Is Your Client Really Ready for Change?

Is Your Client Really Ready for Change?

Behaviour change is a tricky process. Psychologists around the world have developed various models of change to explain how behavioural change works. None of them are 100% able to explain why someone decides to change their behaviour, but some are better than others. The problem (and beauty) with human beings is thus – we are not creatures of rationality. As much as we try to be, every single one of us have and will continue to make irrational choices.

One of the more recognised models explaining change is known as the transtheoretical model of change. There are six defined stages.

  1. Pre-contemplation – In this stage, the client has no intention of making any change. They might ‘know’ that a change would be good, but really have no desire to change.
  2. Contemplation – In this stage, the client is thinking about making a change. But has not committed to it yet.
  3. Planning – In this stage, the client has committed to change, and begins to take actions to prepare for a change. In the context of health, this could be searching for a local gym, or finding details of a personal trainer.
  4. Action – In this stage, the client has physically begun to enact the change. This could be signing up for the gym, or contacting the personal trainer to begin their exercise program.
  5. Maintenance – In this stage, the client has been performing the desired behaviour for an extended period of time (greater than 6 months) and will continue to do so.
  6. Relapse – In this stage, the client regresses into any of the previous stages.


What’s important to understand about this model is that it is non-linear. You could be at pre-contemplation stage and jump straight to action in a day. An all-too-familiar example would be the acute emotional shock a cardiac patient receives after learning that their inactive lifestyle would cost them their life.

The opposite could be true – you could be at the action stage but suffer a nasty ankle sprain and have no desire to exercise for the foreseeable future.

How do we use this information in our coaching service? Firstly, understand that the actions of your clients will dictate which stage they are in, as opposed to the words they say. Clients will tell you that they love training – but miss half their sessions.

They’ll tell you that they’re ready to make a change, but be resistant to any changes you suggest. In fact, some clients will say everything associated with the pre-contemplation stage but turn out to be more consistent than the ones who don’t.

Using sound professional judgement, measure the congruency of their words and actions. If there is a disconnect between the two, you’re more likely to be right by assessing their actions.

Secondly, by understanding which stage they’re in, programs should be tailored to facilitate progression (or maintenance) in that stage. This is where our lives become a little simpler.

Most of the time, anyone within the first four stages will benefit with plenty of positive reinforcement and a reward system. The goal is to give them frequent ‘mini-wins’ to facilitate a positive relationship with exercise. This could be as simple as improving their movement pattern within a one week time-frame. Or, you could take them out for a coffee after committing to a 4 week plan. The largest error you could make here is creating a journey that is too hard. There’s no debate on this. The vast majority of people have trouble adhering to behaviours that are too hard.

Once someone reaches the maintenance stage – the thinking shifts away from facilitating a positive relationship with exercise (because hopefully, you’ve already done that). Now, the goal is to keep them engaged by consistently providing new challenges. Let’s face it – being bored is a potent change instigator.

By understanding your client’s stage of change, your service can be individually tailored to suit their needs, and with it, a greater chance that the coach-client relationship will be a fruitful one.