Why Do People Change?
Today’s guest post comes from a familiar face on TG.com, Justin Kompf, who previously contributed a very well received piece – HERE (on how to (Wo)Man Up).
Justin’s someone who I feel is going to do great things in this industry and it’s hard to believe that he’s only in his early 20s!
He has a lot of insight for someone his age, and this post definitely showcases that gift. Makes me question why I spent so much time watching Melrose Place and Party of Five when I was his age!
I hope you give it a read as it has a really compelling and worthwhile message.
One of the most rewarding and frustrating aspects of personal training is getting your clients to change their habits. Until they’re ready to change what they do outside the gym, what you tell them won’t lead to action. This can be truly disheartening; plenty of times I’ve cared more about my clients’ health than they’ve cared about their own.
I’ve had clients attempt to make changes only to relapse and become discouraged. For whatever reason, they simply aren’t “ready” to change. In my initial assessment, I ask three simple questions:
1) Are you ready to change?
2) Are you willing to change?
3) Are you confident that you can change?
For people that aren’t positive about one of these answers, I can see their hesitation. After four years of working with people, I’ve developed a good sense of if they really are ready to change.
Interacting and working with different types people daily has fueled my curiosity about human nature. Why out of one thousand overweight/obese people does only one person change? What is so different about that individual? Similarly, plenty of people go to the gym but why out of hundreds of people do only a few truly dedicate their lives to training correctly? Why do they care so much to get their training programs, sleep schedule, nutrition and hydration status down to a science?
There has been a lot of research on why people gain weight, but I think we miss the message.
If you want to learn how people got rich, you wouldn’t necessarily study the habits of a poor person.
Similarly if you want to study how and why people get and stay healthy, focusing solely on people who are heavy might not be the answer. We need to examine people who made life changes, people who went from poor health to spectacular health, and we need to ask why.
In talking to friends and family who have made changes, I’ve come to a several conclusions about why people decide to become healthy:
1) They do it to empower themselves
2) They have hit rock bottom
3) Life altering events/wake up calls
4) Heroes are present – particularly for youths.
These people felt that they were not in control of their lives and they desperately needed to make a change to gain the control back.
“I was broken down emotionally by the verbal abuse from my father. One day he pushed me around and I vowed to never let a man treat me like that again. That was until I got in to a really poor relationship in my beginning years of college. The guy I was with did the same – not just once either. I was fed up, and I knew not only did I need to get stronger emotionally but physically as well.”
This was part of the story that I received from a great friend in college. I didn’t know this individual before she started going to the gym, but her back story is extremely motivational. She’s someone who will go out of her way to say hi to you, ask you how you’re doing or give you advice on your girl problems (thanks!).
She also has a diesel squat and deadlift.
She told me she was embarrassed and had described her mindset to me as fragile. I never knew that side of her. Her training helped her become one of the most confident and strong female friends that I have known.
Recently, I got caught up in watching a documentary on a 700 pound woman. One scene really stuck out to me; this woman was riding through the grocery store on one of those automatic wheel chairs when someone made a comment about her weight.
“If you get any bigger we’ll just get you a bigger wagon,” he said.
After the man passed by her she began to break down and cry. Her life had hit rock bottom and she knew that if she didn’t change she would die.
This woman ended up losing about 500 pounds.
So I ask myself, why? What drove the change? Why did she change when so few do? What is so different about her?
She had talked about weighing only 350 pounds the last time she stepped on the scale, thinking that wasn’t so bad. The next time she stepped on the scale she was about 650 pounds, reality smacked her right in the face. She was at rock bottom and I think that’s why she changed. Her choices were simple; continue down the path she was on or, literally, death.
I have a relative, Kelly, who lost and has kept off an incredible 130 pounds. She had steadily been gaining weight due to her Crohn’s disease and had eventually reached 300 pounds after having her second child. I had to ask her why she decided to change. Here is part of her story:
“Years went by and I was always the “nice one” or the “funny one” and seemed to always have a smile on my face. I was truly sad and hurting on the inside. I couldn’t wear cool, trendy clothes like everyone else; it was hard to find things in my sizes. In the Adirondacks I was too heavy to ride the horses. I could not fit into most roller coasters, so pretended to be fine holding everyone’s stuff. I was ashamed and embarrassed throughout my 30s.”
“So if you are wondering what made me decide it was time….it was the sadness that filled my heart. Sad that I couldn’t keep up with the kids, that I embarrassed them and myself; sad that I was watching life pass me by and pretending to be satisfied and even happy all of the time.”
She has a truly inspiring story. Kelly has since run many 5K races. Through listening to stories like this I’ve come to realize that rock bottom and the desire to change often go hand in hand with the loss of the ability to do things the individual used to be able to do. I believe this helps to fuel the change process.
LIFE ALTERING EVENTS/WAKE UP CALLS
I spoke to another friend who was heavy in his youth and this is how he described himself:
“I was very inactive as a kid and gained a lot of weight in middle school; I only really had friends that were girls, no guy friends and was pretty much bullied by the other kids at school.”
This story isn’t inherently unique, lots of young kids share this background but so few of them end up like this individual who currently competes as a powerlifter and has competed in body building shows as well. Most of these young overweight kids stay overweight throughout adulthood. So why did he change?
“Every male in my family, from my two grandfathers, to my uncles to my dad, has either suffered from or died from a stroke or heart attack. After my dad had his first stroke he had a wakeup call and a chance to change but he ignored it didn’t address his problems then had a second more serious stroke that left him extremely cognitively challenged. So I hate that. I hate that obesity took such a great man and reduced him to so little. I have literally all the cards stacked against me when it comes to health and staying lean. If I eat starch or bread in any large quantity I put on massive amounts of weight.”
This individual could essentially see into his future; if he didn’t change he knew exactly what would happen to him. After his father’s stroke he began to change his habits, playing sports and eating better, which led to him losing 30 pounds.
I’d like to leave on a light (perhaps cheesy) note so I’m about to alienate some readers and get others to nod their head and smile. When I put up a post asking people why they got healthy I had some great responses. An overwhelming number of people attribute their weight training and healthy habits to Dragon Ball Z.
I had to laugh because that cartoon was one of the reasons I started exercising at a young age. My story wasn’t as interesting or inspiring as some of the ones above. I was chubby in middle school and felt embarrassed. I’d blush when talking to girls; I didn’t feel noticeable or happy with the way I looked.
Like so many other friends I’d watch Dragon Ball Z on cartoon network then run into my garage later to attempt to do a Kamehameha wave (I was 22….just kidding).
The majority of my social group consists of very fit people. I don’t think I can chalk it all up to random chance that they all watched DBZ as kids.
If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s essentially good guys beating up bad guys, long fight scenes, lots of screaming and awesomeness. I think what a lot of us got out of it as kids was the desire to train like the characters in the show who were constantly getting stronger and better.
I believe it is the hero aspect of the show that motivated people to work on getting their bodies stronger and fitter. Since it is the hero aspect that motivated us, I don’t think that I can just say DBZ is the reason most of my friends are fit.
I think it’s because we had real heroes (fictional or nonfictional) who motivated us to be like them. It could have been superman, it could have been a strong relative we looked up to or maybe it could have been some celebrity we idolized and wanted to look like. I know a lot of people were inspired to body build because of Arnold’s physique. It’s our heroes who inspired us to be better than average as young kids.
TIME TO CHANGE
Working with people and watching them either accept or resist change has left me very curious about the nature of change. Why do people resist it when they know change will be good for them and what is that definitive moment when they do decide to start changing. Finally, what is so different about the people that do change and why are they such a minority?
Through the stories I’ve gathered, I’ve begun to form a better understanding of the change process and come to the conclusion that people change because they want to be in control of the quality of their lives. Unfortunately, a lot of times it doesn’t hit us that the quality of our lives are poor until events occur like the ones in the stories above that act as the to gasoline to fuel us to the other side we dream of.
I’d love to hear more stories on why people change so us fitness professionals can better understand and help others to change just like you!
About the Author
Justin Kompf is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and certified personal trainer through the NSCA. He graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. He currently teaches and trains clients at the University. Justin like burritos, deadlifting, peanut butter, and The Fast and the Furious movie saga (minus 2 and 3). He is an author for bloodandiron315.com . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.