Changing Lives – One Habit at a Time

By Rania Boucher, Director

As personal trainers, we must understand the importance of successfully guiding clients towards achieving their goals. When a client shows up for a training session, they are looking for direction and help with their workout. What if there was a way to inspire bigger changes? An average training session lasts an hour. What happens the other 23 hours in a day and the time between sessions? Time can quickly reverse the progress achieved in the workout. Habits like a client’s mindset, hydration level, nutrition, stress, and sleep patterns can all be factors that affect the client before, during, and after the workout. So, the question becomes how do you change those habits? A successful Personal training business allows the trainer to implement longer lasting changes. Small steps and little changes can lead to big changes and better habits.

Let’s set an example of a new client named Robert:

Robert is an average guy just looking to lose a few pounds, tone up and create a healthy lifestyle.  After not having been in the gym for some time, he is excited to get back in the gym. He is looking for some diet advice, but mostly just wants to be in better overall shape. As a trainer, this sounds like a fun client; however, what if Robert eats fast food consistently, never drinks water, sleeps 3 hours a night, and constantly shows up to a workout unprepared? The nightmare begins, and the challenge of helping Robert suddenly becomes a lot tougher.

It is important when trying to influence new habits to first identify what areas need improvement and then planning how, when, and why these habits need to be changed. Next comes the hard part, inspiring change and pushing follow through. Below we will break down the steps to habit changes, and follow our example client, Robert, on his journey to start a healthy lifestyle.

Identifying Habits

Discovering what needs to be changed is half of the battle. It is a must to completely understand what the client’s training goals are, and with a firm direction of these goals, we can look for any limiting factors or habits that will hinder our progress.

In our example for Robert:

Robert loves to workout and we can be sure he will follow up on any homework for off days or while he is traveling because of his excitement to workout. One of Robert’s limiting factor is that he hates water and will not drink more than a glass per day. It is easy to identify that not drinking water is one of Robert’s bad habits. Another limiting factor is that Robert’s sleep pattern is consistently 3-4 hours a night. Another easily identifiable habit that could affect his fitness goals.

Now that we have identified the bad habit, we can start to dissect which habits can derail progress and which ones will push us forward.

Planning / Beginning

Planning ahead is important! Keep yourself 2 and 3 steps ahead of the current session and this will allow you to make changes as your client progress. It is very important to keep their main goal at the forefront of any habit we are looking to change. Some habits might be really challenging, while others can be as simple as asking him to do it. We should start with an easy habit, which can build confidence and quickly show results. By creating momentum and precedent in working on an easy habit, this will allow your client to see positive progress and create a more open environment when attacking a difficult habit.

Let’s check in with Robert:

Robert needs to drink more water, it is plain and simple. I understand that it will need to be one of the first things we change since he is just starting back to working out and he is looking to create a healthy lifestyle.  Where the lack of sleep might be something more difficult, we can plan to bring that up after we have a positive experience in changing a smaller and more manageable habit.

It can be difficult to prioritize the identified habits, but communicating with the client about what needs to be done when will allow the client to see the changes in a positive light that you can work together to improve upon. If we overload a client with too many changes from the start could lead them to burn out or to not accomplish anything. Having a well thought out plan as to when certain changes will be instituted is a priority.


Once the habit has been explained to the client and how it will help them reach their goal, the next step is painting a picture of what will change. It is vital to inspire a client to get uncomfortable and work on changing a habit. So how do you convince them to do this?

In Robert’s case:

By describing how much better Robert would feel if he drank a second cup of water everyday, could inspire change. Explain how much closer he would be getting to his goal of being toned and in good shape again if he were to begin to drink water again. You need to sell him on the idea that he could achieve the results quicker and would feel better after each workout just by slowly drinking more water.

Along with the explanation, describing the type of change and how one small change can be a huge step toward the main goal will allow him to picture the end results. If he can picture what the change will look like, they can believe in it. Once you have the client believing, your job at inspiring them has been completed.

Acting / Reinforcing

Hopefully at this point, we have an inspired client that is excited and understands what the next step is. Putting that idea into practice is the next course of action. The habit we have identified is a subject I like to talk about during every session. This reinforces the importance of that change. Talk about when would be a good time to start, what are some ways to help the idea get off the ground, and what are the needed steps to make it successful. Once the client understands that, I want to hold them accountable in every session so the what and how becomes front of mind.

In our example:

Robert agrees he needs to drink more water, and together we came up with the idea that he buys a refillable water bottle that he will try to finish every day while at work. Knowing that it is easy and attainable, Robert is excited to take a step toward his healthy lifestyle.

The plan that we have developed together can be successful because Robert became excited. It is important to reinforce the success and provide support if it was unsuccessful. If the plan to change was too challenging, then take a step back. You can discuss ways to make the needed change easier and less complicated which would be a good way to push the momentum back in the positive direction. In order to continue to push progress, be positive when there is a setback, reinforce the end result and readjust when the situation arises.

Tweaking / Thriving

The plan is alive and working. Now that we are moving in the right direction, we need to make sure it continues. It is possible we may need to readjust, give support or a different perspective to help keep our new habit on the right track. By having open discussions about what is working and not working, you both can achieve more growth and allow for more successful changes.

In our example:

Robert is doing great with drinking his water and it has become easy. Although once a week, he forgets his water bottle and as a result doesn’t drink water that day. On the days he is thriving he feels better and is building on drinking more. By talking about the problem, this allows us to figure out a plan on how to prevent him from forgetting the water bottle.

There are mostly good things in our example, knowing that on most days he is doing well. If we are looking to make these changes permanent, then it is important to work out the kinks to continue to create a positive environment. The easiest way to remove the hurdle in Robert’s way would be to have a discussion on how to help him remember his water bottle every day.


Helping people workout makes you a personal trainer. In helping your clients to change the habits that support the workouts and their healthy lifestyle could make you a great trainer. Start with understanding and identify problem habits where you have an opportunity to improve. Plan and introduce the new habit and follow it up by supporting the progress and readjusting as needed. As a result, we should have a thriving client that is enjoying the success of their new habit. By using the model described, this can create limitless opportunity for change in your clients, leading to a much more successful end result.