While many of us set big goals for ourselves around health, fitness and well-being, research shows nearly 80 percent of us fail to see them through. While we’re quick to call ourselves failures (we’re not!) or to assume we lack willpower (we don’t!), the real problem is that we lack the tools to reach our goals. Primary care doctors may be able to help, but because they often see patients just a handful of times per year, it’s difficult for doctors to ensure you take your medication appropriately, never mind help you figure out how to get to the gym.
Enter health coaches. Unlike registered dietitian nutritionists or certified personal trainers, health coaches don’t suggest specific dietary plans or exercise regimens. They also don’t diagnose conditions or recommend supplements. Instead, the role of a health coach is to help you map out a path toward achieving your goals. According to Aimee Richardson, a health coach at Henry Ford Health, coaches are skilled in helping you take other experts’ recommendations, and turn them into reality. One way they do this is to help you uncover your own personal drivers, and the things that uniquely motivate you.
Here, Richardson offers three tools health coaches use to help their clients achieve their dreams.
- Uncover your internal motivation. Effective coaches help you examine the reasons you want the change to occur. So instead of telling you what you need to do, they prompt you to figure it out for yourself. They’ll ask you questions like, “What do you like about the gym?” “What kind of movement do you enjoy?” “What types of foods help you function at your best?” So it’s sort of like therapy that focuses on how to help you work toward healthier behaviors.
- Focus on the positive. Research is clear that actions follow thoughts. So it’s no surprise that focusing on positive self-chatter is related to successful outcomes. Health coaches set the stage for success by guiding you to shift your perspective. So instead of lamenting, “I dread exercising,” you’ll begin focusing on more accurate and beneficial phrases like, “I feel so much stronger after I work out.” The more aware you become of your own self-talk (positive and negative), the better equipped you’ll be to shift to a more positive perspective. Soon, the positive talk becomes so powerful that there’s no room for negative thoughts.
- Set smart goals. The biggest mistake people make with goal setting is biting off more than they can chew. Maybe you went into the New Year vowing to exercise five days a week even though you’ve been completely sedentary since Halloween. Or, you promised to avoid red meat even though you’ve been subsisting on burgers and fries for years. Big, sweeping goals set you up for failure. Instead, health coaches focus on something called SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals. For example, you’ll hit the gym twice a week, or replace one burger dinner with meatless chili. You’ll revisit these short- and long-term goals periodically with your coach to ensure you’re on a successful path. The key is starting small and building on success.
The beauty of health coaches is they can focus on any behavior that you want to change – there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Learning how to outline achievable steps and then implement those changes in ways that make them stick pays off in all facets of your life, from wellness to work success.
If you are interested in working with a health coach to reach your goals, call (313) 874-6273 or visit henryford.com.
Aimee Richardson, MCHES, CHWC, CTTS, leads the health coaching program at Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She is an experienced health educator and certified tobacco treatment specialist.