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You Can’t Change What You Refuse to Confront

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I have a longtime client I’ll call Barry who is tremendously successful in the movie industry. When he decided he wanted to hire a fitness trainer, he had “his people” set up our first appointment. Little did I know at the time, but it would take two more attempted appointments before we connected face-to-face.

I arrived at the first appointment, was greeted by Barry’s assistant, and was led directly into his personal office, where I sat and waited. And waited. While I sat, I looked around the room at walls and shelves that were covered from ceiling to floor with trophies, awards, and pictures of my new client with some of the most popular celebrities in the trade. Thirty minutes went by before the assistant returned, apologizing that Barry was stuck in meetings.

After more than two decades of training people, I’ve learned to tell when someone is playing games, and I knew right away that Barry was a master game player. Not with me, mind you. Barry was playing games with himself. I knew that, as successful as he was, if he really wanted to get out of a meeting, he’d get out of the meeting. Obviously, he wasn’t really and truly ready to get started with training.

On our third attempt, Barry did arrive at the meeting—fifteen minutes late. He apologized and then started talking in a rush of run­on sentences about why he was overweight, how it was so uncomfortable when his legs rubbed together, how embarrassing it was when he went to get fitted for clothes, how he always thought people were looking at him like he was “a big fat pig,” how he didn’t have time to exercise, and how he was worried about his health.

I’m not a big talker during sessions. And I have a rule that clients are allowed to talk only while they are exercising. I’m there for action, so that I can provide results in a time­efficient manner. After about five minutes, I stood up. I had heard all I needed to hear. He had confirmed something I’d already suspected: he was out of shape for a reason—too much talking, not enough action. I could tell that Barry was out of his comfort zone. He was used to being the boss, in charge of all interactions.

After a few more minutes of rambling talk, I stopped him and let him know that I’d heard him by summarizing his lengthy monologue. Next, letting him know that I valued his time, I suggested that we get going on the workout, but first I looked him square in the eyes and asked, “Do you have the body you want?”

“No, I don’t,” he said.

I explained to Barry that his choices had helped create his current physique, and I told him that I was going to show him how to uncreate it.

“Do you feel like you deserve to be in amazing shape?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

I told him to stand up and copy my warm­up movements, explaining my rule about talking only while moving.

Then I talked to him about his work category and asked him where it was on a scale of 1 to 10. I thought he’d say 10, but he surprised me by telling me that it was 100! So I asked about how he’d rank his deserve level for fitness, nutrition, and overall health. He told me that he didn’t want to die.

“So you only want to change your habits enough so that you don’t die?” I asked.

“That’s right,” he said

I explained to Barry that this would translate into a 1. I explained that we needed to get his deserve level above this minimal level or he wouldn’t see any lasting change.

He sat with a perplexed look on his face. “Does your wife like your body?” I asked.

He dropped his head, and with the first real emotion I’d seen, he said, “No!”

“Well, it sounds like you enjoy making your wife unhappy by being overweight and not doing anything to change it,” I said.

He immediately said that his busy schedule never gave him time to think about his weight, but I countered that I have many clients who are just as busy.

Then I lowered the boom. I told Barry that if he meant what he said about having no time to work out, we should stop now instead of wasting each other’s time. I explained my deserve level concept (if you believe at your innermost core you don’t deserve to have what you wish for, then you block it from manifesting), adding that if he wanted to change his health, he would have to believe that he deserved to change his health by making it a priority, just like his work. I explained that he had plenty of wiggle room with his work deserve level, since it was at 100 (an unhealthy high). I knew Barry could afford to give up a few points to fitness and nutrition, but the decision was up to him. He said he couldn’t.

“What do you want from me, Barry? Why am I here?” I asked.

He didn’t answer. I told him that we could start with one session a week, and he needed to be on time or he’d owe me $1,000 for the missed appointment since it would be taking time away from someone who really wanted it. He agreed.

It took some time for Barry’s deserve level for health to move from a 1 to a 2, then from a 2 to a 3. It is still slow going, but at least he is seeing positive change. And a 3 is definitely better than a 1.

Recently, I asked Barry what fitness rating he’d like to reach, and he said that a 4 would be good. When I asked why he didn’t want to take it higher, he told me that he felt it was all he could do. Barry wouldn’t budge even after I explained that this would be like a gym rat whose job is in jeopardy because he refuses to stop taking long lunches at the health club.

We all get to define, expand, or limit our own reality, so Barry’s change is slow and plodding. It’s sad because he can’t see that his work life would actually improve if he took time to exercise because he’d have way more energy, a better outlook, and a lot less stress—and his work would never even fall close to a 10.

Don’t be a Barry! You can let some of your over-achieving categories come down so that you can raise up areas of your life that are depleted.

I still work with Barry. At each session we chip away at his deeply ingrained thinking, but it’s a challenge. Sometimes being the best of the best at something can detract from other important areas of your life. That’s why my book Mind Your Body is all about finding overall balance along with overall success.

Click here to buy Joel Harper’s book, Mind Your Body: 4 Weeks to a Leaner, Healthier Life.

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