Meeting Psychological Needs In A Changing World

The way every individual meets their psychological needs has changed and will continue to change over the coming weeks.  This article looks at the impact for us as personal trainers, both in looking after ourselves and in supporting clients.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of basic psychological needs (BPN’s) these are autonomy, relatedness and competence and they make up the core elements of self determination theory (SDT).  You can find out more about SDT on this podcast or by checking out the self determination theory course (available for members and people on the 2 week free trial).

In addition, those of you who have learnt from Cathy MacDonald from the Art of Communication will have heard of the 5 core concerns that are used in negotiation, autonomy, appreciation, affiliation, role and status.  Like the basic psychological needs, these are the key areas that are important for each individual and which can cause a negative reaction if challenged.  I’ll be referring interchangeably between these 2 concepts but if you prefer one just stick with that, the principles are the same.  In each case a lot of individuals have had their psychological world thrown out of orbit by the changes going on in every aspect of life.

The Impact of Change

It is important to realise that the huge changes that have taken place in people’s lives will have caused significant shifts in some, or all, of their BPN’s and core concerns. People who previously had their autonomy box ticked by work may suddenly be feeling autonomy thwarted, people who got their feelings of belonging and affiliation from an extra activity may have a gap where that used to be, lots of people have found their role has changed, their status impacted, their source of appreciation gone and loads of new responsibilities and methods of working that challenge their feelings of competence. These things can have a huge impact on individuals leaving them feeling lost and unsure.

With this article I’m going to look at how these changes impact both us and our clients:

First up: us!

If you are in a place of personal crisis it’s really difficult to help others so let’s start with how this impacts us and what we can do about it.

I’m going to start with a story about me:
A few years ago I was my Grandad’s primary carer, doing his shopping, visiting every day, being his social, emotional and physical support. When he died it threw everything out, of course there was the expected sadness but this was different and I didn’t know how to address it. I was fortunate enough to have a conversation about Cathy where she reminded me about core concerns and all of a sudden things fell into place. I found that just by identifying the issue I felt better and it gave me some thing I could do too.

So, what are core concerns?
Affiliation: that feeling of being connected to something or someone
Appreciation: I think we all know what it feels like to be appreciated and unappreciated and the difference it can make in our behaviour.
Autonomy: Having a feeling of control over your environment, actions and life
Role: How you perceive you fit in your world, people have different roles in different situations
Status: Being respected

In my case pretty much all of these had been impacted. My role as my Grandad’s carer was gone along with it feelings of status, appreciation and affiliation. (Autonomy had been impacted positively in this instance). By identifying what had happened I could see that it all made sense and as a result I could identify the areas that I felt I needed to address.

The changes that have occurred as a result of Covid 19 are up there with some of the most challenging life changing events in terms of their impact on life as we know it so it’s no surprise that a lot of people, including us, are struggling to work out how things fit together right now.

Task 1

Take some time to think about which of your core concerns are being impacted (if you prefer to just use the basic psychological needs from SDT feel free to do that). My guess is that there will be some significant impacts to most or all. E.g. people leaving your service and / or having to close your gym may have impacted feelings of status, all in person personal trainers have found their role has changed, the government restrictions, whilst understandable, may be impacting your feelings of autonomy etc.

Spend some time looking at each of these areas and identifying what has been impacted negatively and what has been impacted positively in your life.
Have a think about which ones are causing you distress and then consider if there is anything you can do to address it. You may find that just by identifying it you feel better, you may need to get creative in ways to make things better but I promise there will be options for you.

Now our clients, first looking at how we coach individuals

Exactly the same applies to our clients and in this case, not only can we provide a way they can address the issues but it may also mean we need to amend the way we approach individual clients.

Many of our resources in LTB refer to being aware of how different clients will have different preferences on how their training is delivered etc based on how their needs and concerns are being met elsewhere. For example a client that makes decisions all day may just want to be told what to do rather than being involved in loads of choices, whereas one who feels autonomy thwarted in other areas of life may relish the chance to have input to their training.
With the changes going on it means that for some clients those preferences may have changed. E.g. Individuals who used to feel competent at work and confident in their status may now be struggling because they are suddenly their child’s teacher instead, this may mean that giving them exercises they can feel confident about will help balance out a core concern (status) / basic psychological need (competence).

Task 2

Think about your clients through the lens of SDT / core concerns, are there any where you think a change in approach may be worth exploring?  Obviously this isn’t something you can ask your clients about directly, asking them if they feel their basic psychological needs are being met is not recommended, but by having an awareness of it you can make subtle changes to the way you coach them to find what works best for them.  this is exactly the same as how you might adjust things for a new client as you get to know them, it’s just being aware that now we may be applying it to established clients too.

Reviewing our service and adding value

Something that has come up a lot recently in LTB is the question: “How can I add value?”.

The answer is that value is subjective so it’s going to depend on your clients but from the above we can see there are some areas that it’s worth exploring.  If we can answer the questions “How can I help support my clients psychological needs right now?” then we will be in a great place for adding value.

We know that affiliation / relatedness is an area that a lot of people will have found impacted with the restriction on social groups, this is somewhere we can help. The communication forums, fun activities and shared experiences we can provide can go a long way to helping people in this area as can group training experiences.

Overall by being aware of how your clients have been impacted you can help support them and, by doing so, increase their commitment to you and your business.

Task 3

Consider your service against each of the BPN’s / Core concerns.  Where can you offer something that will help your client base within the scope of what we offer as personal trainers?

The Future

The future is an unknown for all but one thing is for sure, it will involve change. There will be changes as people adjust to the new normal, changes if further restrictions are brought in, changes as restrictions are lifted and changes as we learn how long different things will be around. Keeping an awareness of how these changes are impacting us and our clients on a psychological level will allow us to keep ourselves in a good place and to amend our service to help our clients.

Final Note: I know this is a difficult time for trainers and clients alike and I am by no means saying that this can solve everything and we will all go skipping off into the sunset. It goes without saying that everyone at this time should be keeping a close eye on their financial situation, cutting back where they need to cut back and making use of the support options available as applicable. The Coronavirus Action Plan includes more on this if you are in the UK.