Good motivation comes down to knowing not necessarily what to say, but what you say, AND when you say it. No two instructors will motivate the same way. It is up to you to develop your own style.
This blog is based on the FCM Podcast Episode 31: Mastering the Way You Motivate & Use Motivational Cues. You can listen to it here:
First things first – as a good instructor we surrender to the fact that we can’t please everybody. Not everyone will like our class. This gives us the freedom to be ourselves and speak from our heart and our truth.
The first thing we have to understand about motivation is that in order to motivate our clients: we have to give them a reason for their action. It’s much much more than simply saying, “you can do it, keep going!”
We have to give them a reason for their behavior. When things get hard, it’s easy to forget the reason in favor of the easy path. We know this from living our own lives. We have to give them a reason, or help them realize their own for what we’re asking them to do.
When motivating your clients, you have to think about what the purpose of the motivation is. What reason it’s attached to. This gives the motivation a strong purpose rather than just a random, “you can do it!”
That reason can come from two places – drawing out their own reason, or giving them one ourselves.
To do this you must study the reasons why people go to a fitness class. Some are intuitive. Many I know from my years of experience teaching. The best way to know is to ask your clients, but here are some that I know:
– To lose weight
– To relieve stress
– To escape their life
– Because of the endorphin rush and how it makes them feel
– To get stronger
– To work through a challenging moment in their life
– Don’t underestimate your ability to change someone’s life or help them through it
To me, a fitness class or training session is directly applicable to experiences in everyday life.
Motivation in a fitness class can be more challenging than other motivation. It’s not like motivating someone to study. The people you are talking to are feeling very present, physical, mental, and sometimes emotional pain. When your riders are going through your class experience and pushing themselves, they should be feeling uncomfortable. The mind doesn’t like to experience things that are uncomfortable, and it will make attempts to mentally escape or convince the participant to make the effort easier. It can make your motivation have a particularly powerful impact on them if they’re able to show themselves that they can push through when it really feels like they can’t.
“Oh, you’d better burn off what you ate over the weekend!”
“You want to fit into that bikini this summer, right?”
That’s HORRIBLE. You’re communicating to your clients that they should feel bad about their body, when fitness should be about joy and about celebrating who we are and who we are becoming. There are ways to motivate your clients to achieve goals related to their body without expressly talking about it. You have to be more subtle. Some people are perfectly happy with their body the way it is, and they should be! Don’t be any semblance of a body shamer in your class by announcing that we’re in the room because we’re unhappy with our bodies. There’s no joy in that.
Every moment leading up to this one has created who you are now. What you do now creates that future version of you.
You want to give up to avoid difficulty, but if you do give up you will only face a different kind of difficulty.
If you choose to stay comfortable, then you choose to stay the same.
Don’t keep doing the same things over and over expecting a different outcome. You make the change.
See how none of that addresses whether they are there to lose weight, or relieve stress, but at the same time it addresses both?
The best way around this is to invite them to set an intention for why they are there at the beginning of the session. If they decide that their intention is to burn as many calories as they can do lose weight – then that is their choice.
This is something that’s not as easy to do really well, but to start: make sure it’s something coming from your heart and something that you can keep referring back to in your class. Sometimes this can be challenging to do depending on the nature of what you teach.
Remember what you came here for
What do you value more – your comfort or what you came here for?
Now you can choose either or both ways to motivate during your class. But I want to take a second now to share with you a simple technique that will allow you to make your motivation extremely powerful.
There is a very simple technique that you can use to determine what is the most motivational thing to say in that moment. It is: be very aware of what your class participants are experiencing in each section of your class. How do you do that? The obvious answer is to watch their faces and body language, but the truly best way is a little sneaky.
You can determine this by taking classes yourself. Pay careful attention to the experience you have from the moment you walk in the classroom to finish, Notice when your mind begins to drift away or make excuses. These are likely the same moments when your class participants need motivation as well.
Go take a class in the modality you teach – even better if it’s from another instructor at the place that you teach, because the style of the workout will likely be the most similar. Bring a journal, and be very mindful all through the class of what you feel and experience at every moment. If you are a member of our e-mail list, we have a printable resource with many of these questions you can use! It features questions such as these:
What does it feel like when you come into the room?
What does it feel like when you begin the warm up?
What does it feel like in the middle of the workout?
What does it feel like when you’re going all out?
What does it feel like when you get the opportunity to rest?
When do you respond to motivation from the instructor?
When do you respond better to silence or just listening to the music?
What does it feel like when the instructor challenges you again?
What does it feel like when you realize you’re very close to the end of the class?
Don’t just notice what you feel, but notice what specific dialogue you hear in your head. What’s that crazy voice saying to you? What negative thoughts merge from your mind?
…focus on what’s wrong?
…try to convince you that its okay to make it a bit easier or stop?
…tell you that you can’t?
…that you’ll never be able to do it?
It’s only natural – it’s how we evolved and survived as a species.
Like your lungs are going to explode?
Like you can’t get enough air?
Like your legs are going to snap in half?
Write all of those down in your journal. If you feel those things and think those things in those moments of your class, guess what? Your clients feel and think those things too. If you can not only identify to them what it is that they’re feeling, but then give them something encouraging that you say that gives them a reason to push through- you not only motivate them, but you make them feel that you truly understand them. You’re there with them, and you get what they’re going through. How powerful is that! You’re like their coach, but also their savior, their preacher, their guide, their muse!
Thats why it’s so important to say something powerful at the right moment. If you get that timing right, it’s so, so powerful.
It’s having the ability to say, “I know this is the moment where you’re feeling tempted the most to give up.” Then, you plug in a reason for them to keep going. Maybe it has to do with the intention you set for them at the beginning of class, or something as simple as:
I have a ton that I’ve accumulated from multiple sources like books, movies, my own experience, other instructors… you can begin to generate your own list too, but make sure it’s something that matches your values, your personality. You have to make it your own, not just regurgitate something someone else says.
I want to emphasize this again. Don’t worry about reaching everyone in the room. Of course everyone in the room will be going through something slightly different, but if you speak from your truth, then that is something that everyone will hear and feel. Don’t just regurgitate something because you like how it sounds. Say it because it touches you, it moves you, it speaks to you.
Knowing what people are feeling and thinking based on your own experience is information can help you determine what you should say and when during your class in order to keep them motivated. It will be best to say something that will take them back into the present moment and the task at hand, or inspire them to keep going beyond what their mind wants to do. Good motivation therefore functions to “lasso” the mind back in and focus on the task at hand.
Sometimes the best motivation is not getting your people to do more, but actually to do less! Let’s go back to some of those examples I gave of what people’s mind’s do. One thing I know about my mind, and you can probably relate, and this again comes from our evolutionary background, but we try to control our environment and what’s happening in and around us. The problem with that is that there’s very, very little that we can control, and it’s extremely stressful to try to do that. Sometimes people feel inadequate because of who else is in the room with them. They feel a ton of pressure to perform better just because of that social pressure.
If you’re pushing outside your comfort zone and feeling vulnerable, and also trying to force yourself not to feel certain things or putting pressure on yourself to do as much as the person next to you, that’s an insane amount of pressure.
As an instructor, we can relieve that by reminding them that they don’t need to control everything, or don’t need to compare themselves to the people next to them. Say things like…
Don’t forget the human element of what’s happening in your classes, and capitalize on it! When we are pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone and getting vulnerable, that’s when all of our anxieties, fears, demons, and insecurities surface. It’s not a fun feeling. The more you as a coach are able to learn what exactly it is that’s happening within the minds and bodies of your participants, the more you’re able to deliver exactly what it is that they need to hear to help them not only get through the workout, but teach themselves something about themselves. This allows them to reach a breakthrough that will stay with them outside the gym; to realize that they can when they thought they couldn’t; to realize they don’t need to control everything. Think of how that translates into their lives – into how the contact their jobs, intact with their coworkers or boss, how they handle challenges in their relationships or families.
We have the power to truly change people’s lives in a unique way that very few professions can. Take advantage of that! Don’t just teach a workout. Use your motivational cues to understand and touch the lives of your clients.