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by Liz Bowen

How To Minimize and Manage Setbacks for Clients

While fitness clients strive towards their goals, it is inevitable that setbacks will occur. Change is a crucial part of the process. Psychological models used to describe the process of how people change is actually a circular process. The process moves through cycles of deciding change, progress being made, setbacks, and then going back to reevaluate and refine their initial decisions. For example, smokers who are trying to quit permanently generally go through this process multiple times before ultimately quitting for good.

By encouraging your clients to expect success yet, at the same time, preparing them in advance for how to deal with setbacks, fitness trainers can help their clients greatly by reducing the frequency and severity of setbacks. One research study found that, smokers who suffered setbacks but eventually stopped smoking; virtually all had been prepared to deal with slip-ups. Therefore, it is beneficial to prepare your clients for setbacks by developing strategies ahead of time.


How to Help Your Clients Prevent Setbacks:

Recognize the True Cause. Identifying the potential causes of setbacks can help prevent them ahead of time. Potential setbacks can be addressed ahead of time through planning. Sometimes the lack of time to exercise or eat healthy can be addressed with better scheduling or increase of commitment. Another potential trigger for a setback can be social or a physical environment. For a recovering alcoholic, being in social setting with old drinking buddies could trigger the desire for a drink. However, research shows that the primary triggers for major setbacks tend to be stress and negative emotions. Negative emotional states focuses attention on the immediate environment rather than focusing on longer-term goals and ultimately can diminish motivation.

Make a Plan.

Encouraging clients to create a “stress response plan” will prepare then for major setbacks that come from negative emotions. Filling in the blank: “When I feel stressed or upset, I will deal with it productively by _____ .” will allows your clients to identify options that will work for them. Developing productive reactions to stress are a powerful predictor of change.

Take a moment.

Your clients would benefit from being able to pause between the urge and acting on it. Over time, these pauses can gradually lengthen. Allowing a pause of a minute or two, before acting on an urge, will allow more time to refocus on their goals. It’s obviously ideal to not suffer any setback or negative emotions that can trigger them, however it’s unrealistic to except that. The overall key for success, when dealing with setbacks, is being prepared.


How to Handle Minor Setbacks


Pausing during temptations is a key component in preventing a setback. For example, allowing a two-minute pause in the middle of meals can be an effective tool for weight loss. The pause provides for time to step back and allows the eater to feel that they are full.

Manage Attributions.

When people view setbacks as only temporary hurdles, they tend to have an easier time bouncing back and overcoming the obstacles. Attributing setbacks to external, easily changed causes can help keep positive emotions and ward off depression. However, in contract, when you see setbacks as personal or permanent causes, there is a greater chance of completely falling off the wagon after a single lapse. Helping your clients focus on what they can change, rather than beating themselves up over setbacks will help them achieve long term success.

Focus on the Benefits

Setbacks can provide a strengthening effect by preventing over-confidence and forces you to refocus on your goal. Most importantly, minor setbacks can be a learning opportunity. A minor setback can teach your clients about what tempts them and triggers their cycle of negativity.

Sum It All Up

After a minor setback has occurred, your client may loose focus on the setback management principle and instead focus on their disappointments. Facing a setback is not unusual when making life changes and does not mean that you have failed or lost control. Experiencing feelings of guilt and blame yourself is to be expected after a setback, however, looking at the slip, as a learning experience will help you overcome. Addressing questions of what lead to the slip and your coping response will help you moving forward to defer another setback. A slip does not have to become a relapse and does not mean you are a failure. Rather a slip is a single, independent event that can be avoided in the future.


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