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Using Positive Psychology with Personal Training Clients

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline,

Reading Time: 5 minutes 24 seconds

One of the biggest challenges you can face as a personal trainer is a client who lacks positivity. You know the one. They complain throughout the entire coaching session. They also talk about happiness as if it is some elusive goal. Negative emotion just oozes from their pores.

The problem with this way of thinking is that making lasting changes is hard. Long-term change requires dedication and focus. It’s difficult to have either of these when you don’t have a positive mindset. 

If you are a negative person, you become ultra-focused on your obstacles. They become so big in your mind that you can’t see a way around them. When it comes to fitness, this means your goals will likely remain unmet. You won’t lose that weight once and for all. Your muscles won’t get any bigger. You won’t gain the endurance needed to run that marathon.

That’s why some clients require a positive psychology intervention. What does this entail? 

The Positive Psychology Model

Traditional psychology focuses primarily on mental health disorders. It seeks to understand how mental illness can negatively affect a person’s life. It also works to treat the symptoms of these disorders so the person can function at a higher level. Positive psychology takes a slightly different approach.

Instead of looking at a person’s mental “weaknesses,” the areas where they falter, positive psychology is more interested in their strengths. Positive psychology wants to know where you are strong and resilient in your mind. It then strives to help you become the best version of yourself by honing these attributes.

As a positive psychology coach, you can help your clients identify and use their natural mental talents. This involves providing positive psychology exercises. But why go through the steps necessary to add this methodology to your current coaching practice?

Benefits of Using Positive Psychology with Personal Training Clients

Positive thinking, in general, has its own advantages. For instance, research reveals that positivity increases your ability to achieve authentic happiness. When you constantly see the world for the goodness it holds, it’s easier to find joy. Your outlook on life is one of hope and blessings versus being filled with doom and gloom.

In this way, positive psychology creates happier clients. Happy clients are more fun to train. They show up to their workout sessions with a smile on their face. They also look at challenges as opportunities. They are easier to motivate because they have an “I can do this” attitude.

There’s also the fact that good health doesn’t occur on only a physical level. It requires a healthy mental state as well. One study refers to this holistic approach as “positive health.” Having positive health means enduring fewer bouts of illness and healing more rapidly. It also results in living a longer life that is free of debilitating disease.

Plus, what’s the point in getting a great physique if you’re miserable inside? Positive psychology addresses this issue. It helps improve your client’s mental health and happiness. This increases the likelihood that they’ll feel as good on the inside as they do on the outside when engaging in your training program.

How to Assess a Client’s Level of Positivity

The first step to positive psychology coaching is to determine how optimistic your clients are, or are not. This can be accomplished with an Optimism Test. This test assesses how a person interprets both positive and negative events. It looks at three different areas:

  • Permanence – whether the person feels that events or situations are short or long-lasting
  • Pervasiveness – whether a positive or negative event impacts all areas of life or just one portion
  • Personalness – whether events are caused by or directly related to themselves

Understanding how a person views events in each of these areas gives insight into the challenges you may face when working with your coaching client.

For example, clients who believe that negative events are permanent tend to give up more easily. They will be more inclined to walk away from your training program before seeing true results. Clients who believe negative events are temporary will find it easier to stick with your program because they know their struggles will go away. They realize the process will become easier over time.

A client who believes a negative event in one area of their life will negatively impact other areas as well (pervasiveness) will present other challenges. They have increased feelings of helplessness. They feel like they have less control and will fail no matter what they do. This decreases their motivation because they don’t see the point in trying.

A client with negative personalness feels like it is entirely their fault if they don’t hit their goals. They internalize when they don’t lose enough weight or gain enough muscle. This can cause them to get in their own way and give up at the first setback. Helping them see that other factors can be at play—such as medications or hormones—is necessary to help them achieve long-term results.

The Optimism Test also gives clients a hope score. This is thought to be the most important score on the test because it reveals how the person views failure overall. Research has also connected lower hope scores with more frequent and severe illnesses. 

Positive Psychology Techniques for Boosting a Client’s Optimism

If a client has pessimistic tendencies, does this mean that they’ll never reach their fitness goals? Not at all. It just means that you may have to work a little harder. You will have to become a sort of life coach in addition to a personal trainer. These positive psychology exercises will help.

Increase Their Mindfulness

The first step to helping a client feel more positive is to get them to realize when negativity may be getting in their way. This requires increasing their self-awareness or mindfulness. Have them write down every time they experience a negative thought or emotion. This will help them see how much their pessimism may be impacting their life.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

One way to boost positive emotion is to make a list of all the blessings in your life. This is where a gratitude journal comes in handy. Ask your clients to write down three things every day that they are grateful for. As their gratitude increases, their overall wellness will increase too.

Reframe Negative Experiences

No one is free from negative life experiences. Events are canceled, jobs are cut, loved ones pass away, and other stressful curveballs are thrown our way. As a positive psychology practitioner, you can help clients view these events differently. Help them see that every negative experience can also be a positive experience. Work with them to recognize how an event made them stronger, led them down a better path, or provided a valuable lesson learned.

Seek More Positive Relationships

The more time you spend with negative people, the more it impacts your own mood. So, clients can become more positive simply by increasing the time they are around optimistic people. This form of social psychology encourages them to be more positive by enveloping themselves with others who have this approach. 

When It May Be Helpful to Refer Your Client to a Mental Health Professional

You can follow all the positive psychology principles and still have a client with a negative mindset. In some cases, their negativity may be deeply rooted in trauma. It can also be caused by poor coping skills or low self-esteem.

If it appears that their negativity is hurting them physically or mentally, it might be best to refer them to a psychologist or other mental health professional. They may need more in-depth, specialized help to change how they process thought and emotion. Counseling and other forms of therapy can give them the tools they need to cope and develop a life with more positivity.

Want to learn more about positive psychology coaching and its impact? The ISSA offers a Transformation Specialist certification. This course teaches you how to increase your clients’ motivation with positive psychology techniques. You also learn the coaching skills needed to help clients achieve a growth mindset.

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