This time of year, your social media and news feeds are probably filled with posts about New Year’s resolutions. Even if you aren’t a resolution-maker, there’s a good chance your clients are some of the millions who are. If they’re anything like half of the population, one of their goals might be to lose weight. Or it could be to manage stress better, or be more present. Or spend less time on their digital devices.

However, there’s a big difference between making a New Year’s resolution and keeping one. In fact, 80% of resolutions fail by February, and there’s tons of science behind why they typically don’t stick.

That’s why we’re going to show you 9 health coaching techniques to help your clients achieve their goals in 2019.

Whether you’re a Primal Health Coach, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, a personal trainer, dietician, or doctor, the one thing we all have in common is that we want our clients to change a behavior in some way. You might think that it’s as easy as telling them what to do. After all, if I told you you’d be healthier if you ate less grains and moved your body more, wouldn’t you do it? The short answer is, not usually.

They key is to tap into your clients’ own desires for making changes…and it all starts with a term called Motivational Interviewing. Your clients likely already know what they need to do. Your job is to help them discover why they need to do it.

#1: Understand Your Clients’ Motivations

Your clients have a lot of reasons for doing what they do. The goal is to understand where they’re coming from to help elicit a change. Maybe their New Year’s resolution is to quit smoking so they can chase their kids around more easily, or make better food choices so they don’t have to pay for two airline seats on an upcoming vacation. It will be their personal reasons (family, finances, self-image) that will be the main motivators here.

#2: Ask Open Questions

Focus on questions like “What would it take to add more movement to your day?” or “Tell me how meal planning went this week?” instead of more judgmental ones like “Have you been following the guidelines we talked about?” Open questions are like invitations. They fuel a productive dialogue—one that allows your client to be an active participant in the conversation, and helps evoke their own motivations for working toward and achieving their health goals.

#3: Stop Talking

We have so much valuable information to share as health coaches, but sometimes the best thing we can do is shut up for a few minutes. When I first started coaching, I was worried that I wouldn’t have all the answers. Then I realized I don’t have to have all the answers. When we stop thinking about what we’re going to say next and actually listen to what our clients have to say, often times they’ll come up with their own solutions to reaching their goals. With Motivational Interviewing, your clients become the teachers.

#4: Help Them Sort Out the Pros and Cons

When your clients are ambivalent about making changes (even the ones they’re paying you to help them with), they might say things like “I should cut out grains, but I don’t like vegetables” or “I want to get to the gym more, but I’m so busy this month.” What you’re hearing are conflicting motivations. They want the change just as much as they don’t want it. In my practice, I always have my clients make a pros and cons list. The goal is to resolve any inner conflict going on by coming up with twice as many pros as there are cons.

#5: Share What You Know

Of course, there are lots of times you’ll have valuable information to share. Just like anything, there are some right ways to do it and some wrong ways. For starters, don’t overload your clients. Give it to them in smaller chunks, and make sure they understand it as you go. Also, don’t use technical terms or scientific jargon. Your clients are regular, everyday people, so talk to them that way. And slow down. The more hurried you come across, the less likely it will be that your clients will absorb what you’re telling them. You may also want to consider starting off with questions like “Would you like to know more about…?” or “What do you think of this plan…?”

#6: Resist the Urge to Be Right

A few weeks ago, I was working with a woman who wanted to lose weight. As she was telling me what she ate throughout the day (cereal, sandwiches, crackers), I immediately wanted to tell her how her choices were leading to her stalled weight loss. But here’s the deal. Overweight clients know they should eat differently, just like chronic exercisers know they need a rest day. However, when we’re ambivalent about making a change, it’s in our human nature to at first resist hearing what we need to hear—and to delay acting upon it.

#7: Be Their Guide

Successful guides show what’s possible; they don’t dictate exactly what to do or where to go. When you take on the role of Sherpa with your clients, you help them figure out how to help themselves, which is a big part of motivational interviewing in general. When people are empowered to make decisions for themselves (versus being guilted, bullied, or scared into them), they’re more apt to follow through with the behavior changes necessary for reaching their health goals.

#8: Listen for Change Talk

Recognizing change talk is an important skill. Even without your health coaching certification, you could probably pick it out. It’s when your client goes from “I should” or “I wish I could” to “I am,” “I will,” and “I am ready to.” These statement-starters indicate that a behavior change is on the verge of happening. When you hear change talk, it means you’re doing it right. If you find your clients being defensive or you’re arguing for the change, go back to the top of this list. And remember, as the health coach, you can’t want your clients’ goals more than they do.

#9. Stay Flexible

Depending on your clients, what their goals are, and how much time you have, you’ll probably use a combination of techniques in your health coaching sessions. You might start with asking, then guiding and informing. Or jump into understanding motivations, sorting pros and cons, then listening for change talk. There’s no right or wrong answer here. By being flexible and using a variety of techniques, you can elicit the right behavior changes in your clients so that they can reach their goals.


Help your clients stick with their New Year’s resolutions (or any health goals they have, any time of year) by using these 9 techniques:

#1. Understand your clients’ motivations
#2. Ask open questions
#3. Stop talking
#4. Help them sort out the pros and cons
#5. Share what you know
#6. Resist the urge to be right
#7. Be their guide
#8. Listen for change talk
#9. Stay flexible

Remember, most of your clients already have the answer within them—your job is to help them discover it. Want to learn more? There’s an incredible book called Motivational Interviewing in Health Care that takes a deeper dive into these techniques. Or check out this blog post with 10 great questions to ask clients in one-on-one sessions.

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