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If we take the time to explore excuses, we can find the key to changing behaviour.

When clients provide excuses about why they can't change a behaviour or are stuck, we often feel frustrated. We may try to help clients overcome the excuse, providing suggestions and advice.


What if this approach is unhelpful and is keeping our clients stuck? And what if excuses in fact can be re-framed as valuable and useful to unlock behaviour change?




Understanding Excuses: We often talk about 'excuses' as part of our everyday lives. We may talk about being busy, not having enough time, feeling tired, and the bad habits that derail our attempts and healthier behaviours. As health coaches, we frequently encounter 'excuses' from our clients, and it's important that we become aware of how we respond.


The Paradox of Excuses: We often dismiss 'excuses' as invalid, that we're making them up so we don't have to exercise or make a healthier choice, or go to bed earlier. However, this overlooks their genuine significance. Excuses represent the very real challenges and hurdles that individuals, including ourselves, confront on their path to behaviour change. By recognising and exploring these excuses, we gain valuable insights into what is getting in the way when we are trying to adopt a new behaviour.

Creating a Supportive Environment: For health coaches, establishing a non-judgmental and supportive environment is key. Rather than downplaying or brushing aside excuses, we should encourage clients to identify all their barriers. By providing them with the scaffolding to dig deep into what holds them back, we can help them to see what is really getting in the way - this could be beliefs, feeling, their environment, social circle or even just a lack of thinking through a plan.

Unveiling the Excuses: Through active listening and the use of open-ended questions, we assist clients in articulating their excuses and barriers more clearly. We can then encourage them to share their idea for overcoming these challenges including past attempts, and any strategies they've considered trying, or have heard about others using. In stead of jumping in with our own ideas and suggestions we utilise a client's wealth of knowledge and resources, harnessing these to overcome their obstacles in a way that fits their preferences and lifestyle.

Double-Sided Reflection: An effective coaching technique involves employing double-sided reflections. By presenting clients with contrasting statements that show their 'excuses' (barriers) and their desire for change, we help them evaluate what they really want. This reflection enhances their awareness of what matters to them, and what is stopping them, which can help increase their motivation as they create a plan to overcome their barriers.

Collaborative Problem-Solving: Once clients have opened up about their excuses and barriers, we can collaborate with them to formulate strategies for change. Engaging in curiousity with open questions and brainstorming we can tap into their existing knowledge and assist them in identifying potential solutions. Clients feel empowered when actively involved in creating an action plan tailored to their unique circumstances.

Acknowledging Progress and Boosting Confidence: As clients embark on implementing changes, we celebrate their achievements and acknowledge the progress they've made. This positive reinforcement enhances their self-efficacy and confidence in overcoming future hurdles. As they recognise their progress and success, their belief in their capacity to conquer challenges helps them take the next step to creating lasting behaviour change.

Excuses are not roadblocks, and they are not something to be minimised, dismissed or solved by us; they hold valuable insights into the challenges individuals face on their journey toward healthier habits. As health coaches, our role is to listen, validate, and support clients in identifying and navigating these barriers. By reframing 'excuses' as obstacles and opportunities for growth, we can empower our clients to overcome challenges, transform behaviours, and create lasting change.

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