A Professional Interview of Dr. Michael Arloski by David Hunnicut

DH: What does the coaching process look like?

MA: A real process has a beginning, a middle and an end.

The Beginning: As wellness coaches, we place a lot of focus on the beginning. We help a client with their own exploration and self-assessment. Rather than just assessing and diagnosing them, we help the client explore, get in touch and take stock of their wellness. After we help them understand where they are, we can help them clearly understand where they want to be. Life coaching and wellness coaching are really all about establishing your vision of health and wellness. We want to help clients establish how they would really like to live their lives. We help clients identify what exactly has to change to achieve that vision, which is what we call coaching to the gap—the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future.

The Middle: After we help clients identify the gap, we help them formulate a plan. And as coaches we may come up with a wonderful wellness plan: “Here is how to exercise. Here is how to eat.” And of course, that is wellness, but it is not wellness coaching. The coaching approach involves working with the client to help them develop their own plan. We help them develop a wellness plan that has specific details and processes that will enable them to move forward. We essentially help each client create their own map to follow—one that is co-created with the client and the coach.

The Final Stages: Lastly, we support the client through the plan. We do not just give someone a good direction, pat them on the shoulder and say “Go ahead and climb that mountain all by yourself.” We climb the mountain with them. We stick with them through the behavioral change process, providing accountability and support. That is the ongoing relationship that is really the heart and soul of coaching.

DH: Can you share  a little bit about the lifestyle improvement model outlined in your book?

MA: 1. Self-Assessment. The whole process starts with a self-assessment—a real awareness of your health, a really conscious idea of where you are at. Of course, not everyone is terribly self-reflective. For example, I had two clients who needed to lose a tremendous amount of weight; 100 pounds for one person and 60 pounds for the other. Neither one was very self-reflective. However, by doing the self-assessment, they got a really clear idea of where they were at, where they wanted to go and what they needed to accomplish. They were wonderful at tracking their behavior, activity level, calorie expenditure and so forth. They made tremendous progress.

2. Foundational Work on Self. People don’t often realize that it’s things like social isolation or environment that are holding them back from quitting smoking or losing weight. Perhaps a person moved to a new city, hasn’t made any friends, so just works all day and then goes home and watches television. When we take a look at their whole life, by doing what I call “Foundational Work on Self,” it really helps. I think too many times in coaching, we jump into goal setting. However, if we do that prematurely, we don’t always set the most effective goals. They are not really the things the person would most benefit from working on. It’s critical to take an inventory of your whole life. You need to assess how satisfied you are in all aspects. It sounds really simple, but it is amazing how it opens people up to the idea of, “Oh, wellness is a lot more than just diet and exercise. It is also about my connection to other people. It’s about the support I get from my significant other. It’s about the place where I live and the environment I am in.”

3. Setting the Focus. Then you have to set a focus. You cannot just assess and explore forever. Coaches must request some action. To do that, we apply the Readiness for Change theory. That is really essential to identify if the person is ready to change and at what stage of change they are in. Going with behaviors where readiness is higher ensures more success. I think too many times in coaching, we jump into goal setting. However, if we do that prematurely,  we don’t always set the most effective goals.

4. Working Through Habit and Environmental Support. With readiness for change factored in, we develop an actual concrete plan with specific goals and action steps. When we help a person through this phase I call it “Working Through Habits and Environmental Support.” There is so much about behavioral change that requires lasting support. When you think about it, coaches will only be in someone’s life for a brief moment—it’s really like a snap of the fingers, a blink of the eye. So, we want to set them up for success by ensuring they have that lasting support. We make sure they can answer questions like, “Who can help you with this? Who can support you in this?” You know, the saying, ‘friends keep friends healthy’ is really true.

5. Initial Behavioral Change. After we see that initial behavioral change, we often see that people do not always get the support they need. For example, if a married couple is both overweight and one of them begins working on it, the other person is not always so keen about that. They feel almost betrayed that their partner is moving ahead with lifestyle improvement. This is the moment in time where our clients really need support. Otherwise, they often give up their positive behavior change.

6. Deeper Work On Self. The next step in the lifestyle improvement model is what I like to call “Deeper Work on Self.” If we are doing this right, we help people change the way they live their life. That is pretty profound, when you think about it. We help people change their perceptions and develop their new identity. We help people to think, “I am not an overweight couch potato person. I am really a healthy and vibrant person who can move easily and has energy.” We also help these individuals through the lifestyle and environmental adjustments they must make. There is certainly a lot they have adjust to—they may have to rearrange who they hang out with. For example, an overweight person may have great friends, but perhaps they are very sedentary. They may have to find some friends who go bicycling, walking or hiking—who do more active things. We have to help them take a deeper step here to make this lifestyle change really last.

7. Lasting Behavioral/Lifestyle Change. That is where we get into the final part, which I call “Lasting Behavioral Lifestyle Change.” This is where we really want to maintain change. For example, many of my clients are good at losing weight; they’re just not so good at keeping it off. When stressful events or triggers occur, it’s very easy to revert back to old habits—to get busy and neglect yourself. So, we must help the person figure out how to make change last when faced with adversity. Part of that is through keeping track of behavior long enough that it really becomes a habit. It takes a lot of repetition and a lot of support to “re-wire” your brain and to permanently kick those old habits. This is where coaches can really help people succeed, I think, because a lot of people start a personal change process, but they often get discouraged and give up. We want to help people maintain change, and we need to help them make a concrete, conscious effort to gain more support. I often say that sometimes the most important work a coach can do is to help a client make a conscious effort to increase the support they need for living a healthy lifestyle.