Mastering the Way You Motivate & Use Motivational Cues

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.

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Cory Sterling

Founder of Conscious Counsel and fit pro

Motivation (n.): The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

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:

Barry Ennis: Fitness Professional Training Expert | Fitness Business Consultant        

FCM 031: Mastering the Way You Motivate & Use Motivational Cues          

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.

Let’s talk about motivating people using their own reasons:

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.

Personally, I hate any type of motivation that makes fitness a punishment, or about being unhappy with their body.

“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.  

Call upon these general drives in general motivation cues that address why they are there, but not explicitly:

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.

The other way for you to motivate is for you to set your own intention for the class.

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.

You can then use easy cues like:

Remember what you came here for

What do you value more – your comfort or what you came here for?

In either case, whether you draw a reason out of them, or give them their own reason, remember it’s not just important what you say, but what you say AND when you say it.

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.  

Here’s your challenge from this episode.

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?  

Be mindful of what the mind or does when its uncomfortable. This is an important question to answer. Does it…

…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.

What does your body feel?

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:

“Don’t forget the intention you set for yourself today.”
“Don’t give up what you want most for what you want right now. remember everything worth achieving is not easy in the beginning.”
“If you want it, you have to go get it.”

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.

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