When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
I love that saying. It makes a lot of sense, particularly in the health, wellness and fitness industry. Very few trainers have enough tools in their inventory to adequately address the needs of every client they get. There is a tendency for unqualified trainers to approach all of their clients in the same way, using basically the same program for all of them – the worst example of this was the trainer who would pay a different trainer to train them early in the morning and then use that workout on all of their clients for the day. It’s a shameless move until you realize that 60 minutes of working out, even if on a program that doesn’t really apply to you, is 60 minutes more movement than you were going to get had you not come in and trained. It doesn’t represent the ideal or a great value, but it is an acceptable level of service.
My toolbox is loaded with different methods and principles and my brain has well over a decade of experience to call upon to help determine and address the needs of my clients. Having more than just a hammer, I’m able to see what I need to use to help the client move forward. More importantly, I KNOW what tools I don’t have in my toolbox and know my limits. There is a right time to say “no” to a client and refer them to someone else and I know with almost certainty when a client has outgrown or shouldn’t train with me. This is part of the value that I add to training / coaching that goes unnoticed – when I can’t help someone, I don’t take them as clients and this saves them a lot of time and money. A less experienced trainer may take them as clients for 3-6 months before they concede that they don’t know how to help or, worse, decide that the client must be doing something wrong yet not have the skill to realizing they are the one asking the client to do the wrong things.
So what? Well, the problem arises for the expert when they make the assumption that others know what they know; in essence they believe that their knowledge common knowledge. As a consequence they undervalue or underestimate their skill level when comparing themselves to others. I have done this a lot. I simply take what I know for granted because I know it and I fail to hold onto what I had to go through to learn it. In fact, I developed illusory inferiority as I learned because the more I knew, the less I knew in that each lesson revealed a bunch of other things that I didn’t know existed, increasing the scope of what I needed to learn and creating a decrease in the percentage of what I know about what there is to know.
Dunning–Kruger effect is the name given to this occurrence and, sadly, the fitness industry is rampant with professionals who suffer illusory superiority on one hand and those who suffer from illusory inferiority on the other. What’s not surprising is that there is an abundance of people who honestly believe that they are better at their job than I am and, up until recently, I believed that they WERE better than me. Mine was a simple and very common mistake for an expert to make because of our tendency to believe that others know what we know and, more importantly, we erroneously assume that anyone who is as confident as they are MUST know what they are talking about; their confidence is not false, it is based on the fact that they know a lot about a subject that they don’t realize is so deep. They don’t realize that there are screws let alone a screwdriver.
To avoid getting burned by the Dunning-Kruger effect the consumer needs to asks a lot of questions of the professional they are considering working with. The questions should focused on uncovering the consumers unique circumstances (or at least the professionals view of the uniqueness), finding information about ALL types of customers they professional has worked with and generally finding out how deep the professionals knowledge goes. If you are viewed as a cookie cutter case, find out why. You could be but cookie cutter solutions work for cutting cookies, they don’t yield very good muffins. Treating a 30 year old female interested in fat loss the same way you would treat a 22 year old male interested in building muscle is an amateur approach as the body doesn’t necessarily work the same way in achieving the same goals. Ignoring one trainers advice on how to address weak VMO and hamstrings in favor of the more popular trainers’ boot camp approach will leave you with weak VMO and hamstrings and likely very sore knees. The skill comes not from knowing what you can do but in knowing when to do it.
The Dunning-Kruger effect ensures that the very people you should be seeking will act almost exactly the same as the very people you need to avoid and in some cases may present themselves as less qualified than their under-qualified peers.