Monthly Archives: July 2015

Behavior Change: Learning from Relapse

People who take action and fail … are twice as likely to succeed … as people who don’t take any action at all. — James O. Prochaska

“I make New Year’s resolutions every year,” your client says, “but I never follow through. I have tried to lose weight a million times, and each time I have failed. Why do I continue to make resolutions that I probably won’t keep?”

If you hear these sentiments from your clients and members, take the opportunity to encourage positive thinking and planning. You can help them learn from relapse experiences, and this learning can increase the likelihood of future success. Whether they are resolving to quit smoking, exercise more or change their eating habits, clients must see the value in “failures,” and view these as learning opportunities rather than indicators of poor potential or personal weakness.

Learning from relapse

Professionals whose work involves helping people change health-related behavior, such as personal trainers and exercise instructors, often behave as though relapses (going back to old behavior patterns) mean failure on the part of the helping professional and the client. Since failure tends to feel embarrassing and shameful, people don’t want to talk about it much.

Such thinking is unproductive and leads to missed opportunities. It blocks creative problem-solving, hurts self-esteem and, thus, undermines success in the future. While it is natural for people to feel disappointed when they fail to achieve goals, you must help your clients view behavior change as a lifelong process that requires patience, understanding and compassion. And people can learn from previous behavior-change attempts, including those that worked for a while and those that did not work at all.
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