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Evidence Based Health Coaching Cognitive Reframing

"Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed, though to walk near its crest was so pleasant. But over it’s terrible edge there had slipped a duke and many a peasant…. So, the people said something would have to be done, but their projects did not at all tally. Some said, “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff”, and some said, “An ambulance in the valley”.

three people sitting in front of table laughing together
three people sitting in front of table laughing together

Exercise Physiologist Stops Selling Exercise! …and Her Clients Reap the Rewards!

There’s a great poem written by Joseph Malins called The Fence or The Ambulance, circa 1895. 

For us today, we can build a fence at the edge of the cliff to prevent those from falling (prevention) or put an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff for the fallen (rehabilitation). It was true then and true today for many have not yet built their fence.

As an exercise physiologist and enthusiast, exercise has been my lifestyle all my life, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a struggle at times. Many of our clients who have not incorporated exercise into lifelong living are now later in life having to face exercise as a lifeline for rehabilitation or as a chronic disease management lifestyle change.

I used to sell exercise enthusiastically, but the sell wasn’t easy. I spent more energy talking than my clients did exercising!
    • “Exercise is great!” 
    • “Exercise extends your life span!”, 
    • “Not exercising will shorten your lifespan!” 
    • “You’ve got to keep moving!”

Knowing that our country spends far less on prevention than on health care after the fact, I just knew that encouraging and telling my clients “All about it” would certainly do the trick. I didn’t want my clients “falling off the cliff!” Warn them I did and warn them well. But there was just one problem… They didn’t respond with lifestyle change as I had hoped.

Evidence Based Health Coaching

Then came Evidence-based Health Coaching through the National Society of Health Coaches. For me, it’s made all the difference in how I engage my clients. Instead of warning them away from the cliff, I now guide them to discover their own motivation to build their fence! 

People know what they should do but stop there. Many have the knowledge to become more physically active, but knowledge alone doesn’t change behavior… Guiding them to tap into their own inner motivation for exercise has been the game changer for me and them! In addition to using OARS of motivational interviewing, I’ve also discovered a new tool of cognitive reframing. It’s very similar to the reframed affirmation of OARS. 

Reframing, or cognitive reframing found in positive psychology can be defined as a strategy that allows for a different perspective in given situations, events, experiences, or emotions. It’s changing the way we view something, perceive something, how we think about something (1).  

(Glass half-full versus half-empty)

It’s taking the statement “look what happened to me” and changing it to “look what happened for me.” 

It almost immediately changes the situation from something that feels like a personal vendetta imposed on you by the Universe, to an opportunity the Universe gives you! 

Practical application for reframing might look like this:

Client: It’s not fair! My spouse can eat what she wants and not gain weight. She wants me to get out and exercise with her, but she has the energy to exercise. It takes all the energy I have to even think about it!”

HC: “But your spouse cares about you and wants you out there with her. Starting is the hardiest part
for most everyone.”

Client: “I don’t know.”

HC: “If you will, just envision what a very small first step might look like for you.”

Today, I see myself as an NSHC Certified Health Coach who:

    • Helps clients depending on where they are; whether it’s on the edge of a cliff or building their fence. 
    • Partners with my clients to help them discover what drives them, what motivates them, what moves them to action, or what doesn’t.
    • Helps my clients consider their perspective about physical activity so that it doesn’t feel like a “should do” but a “want to”.

The change in approach has done as much for me as it has for my clients!

Corley Roberts, ACSM-EP Exercise Physiologist, EIM-2, CPHQ, CHC
CEO, MyFitScript

(1)(American Academy of Family Practice. (Feb, 2021). Cognitive reframing to encourage behavior change. Quick Tips: A Blog from FPM Journal.

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