Helping your clients to stay on track: The easy way

As a personal trainer, you may have experienced the following scenario;

  • You create a great plan for a client,
  • The two of you agree the way forward.
  • They seem highly inspired to get going!

Yet when it comes to putting that plan in place, their adherence is low to non-existent. Eventually they lose motivation and stop coming into their sessions. Meaning you have lost a client, an opportunity to get referrals, and a bunch of income.

So why don’t they stick to their plans? And what can you do to help?

Passive Reasoning

If you ask your clients why they didn’t stick to their plans, you will often find they reference and over-emphasise things that were outside of their control.

“My kids were arguing”

“My partner didn’t feel like it”

“My boss put a bunch of work on my desk”

And so on.

This is referred to as “Passive Reasoning”. It’s essentially your client pointing outside of themselves and saying “That’s why I didn’t follow my plan”.

The issue with such an approach is that is pushes the responsibility your client feels away from themselves. They can point at an external factor, shrug and say “It wasn’t my fault. There was nothing I could do”. The knock-on effect of this is the client cannot learn from the situation, and so nothing changes. As there will always be an external reason for not changing behaviour and the client’s that struggle to follow plans will always find them.

The reason clients fall into this pattern can be due to a few factors:

Lack of self-compassion- Essentially meaning your client beats themselves up and get frustrated when they aren’t doing things perfectly.

Having a fixed mindset- Which causes individuals to doubt their ability to change.

Current and future self separation-  Often individuals believe they will have more motivation to change in the future (i.e. the infamous “I’ll start on Monday” principle). This interesting situation arises because individuals subconsciously see their future selves as a different person, meaning they truly believe on Monday they will be bursting with motivation. Unfortunately when they get to Monday, they find nothing has changed.

Whatever the underlying reason, it prevents your clients from learning from the situation. Meaning nothing changes. Which results in their progress being minimal to none. And so eventually their motivation collapses and they lose interest in carrying on.

Thankfully there is an easy way to prevent this…

Active Reasoning

If your clients are ever going to learn from their “failures” they need to take personal responsibility. To achieve this ask them to focus on their effort (i.e. Did I do my best to stick to the plan?). This approach, where they look internally to their own effort, is called Active Reasoning.

Examples of using active reasoning to question why plans were not adhered to include:

  • “How much effort did you put into getting to the gym?”
  • “How hard did you try to resist getting a takeaway?”
  • “How strongly did you attempt to follow your Monday plan?”

When you get your clients to approach poor adherence in this way, you completely change their mindset. They stop looking for quick excuses. They start to take responsibility for their actions. This allows you to get them focused on what they can do to improve results, rather then what external factors should bend to them.

Of course, effort can be an abstract term. So to help clients it’s wise to allow them to rate themselves on a scale. For example:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a 100% effort, how hard did you try to follow your diet plan yesterday?”

If the score is 10 out of 10, then fair enough. There is nothing more they could have done. Sometimes a new behaviour is impossible to do. However, you are more often than not going to get a score below 10. And this means there is room for improvement on their part. To help them discover what they could do to improve their chances of success when they next have their new behaviour, follow up by asking:

“What could you do next time to make your effort a 10 out of 10?”

Once you’ve identified how they could enhance their effort, create an action plan for putting that change into place.

And hey presto! Just by questioning why they didn’t adhere to their plans you’ve managed to:

  1. Stopped your client from focusing on external factors, which will always exist.
  2. Got them to accept personal responsibility.
  3. Helped them to learn from the situation.
  4. Put in place an action plan to improve next time.

Which will all result in:

  1. Improved client plan adherence.
  2. Improved client results.
  3. Improved client retention.
  4. Better reviews.
  5. Greater numbers of referrals.
  6. More income and business growth.

Not bad for asking one question in a different way!


  • Dweck, C., 2012. Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential (Updated ed.). London: Robinson.
  • Goldsmith, M. and Reiter, M., 2016. Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts. Danvers: Crown Business.
  • Leary, M.R., Tate, E.B., Adams, C.E., Batts Allen, A. and Hancock, J., 2007. Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of personality and social psychology92(5), p.887.
  • Pronin, E., Olivola, C.Y. and Kennedy, K.A., 2008. Doing unto future selves as you would do unto others: Psychological distance and decision making. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 34(2), pp.224-236.