Fear- the unrecognised handbrake to implementing healthy behaviours

April 6, 2015 BY: LISA

Helping your clients overcome the fear behind inaction.


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…” Marianne Williamson


When working with clients it’s possible to be baffled at times by people desperately wanting to improve their health or their situation however not being able to comply fully with their own plans or those set by a clinician. At the outset I am making the assumption the health plans devised are reasonable, evidence based and not unrealistically restrictive.

skeeze / Pixabay


Understanding that fear is often at the base of this lack of progress can help you deepen empathy for your clients and possibly help them past this. While it is certainly true there are many possible explanations for why people don’t take action on their goals fear is worth remembering as a high possibility. When I mention fear I’m not talking about fear of an eminent attack or threat, I’m talking about fear of failure or fear of the unknown.


Lou Heckler, a US based speaker, was telling a story of how he applied for and successfully got a job that he was not really sure he could do. He said to his mentor “I’m scared, I’m not sure I can do this job.” His mentor replied “If you’re not scared it’s not hard enough.” Powerful advice and reassuring for a motivated and confident person but what about clients who have not had great successes in their life to build their own self confidence from?


Examples of how fear can manifest itself:


  • What happens if “they” say “Why didn’t you do this before? What’s taken you so long, why did you stay at that weight if you didn’t need to?”
  • What happens if I can’t keep the weight off and it all goes back on? What would people say then?
  • If I change people may not like me anymore? What will happen to my old friends?
  • If I change it will affect my relationship, my partner doesn’t like it when I try to lose weight.
  • If I lose weight I will have to live out my dreams and that is scary and I’m not sure if I can do it.
  • If I lose weight I may attract unwanted attention
  • If I lose weight I may not be able to protect myself as well.


Fear of the unknown makes people want to stay the same as it’s a known quantity. It appears that humans will avoid pain before we will seek pleasure. In this way our fear can hold us back because of the “What if” factor.

What if…

  • I can’t do it?
  • It doesn’t make me happy?
  • I can’t keep it up?
  • Things go wrong?
  • I don’t like myself on the other side?
  • People don’t like me?
  • People disagree with me?


We like to avoid the pain of the unknown and stay with what is safe and known even if we don’t really like it- at least it’s comfortable.


“Fear is like a puddle, only those who jump in will ever know how deep it is



Brian Tracey says that fear can be overcome by learning the habit of courage. Courage can be increased by practising it – repetition.


I like this idea as it focuses on action. It’s not helpful to focus too much on the fear as it is usually irrational and sometimes unrecognised. The client can quite reasonably feel that you as the clinician don’t know how things will turn out either- particularly if you don’t know the family or know the partner or know the history – and realistically it is unlikely that you will know everything. In this way focussing too much on fear will only reinforce the clients fear and make them defend their position of inaction. The goal is to mention fear, explain it and ask questions but not to dwell on it; part of this process is around taking the power away from the fear and the next part is to reassure your client the best way forward is to focus on action.


Practising courage, which is really just focussing on action, and aiming to prove the “what-if’s” wrong is the way forward.



Rosa Parks and African American civil rights activist said, “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”


By understanding your client at a deeper level you deepen empathy and rapport and step into your role as trusted advisor. This deeper relationship will lead to better health outcomes for your clients.


If you would like access to the full article which outlines different client presentations and strategies of how you can work to assist people to achieve their health goals more consistently: email lisa@bodywarfare.com.au for your copy.


Lisa Renn is an Accredited Practising dietitian and behaviour change expert whose passion is helping her clients create healthy habits in the long term. Lisa is the author of “Body Warfare- The Secret to Permanent Weight Loss” (Brolga publishing 2011)which is a “how-to” book assisting people to create long term change and outlines a number of activities that are used in her health professional training program.


To register your interest for the next half day workshop for health professionals to be held April 27th, Balwyn VIC. Email lisa@bodywarfare.com.au


All enquiries, Lisa 0413 956 107 Appointments 1300 725 806
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