"A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment." - Coach John Wooden, UCLA; 10-time NCAA Champions between 1963 and 1975
Compared to running a family, fixing the flaws of towering, sweaty athletes seems simple. College athletes instinctively seek motivation. Family members seek the remote control, and gravitate to comfy spots on the couch. Basketball teams single-mindedly drive toward a common goal. Only a drive to Dairy Queen rallies couch potatoes and tater tots after a hard day at work or school.
If you want your family to live a healthier lifestyle, you must find a way, as Coach Wooden said, to correct without offending. First recognize that everyone in the family already knows what they ought to do to live better. They just can't pinpoint why they don't do it. They wouldn't argue the benefits of healthy diet and exercise, but may rationalize why those concepts don't apply to them! Their own mixed emotions have trapped them in a rut. And we have all had our wheels stuck in that mud of inertia time to time--even the best of basketball players.
"But we're talking about practice man. What are we talking about? Practice?" - Alan Iverson, Philadelphia '76ers, 2002
You can't talk or even teach your family into healthier living, because simply knowing better does not mean doing better. You must instead get them to do the talking, maybe about subjects they'd rather not discuss, like "how's this working out for you?" By "this" you might mean inactivity, overeating, binge drinking, or tobacco use. With gentle direction, you must coax them to verbally work through the mixed feelings that have killed their motivation to do better in the past, focusing on a better future.
"How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal, and you have to be willing to work for it." - Coach Jimmy Valvano, North Carolina State, NCAA Champions 1983
Health coaches have an effective method called Motivational Interviewing (MI). When working with wobbly and uncommitted clients, these coaches don't teach or preach. Instead, they listen. They realize people come with different levels of readiness to change their behavior, and meet them where they are.
MI has a central goal of helping the individual examine and resolve the double mindedness (called ambivalence) behind their problem. Four basic skills enable the coach to do this: asking questions in open-ended rather than pointed words; providing affirmations rather than accusation; listening reflectively rather than passively; and periodically summarizing what the person said so they hear it too, but in their own words. MI coaches realize that deep down, participants know better than the coach why they behave as they do. So the coach lets them know they're listening as the participant "thinks out loud."
The Motivational Interview becomes focused and goal-directed as the coach allows the participant to talk about what they have lost due to past behavior, versus what they stand to gain by changing. As they warm to the conversation, the individual compares their hopes and dreams to the path they have taken. By envisioning a better future, intrinsic motivation gradually emerges, as they hear themselves talk about what they might gain through change. Indecisive and uncertain feelings fade as they consciously or unconsciously weigh the pros and cons of changing versus continuing as they have.
"There are 86,400 seconds in a day. It's up to you to decide what to do with them." - Coach Jimmy Valvano, NC State
The coach then brings the participant to a crucial task: The Baby Step. Both must find goals that are small, important to the client, specific, realistic, and oriented in the present and/or future.
"The most important day of your life is today. This very minute is the most important of your life. You must win this minute. You must win this day. And tomorrow will take care of itself." - Coach John Chaney, Temple University, who coached to age 74
Over time, health coaches nudge clients forward by setting these small, achievable improvements the clients can picture themselves making that bring them closer to the solution.
"It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen." - Coach John Wooden, UCLA
MI gradually puts the ball in the participant's court. Coaches then help them stay motivated by pointing out there is no "right way" to change, and no limits to the number of ways they want to try. Whatever works for them, works for the coach. The participant begins to lose their fear of failure, empowered by recognizing that with each small change they make, their vision of the ultimate goal comes more clearly into focus.
"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be." - Coach John Wooden, UCLA
Along the way, the participant, and your family member, will naturally resist the process here and there. Like a health coach, you must "roll with resistance." This means to expect the disagreement and not challenge it. After all, at least they're talking! Use that as momentum to talk further about what they want. Coax them to develop their own solutions to the problems that they themselves have defined. You can't talk someone out of a problem behavior. Let them talk themselves into a better one.
"Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out." - Coach John Wooden, UCLA
Both basketball coaches and health coaches can teach us a lot about motivation. But especially when we consider our family and all its frustrations, realize that no one is programmed to fail. Everybody wants to succeed, but each defines success a little differently. And, some aren't ready yet to do what success requires. They can become ready by finding motivation in their relationships with others, especially within the family. Relationships that provide inspiration meet success. Criticism of character flaws does not. Partnership and companionship provide successful relationships.
"Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters." - John Wooden, UCLA
Finally, basketball coaches, health coaches, and families need to know the final buzzer never really sounds in this game.
"Don't give up, don't ever give up." - Jimmy Valvano, North Carolina State, NCAA Champions 1983