Before beginning a coaching relationship, I ask potential clients why they are interested in health coaching. Occasionally, a person will tell me that they are looking for someone to hold them accountable. They know what their health goals are. They just don’t seem to have the discipline to achieve them. So they’re looking for someone to motivate them, to tell them what to do, to be there to notice when they didn’t perform.
I recognize this thought pattern as a symptom of American (and increasingly global) culture. We, as a society, hold individuals accountable in a way that doesn’t match up with reality. We blame them, as individuals, for their poor health. They are too lazy, we say. They need to get to the gym. They need to eat better. They should know better. They should do better. It’s a personal choice!
Statistically speaking, we know that poor health actually has a lot more to do with socioeconomic status than personal choice. We know that it’s partly genetic. We know that it has to do with sense of community, connectedness, worthiness, and so much more. Scientific research tells us that it’s not about dieting and hitting the gym. But popular culture tells us that it is, and popular culture is what we believe.
So, back to the consultation, back to the phone call with the person who is (understandably) looking for some help with this whole “accountability” sham. I’m not going to give them a whole dissertation on the backwards state of American health care or the dieting industry. They called me because they know I do something different. They don’t understand what, exactly, so it’s my job to explain it to them.
I explain that I help people figure out how to achieve their health goals. I ask important questions that help them figure out what’s really going on, why they’re stuck, what they really want, and how they can work on getting it. I support them in the process of getting in touch about their deepest inner wisdom about that which truly nourishes them. Difficult as it may be to believe at first, the wisdom is always there.
What I don’t tell them, up front, is that one of the single most important things I do with clients is helping them to be more kind to themselves. Being hard on yourself is never, ever motivational. It is energy sucking. It is defeating. It took me years to figure this out. If I can help someone figure this out in a few months, I consider it a major win. (I sense another blog post brewing on that topic.)
Sometimes after we have this talk, I lose them. They are attached to the dream of having a task master that will make them to go to the gym and follow an eating plan, and feel bad when they don’t. I tell these people that they should feel free to call me back if it doesn’t work out, (because I’m pretty certain that it won’t), and that I wish them well. I believe that figuring things out “the hard way” can be meaningful and worthwhile, so it’s not necessarily a loss.
But most people I do consultations with are seriously done with failed diets and punishing fitness routines, and are ready to try something different. Still a little skeptical about intuitive eating and HAES at first, maybe, but willing to give something new a try. So we start there. In the beginning, I offer a lot of support. Then, as we progress, they become more independent. They become very self-aware and skilled at strategizing how to overcome challenges.
By the time we wrap up, they are basically coaching themselves. And by coaching I mean doing the work we once did together on their own. Things smooth out and become easy. No accountability, no pushing, and no “motivational” speeches were necessary. And the effect doesn’t wear off. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
And that is why I don’t hold people accountable.