Environments include family, friends, networks, emotional environments, memes/concepts, paradigms, paradoxes, creative stimulation, performance support (like a coach), what we eat (for the energy we need) and how clean our energy is.

The client may need a break from coaching.
There comes a time when a client needs a break from you or a break from Coaching, but either they don’t know it, or they don’t want to tell you, so they “get stuck” and then have a reason/justification/explanation to opt out.

The client is just plain scared.
Sometimes, the goal is so exciting that it becomes overwhelming to the client and they get mired in the process. Find out if this is true and work on the distinction “excitement vs. fear.” It can be a subtle distinction. I’ve found that by identifying and then reducing/eliminating the perceived consequences of reaching the goal, the client can then move back toward excitement and away from fear.

The goal is not a clear enough expression of the client’s true values.
This happens a lot because the body slows/shuts down when goals aren’t aligned with one’s internal values. Work with the client on their top 5 values, and find the connection between the goal they are stuck on and the value that it expresses.

Questions to ask your client…

Do you know why you’re stuck?
If we back burner this goal, what goal would you rather work on?
Do you sometimes get stuck when you’re this close to reaching a goal?
Do you need a supportive kick in the pants?
Tell me what I should do in order to “un-stick” you in the next 10 minutes?
How much longer are you willing to be stuck on this?
Are you willing to try a backdoor approach to reaching this goal?
What else should we try?
Final thoughts…

Be patient, but don’t be the tail of the dog.
The client may need time to figure out what big changes to make in their life in order to reach this goal more easily, or perhaps they’ll need to select a very different goal instead. I’d give a client no more than 3 sessions to work it out and to have them propelled forward with plenty of energy to reach the goal or complete the project. Otherwise, it’s too tiring for both of you and it’s probably not even coaching by that point. Personally, I prefer to resolve this type of thing within 20 minutes. I don’t want it carried over to the next call.

Goals are meant to be exciting to reach.
If the client is resisting, laboring, complaining or just not into it, find another goal or develop another strategy that IS self-motivating. The alternative is that both you and your client get dragged down. Do NOT be afraid to require the client to pick another goal if the one they are working on isn’t getting anywhere. Abandon hope. Feel better. Move forward.

Reprinted with permission from the book How To Coach Anyone. © 2009 BestofThomas.com & CoachVille.com