Hey, ! Let’s begin with a simple declaration:
There’s always a bright spot.
(Psst. Hey! You! Rather listen? Do that by clicking the link below)
Nutrition Coaching: Starting with the Bright Spots Audio Lesson
It’s there, in a food log full of poor decisions and rife with meager habits. It’s there in the conversation that the client uses to describe their current situation to you. It’s there. It’s always there.
We, however, as fitness problem solvers—the proverbial hammers ever-seeking nails—shade the bright spots with the glaring darkness. The problems are highlighted; the negativity is elevated to the surface, while positivity is sent on a speeding escalator to the basement.
The bright spot in all of this is that we care deeply about helping our clients. The problem, however, is that our overbearing problem solving mindset often creates discord and stifles the client’s intrinsic motivation for positive change. Our second bright spot is that with a few, simple shifts in approach—especially in how we communicate—we create an intrinsically motivating environment that fosters progress.
Find The Bright Spot
It’s as simple as starting with a positive statement.
Put yourself in the coaching context—first as a client. Envision that you’ve just completed a set of unilateral, frog-hop libido lunges and your coach comes up to you and says,
“No, no, no. You totally missed the libido part of the lunge. That won’t work.”
How do you feel? Motivated? Validated? Accomplished?
You said no to all of those questions didn’t you? Probably you feel a bit clammed up and resistant to any further advice that your coach is about to offer. It’s likely that you’re going to shut him or her out and lick your psychological wounds—consciously or subconsciously. You’ve, at the least, put up a wall.
Now, see yourself as the coach and watch your client’s reaction as you immediately jump in with a libido lunge correction. Do they seem as open to your coaching, or do they come back with a rebuttal for why they did what they did? Maybe they don’t answer with an immediate rebuttal, but notice their facial expressions and their body language. Both have likely closed.
Ok, let’s flip-flop the game. We’re going to open by commenting on a bright spot and making a positive statement.
“Dude! Loved how you did the frog hop. That was fucking great! (Insert fist bump, or other form of appropriate touching here.) Keep that up. But can we talk about the libido lunge? I think we can work on…”
See what we did there?
We found the first bright spot, even if it’s slight, commented on it and celebrated it.
Starting with positive statements keeps people from clamming up and opens them to the coaching you’re about to give. It’s simple psychology—people are much more apt to listen if you make them feel good about themselves first by letting them know they’ve done something right. People need to feel validated. The celebration builds even more rapport. Front ending the relationship with positivity attaches people to you.
Besides, it’s so rare that someone does everything wrong.
Besides, besides, no one likes a dick.
Now that they’re open, and they feel seen, we’ve nurtured an environment that elicits their intrinsic motivation to improve their lacks. Our following constructive comments are more effective.
We’ve established the context of finding bright spots, let’s extrapolate that to nutrition in two ways: food log review and consultation conversations.
Food Log Illumination
Food logs often come to us as schizophrenic diatribes of emotionally ill-formed dietary behaviors. Just so you know that we’re not sitting on some high horse, nose up at everyone that sees the deficiencies, it’s frequent that we read a food log and on the inside we scream,
“Holy son of a bitch! How haven’t you shit out your liver?”
We just don’t say that stuff aloud. And then we immediately scan for the positive attributes. This is where individual understanding is so necessary. Bright spots are relative.
Actually eating a breakfast, even if it’s a pop tart covered in marshmallow-flavored maple syrup, could be one person’s bright spot. Another lady or gent might be eating a good protein portion at every meal. Most important is to deduce which type of person you have in front of you by taking a close scan of the log and having an in-depth, open-ended conversation with them.
If in talking to Pop Tart Sally you find that she went four years without even looking at food until 3pm and then stuffed her face with two snickers and a 36 ounce super un-diet cola, well then learning that she’s having a pop tart at 8am is worth celebrating.
If you learn that Protein Patty used to crush all aspects of nutrition but fell off of the wagon after her second child, but has reinstituted great protein portions, we celebrate the initial steps back toward mastery.
In both instances, we use the bright spots to build momentum. As much as we like to bring up the weak spots, and we eventually will, weak spots are the hardest launching points to start from. They already exist in serious discord with what the client wants to achieve and the future self that they value. Bright spots, however, prove a safer harbor to launch a change vessel from. It’s much easier to build momentum using a positive than to resist a negative.
Rather than scolding Pop Tart Sally (PTS) for all of her dietary trespasses, what if we said,
“It’s awesome that you’re eating breakfast, this is terrific! Would you be open to adding something else to your breakfast?”
At this point PTS will likely say, sure, let’s get fuckin’ weird, fist bump you and slap the desk in triumph. Or, she may just say yes. You don’t know. You’re not a scientist.
Now we give PTS some options. It could go something like this,
“Awesome, glad to hear you’re open to try a few things. There are a few directions we could go, and this is totally up to you. So the elements of a good breakfast are some kind of protein source, a good fat source and a fruit or vegetable. Are there any of those options that you’d like to consider adding to your breakfast?”
Let’s say she said she’d consider adding a fruit or veggie.
Then we’ll jump back in,
“Cool. Which sounds better to you? Fruit? Ok cool. Which fruits do you like and would be convenient for you to add in with your pop tart? You love oranges? Awesome. So would you like to add oranges to breakfast every morning?”
At this point we facilitate a conversation during which PTS comes up with her own strategies for committing to adding an orange to breakfast every morning. We do that by asking a lot of open-ended questions and letting her find her own solutions. (We’ll save that for another lesson.)
Our current point is to see how we can find bright spots and piggy back positive changes, instead of finding the deepest negatives and attacking them. Roll with momentum rather than attacking with resistance.
Pay attention. That’s the simplest way to illuminate the brightest points in a consultation. Listen for the statements that the individual feels positive about, reflect them back, and then affirm that shit.
Let’s keep exemplifying PTS.
She says something like,
“I’m stoked that I’ve been eating pop tarts every morning. I never used to have an appetite in the morning and now I feel much better.”
“So you feel awesome that you’ve started eating breakfast and it’s improved your life. That’s great. And it has be empowering.”
“You bet your sweet ass it is!”
Again, she triumphantly slaps your desk and points at your nose in celebration.
PTS is a wildcat.
Hearing and reflecting bright spots helps the client affirm their abilities and keeps the conversation’s momentum moving forward and focused on change rather than sustaining poor habits and thoughts.
Remember, it’s all relative. One person’s point of illumination is another’s dark point. But listening intently and considering all of the information that the person’s given you: food log, non-verbal communication, previous statements, etc. hints us in to what bright statements to reflect back.
Consider this discussion in the context of the Strength Faction program to this point. Remember filling out your food log and consider the habits we’ve worked. Think of how you’ve been coached in your individual coaching meetings and the general interactions via Facebook and email. Bright spots frame all of these components. How can you use all you’ve done to this point to find the bright spots for your clients, and yourself, and apply them via the framework you’ve learned?