How can neuro-linguistic
programming help your clients?

When a trainer understands how their client’s mind works, they can empower them to achieve lasting change, says Kathy McKenzie.

Many years ago when I was first introduced to neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) I thought it sounded incredibly complicated. After all, given the complexity of human beings, a ‘how to guide’ of the human brain was never going to be child’s play. What it is, though, is incredibly effective.

Any personal trainer wanting to support people in creating change knows that it is not often easy and that one size does not fit all. NLP is a model of how people think and communicate. When a trainer understands how their client’s mind works, they can empower them to achieve long term change. It’s a win/win scenario, as your clients achieve real and lasting results, and you reap the benefit of them singing your praises and generating referrals.

In simple terms, the ‘neuro’ in NLP refers to the way in which the brain filters and functions. We all take in enormous amounts of stimuli moment-to-moment, and the more we understand how we process things neurologically, the more we can start to learn what patterns of thinking serve us and which neural pathways could do with some rewiring.

The ‘linguistic’ part of the term refers to the patterns of language that are an indicator of how we are processing and creating meaning in the world. Once you start to listen for language patterns you can quickly help people utilise language that helps them to achieve greater success. It is also essential as a trainer to utilise powerful and positive language to inspire and connect with your clients.

The final ‘programming’ part refers to the unique way in which we develop and become, figuratively, massive warehouses of unconscious patterns and programs. Take tennis player Sam Stosur for instance, who has enormous potential as an athlete but constantly sabotages herself with destructive patterns of thought and physiology. You can visually recognise when her physiology shifts and she starts the downward spiral in her game. While many deep unconscious patterns may not be easily changed, there are some well-defined techniques to help people program themselves for success.

There is a great amount of research in neuroscience that is now validating why NLP has been successful in supporting people to change. This has created renewed interest in how we can all change our minds and change our lives.

My own experiences skiing corroborate this. I have been on the slopes with a group of skiing experts, and despite all their best attempts to tell me what to do I was just not grasping some of the more technical ways to improve my form. Personal trainers will experience this regularly: despite telling people what they should do, they still don’t do it.

Knowing what I know about NLP, I booked myself in to an all-day lesson, recognising that to learn what I need to learn, I needed some expert input. This is exactly why most people engage a personal trainer, to help them succeed in areas that are important to them. The challenge is that even though they are coming to you as the expert, you still need to get the message across to them in a way that resonates with them and instigates a change.

While we were riding up the lift the ski instructor said to me, ‘Given the work you do, I don’t need to tell you that what is going to give you the greatest success is changing your attitude. You can do the techniques well on the easier runs, but as soon as it gets steep you doubt your ability and start to resist the mountain, which translates to not skiing well’.

He suggested that I was overthinking it and asked me a few questions about what relaxes me. One of the benefits of learning NLP for a trainer or coach is the ability to pick what senses are involved in a successful strategy. When I sabotage myself skiing I get a lot of internal dialogue. My ski instructor picked up on this and the fact that I was overthinking things and suggested I play music to distract myself and relax. He also pointed out that I needed to have relaxed shoulders and upper body. On my next run I implemented these strategies and found myself skiing in a calm and controlled manner down a slope that all week had been challenging me and creating internal panic.

For anyone working with others to effect change, understanding the dynamics of how to create transformation gives you a powerful tool for being more successful yourself and helping others to succeed. In everyday fitness, working out what sparks your motivation and how to maintain that will ensure you stay consistent.

The simplest example is noticing what you say to yourself first thing in the morning. Someone with negative self-talk such as ‘Do I really have to get up and exercise, it’s cold and wet’ will be far less motivated than someone who just deletes that input and immediately imagines the benefits of their run or gym session and gets straight into action. Changing from an auditory input to visual stimulus in this way can have a significant impact.

The other simple way for trainers to start using some simple NLP techniques is to ensure that they and their clients are setting and evaluating their goals at regular intervals. With so much technology to track and record training and eating these days, it is easier than ever for people to get into the habit of measuring and analysing their behaviours.

By learning to listen to clients differently and respond with powerful questions and positive reframes, you can achieve radically different outcomes with them.

Further reading
An Introduction to NLP by Joseph O’Connor and Ian McDermott


Kathy McKenzie is the director of FIREUP Coaching, a leading RTO in the area of accredited coach training, Kathy designed and developed FIREUP’s flagship programs, a Diploma of Leadership Coaching and Mentoring (22233VIC) and Certificate IV in Business and Personal Coaching (22031VIC).