Emotional Resistance – why people do things to sabotage their success in reaching fitness goals





resistance-to-changeIf you have been a personal trainer for more than 6 months you have almost surely had the experience of dealing with a client who wants to lose weight and get in shape but seems to constantly be their own worst enemy.   This ambivalence is actually very common and it is part of being human.

Simply put this emotional resistance occurs when someone’s motivation to change was not high enough to get them to actually make changes.

Signs of Emotional Resistance in a client include:

  • changing the subject when discussing issues
  • leaving the room
  • going to the bathroom
  • being late
  • canceling appointments
  • getting sick
  • refusing to pay attention to you although you have been asked for help
  • procrastinating
  • filling their day with busy work and avoiding working out
  • wasting time
  • suddenly starting or stopping relationships
  • creating breakdowns (appliances, car, plumbing, computers, etc.)
  • eating
  • drinking
  • smoking
  • blaming others for blocking them (they won’t let me…)
  • blaming themselves
  • being impatient with themselves

Reasons for Emotional Resistance

  • Fear of the unknown – Staying in their comfort zone is a lot less scary than trying something new.
  • Having to adapt to a new routine – change can be uncomfortable; people tend to be creatures of habit and habits MUST be replaced – they cannot simply be eliminated!
  • Fear of failure
  • Short-term benefits outweigh the long-term benefits – i.e., instant gratification

How do you assist a client with Emotional Resistance?

The key to overcoming emotional resistance is helping the client understand their real reason for wanting to change in the first place!  Each person has a unique “Why” when it comes to wanting to change and that Why is always an emotional driver.    Why has to do with purpose and people need a purpose!  Many trainers and their clients are not clear on the difference between a goal and why the goal is important.

Goal                                                                Purpose for Reaching Goal

Logical                                                            Emotional

Appearance, Health or Performance              Want to change the way they feel about self

Consciously Aware                                         May not consciously be aware of why the goal is important to them!


Part of the solution is helping clients set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals or SMART goals for short.    However without helping the client clarify why the goal is important and reminding them of that in a supportive manner many clients will fail.

Help your client accomplish smaller, manageable goals along the way and keep the focus on the journey, not the outcome. The more ‘quick wins’ that your client achieves, the more confidence they gain and the greater their progress.

Your role as a personal trainer is to help them come to their own conclusions about their reasons for changing.  Your client needs to be internally motivated in order for their behavior to change and doing it for themselves, not for anyone else.

The key is asking the client the right questions.  Questions to consider include:

  • What would you like to see different about your current situation?
  • What makes you think you need to make this change?
  • What would happen if you don’t make a change?
  • What would it take for you to change?
  • How can I help you get past some of the difficulties you are experiencing?
  • On a 1 – 10 scale how important is it for you to make these changes now?
  • How can we get you to a 10?
  • If you do not make these changes now what will happen?
  • When you do reach these goals how will your life be different?

As your client progresses, these questions should gradually shift towards a line of questioning that emphasizes the progress they’ve been making.  I recommend doing some research into motivational interviewing to learn additional lines of questioning.

Above all, be empathetic, be respectful, and ask open-ended questions to try to recognize what is driving your client’s emotional resistant to change.  Then you can start to address the issue and help them move past any emotional roadblocks that are standing in the way of their goals.  Remember – the change needs to be driven by your client, not by you!