The Genius Of Harley – Our Cat

Heather was about to get onto a work call and had 2 seconds to answer my questions “what should I write about?” She pointed at Harley, our cat, so here I go.

It’s very easy to give human emotions and traits to an animal you spend a lot of time with. Cats and dogs do seem to do a lot of things that are humanish, but I think it would be more accurate to say that humans, dogs and cats do a lot of things that are mammalish. As we should, there is an enormous amount of genetic material that is shared between all living things, and there is a lot more similar with cats and dogs, and human if we were to compare any of them to trees, insects, or flowers.

So, given all of this similarity, here are some of the more interesting / important things that I could learn from Harley that will make my life better immediately:

  • Eat whenever you feel like it. If you eat when you feel like it, you’ll keep your blood sugar level in the ideal range and be more effective and productive. We tend to overeat when we believe that we won’t be able to eat for a period of time so eating smaller amounts of food more regularly throughout the day will help us learn to eat appropriate quantities of food.
  • Drink water often. Being adequately hydrated helps every bodily function. There really isn’t much more to say about it.
  • Sleep whenever you need to and move around when it feels right. The body lets you know what it needs in order to feel and function in an optimal way. Forcing it to sleep when it doesn’t need sleep is close to impossible, forcing it to exercise when it needs to rest doesn’t yield the best results. Harley doesn’t exercise much, but when she needs to she just goes for it.
  • Go through the closet and bring out the most appealing pieces of clothing that you can find. Harley drags out clothing that she finds interesting and then she’ll fall asleep on it. I don’t know why she does this, but it makes her feel good; kind of like how I do when I wear my favorite jeans and shirt.
  • Be close to members of a couple when they are home alone, but give them their space when they are home together. Harley sits beside me when I’m writing or when I’m watching TV. She does the same thing when Heather is working from home. But when one of us arrives home, and after the normal greetings, Harley gives us our space. She’ll sit near by, but not nearly as close as when one of us is home together.
  • Do everything with all of your passion, if you are going to do it at all. Harley seems to love chasing the red dot of a laser pointer. Although she has never caught it, her eyes widen every time that dot appears and she gets fired-up and ready to move. Regardless of the outcome, she focuses and works intensely to capture it.
  • Contribute as much as you can in the way that you can. Harley drags towels and socks up and down the stairs to and from the laundry room. It’s mostly useless, it takes her a long time to do it, but it is all she can do to help out so we keep giving her praise and food.

Diminishing Marginal Responsibility – Why Growing Your Team Is Destroying Your Brand

Heather has been doing a lot of leader training recently so we have been talking about the concepts and philosophical notions that being a leader is not the same thing as leading – think title vs. behavior. We agree that a title doesn’t qualify you to lead and that most people who act like a leader do not have titles.

Yesterday at work a package arrived from a big courier company; it is a company that I refuse to use given their track record of damaging everything I have ever shipped with them. It was a shelving unit that wasn’t available in the store and needed to be shipped to us from a warehouse. It weighed 71 lbs.

The courier company still has a perfect record of damage as this shipment has a number of broken pieces, was open and was missing the instructions. It is unusable so it’s getting sent back and will be replaced with another shelf that will be shipped to us using the same company. I envision this process going on forever given their propensity for damaging stuff. But who know, maybe someone with the company will handle the entire process and we’ll get our shelf.

Anyway, I close the box up and am walking into the back of our office / warehouse mindlessly wondering what would have to be true in order for every package shipped with this company to arrive damaged and it dawned on me. No one is taking responsibility for it arriving undamaged. There are simply too many people involved in the process for any one of them to actually care about it in any meaningful way.

There have been times when I have delivered panels to customers myself. In these cases I usually know that I’ll be dropping them off with the customer before I even make the panels. Given that we are a small family run company, I am the only person who has anything to do with the manufacturing. My brother or the website takes the order, gives it to me and I make and deliver it. At most, two people have their hand in the transaction, and one has the hands in the manufacturing of it.

This I believe changes things. Assuming that the order was taken and related correctly, if there is something wrong with the panels when they arrive I am 100% responsible. If they are not closed correctly, I didn’t close them correctly. If they are damaged during shipping, I damaged them. If the client has an issue, it was likely my action or inaction that cased the issue. That is the truth. No one else had anything to do with the process.

Compare this to when we ship with a smaller local company. In this instance, someone comes and picks up the boxes. They bring it to a sorting warehouse were other people or machines move it around and load it onto another truck. A different driver then drives it to the customer and drops it off. In this case, other than me, there are at least 3 other people involved in the shipping. Assuming that I did everything perfectly, three other people need to do everything perfectly for the shipment to arrive in perfect condition. If it does not arrive in perfect condition, at least one person is responsible for the damage. It should not surprise you to learn that every package we has sent using this smaller local company has arrived in perfect condition.

In two instances I have had to visit a customer after an order arrived from a big shipper. I am both pleased and shocked, please to see that the panels are in okay condition, shocked because the boxes are so beaten up. Our panels are of a high quality so it does take a lot to destroy them, but I wouldn’t have imagined just how roughed up the boxes get. When we use a big company, the boxes are bar coded so the workers can scan them or they are scanned automatically by a machine. There are at least 3 people involved in the process, but given the size of the company, I know there are going to be a lot of other people handling the boxes. With any given box, there may be 10 people handling it, I don’t know and am only guessing, but 10 seems reasonable given that they ship 10000 of boxes a day from the GTA. This means that 10 people need to do their job perfectly on order for the shipment to arrive in perfect condition. With any number above 3 or 4, the chances that this is going to happen starts to drop dramatically. In fact, the chances that 2 or more people will do their job poorly increases dramatically as the number of packages increases.

Think about it this way: One person can do a great job with one package. It’s all they have to do so they can really focus on it and they know that there is no one else to blame if things go badly. There is complete accountability so the person has and feels complete responsibility for the outcome. Three people can do a great job with a package BUT if there is an issue with it, the amount of responsibility any one member feels can be less than 100%; it’s easy to share the blame with the other two people. This is, in my experience, less likely because 3 is a small number so tracking the source of issues is very easy. As the size of the team grows tracking down issues creates an increasing challenge and, given that people figure this out, each person is able to feel less responsible for the outcome.

Phrased more succinctly there is diminishing marginal responsibility for the outcome – with each additional person added to a process, the level of responsibility that each person in the process feels decreases. In the case of my least favorite shipping company, it has grown to be so large that no one who handles my shipments feels any responsibility for the outcome (this may be too highly stated but I have NEVER received a preemptive call from them to let me know that there has been a problem and that they are going to work hard to fix it).

A company can grow to be so big that there are no leaders in it any more, and the service / quality of their products begins to deteriorate. When owners fail to act like leaders, choosing to leverage the title of leader instead, their brand starts to free-fall and client and worker churn grow to very high levels.

Why Do I Talk About The BullShit In The Fitness Industry?

A friend asked me the other day “are you bitter about personal training?”

I said “not about personal training no. It isn’t that.”

“So you are bitter about something, is that why you’ve taken some time off from the fitness industry? What is it that has left you feeling so jaded?”

“Well, it’s the all the bullshit. It’s sickening. Good people trust a bunch of liars and nothing happens. The liars get the money, the clients get screwed and the few good people in the industry get a crappy reputation or just leave.”

I feel a little bad about the statement because it wasn’t correct. I shouldn’t have called the people liars. I don’t know if they are lying, maybe they are just ignorant or greedy or cherry picking the information that supports their point of view. Regardless of their motivation, I push hard in hopes that maybe they’ll read something I write or hear me give a talk and learn something. After that point, if they continue with their bullshit, they ARE liars. I just want to remove any doubt and hopefully open their minds to how to make the industry all that it can be.

Over the last 20 years I have chosen to be mentored by people who ended-up using bullshit to shill a number of solutions to problems that don’t exist. They were mentors so I believed what they were saying, even when common sense told me that there was something amiss. I accepted their explanation because it was easier to just go along with what they were saying, parrot the stories they told as evidence, not rock the boat and definitely not spend the time to unpack and shine the light on the entire picture.

But none of those people are mentors to me now. I learned what I learned, they taught me what they need to teach. It was win:win and then it was over. I believe that most of them were doing their best, likely convinced that they were helping others completely unaware that a conflict of interest prevented them from seeing the facts. If they had children to feed and careers to build, they were highly motivated to believe that what they were doing was correct. Even now, if they are still doing the same things they were doing back then I have little doubt that they have continued to read and educate themselves with more of the same information that confirms their point of view and allows them to sleep at night.

I needed to sleep at night so we’ve parted ways and I have decided to coming clean about the lies and bullshit that are told or spewed is my attempt to redeem an industry that churns through first rate trainers while rewarding business people, all to the detriment of the clients who are brave enough to ask for help only to get screwed over.

In the words of RFK “too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives from the shattered dreams of other human beings.” I know and have seen first hand the horrible feelings that are created when someone isn’t successful at achieving a fitness goal. They lose a lot more than the money their trainer gains, they lose an entire future and a portion of their spark. It is one of the saddest things there is. All that hope and good will evaporates because they didn’t realize or were not told that the trainer supplies the smallest piece of the equation while the client is responsible for everything that is actually done. Too many people go into the trainer client relationship with win:whatever attitude as opposed to a win:win or no deal.

And that is the thing I’m trying to stop. Trying to warn people about. Trying to get fitness professionals to get on board with. Be completely honest, stop with the bullshit and understand the role you play. There are way easier ways to make a lot of money and if someone is all about the money, get out of the industry and make way for those with the right values.

Why Over-the-top Claims Make Their Utterer Rich

I have a sensitivity for bullshit in the fitness industry. It carries over to other areas of my life but it is more finely tuned in the areas of health, wellness and fitness.

Some would call me a skeptic and I’m fine with that title. I am skeptical of new and outlandish claims. I am skeptical of people who try to sell me anything. I become skeptical when I feel that someone is trying to manipulate me. I am skeptical that people are not telling me the entire story. It wasn’t always like this, there was a time when I gave people the benefit of the doubt assuming that they knew something that I didn’t.

Some of these claims are almost as unbelievable as the fact that anyone believes them.

  • ‎“I gained 11 lbs in 5 days while dropping 2% body fat simply by going to the Dominican Republic and eating their food because it is organic and more nutritionally dense”
  • “We need to take vitamins because the food quality in north America is so poor. Some oranges don’t have vitamin C anymore”
  • “They have a cure for cancer but because it’s vitamins and the pharmaceutical company’s can’t make money off them you’ll never hear about it”
  • “Cancer cannot grow in an alkaline environment, it grows in an acidic environment so alkalize your blood”
  • “You have yeast and parasites in your blood”
  • “Turn off your WiFi at night – its extremely bad for you and also for kids brains and can lead to autism”

I won’t go on, but for fun you can make up some claims yourself and consider what would need to happen in order for someone to believe them.

These bullshit claims work for a few interesting reason, so knowing these reasons will help you avoid buying stuff you don’t need or giving your money to people who are only interested in taking yours.

  • The utterer is convincing, likely because they are convinced about the truth of their statements.
  • The listener is hopeless and hearing the claim creates hope. When someone has given-up, they are more likely to believe anything that affords them some hope that things can get better or will get better. Being hopeless also makes us vulnerable
  • The claim is so outrageous that no one would possibly consider making it up.
  • The claim causes an emotional response which dulls logical thinking; fear or anger are easy to trigger and they stop logic in its tracks.
  • The listener is gullible or worse.
  • The listener has previously had challenging experiences with people or practitioners who hold the opposite point of view.
  • Believing the over the top claim is easier than not believing it.
  • The listener has had all of the “trust” buttons pushed and made the decision to trust the utterer. Some people are just extremely believable

Take the time to evaluate everything that people say when trying to sell or sign you up for something; keep in mind that with many service contracts in Ontario, you have 10 days to cancel without penalty. If you are buying a supplement, ask about a money back the guarantee and any evidence they have about its effectiveness. If the person is selling you a cure for a problem you didn’t know you have DO NOT buy it without doing your own research.

The Myth Of Non Medical Detoxing – The Cleanse

About three years ago I decided to stop eating sugar, consuming caffeine, drinking alcohol and a few other things that had been impacting my thinking and life in general. I bit off a lot at once, it was an unreasonable amount, but I was sick of living the crappy life my poor choices delivered me. At the time I didn’t set a time limit for how long I would stop consuming these things but I don’t recall believing that I would never eat or drink them again. I just wanted to reestablish my baseline way of being so I could correct my course if needed and know what I was dealing with in terms my identity.

There were some withdrawal symptoms – headache, difficulty concentrating, increased anxiety, insomnia, mood swings and minor body pain – but these were to be expected. The doctor didn’t have any concerns and told me that they would decrease over the first few weeks and be gone completely in a month or so. He was right. The end result was that I found my baseline and learned a lot about myself and how consuming those things made me feel – or how going without consuming them made me feel. The lessons I learned were useful and I have invited many of my clients to try the same sort of thing to uncover their relationship with the food they eat and the liquids they drink.

What is interesting to me now is the talk and articles about detoxing your body and all the great things it will help you achieve. On one end of the spectrum are the things like Lent, Ramadan and Yom Kippur which are religious in nature and encourage the faster to reflect upon their relationship with God, atonement for sins and other spiritual awakenings. You do not need to buy anything to participate in these fasts and you probably don’t even need to believe in God given that they are straightforward and require that the person not eat for specific periods of time or give-up eating a particular type of food for a period of time. Worth doing because they’ll teach you something about your relationship with yourself, your food, and your maker.

The other end of the spectrum in the supplement industries version of a detox which they label a cleanse. Unlike the name implies, the whole notion that the body cannot clean itself is unfounded. Medical pathologies or illness aside, the body takes care of cleaning up waste very effectively. The liver and the kidneys do the job, and they’ve done it without the aid of supplements for eons.

Regardless of the product you were sold, the instructions are basically the same. You dramatically alter the food you eat for a period of time while consuming the cleanse products. The rational is that you need to stop doing the damage first to allow the cleansing products to work. Don’t be concerned with you initially feel worse because, as the instructions say, this sickness is proof that there were toxins in the body and that the cleanse is working.

But since you have adjusted the food you have been eating, you are actually going through withdrawal (much like I did when I stopped eating sugar and drinking coffee). The symptoms that are experienced are a result of the dietary change and have nothing to do with toxins being released by the body. This is an example of illusory correlation where two unrelated things are assumed to be related because they happen close to the same time.

What can you learn from those who buy cleanses?

  • Do not buy one, they don’t do what their sellers claim.
  • Do adjust your diet, there is a good chance you could be eating better.
  • When you adjust your diet, there is a good chance that you will initially feel unwell or sick; this will pass as the body adjusts to a new normal state.
  • Once a year for a few weeks, consider taking some time off of eating certain foods to see what this does to your body. If you experience withdrawal symptoms or cravings, notice these feelings and be mindful that your body has adjusted to eating them; this may not be how you want to live your life.
  • Always be aware that people who have something to sell will say whatever they need to say in order to sell you their product or service. With reference to cleanses or detoxes, your liver and kidneys do an almost perfect job and you already own them.

Why Working For Free Is A Bad Idea

One of the things that I dislike the most about the fitness industry are unpaid internships. Simply put, they are a scourge to everyone involved EXCEPT the person who is mandating them (usually the business owner or leadership team). This post is about the harm they do and the long lasting negative impact that asking someone to work for no compensation has on a brand, a company and the unpaid interns.

Unpaid internships are not presented as the chance to give away your time, they are presented as “opportunities” for someone to gain valuable experience. This isn’t true. They may provide someone with experience but it isn’t valuable experience when compared to getting paid for doing the same thing. The value of the experience is inverse value of the opportunity cost for gaining the experience. In terms of becoming a personal trainer, ANYONE who has the desire to help people, the willingness to work hard and a mind that is curious and open can get a training job with one of the big chain clubs. The rate of pay will not be very high, but it is infinitely higher than working for free.

Unpaid internships are presented as a chance to learn unique or cutting edge skills that will propel a career forward. Again, they are not. Good companies will pay for their employees training, they will NEVER ask the employees to buy their career development from the very company they work for. Unpaid internships do exactly that. The information they provide is just the standard way they have of doing business. There is nothing special about it and without this information, the company will not exist. It is presented as high value and cutting edge, in much the same way the company sells their services to potential customers. When you give your time away in trade for learning how to effectively work for a company, you are a customer who isn’t getting the benefit of the service.

Unpaid internships are not legal in Canada unless strict criteria are met. While it is fine to give away as much of your time as you like to a non profit organization, their are laws governing the employment (paid or otherwise) in for profit companies. Employment Insurance is one are that MUST be paid for anyone who is working for a company. The key exception here are educational internships like coops, were the school looks after all of the insurance.

Unpaid internships are bad for customers. In almost every case, customers benefit from working with the best people. While their is nothing wrong with hiring an inexperienced trainer, the price should reflect this. Less experienced trainers are less likely to identify movement errors or reinforce the emerging success patterns within a client. They don’t know what they don’t know so they are less capable or inclined to uncover the shortcuts and unpack what is actually happening. This is fine, and it shouldn’t cost as much as time with someone who knows the more direct way.

Unpaid internships are take advantage of younger people. There is something very remarkable about about the period of time between 18 and 30. There represent your first years as an adult. You are open to new things, many of your values and beliefs have not yet been form and you have an enormous amount of energy. This is the prefect recipe for exploitation, and this is what most of these unpaid internships deliver. Considering the sunk cost of giving away your time, there is often a natural tendency to over value what you learn or are taught. This inflated value can produce a dogmatic belief that is resistant to evidence and common sense. Many young adults put a lot of this time into a cause because they want to belong or contribute. The business owner benefits because they don’t have to spend the time doing, and instead get to approve or disapprove the work, forcing rewrites and finding another intern whenever one gets burned out or moves on.

My personal experience:

I have worked at two places that relied on interns to do a lot of the profitable work. In the first place, the business owner “wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $150 an hour.” I laughed when they said this because the rest of us were getting out of bed for a lot less. Their facility, their rules, I get that. But I didn’t stay very long and the turnover rate was pretty high.

At the second place, the scheduling of everything was based around the owners schedule. It had the interns coming in for education sessions mid day or at the end of the day on Friday which didn’t really work very well for anyone but the owner. There were times when early morning clients were stood-up or canceled because a trainer or intern couldn’t make it in to work with them, the owner themselves wouldn’t come into work with them because they simply didn’t want to. Again, their company, their rules, but I no longer work there and the churn rate for staff is ridiculously high, even by fitness company standards.

In both instances the nonverbal leadership message was “I don’t have to do the work I don’t want to do” and “my time is more valuable than yours”. All of the staff learned this and moved on because they didn’t want to do the work they didn’t want to do and over time they started to realize that their time was extremely valuable. Each owner was certain that they were doing things the right way and couldn’t see the dysfunctional attitude they were modeling. And they probably never will because when you surround yourself with people who will work for free you will be, by default, the smartest person in the room.

Life Is Programmed To Continue

Something people may not always keep in mind is that living things are programmed to continue to live, at almost all cost.

Consciousness is not needed for this to happen – trees repair themselves after strong wind break off branches, crustaceans grow back legs if one is lost during a fight, all living things seek out nutrition, cells expel toxic waste products and maintain homeostasis. Life, once started, will try to continue for as long as possible.

With few exceptions, the body heals itself. Only major pathologies – tumors, severely broken bones, chemical imbalances that have become normalized or that have always existed – may need outside intervention to correct. Everything else will correct itself if given enough time.

And there is very little evidence that anything we can do in an immediate or acute time-frame will help. At best, it gets things out of the way that allow the body to heal itself faster and more likely it does nothing directly or at all. Maybe the placebo effect will come into play but usually the outcome will be exactly the same – the body’s own repair systems, given enough time, will fix the problem.

This is different from disease. There are a number of lifestyle things that have been shown to help someone avoid disease or getting sick in the first place. Simple things like not smoking, consuming only moderate amounts of alcohol, eating lots of vegetables and diverse fruits, getting moderate amounts of exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight (avoiding obesity), reducing stress, cultivating and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and avoiding environmental toxins like asbestos and PVC. Doing these things, over the course of your life, will reduce your risk of most diseases and give your body the biggest chance at fighting off illnesses when you attract one.

But notice what I didn’t say. I didn’t say, because it isn’t true, that if you get a disease or an illness, you can do anything of these things to make it go away. The exceptions listed above aside, your body will heal itself because it is the ONLY thing that can heal it. A flu will run its course regardless of taking in huge amounts of vegetables or cessation of drinking when the symptoms begin. You probably could avoided some of the flus if you lived a life that has you eating lots of vegetables and less alcohol but you are not going to heal one after the fact by starting these behaviors.

And I think this is amazing because it gives YOU the power to make or break your amazing life. YOU have the control, not the doctors, dietitians, personal trainers, herb sales people, or gurus of any nature. YOU have the amazing ability to choose to live in a way that decreases health risks and promotes your body’s ability to heal.

I think you should choose to help your body keep you well because life is amazing and you deserve to keep it that way!

Pay For The Right To Pay Less And Other-such Nonsense

A few years ago I went into a supplement shop to buy some gels – these are individual wrapped single servings of complex sugar in a gel form. People take them when they are running or riding a bike (or doing anything that makes eating / digestion challenging or impossible). What I found interesting was the price of them. There were two prices, the regular price and the card member price. What was odd and completely transparent was that the card member price was the same as the regular price at SportChek. The card at the supplement shop cost $10 or $20 and it entitled me to pay the same price as I would have to pay elsewhere. I left after buying nothing. I haven’t bought anything from them since they created this program because I don’t like feeling like an idiot.

I recently remembered this when I went to Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) to buy shoes and was asked for my membership card. The whole process of becoming a member / owner at / of MEC was strange when I first shopped there but the cost of the card was low enough for me to not care, given that their prices are really good and have never been mistreated by them. That card paid for itself with the first thing I bought there.

Recently another one of these type of programs has come to my attention. Again it is supplements, but this time it’s a little more complicated and uses cognitive biases to capture people and their money.

It starts off with a specific course that you take and need to renew every year. The initial course costs a little more than $1000. You have a few options to renew your certification and can take on-line courses. Depending upon which ones you take, it’ll cost between $450 – $725 for two courses which will count towards your renewal. It isn’t clear what you do the following year but it looks like you will at some point need to take the initial course again; that looks like another $1000.

If you are successful at completing the course, you will then be allowed to sell their supplement line. They will give you the wholesale price on these supplement. If you fail to renew your certification, you will no longer get the wholesale price. I don’t know what the wholesale price is, but their retail price is fairly high and they sell vitamin E (supplementing with vitamin E has been linked to increased risk of prostate cancer and it probably shouldn’t be sold) so I question their intentions of selling any supplements.

What sucks about this last example is that it plays on the sunk cost fallacy – those spending the money to get the certification are disinclined to give it up given that they have spend a lot of money on it. It also creates the illusion of a great value because if you get the certification you get to save a bunch of money on the supplements that they recommend during the course, compared to the retail price of these supplements.

I won’t speak about the course because I haven’t taken it. Those I know who have, do come out of it with a sense of having gained profound insight about what makes people gain / drop body fat. And they do come out very enthusiastic about the quality of the supplements that they can now sell and how they can prescribe these supplements to help people achieve their fitness and physique goals. So long as they workout regularly, intensely and specifically, and eat moderate amounts of high quality food, including lots of vegetables.

Maybe I don’t understand the draw here, but it seems like the course is a gateway to capturing resellers of their supplements, which will help people achieve their goals so long as they do all the things that evidence based science has repeatedly demonstrates helps people drop body fat and improve muscle tone.

It’s one heck of a business model! Get people to pay you to convince them that you have the solution and then let them sell this solution for you, over and over and over again to the people they convinced to buy it.