What We Can Learn From Vegans: Identity-based Motivation

Raw Vegan by Jovan J, licensed through Creative Commons
Raw Vegan by Jovan J, licensed through Creative Commons

“I only eat meat on special occasions.”

“I ate well all day, so I thought I could treat myself with a burger.”

“They were serving pork tacos at the staff party, so I HAD to eat it.”

Would you hear a vegan say any of those things? Now contrast those statements with what you might hear a client say:

“I only eat cake on special occasions.”

“I ate well all day, so I thought I could treat myself with some ice cream.”

“They were serving cookies at the staff party, so I HAD to eat it.”

Why is it so easy for one group of people to remain so steadfast in their choices, but so difficult for everyone else? It is common to hear of people who choose to become vegan or vegetarian and have no issues with making the change the very next day. On the other hand, it seems to be a constant battle for most clients to stay on track with their eating habits.

How to make a change stick

The biggest difference between the two is the adoption of a firm identity. Research by Daphna Oyserman shows that identity-based motivation plays a large role in implementing healthy behavioiurs. Once a new identity is established, decisions become easy because the identity provides you with a built-in framework from which to follow. An identity comes with a set of values and beliefs. All decisions are guided by whether they align with the values and beliefs that you identify with.

When someone chooses to become a vegan, the most important rule to follow is not to consume animal products. This makes it easy to say, “No,” when the opportunity to eat animal products presents itself. As a vegan, you simply don’t eat meat because you believe that it is wrong. There are no exceptions, no excuses, and no grey areas.

You can see the same philosophy unfold in those who are successful with weight loss. They make the commitment and adopt the new identity of someone who is taking charge of their overall health. It is not a struggle to exercise more. It is easy to resist an extra portion of dinner.

When you choose a new identity, you no longer have to make a choice for certain behaviours. You do it because that is what someone you identify as does.

As a vegan, you do not have eggs for breakfast. As a health-conscious individual, you do not eat desert after dinner every night.

How to change a client’s identity

When trying something as drastic as changing someone’s identity, values, and beliefs, you have to make it fun. Make a game of it. Tell your clients to think about their ideal self; the person they aspire to be. Then tell them to pretend to be that person for an entire week. All of their decisions are made based on what their ideal person would do.

A funny thing happens when you force yourself to act differently. You realize that the change is not so bad after all. It becomes more natural the more you act as the new you. Soon enough, it doesn’t become acting anymore. It is just you.

This is essentially what instilling new habits is. A conscious choice to behave differently. However, because some people have struggled for so long, making a different choice becomes more and more difficult. It’s much easier to throw yourself a pity party and dwell on the negative. A sense of helplessness sets in and the thought that change will never happen becomes impossible to escape.

This is why thinking of yourself as already changed and starting from the end is helpful. Pretending to be someone else is temporary. And temporary isn’t as scary. Pretending can also be fun. They can let go of their insecurities and try something new without judgement.

Starting from the end also removes the barriers that people believe come with a long journey. They don’t think they have the time to change. They think things are so bad now all of the changes that need to happen is just too much. Imagining themselves as their ideal self gets rid of the work in the middle. Starting is always the hardest part. Thinking of themselves as already changed is just a way to motivate them to make that first step.

When people continually fail to succeed on a goal, they lose the confidence in their ability to change. They don’t feel as though they can make the right choices. Giving your clients an option to think with a new point of view can inspire them to look at their problems differently. It acts as a built-in role model.

Many Christians carry the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” as a reminder of how to make the right choices. Telling your clients to adopt a new identity essentially gets them to ask themselves, “What would the new me do?” before any decisions. This simple question could be all it takes to get clients to consistently behave in a manner that supports their goals.

So, tell clients to act like a vegan. Tell them to be firm in their identity to live a healthier life. Don’t choose to change. Just choose change.

Clients’ motivation: Ally of the personal trainer

Personal Trainer: Find your clients' motivation as a design element of your fitness program
Motivation: Ally of the personal trainer 123RF – Copyright: Phartisan


A very good friend of mine joined Free Form Fitness this winter. Over fifty, he had seldom seen the inside of a gym. But he is a passionate golfer. He thrives on playing the game, watching the game, understanding the game. Winter is a very difficult time for him; he leaves his golf course in November and remains in a holding pattern until it opens again in the spring.

As we were planning a golfing trip, I highlighted the benefits he would gain from exercising under the supervision of a personal  trainer.  He agreed to give it a try, but certainly not because exercise was his passion…..  His real passion is golf.

Understanding clients’ real motivations to exercise is a key element in the tool kit of a personal trainer when designing a fitness training program.

A good starting point is to choose the right definition of the word “motivation”, one that fits the context of personal training. “Motivation” can be defined as the expectation of pleasure or of a measurable benefit. This definition is helpful in the fitness context because it offers two ways of defining the gains that clients can expect to obtain from their training program: an emotional gain, and an objective one.

Relying on the definition we are proposing, my friend’s personal trainer can present a picture of him feeling energized, strong and better equipped to compete with his golf buddies because of the training he is doing. This creates an emotional image of well-being. The trainer can also present a picture of my friend being able to gain a specific number of yards on his golf shots, which is an objective result of gaining strength.

When building a training regimen for your clients, here are some considerations that may guide you in your program design:

  • Probe the underlying motivation of clients

    If they tell you: “I want to be fitter”, it tells you very little.  Probe for more. If they tell you: “I want to lose five pounds”, it gives you a bit more but ask why also. The idea here is to get to the true motivations of their presence in the gym;

  • Establish a timeline 

    Find out if there is a specific date associated with clients’ motivations to join a fitness club: It may be that they want to lose weight because they are attending a wedding in three months. If a specific time frame is not part of their motivation, establish one in consultation with them. This has the added benefit of managing clients’ expectations if they are joining a fitness club for a set number of training sessions;

  • Create images in the clients’ mind

    Once clients’ motivations are better known, create images that fit such motivations and use these images in your conversations with them. Try to create images that cater to feelings as well as to objective results;

  • Check, and check again

    Constantly check for evolving motivations or changing ones. This is part of building productive and lasting relationships with your clients, and always responding to change.

I played golf with my friend, during and since our trip. He is thrilled about his improved golf game. I witnessed those improvements by losing money to him on small bets….. And he has lengthened his golf shots by measurable distances. Best of all, he is still going to a gym….

A career as a Personal Trainer – The right fit?

Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo
Personal Trainer – Looking for a fit


As an executive and leadership coach, clients often seek my help about critical decisions regarding their careers. So, let’s say that you are considering a career as a personal trainer, or that you already have a career and want to embark on a new path as a personal trainer. And let’s say you are asking me for guidance on your career choice in order to assess if it is the right fit for you.  Well, I would keep it simple and invite you to reflect on three things: Thoroughly researching your areas of interest; understanding who you are, and; determining who you’d like to work with.

Areas of interest

On April 14, Vania Hau published a post on this site where she tackled the topic of personal trainers’ salary. In her article, she identified factors that influence how much you can expect to earn as a personal trainer. But what she also did, was to offer a way to go about making informed decisions regarding career fit; Researching your areas of interestWhen it comes to personal training, there are a multitude of areas you can look at in order to determine if it is a good career fit for you. Assess the economic situation of the fitness industry. Find information about growth projections, market conditions, legislative or regulatory environment, business models, and more. Extend your research to include the health and wellness sectors.  Note that researching areas of career interest is, at this time, external to you. It does not involve your personality, perceived talents or skill sets, likes and dislikes.

Understanding who you are

Once you have done a thorough and objective search for career opportunities, it is now time to put yourself in the picture. Again, a member of the Free Form Academy’s team has contributed deep and intuitive understanding of the decision-making process when it comes to career choices. On April 29, Jean-Luc Boissonneault shared his personal journey leading to his choice to become a personal trainer.  Jean-Luc is passionate, intuitive, curious and dynamic. It is not surprising that he chose his career based on those personality traits. He was able to identify his passion early on. He intuitively understood that he could transform his passion for weight lifting, and more importantly, caring for others….., into a livelihood. He was curious about his chosen field and therefore became an informed expert, through hard work. The point here is that you need to understand who you are to ensure that there is as good a fit as possible between yourself (internal) and your job (external). To become a great personal trainer, there are certain attributes that need to be seated deeply in your beliefs and personality in order for you to succeed. Examples include:

  • Healthy living is part of who you are, of your core beliefs;
  • Empathy. You can relate to others by putting yourself in their shoes and seeing the world as they see it;
  • An ability to learn. You are in a constant state of learning and are open to the ideas and expertise of others. If you are not “trainable”, you will not be able to train others.

There are of course many other attributes that can apply. And they are not exclusive to the field of personal training. But they have one thing in common; they speak about who you are.  The more you know about what you like, what you are good at, and what you deeply believe in, the more likely you will be able to find work that is the perfect fit for you.

Determining who you’d like to work with

When assessing career fit, an often neglected area is the social interaction that will occur in your field of choice. Get ready here for my incredible revelation (drum roll please) – In fitness, you will meet…. clients.  While clients may share a common goal in getting control of their health, if only for a time, they will come with all kind of personalities.  So you need to ask yourself this basic question: Can I work with clients?  As a personal-trainer-to-be, you may be able to provide exquisite instructions about how to perform an exercice.  But it is irrelevant if you get impatient every time a client perform it poorly…. By assessing the nature of social interactions related to your carrer of choice, you will be able to better evaluate  if it fits the social aspects of your own personality.  If there is adequation between your social self and the people you will meet along the way, you are likely to grow, and thrive in your work place.

If you read these lines, I know you are interested in fitness.  Well, there is the notion of “fitness” in career choices as well.

Reflecting for Improved Performance

Reflect by FUMIGRAPHIK licensed under creative commons

It’s week 3 on the job. You’re nervous before meeting yet another potential client.

You had one appointment last week that went well. The client was friendly, and you seemed to hit it off. You asked the right questions. You had the right answers for all of her concerns. It went exactly how you had envisioned a sales meeting would go for you after taking the personal trainer course.

You felt confident. You say to yourself, “Maybe I can do this.”

Unfortunately, this wave of confidence doesn’t last long. The next 3 consults that you had were absolute disasters.

For some reason, things just didn’t click like they did with the first client. When the next session didn’t go well, you began to doubt yourself. You thought about what your responses should be rather than really listening to what the clients were saying. In turn, they didn’t feel like you could give them what they needed, so they decided to look elsewhere.

You’re now worried. You need to turn things around. How are you going to pay the bills?

It happens to everyone

First, you breathe. Relax. If it is supposed to be easy, than everyone would be successful. It would be unrealistic to believe that you would be able to make every single sale.

During my early days as a trainer, there was one meeting in particular that just a disaster.

She was a middle aged woman looking to lose some weight. She asked what kind of results would be reasonable for her to expect.

I will never forget what my response was. It still makes me cringe just thinking about it.

I said, “It depends on several factors, such as body type and genetics. You may not be able to get down to a size similar to me, for example, but you will definitely be able to lose some weight.”

I knew it was bad the second those words left my mouth. I could tell she was offended. I didn’t know what else to say to fix it, so I just continued on wife something else.

Needless to say, I never saw her again.

What you should do.

Remember what you tell your clients. Just focus on doing things that are under your control. Don’t worry if the scale doesn’t seem to budge.

This goes for you, as well. As a new trainer, skills like sales will take some time to develop.

The best thing to do to learn from your mistakes is to face them head on. Reflect after each session. Ask yourself:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What did you say that worked and what did you say that didn’t work?
  • How focused were you on the client?
  • Did you ask the right questions?
  • Did you sound confident?
  • How will you do better next time?

Time to Reflect

Reflecting after each session is probably the single most important habit that you can develop. Don’t just toss the bad experiences aside. Sit down and replay the scene in your head. Critically examine what you did. Take the good and repeat them for subsequent sessions. Discover the bad and make a plan so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future.

What I did

First, I swore I would never say anything that would make me sound that arrogant ever again.

Next, I thought about some responses that would have been more appropriate in that situation and wrote them down. This way, I would be more prepared the next time someone asks a similar question.

Then, I practiced saying these responses out loud. There are two reasons for doing this. One, practicing the delivery makes it sound as natural as possible. It also makes you more confident in what you are saying. Two, sometimes things don’t sound as good out loud as it did in your head. This way, you can change the wording so that everything flows.

I hope that nothing this embarrassing will happen to you. However, there’s a good chance that it will.

When it does, don’t fret. It happens to everyone. As long as you commit to critically examining yourself to do better next time. Find and enhance your strengths. Discover your weak points and make a plan to improve upon them.

Most importantly, don’t give up. People need your help to change their lives. They are worth the extra 10 minutes it takes to reflect on your own performance to become better at your craft.

Debunking Myths: Why Just Saying “You’re Wrong” Doesn’t Work

talk to the experts by Mai Le licensed under Creative Commons
talk to the experts by Mai Le licensed under Creative Commons

Fitness and health is an industry that is particularly susceptible to misinformation. Myths and misconceptions run rampant from people looking to provide the next quick fix. As a personal trainer, your job is to debunk myths and to help your clients reach their goals the right way.

A Profitable Industry

For a trillion dollar industry, people will do anything to capitalize on the desires of others.

There is a vast amount of information available. Everything is just a quick Google search away. It can be difficult for even a knowledgeable personal trainer to know what is right and what is wrong, let alone a client.

Compounding the issue are high profile “experts” who are active in the media. These individuals have millions fans who trust their every word. Yet, they don’t hesitate to recommend products that are not proven to be effective.

The Problem

When it comes to debunking myths, the evidence is stacked against you. Once the seed of misinformation is planted, it can become extremely difficult to remove.

When done incorrectly, debunking can actually reinforce the false beliefs. In some cases, these beliefs can even be strengthened. This is known as the backfire effect.

According to The Debunking Handbook by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky, there are three different ways that trying to counter misinformation can backfire.


Repetition sticks. Simply mentioning the myth can lead to the information being ingrained. The more often you hear something, the more you believe that it is true.

This is why misinformation spreads so quickly these days and is hard to extinguish. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter allows you to direct information to millions of people in an instant. This is a dangerous weapon when held by a powerful but misinformed leader.

The familiarity effect is evident with the debate about eggs. It seems like an article about the benefits of eggs is written every month. This would not happen if people didn’t still believe that eggs are bad for you.

To combat this effect, any attempts to debunk a myth should put an emphasis on the truth. Tell your clients how eggs would help them reach their goals. Give them facts about the benefits of eggs.


The overkill effect occurs when too many facts are used to debunk myths. The bombardment of information does not allow one to properly process the evidence.  People end up believing the myth because it takes too much energy to try and understand the truth.

The solution is to take the “less is more” approach. Facts should be concise and as easy to understand as possible. Rather than listing off 20 reasons why eggs are great, choose 5 that are most applicable to your client.


Of the three backfire effects, the worldview effect is the toughest to navigate. This effect pertains to individuals who have a firm grasp on their beliefs. Confronting these individuals with counter-arguments, no matter how strong, strengthens their beliefs.

You will recognize these individuals as those who belong to groups with solid identities. People who follow the Paleo diet would be the most obvious and current example.

* note – Not that the Paleo diet is inherently bad for you. It’s the arguments that people make to support the diet that I have issue with.

So how do you change the mind of someone who identifies so strongly with their beliefs?

One way is to frame the information in a way that doesn’t attack their worldview.

For instance, grains are a big No for strict Paleo followers. Telling them that grains are not bad for you will fall on deaf ears. But, explaining that sprouting grains makes them more easily digestible can be effective. Sprouting grains essentially turns them into a live plant. Plants are a big Yes in the Paleo book.

Steps to Debunk Myths

Now that we know what to avoid, here are some more steps to follow to effectively debunk myths.

  1. Emphasize the core facts. Remember not to use too many, though. Choose no more than 5 things that are most relevant to your client.
  2. Use warnings when addressing myths. Before you repeat a myth, provide caution about the upcoming information begin false.
  3. Provide and alternative explanation. You must fill their false information gap with new, correct information. If you don’t, your clients may continue to believe the wrong information. To them, having the wrong explanation is better than no explanation.
  4. Choose your battles. You can’t win them all. Instead of risking a bad relationship just to prove a point, focus on areas that you can help clients change.

The relationship that you have with your clients is built on trust. This trust should be maintained to do your job effectively. Knowing when and how to deliver information is just as important as sharing it.