There was a great article in the March issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal titled 'The Compliance Solution' written by John Beradi and Krista Scott-Dixon. It was much more detailed and in depth than I will be so if this type of thing interests you, I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the original.
In the book Switch authors and brothers Chip and Dan Heath liken the relationship of the right brain and the left brain to that of an elephant and the person riding it. The elephant is the emotional, intuitive right brain and the rider is the rational left brain. Sounds like we have everything under control, right? Wrong. Do you know how much an elephant weighs (rhetorical question).
The rider might be in charge for a while, but the elephant will always win in the end, especially if rider and elephant are at odds and the rider tires from constant responsibility, decision making and elephant steering. That's simple 'elephantmatics' (a made up word, in case you haven't already figured that out!)
Most of us assume that human beings base decisions on the rational deliberations of the logical left brain - the 'inner grownup', however, behavior research suggests otherwise. What really drives most of our decision making (whether we are willing to admit it or not) is our emotional, empathetic, image oriented right brain.
If we stick with the elephant rider analogy, when we complain that clients 'don't listen' or 'can't stick' to a new program what we're really complaining about is the loss of rational (or rider) control. In other words, their elephants have gone 'off the rails!' So what can we do to support the rider's rational brain. According to the Heath brothers there are three things:
- Find the feeling. Help clients find the joy in healthy behaviors while working through fears that may make them want to avoid these activities. One way to do this is to spend more time figuring out workouts and nutrition habits that they feel excited about and confident in.
- Shrink the change. The elephant is easily spooked by big obstacles. However, very small practical, daily actions and habits are easily absorbed.
- Grow the client. In most change situations, clients feel small in the face of change. We need to help each client make change feel small (shrink the change) while helping the them feel 'large' (grow the client).