Changing Behavior: The 12 Steps

As a mentor or coach, your toughtest job isn’t transferring your knowledge. It’s changing your clients’ behavior.

One of the best organizations in the world at changing behaviors is Alcoholics Anonymous. They approach behavior change in 12 small steps. As clients progress from one step to the next, they lovingly refer to the process as “working the steps”.

Here are the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Now, how do these apply to your coaching business?

Obviously, your clients need your knowledge.

But they also need to have the behaviors and skills that will allow them to ACT on that knowledge.

If you were to build a behavioral component into your program, or even some filters to help you choose your clients, you could do worse than the AA 12 steps.

For example:

1 – Only take clients who are willing to admit they need help.

2 – Only take clients who understand what a mentor (or coach) is and does.

3 – Help them make the decision to do what the mentor tells them by paying for it and then having them pledge to take action. This is sometimes called “turning it over to a higher power.”

4 – Have clients take a self-inventory on their habits, lives and needs. Help them get a vision of the future, but give them a very clear picture of their starting point. They need to accept where they are or they’ll question, second-guess and avoid the work you give them. Some mentors use Strengthsfinder or other tools here.

5 – Have clients iterate their weaknesses and their strengths so that you can coach them appropriately. If someone is struggling with overwhelm, their path will be different from the others.

6 – Specifically ask if they’re ready to receive your help, or if they have a barrier (like skepticism or time) that will stop them from taking action.

7 – Agree to work on their shortcomings as an owner and leader (identifying them is the first step, but agreeing to practice and improve is the next)

8 – Ask them to forgive and meet their ‘competitors’ to overcome the scarcity mindset.

9 – Train to see client cancellations as “not right now” instead of traumatic breakups

10 – Learn to reframe challenges from “I can’t do it” to “How CAN I do it?”

11 – Trusting that time is on their side, and learning patience

12 – Sharing what they’ve learned to help others like themselves. This will make the lessons take deeper root and help with a mindset of abundance.

Of course, the “12 steps” analogy isn’t perfect. But it can serve as a model for teaching skills and changing behavior.

What would you add, and where?

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