The magic number is 21. That’s it — 21 days to change a habit. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just three weeks of your life, and you are on the road to successful change! Yet, some people spend a lifetime trying to change negative behaviors (Layton). As coaches, how can we be a catalyst for lasting change in the lives of our clients?
It all begins with motivation. Once that’s in place, simple, consistent steps can move the client forward, discovering new ways to achieve his or her dreams.
Practical Techniques for Change
Here are two techniques you can use to help motivate your client, taking them away from the present and into the future so they can see the dream become a reality (Stoltzfus, 2009).
Visual language is the first technique to help clients enter into the future and achieve the goal of forming new habits. Two questions to ask your client with visual language are:
Enter into the future, see it, taste it, celebrate it, revel in it, and then paint a picture in your mind.
- How does it feel? What does it look like?
- What does a typical day look if your dreams came true?
- What it would be like to have attained the goal? (Stoltzfus, 2008)
Here’s how I applied it when working with one of my clients.
First, I invited her to close her eyes and describe to me what she sees when she thinks about her habit. I then asked her what it looks like to let go of the cycle of codependency in her relationships with men.
“Freeing” and “peaceful” were the words she used to describe how she felt during this visualization exercise.
Dreaming is the second technique I use to help clients make a change in their lives. Dreams have no limits, but they should have specifics. Dreams help the client visualize a preferred future, which in turn activates hope. Well-pictured, specific, thought out dreams makes the desired future real enough to help clients pay the price to own it.
Big Dreams and Fun Dreams
Tony Stoltzfus, in Christian Life Coaching, recommends breaking down future dreams into Big Dreams and Fun Dreams (p. 136-137). Big dreams are accomplishments, milestone, and making a difference in the world. Questions to ask include:
- Look three to five years down the road. What is life like for you if you achieved this dream?
- What changes do you need to make to feel balanced in your life and dreams?
Fun Dreams are what bring you joy in life: places to go or something you want to do just for fun. Two options for your client to tap into their fun dreams are:
- Dream in pencil. You can always change it later. There is no right answer, just put it down on paper.
- Create a dream space, a place where resources and knowledge are limitless and you can’t fail. Allow yourself to dream boldly.
Reminders are important tools to encourage clients to not revert back to the old habit. Having a system in place is key to a client’s success. Ask your client, “What would help you remember this each day?”
When I asked my client how she could remind herself to change a specific habit, she said writing it on her wrist. One word in bold, black ink helped her daily to change her habit and focus on the new change. I also texted her pictures or quotes related to the topic. She made one her screen saver on her phone and sees it constantly.
Regrets occur when the client is pursuing dream/habit change and doesn’t examine the cost of not taking the risk to pursue the dream. As coaches, we should encourage the client to count the cost and risk of pursuing it.
When discussing regrets, here are a few questions to ask:
- What would it be like to fail to achieve your goal?
- If you decide not to act, nothing changes. If that is the case, what regrets would you have?
- How does focusing on possible regrets change the sense or urgency you feel to pursue your dream/goals/habit change?
Accountability for Change
The single most important tool in helping clients overcome bad habits and enacting lasting change is accountability. Without accountability, the client will experience little if any success, even if your coaching skills are strong.
As the coach, we shouldn’t push but remain positive, consistent, honest, and ask the hard questions that help a client move forward. Using our skillset as coaches, we can energize the client to do the right thing.
Accountability works best when the client has a coach with the courage to hold them accountable without judgment, blame, or scolding and provides structure to keep the conversation going. Tony Stoltzfus says it well in his article, “The Power of Accountability:” “Accountability is a proactive voluntary openness that is meant to preempt wrong behavior; the purpose of accountability is to supply energy for change.”
The goal is to foster an environment for your client to grow through motivation and then move toward the desired habit change. Providing powerful yet simple tools like reminders, regrets, and setting up solid accountability paves the way for your clients to achieve their biggest dreams!
- Stoltzfus, T. (2009). Christian Life Coaching Handbook. Virginia Beach, VA: Coach22.
- Stoltzfus, T. (2008). Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills. Virginia Beach, VA: Coach22.
- Stoltzfus, T. (2011). The Power of Accountability. The Christian Coaching Center, November, 14th.