This category covers things that relate to increasing the amount of physical movement that a person does. We are a mobile species and movement plans a big role in helping us regulate our bodies, our brains, our mood, and our spirit. It can include things about exercise programs, exercise movements, or general mobility such as walking, picking things up, or the activities that make-up our jobs and recreational life.
Because of our genetic code, any one who wishes to improve their health as they get older will need to spend a lot of time doing things that run against that programming. This is not an easy task because the behaviours that are required to cause this change have little or no history in our ancestral past. This is not impossible and is in fact rather simple – although it is very hard – consistent attention, practice, and recovery over time.
As a personal trainer I found that there were two groups of people who were extremely easy to train and who were almost certain to get good results. The first group was competitive athletes. These individuals were unstoppable, self-motivated and relentless. They did what they were asked to do, as hard as they could, and paid very close attention to their actions. They ALWAYS improved and most of them probably achieved their physical potential in terms of movement proficiency, explosive speed and strength. If you want to feel capable, train these people. They will improve and you will feel like you can do no wrong.
The next group of people who were great to train were women, usually parents of 2 or more children. These individuals acted like athletes – the followed instructions perfectly, paid attention when they worked, and were highly motivated to get the best possible results out of the limited time they had to spend training. They also improved, although not necessarily as quickly as their potential would allow because balancing being a mother with training is tough and their workouts were always going to be secondary to their family responsibilities.
Everyone else was a crap shoot. As a general rule, younger people do better than older people. Single men up until age 40 do better than their their female cohorts. Single women who do not like working out, married men in general, and older people all fair equally poorly.
I’m not certain why this is, but I have a few guesses. First off, working out to improve any goal is tough. If someone likes working out, they’ll deal with this toughness and do what is asked of them. But learning how to like working out is a skill that must be learned and mastered through practice. If that practice hasn’t been put in when the person is younger, it may already be too late as the toughness can simply be too much to overcome. They may go to the gym or work out, but they don’t do everything they need to make gains – they don’t work hard enough, they don’t eat appropriate amounts of food, and they don’t replace bad habits with good ones.
Next, there is a lot biological programming that is geared towards keeping things as they are. Body fat is store energy, traditionally used during a famine. This is an evolutionary proven method formed during a time when food scarcity was a reality that it isn’t today. Becoming lean makes no survival sense according to our genetic code; fine so long as there is a constant and stable supply of food and when it is interrupted, a life threatening problem. Eating high calorie foods is also intrinsically rewarding. Most human being release dopamine in response to fat and sugar combinations specifically and fat or sugar in general, so we are motivated to seek out and consume foods containing these macro-nutrients. Green leafy vegetables offer very little in terms of intrinsic reward. While it is true that we can teach ourselves to find these food rewarding, that is a skill and must be practice in order to cultivate it. Generally speaking this won’t happen, and if it does, it is more likely to occur in the younger population.
The final reason why I would say it’s very tough for people who are older than 30-35 years of age to get into better shape is that there is no evolutionary reason to do it. Becoming a parent gets tougher as we age and while those who are older may be in a better financial position to be raise children and have a better temperament as parents, the statistics on positive reproductive outcomes reduce as both sexes age. These negative outcomes may actually provide a disincentive in terms of improving body composition.
Consider the fact that, generally speaking, women allow men to determine who the best mates are – given that men work it out themselves who is at the top of any dominance hierarchy, the best potential mates for women have in actuality been select by other men. At the top of these dominance hierarchies tend to be strong men with good posture, two characteristics that are linked to higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone. Without an exogenous supply of these hormones, men who are in the late teens to late 20s will have the highest levels. The statistics reveal that reproductive success and outcome is greatest for men in this age range.
Men select reproductive partners because of factors embodied by the women themselves. These tend to be waist to hip ratios, body fat levels and posture. Social norms not withstanding, this excludes younger women, and women over the age of 30. An examination of the hormonal averages for women indicate a bell curve distribution with a peak for women in their early 20. Reproductive success and outcomes are also bell curve shaped and map almost identically onto the hormonal averages.
For women and men, the story is the same. When the hormone levels are lowest, reproductive success is lowest. When hormonal levels are highest, reproductive success levels are highest. When hormonal levels are highest, desirability to the opposite sex is also highest. Women and men tend to desire reproductive partners who represent the greatest likelihood of reproductive success. This means high testosterone and GH for men, and higher estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and GH for women. It is not surprising that when people who belong within these groups workout, they change body composition very quickly. The opposite fact is also not surprising, when those who fall outside of these groups workout, the changes in body composition take a lot longer, and may not happen at all in-spite of the fact that fitness levels improve as do a number of other health markers.
There is no evolutionary reason for people to get into better shape, particularly when they have moved past the peak of their hormonal profile. Reproductive outcomes are worse – pregnancy success rates are lower, birth defects and developmental challenges are higher. Given these facts, a narrative justification can be given to the difficulties in changing body composition as people age – for the betterment / fitness of the species, the things that make an individual attractive to the opposite sex evaporate and are harder to achieve when the risks of pregnancy begin to increase.
Learning how to like working out is a skill that must be learned and mastered through practice. While some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to find it more pleasurable or easier to like than the bulk of the population, activity is still required to trigger the expression of this increased potential.
It is easier for younger people to teach themselves to enjoy exercise than it is for other people for a few critical reasons. First off, they haven’t spent nearly as long learning what other non-movement activities can be rewarding therefore they are more inclined to put the time and effort into lifting something heavy in an earnest attempt to trigger a dopamine release. Second, they have a more favourable hormone profile that improves the rate of result acquisition; this reinforces the actions they are taking and, while “liking” exercise is not the same thing as being rewarded, it’s a distinction without much of a practical difference. Finally, younger people usually have way more opportunity to exercises, which will make them better at it. Proficiency, particularly when compared to others, does tend to result in a greater sense of satisfaction.
Gene expression and any learning will have much larger impact the earlier in life they occur. A child who learns to associated movement with the sensation of feeling good or who conditions their brain to release reward chemicals in response to movement will, on average, be more active throughout the entirety of their life and will enjoy the benefits associated with an active lifestyle. Similarly, a child who takes advantage of the time and the opportunity to discover many of the different foods that trigger the release of reward chemicals will, on average, consume more of these specific foods over the course of their life. They will, as a consequence, experience sub optimal health outcomes and may increase their risk of disease when compared to those who do not eat a lot of these foods or those who consume them in moderation while engaging in a more active lifestyle. We can therefore conclude that gene expression and learning have compounding effects over time, good or bad.
Unless you like working out because you are genetically predisposed to or you find it to be rewarding because you put the effort into teaching your brain to release reward chemicals when you do, you are NEVER going to feel like getting into great shape, and even less so as you get older. Our genes exist as they do because they gave our ancestors a survival and reproductive advantage. They were shaped by mutations and in response to the various environments over millions of years, but at no point during this time was there ever a long lasting abundance of food. Those species that survived were able to handle intermittent periods of food scarcity because they would over eat when they could in order to store energy as body fat, move as little as necessary, and down regulate their metabolic rate when calorie consumption would drop. Genetically speaking then, we are programmed to be fat, lazy, and to seek out and gorge on high calorie low nutrient foods. These three tendencies are never a part of any weight loss, health or body composition improvement plan.
Because of our genetic code, any one who wishes to improve their health as they get older will need to spend a lot of time doing things that run against that programming. This is not an easy task because the behaviours that are required to cause this change have little or no history in our ancestral past. This is not impossible and is in fact rather simple – although it is very hard – consistent attention, practice, and recovery over time.
One of the interesting things about required future actions is just how energy taxing they can be when you are not working on them. As soon as you know it exists, the energy burn begins immediately. The longer you put it off and kick it down the road, the more energy it will burn
Something remarkable happens when we make our peace with what is about to happen and just start doing it. It may not necessarily become easy, but it does become easier. This makes sense because resistance is expensive. It take a whole lot of energy to come-up with reasons why the world shouldn’t be the way it is and this energy will always be required because the world is the way it is – if you actually have to do something, you have to do it. If it is inevitable it will exist in your future until you take care of it.
One of the interesting things about required future actions is just how energy taxing they can be when you are not working on them. As soon as you know it exists, the energy burn begins immediately. The longer you put it off and kick it down the road, the more energy it will burn. The opposite is true, as soon as you start to complete it, you stop burning energy on it and begin to put energy towards it. The moment it is done, the transaction is completed.
Open loops are extremely taxing because our brain directs some energy towards the next and all actions that are needed to close the loop. In the book Getting Things Done they recommend that you make a list of all the things you have to do and then take some time to write the first next next that has to be completed to move the item towards completion. This closes the loop and stops the energy drain because documenting the task somewhere means you won’t forget it and knowing what the next first step is is a step towards completion. You may then spend time on figuring out the step after that one, and so what, that how you solve problems anyway.
I’m not talking about open loops here. I’m talking about the strong wish or desire to change reality to flip a required action into the not-required column. Chances are that if you could change reality that way you would already have done so. Since you cannot do this, it is a fact that any energy spend on this endeavour is simply wasted. Denying reality is not a practice that is helpful when one truly has no choice but to eventually do something.
In almost every case, if you had done it as soon as you realized it needed to be done, you would already have completed it. Worse case is that you have moved it forward, but the reality is more likely to be completion.
The term “get after it” applies perfectly. It is impersonal enough to paint the activity as just something you have to do and it does imply that the thing is there to be done. When it is right in front of you and a necessary part of your future, you may as well catch up to it and take it out!
This is athletes and is not most people. The results are a function of “athlete” as a verb as opposed to a noun. Most people will act like an athlete from time to time insofar as they can be very driven and work very hard, but an athlete is single-minded about what it is they want to achieve and they are single-minded about the willingness to do whatever it takes to move forward and achieve the goal.
A few weeks ago I was talking to an old co-worker friend from the fitness industry. We were just spit balling back and forth about who the best clients were to get. When I asked him what exactly he meant by the best clients, is it the ones who get the best results, is it the ones who are the most fun to train, is it the ones that are the easiest to train? He replied with “that is a good question, what I’m really asking is your opinion and your experience with clients who get the best results for who they are, and you know right off the get-go that it is going to be an easy experience for both people.” So for the trainer is it going to be fairly straight forward and for them as the client it is going to be very simple. It is going to be hard work, without a doubt, but it is going to be simple hard work. They are going to do what they have to do, they are going to do it as well as they can, and they are going to do it exactly as it is outlined.
Fundamentally, this is the type of question that I love answering because it draws on a lot of my experience in terms of the work that I have done in a variety of different fields along with my academic background in psychology. At its core is the question “why do people do the things that they do?”
Now we know an awful lot about how the brain works, both in
terms of the physiological things that occur, and in the fifty thousand foot
view of what goes on in the brain and the way people think – so the
neuroscience along with the psychology. There is a boundary separating these two
things. The neuroscience deals with things on a cellular level while the
psychology deals with more of a narrative understanding of what goes on. Regardless
of the differences, a lot is known about both things.
There is not much difference between human beings.
Genetically, we are all very close to identical and the physiological processes
that run under the surface are exactly the same for all people. We are coded in
more or less the same way, by and large we all have the same parts of the brain
and they all work in exactly the same way. And it is that way with most mammals
and most living things. Neurons work the same way, more or less. So given that
there is so much similarity in terms of the neuroscience, on the cellular
level, why are there different outcomes for different people? Why is it not the
That is where the psychology comes in to play. And that is ultimately the question my friend was asking. Who are your favorite clients to work with from the point of view of the ones you know are going to do well, will follow instructions and just be really easy to work with? Well, as the conversation evolved he asked if my experience backed up what I know about psychology. And that is a fair question because my experience NEEDS to back it up because if experience does not back-up what you know about a science, your experience is wrong or the science is wrong, or you have done something new that was not previously known. But one would imagine, that with enough time, over the twenty years I have been working in the industry, I would have found my way into the mean in that the average experience that I have had with people would reflect the average person.
This is more or less been what I have discovered. Some people do not get very good results. They do not get any worse, but they never move toward their goal. The stated goal of losing a few pounds or gaining some muscle, or whatever the goal is that the person decides they want, I know that there will be some people who never move towards it. They will never get worse, which is a version of improvement given that decay is the natural processes as we get older, so that is good. But when they are not moving towards their goal and improving, they are not really getting what they want.
Then there are other clients who get average results, and finally
there are the outliers on the other end, those who achieve their potential in
the scientifically determined length of time – there is an optimal level of
progress and there are a few clients who will hit this. This is ultimately what
he was getting at. When someone sits down in front of me for the consultation,
and they say “hey, I need your help in doing this thing,” who do I
know is going to get the results, and what makes me sure they will? And what then
does the science say about these people?
Well, I will work backwards. What does the science say about
people who get results? Basically it says that the people who do this collection
of things for this time duration at this frequency and for this period of time
(in terms of weeks or months or years), will cause physiological changes to
their body that are the reflection of the physiological stimulation and the
nutritional intervention. So those who get results do those specific things as
prescribed and they get these specific and predictable results. For example,
they do this program four times a week, every week for three months while
adjusting their diet in these ways and they will gain 5 pounds of muscle and
drop 5 percent in body fat.
So if that is on the surface, do X, Y and Z in this way and get this outcome, why is it that some people choose to do X, Y and Z exactly as prescribed while others will not do it as prescribed? What is the difference between these people, and the individuals who find themselves in other groups?
The science and a lot of the research that they have done with people reveals that it all comes down to consequences. On first pass, this may seem silly because consequences are punishments and punishments are about reducing particular behavioral patterns or actions. Compare this to reward, which is about increasing behavioral patterns or actions that someone takes, which is ultimately what personal trainers are asking their clients to do.
Think back onto Pavlov’s dogs that salivated at the sound of the bell when they had learned that food was given right after the bell rang. They would start to get excited when they heard the bell because they learned that the bell meant food. The outcome to this was that the dogs began to display a behavior that was not related to the bell simply because they had been reward in the past and had conditioned the reward to the sound of the bell.
On the other side of it is punishment. Whenever a physical or psychological punishment is administered to a creature in close proximity to a particular action or behavior, the frequency of them displaying that action or behavior will be reduced and overtime it will be eliminated. Now the issue with punishment is that it is not very specific meaning that whatever action the nervous system of the animal determined was what led to the punishment will get suppressed. It is not a clearly defined or a concise understanding of what exactly caused the punishment. This means that any of the behaviors that occurred in close temporal proximity to the punishment might end-up being suppressed. This leads to a situation that allows for very little testing or refinement of the connection – since the punishment MIGHT have been caused by any one of these five actions, repeating one of them MIGHT lead to a punishment so it is best to not repeat ANY of them.
This is the opposite of rewards. Rewards tend to be much more specific because there is no risk associated with testing any of the potential actions. The animal is hell-bent on finding out what exactly it has to do in order to get more rewards and it very quickly tracks down that it was this particular behavior.
What does this have to do with success with personal training clients? It has to do with the fact that consequences have a much bigger role in determining who is going to be successful. Human beings are not like any other creature. We get to enjoy things that do not happen, we get to enjoy the benefits and cost of things that are just a matter of perception, so things that we imagine and that never occur. And while any other animal will learn to avoid doing the things that cause them harm or ill-health, a human being will continue to do them.
To this later point, alcohol is good. You should never ever feed alcohol to a dog, it is not fair as it cannot consent to drink. You should not do it. But whenever they have done it they have found that the dog will drink, it will suffer hangover like effects and it will never go near alcohol again. In fact, the dog will become conditioned to avoid alcohol through single-trial learning. When it comes to alcohol, it does not like it, it hates the feeling and it knows alcohol will cause the feeling so it does not touch it ever again. Human beings will continue to do things that cause pain or that simply do not work for them over and over again in spite of the fact that they causes problems. Consequences do not mean the same thing to human beings as they do to dogs. There is a one-to-one cause and effect relationship with the dog while the consequences with human beings are impacted by a perceptual relationship. This means that the cause and effect relationship manufactured by the human could connect absolutely anything to anything else.
The science basically says that someone who shows up for consultation saying “I want to get better at X,” knowing exactly what they are seeking, is highly motivated, and they know exactly why they are doing it, will tend to get the results they are looking for. A perfect example of this class is an athlete. Athletes know exactly why they are doing what it is they are doing and are moving towards a goal. I am not going to say that they are pleasure-seeking but they are looking for something that they view as positive. They want to achieve the highest level of performance so they can increase the likelihood that they are going to win during competition. This is one group who, if they show-up in front of you, assuming you know the science to support optimal human performance and write and administer the program effectively, WILL hit their potential because they will follow the program almost perfectly. These people are seeking something. There is a huge reward in front of them and that is what they are moving towards.
This is athletes and is not most people. The results are a
function of “athlete” as a verb as opposed to a noun. Most people will act like
an athlete from time to time insofar as they can be very driven and work very
hard, but an athlete is single-minded about what it is they want to achieve and
they are single-minded about the willingness to do whatever it takes to move
forward and achieve the goal.
Most people, in general, are moving away from something they
do not like, which is not pleasure seeking. Human beings operate from a pain
avoidance point of view when it comes to altering their physical health. The
reason is fairly straight-forward, it is hard work. The easiest thing to do is
nothing. Change is not doing nothing. Doing nothing is doing what we have
automated, living the life that we are currently living. If we want to change
our life this means we have to do something other than what is automatic, which
is going to require effort. Since we know it requires effort there is a
disincentive to doing it if for no other reason than this extra effort (but
there are other reason too). Human beings do not really operate from the point
of view of spending effort unless we absolutely need to. So we will spend
energy to get pleasure, the athlete, and when it comes to everyone else who connects
with a personal trainer, they will spend energy to avoid pain. This is the
reason why we know someone is going to get great results when they show-up to a
personal trainer with a clear idea of what it is they do not want. They are the
ones who are more than likely going to do everything that is asked of them. The
motivational currency of the non-athlete are consequences.
The science basically says when dealing with consequences, the consequences need to be soon, they need to be certain, and they need to be salient. If a consequence has, in the mind of the potential client, these three properties, they are going to agree to training and they are going to commit to doing what you asked them to do as hard as they can. They are going to do what it is needed to move themselves away from the consequences that are soon, certain, and salient. If the consequences do not possess one of those properties, there is a much lower likelihood of compliance to the requests that will be outlined in the program.
The “soon” is fairly straightforward. The consequence needs
to be something that occurs in the very near future and the closer to now it will
occur the better. Far away things may as well not be things at all because the
brain really does not process things that are distant. Things that actually
exist in the here and now or have greater immediacy are going to get a lot more
effort and action taken towards their resolution or prevention.
Certain means the outcome needs to be inevitable and there is no possibility of an alternative outcome that is more pleasant or favorable. The reason for this is a cognitive bias called “the optimistic bias” which has a person believed the best case scenario in a situation when there are two alternatives presented. They are going to believe the best case and assume that is the one that will happen and move forward accordingly. This will happen even if there is only a 1% chance of the best case and a 99% chance of the negative or the worst case scenario. The optimistic bias has a person choose a 1% chance over a 99% chance. This defies logic but so do human beings. We are not logical operators so it is not surprising that we would do something that does not make a lot of logical sense. An inevitable consequence or one that is viewed as near certainty is going to be given a lot more weight than something that is viewed merely as a possibility.
Salience has to do with ones ability to visualize, imagine, consider, and bring to mind what the consequences are and what the ramifications will be upon their life. The more clearly a person is able to perceive the future outcome, the greater the level of salience and the more clearly their perception will be of the negative. This is very important because things that are hard to imagine may as well not be imagined at all. Something that is very clear to see, is very simple to imagine and a brain will work with it to a much larger degree. The specific reasons for this have to do with the amount of stimulation that an idea generates. Imagine you are looking at something very clearly and you are noticing everything about it. This is a huge stream of sensory data coming into your brain that it has to process and make sense of. The same thing is true with something that is very salient. You are able to imagine it clearly, able to feel the way it feels, see, hear and get a real sense of the negative outcome and this will generate a massive amount of data that your brain is going to process and operate on.
The more we pay attention to something and the higher our concentration is on what we are thinking about, the greater the cognitive ripple triggered by this stimulation. This larger amount of data will have a much larger impact on our mental processes. Anything that is salient, is clear, is easy to visualize, is easy to understand and experience will have a bigger wave of impact on the brain meaning that more of the will process it.
The end result? A much better understanding of the negative
outcome will lead to much better change. This is what the science says, as long
as the consequences are soon, certain, and salient, a human being is not going
to have any difficulty dealing with them. They are going to treat it as
important, pay their respect and take the action that is required in order to
address it. However, if a consequence does not have all three of these, or is
missing two of them, a person is not going to do anything about it.
Now how does this line-up with my experience? Well, it
There are three prospective clients that will show up in front of me and I will know with certainty that they will buy training and get great value out of it by following the instructions and working hard to get the results they are seeking. In each of these three cases, they match on all three of soon, certain and salient. These three types of prospects are illness, recently dumped or single, and mothers of multiple children.
This begs the question, how are the variables of soon,
certain and salient present in each of these groups?
Well if you think about illness, which is illness in the person themselves or the illness of someone they care about, it is very salient. If it is in themselves, the doctor has told them that they need to do something about their blood sugar, the extra body fat, or their blood pressure, or else they are going to die or they are going to get sick. Having the experience of the doctor telling them that sickness is inevitable unless they change course makes it very clear to them. The certainty is a doctor saying to them their blood pressure is 180 over 147, which is elevated. So unless there is a good reason for it and there tends not to be a very good reason for that, it is unhealthy and is causing a lot of unnecessary stress on the blood vessels and particularly on the brain. A blood pressure like that for a sustained period of time is setting oneself up for a stroke, a brain aneurysm or any number of really devastating neurological consequences. By ignoring high blood pressure, it is only a matter of time before an artery in your brain is going to explode, and when it bleeds out, it will cause severe intellectual mental impairments and it could actually kill you.
While we do not have any real concept of what it means to be
not alive, because we have always been alive, we have an idea and a very
negative sense of what it is like to be dead, and of what it would be like to
be intellectually impaired because of a neurological trauma that was avoidable.
A cancer diagnosis or a heart attack in a loved one has the same sort of
quality. We see someone we care about who is sick, which makes for a very salient
The certainty and soon is the doctor telling us that we are sick or destined for a health crisis when they show us a blood test that indicates an LDL level that is very high. These are understood by proxy if we see someone who is sick because this is a clear indication that it is really happening RIGHT NOW. That is a benefit, if you will, of illness. People see the consequences and they match all three of soon, certain and salient.
The second group, the recently dumped, is a weird one but it is absolutely true when someone becomes single, if they have not made the decision themselves, once they get past the grief associated with losing the relationship, they move towards a three to nine month period of getting revenge on their partner. They do not actually want their partner to suffer physically but that they want to send them a message that they screwed up dumping them, so they get after a physical transformation and taking care of the things that they put on the back burner. They take care of their health and they take care of their fitness. Maybe it is weight loss, maybe it is gaining strength to become more mobile and active in order to do things they have never done. Whatever it is, they do these so that at some point in the future they will be able to say to their ex-partner “yeah I’m doing all that stuff now, I look great, and it wasn’t me it was you. You broke up with me and now my life is so much better. You were the liability.”
Sure, this is a story that people are telling themselves, but since there is nothing at all wrong with getting into better shape, I am not going to tell them that they might want to go to therapy to understand the role they played in the demise of their relationship. With people, and particularly people who come looking for personal training advice, they do the work, they spend the time needed to figure themselves out and then come to realize that “yeah I played a role in the breakup. I was not being the best person I could be, I was not playing all out in the relationship and while I do not appreciate the fact that the relationship ended I do sort of understand that it was not working for me therefore could not possibly have been working for them.” But when it comes to those realizations, even when they arrive after spending six to nine months improving their health and fitness, it is all good. They will have a better life, they will be happier, they will be moving themselves forward and while they may not necessarily live longer they are going to enjoy a better health span and that is a big deal. While maybe it was not an absolutely necessary journey, they have done themselves and their future selves a huge favor by improving their health.
So how do the soon, certain, and salient apply here? Soon, the consequences are actually occurring. The person has been made single and is already living in the consequences. Certain, well it is the same thing, the thing has already happened and they are already living it. Whatever that is, they are right in the thick of it because they got dumped. Salient, the same thing as well, there is nothing as clear as living an experience.
The third group is mothers of multiple children. This one is
tricky and it took me a little while to figure out but really when it comes
down to it, the soon, certain and salient are all exactly the same thing as the
recently dumped group.
I do not know what it is like to be a mother but a lot of the
mothers I have worked with have all explained it in the same way: you would do
anything to improve the quality and life experience of your child knowing that your
child has no awareness of what you are doing, have done or will do. They do not
say that it is thankless, but they do say the child is completely oblivious to
the fact that you have done anything. All they know is that they had a need and
Mommy took care of it and that is the end of it.
With one child the mother is going to be able to get back to life much sooner than when she has two or three children. Children are spaced out over particular length of time and while there is no set length of time required for the mind of a mother to determine that it is time to get back to doing stuff for themselves, they are going to hit that point later if they have more children. A person could spend ten years with their primary role being mother, looking after all of the needs of the child, making sure the child is not hungry or suffering in any way that they are able to help the child avoid. Ten years to live for something other than yourself is a very long time.
The soon, certain and salient in this case? The funny thing
about this group is that these things are in the past. The person has lived the
soon, it is not that the consequences are going to happen in the future, it is
that they are happening and they have been happening. The certain, they have
lived it. Salient, the same thing, they have lived it; it is very similar to the
experience of being dumped in that it is not a thing that needs to be imagined about
what might happen in the future, it is a thing that has been happening for a
period of time.
If a mother shows up saying “you know, I’ve decided that I want to get some training,” a switch has flipped in their head because they have come to make the decision that they are going to be investing in themselves for the first time in a very long time. There is an opportunity cost associated with doing it – the opportunity cost is taking time away from their children, which has been their focus for the last decade – so they do not end up sitting across from a trainer, asking for help with improving their fitness unless they have actually done the benefit cost analysis. They are willing to say the opportunity cost of continuing to ignore their future is too great so therefore they have to do something. They know what they are sacrificing – time with their children – so they are going to make the most of their time by following every instruction and by trying as hard as they can while they are working out before returning to their role of mother, which remains the main focus of their life.
The beauty about this group in particular is that they are there for themselves in the moment, and in the future. The recently dumped the people are excited but they are there for themselves in the future – the moment they get to show off to their ex. The same applies to their illness group, they are there to avoid something awful in the future. The mother group is there to create something good in the present moment and something in the future or to avoid something awful in the future. They are going to be fully present in the present moment because they need to spend time investing in themselves.
This is how my experience has lined up with the science. When the consequences have the property of being soon, certain and salient, action is much more likely than when they are far away, hard to imagine or unlikely. When the consequence have either occurred in the past, are currently occurring or are about to happen in the near future, there is a very good chance that a person will get great results because they are going to follow the advice that is given. Since professional personal trainers only dispense advice that is scientifically valid, it is very easy to come up with the prescription that helps these people. Do this set of things in this way for this length of time with this frequency over time and you will get these results, and that is really all there is to it. Anyone else who shows up and is sitting in front of you but is there having no relationship to the consequences – there is no soon, certain and salient in what they are talking about – the chances of success are much lower.
Now there are other people who will get great results. Maybe they love working out or maybe they are really powerful at working hard to achieve a future benefit or to avoid a future cost that is not very well defined in their mind. I have worked with people who are not athletes and do not belong to one of the three groups outlined above and who do not have a clear and vibrant picture of the consequences, but who get after it like there is nothing else in their life that is more important. However, the possibility of someone doing the necessary work without the soon, certain and salient being checked off is dramatically lower.
After thinking about it for a few moments, my friends
experience did support what I was saying.
Now the objective of this post is to explain that whenever you are doing a consultation or just having a conversation with someone, I do not think it is wise for you to try and point out the consequences of their actions and the inevitable future that they are moving into order to trigger an emotional response and to then capture them in a training program. There is nothing wrong with telling them the truth and helping them see that the destination if they continue down the path they are on is not a very great place to be. That is a fine thing to do, just so long as you do not immediately capture them in a training program for that reason. They will need to spend some time with the information that has been revealed in order for their brain to fully reorganize and understand that “oh my God I’m actually cruising towards bad health and an eventual health crisis, and I should probably do something to make sure that it doesn’t go down like that.”
Triggering these thoughts and emotions in someone and then selling to them without giving them the time to process and integrate that information, can only lead to someone dealing with the consequences of a rash decision as opposed to anything else. Whenever you are having a conversation with someone who is sitting in front of you, unless they are spontaneously hitting on the three soon, certain, and salient in terms of the consequences, or they are an athlete, do not try to trigger the negatives about what could happen if they stay the course and do not try to trigger the positives of what could happen if they change course. Simply talk with them and try to figure out why they decided to have a conversation with you. If they are able to come up with the reasons why they are there and you are not able to convince yourself that these reason are not really something that they spent much time thinking about or that they are not ready to deal with, they are probably ready for training so sell it to them. But if they do not have a clear reason why they are there or a soon, certain or salient in terms of the consequences of them continuing to live the life the way they are living it, it behooves you to just have a conversation to help them figure out the reason why they are there. If they do not know and you still sell to them that then becomes the thing that was done to them.
You will have manipulated them into buying something they
did not want.
But on the other hand if you help them unpack exactly why
they are there and really help them dig in on their motivations and all of the
other things, and they are crystal clear that “yes this is what I want and I
want it for these reasons,” sell them the training because they are not going
to be upset at you for it. They are going to thank you for it because you will
be aligned with them as a partner and help them move towards their goals.
When someone comes and sits down in front of me and says “hey I am looking for your help,” and I am able to track in and find out the soon, certain and salient in terms of the consequences they are hoping to avoid, or if the person is an athlete, or if they are a member of one of the three groups – someone who has seen or is experiencing illness, someone who is recently single, or a mother who has decided to focus some of her time on herself for a change – it is a sure thing. It is not going to be easy money, it is going to be work but they are going to more than willing to put the effort in and the partnership is going to be a win-win.
Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work.
When it comes to personal training and basically any type of training, there are two type of clients, those who do what they are told and everyone else. Those who do the work are generally self-motivated. They may not know exactly why they are doing what they do, but when pressed on it they can come-up with a good reason, or two, or more. Intuitively they understand that they must pay the metaphoric bill before they eat the metaphoric meal – the bill is the work and every decision that moves them forward while the meal is the results they are seeking. For me, these clients are moderately interesting to work with and most of the joy comes from the validation that my methods and programs work and from the empathetic joy of seeing someone work hard, get what they earn, and feel good about it. I enjoy the conversations as well because these types of people have a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.
Everyone else acts like training is a meal at a fine dining restaurant. It’s an experience to have and the bill will be paid at the end after they know that the experience was worth it. These people are a lot more work. There is a different problem to be solved and I may not know the answer because they don’t know the question. They don’t necessarily do what is being asked of them because they don’t really know why they are in front of me, asking for my help, on a journey that they may not even have started. It’s messy with a much lower success rate. The best case is that they actually start the journey and figure out why it is important OR that a light gets shined on the life they are living, the future that this will create for them, and a sense of peace about both.
The truth is that it is much more important to me that they find out what their goals actually are and not important at all that they achieve a goal that was never theirs in the first place.
I like my life and I believe everyone else should like their life too. If I can be of service and guide / help them automate the making of the life of their dreams then all the better. Sometimes they are already living the life of their dreams and just have never taken the time to notice it. They may not realize what is involved with chasing down a goal and that the actualization of the goal can be rather unfulfilling. After you reach your goal you are still you. You may be a leaner, more muscular, faster you, but at the end of the day, you remain you.
I used to believe that everyone should work out and improve their health. This is something that I no longer believe. I know everyone will benefit from moderate exercise, improved nutrition, reduced stress, and a more mindful approach to life, but that doesn’t mean everyone should go after these benefits. Sometimes these benefits actually make people miserable. Having single digit body fat is hard work and requires a lot of sacrifice. Once you achieve it, it requires continuous effort to maintain because it is a possession of sorts. It is now YOURS to lose, and this knowledge can generate a considerable amount of negative mental energy. And regardless of what you do, if you live long enough, you WILL lose it. Everything that arises will pass away, your discipline, your 6 pack abs, your youth, even your earthly existence.
A quick conversation can unpacked that a person just want to feel happier with who they are, the solution for which is meditation. After a few months of twice a day practice is all that is needed for the laws of nature to reveal themselves, and equanimous acceptance is bound to follow.
An effective consultation can reveal that the goal is simply to feel better. The prescription here is simple, improve posture through the use of structural balance movements, core and breath training. When we automate standing up straight when your head back and breathing deeply into our belly our psychological mind set shifts towards confidence, security, and contentment. The experience of pain is reduced and we feel and act more capable.
Cultivating and maintaining mindfulness is very easy and will add tremendous value to your life because of the compounding effect of experience over time. Improving and maintaining posture and appropriate breathing requires 5 minutes a day of work and offers similar compounding lifelong benefits. These things are easy, and anyone can achieve them. And if they are actually what the person is seeking, it is better for everyone in the long run to just go straight for them.
I am not suggesting that someone should not work out to improve their health. They should, most people should, but it is even better if the person actually wants to do it. There is no downside when someone works hard to get what they want AND need. The same cannot be said when someone gets what they need but do not want. Needs and wants are not the same and when they are not aligned who are we to decide what another person needs?
I find this approach helpful when it comes to training and coaching. Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work. Anything other than this is an indication that they do not really know what they want or that they have not taken the time to get clear on why they want it. A simpler solution likely exists for them, one that has them invest a lot less time and allows them to go directly to what they want.
The funny thing about an honest person who actually believes nonsense is that they are telling the truth when they are lying to people.
In many of the leadership books and blogs, the notion of mistakes comes up a
lot. To be a leader, you need to take action and any time you take action,
there is a chance that this action will not lead to the desired outcome.
Mistakes are a big part of learning and the best leaders in any industry tend
to make more than their fair share of them.
It makes a lot of sense to regard any mistake as lesson. This will make them
more powerful because it will reduce the long term consequences of the action.
Letting go of a poor decision is easier when we know that we are less likely to
make the same decision again in the future.
But I question the validity of the assumption that actual learning has
occurred when one habitually label mistakes lessons, given the apparent
tendency for people to do the same things over and over again. What may
actually be occurring is more akin to a karmic cleanse vs. a real lesson. It is
easier to call something a lesson and to state that the outcome was the result
of a lack of knowledge / experience than to really dig into what happened and
to accept that you had the resources to think the thing through and still chose
to act impulsively.
To be clear, I’m not talking about innovation here. Making something new
that performs its function perfectly necessitates it having been made and NOT
perform that function perfectly more than once. Each previous iteration was not
a mistake because the inventor could not have known better. Each version is a
lesson that builds upon all of the lessons from before. The outcome was not a
result of having information / resources and choosing not to use them.
What I am talking about are all of the times when taking a few minutes to
think things through beforehand would likely have revealed a lot of the blind
spots or things that did not immediately come to mind.
For example, I used to say “it takes 21 days to learn a new skill and make
it a habit” without any sense of irony. I had heard it when I started working
at a gym and it was something that we were encouraged to say to new or
potential members to let them know that changing course to move towards a more
healthful life requires some effort but that the effort doesn’t really need to
be sustained (3 weeks was all that was needed before the body would do it on
its own). The lack of irony was due to my missing the fact that I had created
the habit of saying that saying in about 30 seconds.
Some behaviors will require 21 days, others 1, some 261, etc. I was wrong. I
wasn’t learning a lesson, I was making a mistake every time I lazily repeated a
simple phrase that served a sales purpose. It turns out that I was lying because
I should have known better than to repeat something so trite and catchy. If I
had taken the required 3 moments to consider what was going on in the context
of my own life I would have realized that 21 days was not an average, was not
an actual and did not reflect how things progressed in my own life. When I was
learning to become a cycling instructor, I started practicing every day the day
after the training workshop ended; so less than 48 hours to create the habit –
I didn’t need to convince myself to practice, I was excited to do it. When I
decide to wake-up earlier in the morning, it takes me about a week of
deliberately getting out of bed at 5:15 am before I find myself walking around
at 5:16 am without a desire to push snooze and stay in bed. The habit of
mindfulness as it applies to my baseline level of anxiety has yet to full take
hold, even after years of knowing that I can be an anxious person and will seek
out the experiences that will create anxiety. My journeys down the rabbit hole
though are much shorter than before but I am still starting them.
On some level I knew I was talking nonsense. However, it was my job to sell
gym memberships so I just kept saying the line over and over again. I got good
at it. Prospective members believed me and I think I started to believe me.
The funny thing about an honest person who actually believes nonsense is
that they are telling the truth when they are lying to people. Someone who is
that convinced that life will be completely different in 3 weeks is able to convince
other people of that “fact.” There I was, pouring out sincerity, stoking the
flames of hope that their future would be better and all it would take was a
few weeks of effort before the body just did the work willingly. I closed a lot
of sales because I believed what I was saying, and that made it easier for the
people on the other side of the table to believe it too.
It didn’t take long, about 22 days after my first sale, before the evidence
began to grow that my silly little phrase wasn’t true. Over a few months it
became evident that I wasn’t going to be able to excel at selling gym
memberships for much longer because it was clear that people have a baseline
and it can take months and maybe years for it to be updated.
I moved on to management, then personal training, and finally fitness class
instruction growing further away from the notion that “it takes 21 days to
learn a new skill and make it a habit.” For me, selling gym memberships for
that club was like convincing someone to convert all of their dollars into the
currency of a country that doesn’t exist anymore – it was something that can be
done but was probably going to be a mistake and when it came time to correct
it, the exchange rate would ensure that the customer lost money. Going from zero
to a sustained full speed, which is what is required when someone makes the
decision to transform their body composition, is going to require that they
create a bunch of new behaviors, put a lot of effort into continuing to do
them, and endure whatever sense of loss going without the things that got them
to the position of needing to change their body composition in the first place
causes. It is possible, but for almost everyone it is going to SUCK.
And that is the power of labeling a mistake a lesson in the fitness
industry. There is no cost to it, so doing it eliminates the incentive to
actually change future actions. In fact, there is a disincentive to changing
because you move away from doing what you know works and into the realm of the
unknown. The new actions may not work so you will be, at the very least, going
without the sense of certainty that what you are doing is going to be
effective, and, more likely, be going without the money. Better to call it a
lesson so you get to continue to do what you did before and get the same
outcome. This is what immunizes the fitness professional from the pain
associated with making a mistake because the reframe allows the “lesson” to be
the cost of knowing something and because it ultimately is the responsibility
of the member / client / participant to put in the work. If the habit doesn’t
take after exactly 3 weeks it is probably the clients fault for doing something
wrong. The mistake was not in the BS statement, it was to belief that the
client or member was willing to put in the work to form that new habit.
So long as there is no pain associated with the action, the motivation to do
anything different will never grow. The client will experience the pain. When,
on the 22nd day, going to the gym and eating more healthful food is not the
automatic, they will begin to feel the pain of their blown expectation. And
this is the problem with not being completely honest with people when it comes
to the fitness industry. People are hopeful about their future and very much
want to believe that it will not only get very easy to do, but that it won’t
take very long for that to happen. “It takes 21 days to learn a new skill and
make it a habit” is tailor-made to capitalize on their vulnerable state of
mind. They are coached into thinking “sure, it’ll be tough for a couple of
weeks but then it will get easy and after that, it’s only a matter of time
before I look and feel amazing.”
That just isn’t true. Well, the second part of it might be, that it will be
just a matter of time before they look and feel amazing so long as they
continue to consistently put in the work in the gym and the kitchen. But for
95% of the people who take-up fitness it can be months or years before their
body and brain make the pursuit of physical improvement automatic. Until then,
and even occasionally afterwards, it will require will-power. In my experience,
the only people for which the 21 days saying actually applies are for those who
have taken a short period of time away from their exercise habit. For everyone
else there is an almost 100% chance that the saying is false and for those who
sign-up for services based on their belief of it will be disappointed and have
less money because of it.
My approach now is almost complete honesty and to even attempt to talk
someone out of joining or starting because a lot of people do not want to
improve their fitness, they simply want to be happier. While becoming a regular
exerciser can improve happiness and improve someone’s feelings of well-being,
it can also contribute to a lot of suffering, misery, and feelings of shame and
inadequacy. If you don’t believe this, consider what goes through someone’s
mind when they hit day 22 and find that they haven’t really learned a new skill
and have definitely not made it a habit. When they find going to the gym on
week 4 to be as tough as or even tougher than they did on week 1, what are they
going to think about themselves? When they start to compare themselves to the
other members who seem to be showing up 3-5 times a week without any effort and
when they remember the certainty in which the sales person or personal trainer
told them that it would only take 21 days it will be nearly impossible to not
be flooded with feelings of inadequacy and failure. Experiencing these feelings
is not conducive to being happy.
I made a mistake and I changed course because I felt horrible for lying to
people when they were vulnerable, easily influenced, and when I stood to gain
from saying something that sounded true but was clearly false. When I had to
face myself in the mirror I realized that I had been using BS to harvest
peoples hope in an attempt to help sell them gym memberships. And morally I
felt awful because I knew that I had contributed to their suffering. It wasn’t
a mistake because I SHOULD have known better and it wasn’t a lesson because I
already knew better.
This brings me to some of the other things I was told when I was learning
how to sell gym memberships. The sales managers and sales coaches tried to make
me feel bad for applying what I knew about people. The statement “how are they
supposed to believe in themselves if you don’t even believe in them?” was
directed towards me more than once. As was “who are you to judge them for
something that might happen in the future? Who are you to deny them the
opportunity to have a better life?” These statements feel like they might be
true, except I knew that they were not. It wasn’t that I was a pessimist, it
was that I was both a realist and someone with a back ground in psychology / human
behavior. I believed in the prospective members as much as I believe in people.
I knew what it took for me to change my behavior and I knew a lot of the
theories about what is required for human beings to be ready for change. The
truth is that there are only a couple of short cuts to the process and unless
someone arrives at the gym for the first time having taken one of them, having
had one of the requisite experiences OR is actually ready to change, they will
have extreme difficult making the changes.
Informed consent is a thing that is very important and it was the only thing
that we were NOT seeking. We needed and wanted their consent in terms of a
signature on a legally binding agreement to allow the gym to access their bank
account to withdraw the membership dues. The act of informing them of the
actions they were going to need to do was vacated in favor of cultivating their
hope and filling their mind with grand ideas that do not hold up. When they
failed to form the new habit it was their decision and completely their own
responsibility. When I would talk about my concerns about the entire
transaction I was reminded that maybe the habit didn’t take because I didn’t
believe in the member enough. The fact that behavior change is hard and
requires sustained unreasonable effort was completely ignored. My crappy
attitude was probably contributing to the member’s challenges in automating a
difficult set of complex behaviors that are both physical challenging and are
experienced as psychological pain. Initially I adjusted my attitude but it
became obvious very quickly that my sincere belief in other people is not
sufficient to move them to do anything more than to sign-up and come in a few
times during the first few weeks. The heavy lifting needed to be done by them.
This all comes down to the following couple of facts:
The first is that people operate using a system of rewards and punishments.
Rewards serve to fuel action and to repeat an action that lead to the reward.
Punishments serve to reduce action in general but specifically the action that
caused the punishment. At the shallowest level, things that feel good are
rewards and things that feel bad are punishments. With references to the “it
takes 21 days” line I learned, it was initially reinforced because it seemed to
be effective at getting people to sign-up for a gym membership. The closing of
the sale felt good because it meant that I had performed my job well and would
result in higher wages come pay-day. However, after the first month, I began to
notice that the new members were not that much different from me and many were
having difficult forming that habit. Their pain and eventual disillusionment
started to weigh on me. They had a desire to finally make the life of their
dreams and started with such hope that it would become a habit very quickly.
Reality landed on them HARD after the first few weeks turned into a month and
it remained a constant challenge to eat better and drive to the gym to do
movements that are not innately rewarding. Either because they were telling me
this, I was reading it on their faces, or because they stopped coming into the
gym, I was getting absolutely clear that the exercise habit is a tough one to
create. The words that had once been powerfully reinforced though sales began
to be experienced as punishments when I realized that I had lied to the people
who had trusted me.
On a deeper level, the pleasure and pain can be perceived as either reward
or punishment, and this is the area that my NOT taking the effort to more fully
inform them of what would be required to become an habitual exerciser and more
effective eater came back to haunt me. At this deeper level, were pain can be
viewed as a reward and pleasure can be viewed as a punishment, the person needs
to take the time to think about what is going on in order to manufacture the
meaning that matches reward or punishment. For me, as a sales person, closing a
sale would only feel good when I made it as clear as possible what the first
few months of the gym would be like for them and the sense of loss or sacrifice
that comes along with changing your diet to remove sugar and junk food while
increasing the consumption of highly nutritious foods. My aim became disclosing
as possible about how long it would take to reach their goal and the number of
times they would have to say “no” to something they wanted and “yes” to
something that felt uncomfortable in the short term.
Of course two things happened here. The first was that the sales managers
and coaches did not like me going off script and tried to move me back on
course; which I wasn’t having any of because I had grown tired of feeling like
a lying jerk. The second was that the members who signed-up became active
members because they were fully aware of what was about to happen, had
considered it, and had still made the decision to join. When, 8 weeks later,
they still found that they had to call upon their willpower to come to the gym
at the end of their work day, they were not plagued with any feelings of “why
hasn’t this become a habit yet?” or “what is wrong with me, why can’t I like
this?” They did not like it, but they accepted it as something that they were
going to have to do in order to get the thing that they wanted. This, more than
anything else, is the formula for success – consistent hard work over time.
They were able to view showing-up and making it to the end of a workout as
rewarding in spite of the fact that NOTHING about it brought them any
measurable pleasure. They manufactured a meaning that served as a proxy for
pleasure to allow their brain to reward the behavior.
This is what is called the “discipline high.” You trigger chemical rewards
in response to doing things that are hard, require will power, and for which
there is a big disincentive to doing. Pain becomes pleasure-like, pleasure
becomes pain-like and the person takes the actions they accepted as part of the
journey. This type of meaning manufacturing might have been what the “21 days
to learn…” statement was getting at, but it was never outlined or explained to
me this way.
Now it turned out that because of my updated approach, the powers that be
thought that I would be a better manager than sales person and I got the
opportunity to perform that role at a different club. I employed the same
updated approach with managing the team as I had with selling memberships and
they responded in more or less the same way. Improving at anything will take
sustained work, a lot of which will not be directly rewarding. The sooner you
accept this fact and just start doing it the better the process is going to go
Years later, when I look at those first steps into to the fitness field I
smile and feel grateful that they are behind me. At the time I didn’t realize
that it is a self-help industry and that no matter what I bring to the table
the members, participants, or clients will need to perform the work. I can
motivate, want, coach, etc. until I’m exhausted, but if they do not put in the
effort there will be NO transformation. They need to help themselves and until
they are willing AND doing it, nothing is going to happen.
It is a fun job for many but for me it is only fun when there has been full
disclosure and the person is agreeing to perform their role KNOWING that it is
going to be hard work, mostly thankless, void of any physical reward and is not
something that feels good initially. Each of us have the potential to learn how
to work our muscles in a way that causes them to release feel good chemicals
but reaching this point requires the body to work at a particularly hard level for
an unpleasantly long period of time. Put another way, you need to be very fit,
have strong muscles, and the ability to tolerate a large amount of discomfort
before the body will respond by releasing endorphins to numb the pain and boost
the pleasure. This can take 3 to 9 months, which is a lot longer than the 21
days I used to promise. BUT when you know that it will happen and that the
journey towards that moment might just suck completely, you are much more
likely to accept the work as part of it and just do it.
I’m now much more inclined to consider a mistake both a mistake AND a lesson. It is a mistake because the pain is a necessary part of the process. It reduces the chances of me repeating an action that causes pain. This simultaneously creates the opportunity of a future perceived contrast reward in so far as any elimination of pain is experienced as pleasure when contrasted to the possibility of that pain. The pain eliminates the actions that do not work as the prospect of pleasure serves to fuel different actions in the future. In the absence of certainty that an action WILL lead to a rewarding outcome, we leverage this hope of a rewarding outcome to keep trying.
Don’t let yourself off the hook by labeling a mistake a lesson. Your brain learns better when there is something on the line so keep it there and learn from your mistakes.
Regardless of how I feel about what I have written since I started newstasis.com one thing has become clear, some of it lands on as negative or bitter so therefore it is negative and bitter.
I accept these interpretations. While I believe that I am not a negative or bitter person, I do see the negative of my choices and can very easily see the negative of a lot of situations. I speak from my experiences within the fitness industry, the experiences I have had, the conversations I have engaged in, and the things I have seen. The fitness field is an industry with a success rate of about 20% or less for people who engage professionals for needed help, the turn over rate for fitness professionals is more than 50% over a three year period, and the churn rate for new participants is close to 70%. Summed up, very few people benefit from the existence of the industry, most of the people who stick with it are lifers (those who’d be doing the stuff anyway) or people who will die early if they DON’T stick with it, and many of the best (in my opinion) fitness professionals leave the industry after only a few years.
I’m entitled to my own opinion and in this case, it matches the facts – most people who are involved in the fitness industry achieve a very small level of success that lasts for a short period of time.
Admittedly, I have more control over myself than I do anyone else, and when I am working as a fitness professional I try to do the best work I am capable of. Part of doing the good work is to try and stop people from hurting themselves BEFORE I try to help them because preventing someone from hurting themselves is a form of help. All things being equal, I will dig in deep about why someone wants to get into better shape and will often try to talk them out of it.
Here’s the thing, trying and failing makes failing again in the future more likely. If someone isn’t ready, they shouldn’t bother. There is a lot of evidence created when we set out to do something and end-up not doing it and this evidence goes a long way to evolve our identity. This is not to say that I will tell someone not to work out, I encourage people to move more, to enjoy the feelings of hard work, and to maybe learn to love the sense of accomplishment at the end of a challenging workout. I might even invite them to notice the feelings of connection with the other people in a fitness class and how all of these things make life more enjoyable. Each of those things is true and are sources of happiness, and are worthwhile if for no other reason as they are fun and make life a little better.
But that is about as far as I go with it. The fitness industry is a self-help industry and most people won’t help themselves for long enough or hard enough to transform their bodies, and that is fine. Having the body of my dreams wasn’t nearly as rewarding as being able to do 12 pull-ups or riding my bike up the Niagara escarpment 10 times in a day. In fact, having abs was something to not have anymore, and that created pressure, boosted my narcissism and made me fearful of certain foods. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking fit, but I LOVE feeling great and doing fun and challenging things. Time will take a toll on my appearance, the toll it takes on my ability to do things is more or less determined by me.
I don’t even encourage people to stop smoking anymore. Smoking isn’t healthful or alivening, but neither is unsolicited advice or coaching / requests to do something that you don’t want to do or stop something that you want to keep doing. Everyone stops smoking eventually and they’ll stop when they are ready or when they die. Until then a smoker should enjoy their cigarettes completely because if you’re going to do something harmful you bloody well better enjoy it.
What does all of this mean?
There is a time and a place for the truth and that time isn’t always and that place isn’t everywhere. I try to write as honestly as I can and if someone happens to interpret that as negative, then my words were negative and I am therefore negative. If they choose to not read them again, that’s a fair choice for them to make and I support them in it.
I write knowing that some people would rather feel good and be happy than engage the negative in an attempt to deal with what is. Again, I support people in the decisions and am equally grateful to be part of the choice, even if that choice is to not read or listen to my words.
I KNOW how to use language to create a powerful impetus for change – just take one of my classes and you’ll notice just how much harder you work there than most places on earth – and that is what I have been doing with my blog. I could just as easily state that working for free benefits business owners a lot more than the person who is giving their time away and leave it up to the reader to draw the conclusion that when you give away your time, you are proving that your time has no value, but that leaves too much unsaid or open to misinterpretation. Instead I said unpaid internships are a scourge and hurt everyone; even those who get the free labor.
My dad once said that it is too bad that I couldn’t work for other people because getting a job with a corporation is a great way to do a lot of cool things while having someone else take on the majority of the risk. I agreed with the second point but wasn’t sure I understood him saying that I couldn’t work for other people. When I asked him about this he said: “You can be fantastic and you can be awful, but you are never in the middle, which is the realm of working for other people. You have a way of engaging the world that is interesting to those around you and will bring them along for the ride as certain as you are about the right way forward. And the moment someone disagrees with you and prevents you from taking the righteous action you know is correct you become awful.” At the time I wasn’t sure how to take it but I warmed up to the essence of what he was saying. He was at least 90% correct at the time.
As I have gotten older, there has been a shift in my approach. I am certain I am right about fewer things, but I am absolutely certain about the things that I am right about. Experience, education, and curiosity do this to a person if they are open to the lessons and willing to be wrong in order to one day be right.
In all of it though, I remain intolerant to dishonesty. This is why my feelings about the fitness industry seem to be unchanging. It remains an industry in which opinion is presented as fact, science takes a back page to gurufication, and hope is weaponized to harvest fresh souls. But my absolute contempt of dishonesty applies to all areas of my life. While I have grown less inclined to prove someone to be a liar and to fight with someone who is playing fast and loose with the facts, I notice when people are not being truthful either through deliberate attempt to deceive or through an act of willful ignorance / motivated reasoning. They are flagged in my mind as being dishonest, self interested, or too lazy to put in the effort to see reality in a way that doesn’t serve their interests. I’m content with leaving them alone and allowing them their chance at happiness because when someone is that motivated to maintain their fiction or that resistant to the truth they probably don’t have much else going for them.
Of course, they’ll be left alone only when their lack of honesty is harmful to only them. The moment it begins to contribute to the suffering of other people is the moment I begin to track in on their intention and their reasons for avoiding the truth.
In the world of fitness there are many ways to contribute to the lives of the participants and matching the role you are most passionate about with the clients who need this type of help will open the doors to your most satisfying career. Sadly the opposite is true, choosing to work with clients who do not need your specific type of help will result in a boring and short career as a fitness professional.
First things first, fitness professionals serve as proxies for their clients. When a client doesn’t know the proper way to move, they connect with a trainer who knows how to move. When a client doesn’t have the appropriate nutritional habits, they’ll connect with a coach who knows the proper food and ways to eat. When a client doesn’t have the needed will power to sustain regular workouts, they connect with a coach who will act as their will power, being collaboratively forceful to get the client to do that which they lack the will to do on their own. If a client is unwilling to commit to a better future, a trainer will get their commitment by selling them a block of training. When a client gets caught-up in their stories, a coach will give them a different perspective and help them separate the truth from the fiction within the story.
Given that we act as proxies for our clients and that we have a particular passion / ability, we cultivate long gratifying careers when we are able to be passionate proxies to our clients. For example, if we love coaching movement, particularly foundation movement, we’ll be most satisfied when our work is made-up of coaching newer trainees who are open to the coaching and highly motivated to adapt. We’ll be less satisfied coaching high level athletes who know how to move efficiently and even less satisfied trying to get people to commit to a better future, as these clients have not yet agreed to be coached so there won’t be any movements to prescribe, watch, or correct. By the same token, those who love to help clients generate future possibilities will feel stifled if they spend their time engaging with people who have actually made the decision to move forward with training because these clients need movement coaching.
There is a life cycle with training spanning the range between non-trainee (A), thinking about it (B), beginner (C), intermediate (D), advanced (E), athlete (F), and relapsed non-trainee (G); this last group is distinct from the non-trainee group but only for a while – after a length of time those who are no longer working out become non-trainees.
It is not unusual for a trainer to enjoy working with people from a variety of these groups, to have a specific gift for one of them and to find the rest of them to be unappealing or exceptionally hard to work with. For example, there are similarities between B and G in that neither is actively working out BUT both are more open to it than someone who simply doesn’t do it (A). B and G just need to uncover the compelling reason why they need to start and they will begin. Person G might have achieved their initial objective and stopped why person B never found out what that objective was in the first place. The conversation with B and G will be very similar, while these conversations will have a completely different tone, feeling and intention than those with someone who has no interest in working-out or has not yet realized that they have a compelling reason to do so.
Training beginners is very different than training advanced participants, and while training advanced people has a lot in common with training athletes, athletes need more structure and planning in order for them to be in peak physical condition for their key performance dates. Athletes are very easy to train in terms of their motivation and willingness to do what they are told, a coach needs to be very specific with what they are telling them to do as there is very little room for error given that a small change in form will have a much larger impact in terms of performance.
Personally, I connect best with C and D, and moderately well with B. I have enjoyed training athletes but accept that there are better coaches for them than me, and I don’t have the innate patience to work with them effectively. I’m much better at getting people to move safely than I am at getting them to move specifically. I have coached weight lifting and power lifting and I don’t find it to be very appealing. However, I am very effective at getting someone to push themselves to their physical limit in a functional circuit or to dig a little deeper and cross into the realm of maximum intensity in a cycling class. I’m also much better at noticing and pointing out the tiny physical changes in terms of appearance or ability that are experienced during the first months of training than I am at analyzing the lifting numbers and determining an athletes rate of neurological adaptation.
All of this is to say that I am a great trainer for people who are just starting out and I am an effective sales person for those individuals who are on the fence about starting a workout program. I have the science background to design effective advanced programs although I do not have the passion or interest to take people through them on a regular basis. I just don’t engage high performance athletes because their training time is too valuable to be spent with me and my coaching time is too valuable to be spend with them. E.g. if they want to go to the Olympics or become a professional they should work with someone who is able to take the time to plot their course very specifically, while I am taking the time to move hundreds of people through the phases of not being sure they want to work out to not being sure they can work out to being sure they can work out to knowing what to do to get what they want, how intensely to do it and how to avoid injuries while doing it. When the fit is right, I LOVE what I do, just as my clients LOVE learning what they need to do, as well as what they CAN do – it will be a pure WIN:WIN. When the fit is wrong, I call my mistake and find them the right trainer. Even though no one is really losing, it is always better to exit break even situations and seek out a WIN:WIN.
Given that I like people and have a genuine curiosity about how they engage the world, it is common for me to have the enrollment conversation with people that I never end up training – either because they are a better fit with another trainer or because it was discovered that they didn’t actually want to work out and simply needed some perspective about life and their relationship with it. E.g. while most people would benefit from physical exercise, not everyone should set about trying to improve their body composition or improve their fitness. Exercise feels amazing for a lot of people who work out regularly – exercise of a specific duration and intensity will trigger the body to release reward chemicals that are pleasurable, reinforcing, and which have a positive impact on mood and psychological health. However, the intensity is rather high and the duration is relatively long, so triggering the release requires a baseline level of fitness that is fairly high. 15 minutes of movement at an average intensity of 82 percent may not seem like a lot, but anything above 80 percent is very close to breathless effort that is physically painful due to the accumulation of lactate. Until your body learns how to tolerate this discomfort, exercise is not going to be immediately pleasurable. So while the human being can be trained to make exercise feel fantastic in the moment, doing so is a skill that requires a lot of work that has all of the characteristics of suffering.
If working out is not for someone, it is better to find that out at the beginning and to completely avoid starting. Too often when a large training package is sold to someone who doesn’t actually want to improve their health and fitness, there is a large drop in the quality of their life because they are out the money, the time, they get nothing of value out of the workouts, they hurt physically, and in the end the entire experience has been a massive waste of resources. This doesn’t work for me because my main objective is to reduce suffering so if I convince someone to take a journey that they honestly don’t want to take, regardless of the long term potential health benefits, I have contributed to their perceived and actual level of suffering. It’s so much better to not start the journey than to begin one that doesn’t need to be undertaken.
I’m not saying that these people deserve to have a miserable life or that they do not deserve to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise and improved health and fitness. They do deserve to have an amazing life and reap whatever rewards they can. It is just that improving your health and fitness is hard work and not for everyone. It won’t necessarily make someone happy and in the end, the relapse rates for people who achieve a big fitness goal are very high. Feeling good and being happy are not the same thing, so when someone comes to me looking to become happier I’m going to take a straight line to the activities that lead to increased happiness and, for the record, working out and achieving a massive body transformation do not make miserable people happy in spite of the fact that they make the person feel fantastic.
In a way, I started off my career as a fitness professional believing something that wasn’t true and when I began to notice that people didn’t work the way I thought they did, I had to change my course. But what I learned during those fifteen years is useful, valuable and exactly what some people need. There is nothing to be gained by throwing it all away; the opposite is true, it is science and it is effectively instructions on how to engineer fitness. It’s knowledge and wisdom even though it was a mistake to believe that fitness is the same thing as happiness. Engineering happiness is a different science so I have had to learn it.
This means that I can work with a larger percentage of people, lead them to a couple of different outcomes – fitness and health and / or happiness and well-being – and direct them towards their actual desired path much more effectively than had I only one set of tools. This keeps the job interesting and it allows me to contribute to the positive life experiences of a larger number of people. Most importantly for me, I get to do what I am passionate about without having to convince people that they need something that they don’t. I have the freedom to work with the people I am best suited for and to actually reduce the suffering of both active and sedentary clients.
I will post the second part of this article, Finding Your Passion As A Fitness Professional, early next week.
In Choosing A Fitness Club – Post Revisited I covered some of the considerations a person might have when making a decision on what gym to join. There was a section in which I made reference to the five distinct types of people and how they tend to self-select their training times:
They are early morning, off-hour, after work, late evening lifters, and the generalists. As rules of thumb, anyone who is willing to get out of bed to go to the gym will likely be highly driven and have less time to waste on things they deem as unimportant. The after work people will have a similar desire to waste as little time as possible. The late evening lifters tend to have a very focused lifting intensity but a more laid back approach to their between sets time. Off-hour people have selected these times because they work for them in terms of traffic flow and life management. The generalists workout whenever they can or feel like it.
This is an interesting topic that I need to expand on because, in general, people unconsciously and automatically find the time that works for them and just stick with it. With the exception of the generalists, the people who workout whenever they can make the time or feel like it, the chances of people remaining as active members at a gym are determined by their ability to get this time of day selection correct. Rephrased, most people who cancel their gym memberships or stop going to the gym / working out do so as a consequence of choosing to train at the wrong time. My belief is that it isn’t that the time was not convenient for them it is that who they are is not convenient for the time they picked. Who they are is NOT so malleable as to become whatever they want it to be.
There are five different types of people which correspond to five specific time frames in terms of when people train at the gym. Anytime, or what I referred to as generalist, early morning, off-hour, after work and late evening. Let’s talk about each one specifically because being able to identify which one you are will go a long way in making sure that you get the best start on your deliberate fitness journey:
Anytime / generalist – these are people who can workout whenever they feel like and will tend to do so based more on their availability than any other factor. These people tend to be lifers who enjoy working out for its own sake. Moving feels good and being healthy is not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of necessity. There is a very good chance that if you are one of these people you already know you are and you are already a member at a gym and working out regularly. Of those who are not regular exercisers, only a very small percentage of them belong to this group. It is possible for people to become a member of this group by joining one of the other four groups first, developing the exercise habit, learning how to really enjoy it for its own sake, and them transitioning.
Personality traits include independence, internal locus of control, lack of a need for social approval, strong time management skills, self awareness and a tendency towards free-thinking. They probably won’t talk much about their training or workouts and will simply just do them. There is a very good chance that they will look like they workout and their food choices will tend to be on the healthy side of the scale. Consider these people to be the doers and not the talkers who roll with the punches in order to accomplish unreasonable amounts of work.
Early morning – these are people who need to workout early in the morning, usually within an hour or so of waking and their first venture out of the house will be to the gym. Their training goals will primarily be to improve fitness and improve body composition with a higher focus on reducing body fat. They may not necessarily be morning people and may drag themselves through the first thirty minutes of being awake, but they will show a dramatic surge of energy once their workout begins and will always leave the gym feeling WAY more energetic than how they arrived. They will show a propensity towards “all or nothing thinking” and this will manifest as a need to get to the gym by a certain time or else not going. Missed workouts will not be made-up later in the day and will only be made-up later in the week.
Personality traits will include being highly driven, goal oriented, binary in their thinking, a tendency towards accountability to other people leading them to benefit from group fitness or personal training experiences. On days that they miss their morning workouts, as opposed to off days, they will be a little insufferable and will operate very differently compared to the days they worked out or took a planned off day. It is be as though one bad decision first thing in the morning serves to set the tone for more bad decisions through out the day. These people are best served by getting out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off in the morning, so to NEVER push snooze, and get up at the same time every day REGARDLESS of what they have planned. A successful first five minutes will result in a day of massive action and the creation of a lot of forward momentum.
Off-hour – these are people who have the flexibility to workout more or less anytime and choose to get to the gym when it is less busy. There reasons for training will be varied – strength, body composition, muscle growth, fitness, cardio performance, or for pleasure. They will have a similar mind set to the early morning people in terms of there being a cut off time for going to the gym although they will have a wider range in terms of when they can go. If they miss a workout, they can catch-up later in the week or will do more work in the remaining workouts of the week to make sure they get the training time in. The people will be the first to have training partners or to form more obvious social groups. For example, the early morning people might participate in fitness classes and spend time socially with the other participants, but their conversation during class will have a transactional flair and may lack a closeness or softness that is afforded by having more time to fully engage someone. Off-hour people, on the other hand, will be able to take the time to engage other people in a more connected way. Their closeness will be obvious to others and it can often be interpreted as cliquey. This is usually not the case however as they will welcome new members in and will quickly begin to look out for the needs of others.
Not all off-hour people are joiners or part of a group. Some will be as single minded as the anytime / generalists or the early morning people, but just have the flexibility to go to the gym whenever they like. With these specific people, they will display the same “no nonsense” approach to their time at the gym and will come across as transactional vs. collaborative. They have a mission while they are at the gym and nothing is going to get in their way from achieving their objective.
Personality traits for those who are not like the anytime or early morning people might include a more calm, deliberate or laid back approach to life, having a success pattern that includes a social or connection component, an absence of any perceivable sense of urgency, and the heightened quality of relationships with the staff.
After work – these are the people who workout right after work and for which the gym represents “me” time in terms of throwing way the days stress. Their training objectives will be very similar to those of the early morning – general fitness and body composition with a higher focus towards reducing body fat – and they will have an awareness that they will be able to have a higher degree of flexibility with their dinner as a result of working out so close to it. Their food choices will be positively impacted by this proximity and their workout will serve to empower / improved decision making – their meals on workout days will be healthier than their non-workout days , with particularly positive impact on their dinner choices. They will have slightly more flexibility when if comes to delaying their gym visit, but there will be a cut off and most of them will NOT come to the gym if they go home first. Missed workouts will only be made-up later in the week and the effect of missing a planned workout will very often lead to a series of bad health choices in the hours between the missed workout and going to bed. The elation that is experienced by the early morning people will not be so obvious or may not even be present. However, the workout will serve to refocus them for the rest of the day and the massive reduction in physiological and emotional stress that their training causes will manifest itself as a enhanced sense of well-being, contentment or peace of mind.
Personality traits include being driven, goal oriented, determined, the ability to manage time and balance many competing demands. There will be a more or less equal mix between those who are accountable to themselves and those who are accountable to other people, although most will have an internal locus of control in terms of determining what they want for their future. The mix of energies will be broad ranging from almost manic with an exceptionally high sense of urgency to a low almost sedated “I don’t give a crap” / “nothing matters” which will have a lot to do with the evening responsibilities of the people – parents will still be getting after it because their day is about to begin again while those with fewer responsibilities might be crossing off the final item on their daily “to do” list.
The after work group will be the largest of the five. It will show the greatest diversity in how they use the gym space and services. There will be a high number of group fitness enthusiasts and a higher percentage of personal training consumers. Monday and Tuesday between 4:45 pm and 7:15 pm tend to be the busiest times of the week, with Saturday morning being a distant third, although there are regional specific patterns based on demographics.
Late evening – these are the people who, for the most part, go home after work to eat dinner before coming to the gym. Their training goals are very much on body composition with a big focus on gaining muscle, and on the development of strength. In general there will be a much higher percentage of males vs. females when compared to any other time of the day. The energy will be lower and slower with the exception of the periods of time spent under the bar when the people will be putting between 75% and 100% effort in. To a neutral observer it will seem like very little work is getting done when compared to early morning and after work. However, it will only seem this way. The reality will be that while there are fewer calories being burned via the cardio equipment and classes, there will be a lot more work being done in terms of force X distance. The time needed by the central nervous system to recover from these great efforts is the reason why the energy between sets will be very low. There is a great sense of urgency but these people have learned how to channel it into the lifting.
Personality traits include being driven, goal oriented, strong willed to stubborn, with an almost complete self-accountability to oneself for the work that needs to get done, with mixed accountability to others for showing-up. This is the realm of training partners because of the need for spotters and because progress is so slow the lifting of heavy objects can become a hyper competitive way of keep things interesting. These people tend to never miss workouts and will usually create and stick to a very rigid schedule that does not change often or vary much. The physiological reasons for this are clear and fairly well supported by evidence – building muscle is a process that requires you to train a muscle a particular way, give it a specific length of time to recover and then train it again, over and over again for years. Getting massive is not something that happens by accident or as a consequence of achieving any other fitness goal. This is different from fat loss, improved general fitness or specific cardiovascular health which are complementary objectives – by training for one you inevitably achieve the others.
There will be a much lower percentage of people who are doing intense cardio training because of how that type of training ramps up metabolic rate and tends to make falling asleep very difficult. This is why there will be very few people training to reduce body fat at this time of day. Very few general interest classes will be offered during this time and those classes that are available will tend to be very skills focused with a narrow appeal – boxing or other combat type sports.
How do you make use of this information? The first thing you will need to do is figure out what you are trying to achieve and consider what your schedule looks like in terms of open times you have or can make to train. The next thing you will need to do is take an honest inventory of your traits and begin to compare them to what is outlined above. Once you start to get a feeling for the type of person you are, factor in your training goals and consider what the ideal time of day is to fit that training is. Re-look at your schedule to see if you can make this time available for training three to five times a week.
None of what I have said above should be taken to mean that you cannot make a less than ideal situation work. You absolutely can, but knowing that you are moving forward into a head wind is often the only thing that is needed to ensure that you keep moving forward. No matter what your goals are, you will need to do a lot of work and this work is not ever easy, even when you learn to love doing it. The thing is, it’s a lot easier to learn to love working this hard when your training time matches who you are. The weights will give you enough resistance, there is no point in adding more friction by trying to do something that you have never done during a time that doesn’t suit you doing it.
So you have decided to invest in your future and start to work out, good for you! You won’t regret it. Improving your fitness means that you are going to be improving your health, and that always means that in the weeks, months and years that follow, you will live with at least a little bit more ease.
And like many people you have decided to avoid the upfront cost of buying all the needed gear to create a home gym and instead join a local gym. Okay, that is probably a good idea, particularly if you have never been a fitness enthusiast before. Improving ones health is not for everyone so unless you commitment devices are an effective way for you to stay on track, buying a bunch of equipment isn’t the best idea because it is expensive, it takes up room, and in the event you choose that fitness isn’t for you, its continued presence in your home serves as a kind of impulsiveness hangover.
Join a gym for a year and be curious about what the membership reveals about your commitment to physical self improvement. Review this decision at the end of the first month, the first quarter, nine months in and midway through the tenth month. If you like it, renew or invest in a home gym, and if you don’t, make sure to cancel your membership so it expires at the end of the year and you don’t end-up paying for time you don’t want or use.
Gyms are like restaurants or candy stores – not all are created equal. And if you have specific needs, you might have to send some time looking at different ones to make sure the fit is right. If you don’t know what you are looking for, and this is probably the case for anyone who is just beginning their journey into the realm of deliberate fitness, how do you go about finding the right gym for you or at least right enough to allow you to get started and objectively make the decision if its a trip worth taking?
There is one major consideration and a few other things to look for that will help you make as good a decision as is possible about something you know practically nothing about.
Will you go there three to five times a week, every week for the next twelve months? If the answer is no, don’t join. Look somewhere else and if the answer is always “no”, save your money or spend it on something else. Of all the considerations, this is really the only one that matters because improving fitness takes consistent effort over time. While one workout will help, the true benefit is cumulative. It will take about six months training three to four workouts per week to get to a decent level fitness. This is between 78 and 104 visits to the gym over that twenty-six week period.
Keep this thought in mind when you are visiting the potential gyms. You will be coming to this place between twelve and sixteen times a month and if you do not see that as a possibility, don’t sign-up. This is actually more important than what you will be doing at the gym because a safely done low quality workout done consistently is more effective than the highest quality workout done infrequently.
This is the major consideration and the only show stopper. You don’t have to like it, although it is better if you do, you just have to do it 78 to 104 times in the next six months. If you are confident that you will and are willing to make that commitment take a look through the tips below on things to look for during your initial gym visits to get an idea of what you will be signing-up for.
When to shop: Make it as close to real life as possible. If you plan on working out right after work, make the visits right after work and drive from work. If you plan on going first thing in the morning, wake-up one day and make a dry run. Road and gym traffic have a pattern that is very stable. It isn’t enough to imagine that it will be rush hour and things will be busy because when we have “go fever” our optimism will colour our imagination in a way that will make us over confident that we won’t be annoyed. When we make the drive under real life conditions we are having an experience that is very close to what we’ll need to do over and over again. If it sucks before we sign-up, what reason do we have to believe that it will stop sucking once we pay?
Time of day plays the biggest role in determining the type of people who go to the gym. There are five distinct types of gym trainees and you will undoubtedly start to become one of them as you spend more and more time training when they train. They are early morning, off-hour, after work, late evening lifters, and the generalists. As rules of thumb, anyone who is willing to get out of bed to go to the gym will likely be highly driven and have less time to waste on things they deem as unimportant. The after work people will have a similar desire to waste as little time as possible. The late evening lifters tend to have a very focused lifting intensity but a more laid back approach to their between sets time. Off-hour people have selected these times because they work for them in terms of traffic flow and life management. The generalists workout whenever they can or feel like it. If you don’t like the mood, tone or energy when you visit, it isn’t going to change. But if you decide to train at that time, you probably will.
Once you get there: what does the parking lot look like? Are there lights, are they on when they shouldn’t be or off when they should be on? Are there garbage cans and are they overflowing or is there garbage all over the place? Is there sufficient parking? Are the specialty parking spots close to the entrance? Is there an employee of the month parking spot? If there is cleared snow, how has it been left? Have walkways been shoveled and salted or sanded? Is there a snow shovel visible? Do they have a flag pole and if they do, what is the condition of the flag? Is it at the right position – half or full mast? How are the cars parked – are they within the lines, are they backed or driven in?
All of these things will give you a good impression of how the staff approach their job and how the landlord approaches their tenants. Parking lots have very few rules or laws that specifically apply to them so most of what you will see will be the reflection of decisions people make to go above and beyond what is required. People who are willing to walk past garbage are making a decision to leave it on the ground, which is a reflection of what they believe they are responsible for.
The way people park is also very revealing. Double, crooked or otherwise selfishly parked cars are an indication of a possible personality flaw in the driver. In every case other than that of someone being a bad driver, there is a near zero percent chance that this flaw will not manifest itself in other ways inside the gym. While the staff is not responsible for how people park, they are responsible for making sure the members act in a socially acceptable way which includes how people park.
The first twenty feet: this is about first impressions and it includes information from all of your senses – feelings, smells, sounds and sights in that order. There shouldn’t be a taste and if there is, you should probably take a few moments to reconcile that fact. Is the floor level, is it bumpy, are there broken or missing tiles, is there a floor mat and is it clean, does the door open and close smoothly, does everything you tough feel clean? If you shake someones hand, what is their hand shake like? Do all of the staff shake hands the same way? Our brain picks up on the feeling of things in a mostly unconscious way, so give it the opportunity to take this information in and generate a perception. Our feet will feel problems very quickly and will make you aware that something isn’t right. Try to notice the information that is coming from the floor because it tells us a lot about the existence of a cleaning schedule or system and the level of care given to maintenance.
People who are moving intensely are burning a lot of energy, generating a lot of heat, sweating a lot and releasing a lot of water and carbon dioxide. For these reasons, gyms need to have very good ventilation. The air should be fresh, dry and odorless along with being at a temperature that matches the time of year.
What do you hear as you walk in? The volume and type of music, the sounds of the equipment, the amount and volume of chatter between members, what do the staff say to you and to the other members? Are there systems in place to control greetings and prospective member intake?
Finally, what are you seeing? Is the gym clean, well organized and tidy? Do the staff have uniforms or a dress code? Is the gym branded and if not, does it look like someone has given its appearance some consideration? Are the signs up to date, mounted in a consistent way, and appealing to look at? Can you tell the staff apart from the members? What are the members wearing? Are their finger prints or dust on things? Are their any burned out lights?
As you tour the gym: is any of the equipment out of order and if so, how long has it been that way? If it isn’t clear, ask someone. Is there a way to clean the equipment after use and do you observe members doing it? Do the members put equipment back after use? Are their weights left on the machines or barbells? Are there enough dumbbells and how high do they go? Is there a functional training area? Do they have squat racks and are there any Smith machines? How many hamstring curl machines and of different types are there? Do they offer group fitness classes, do they have their own studio and does it have an independent ventilation system? Is it clean and tidy?
Make sure you go into the change room and all bathrooms. Are they clean and tidy? What is the condition of the lockers? Is there soap, paper towels and toilet paper available? How is the water pressure and is there hot water? Are there any signs posted and if so, what do they say? For the record, people can be disgusting and most of the problems that management need to deal with concern the change room. The signs here will paint a clear picture of what they are hoping to put an end to or prevent from ever starting.
The staff: how are they acting? Are they busy, friendly and radiating an energy that is positive and free of drama? Do they look like they work out and with those who don’t, are their eyes moist and vibrant? Is this a job for them or a calling? How do they interact with the members? Is there a clear supervisor or manager and if so, are they on the floor or in an office behind a computer? How long have the staff worked at the gym?
The member enrollment conversation: is it a hard sell or an easy conversation? Are they trying to get you to join on the spot and have answers for any of your objections? Do you get a weird feeling in your stomach during their presentation that is a sign that someone is trying to control your thinking or emotional state? Are you being listened to and heard, or is the person just waiting for their turn to talk? When they reveal the price, do they try to reframe it or put it in context that relates to your fitness objectives? Are they honest about what the gym is and what it isn’t? Are they offering an enrollment gift as an incentive to join and if so, is it of high or low quality? Are they clear about the cancellation policy? How do they answer your questions and do they freely release information? In general, do they know what they are talking about or are they just there to process you as a transaction?
Final thought: The thing about gyms is that they are, at their core, big rooms with equipment and people. YOU are the engine that drives the results and that is only going to happen if you go consistently over time. The highest quality equipment and top level staff have no impact on members who do not show up, and they have only limited impact on those who are their regularly. What determines the cost of the membership and the value you get out of it is the number of times you go to the gym and how intensely you train when you are there. A $250 a year membership used once a month is essentially more expensive than a $700 a year membership used five times a week, every week for the entire year. And that $700 a year membership is a much better value when each of those workouts is performed near your max possible effort.
YOU are the difference maker. The gym is a tool that you will use and the staff are a part of the service that makes the process a little more convenient and maybe a little more enjoyable. But the responsibility of making your future better falls completely upon you. A gym membership is not the solution, USING that gym membership is.
If you haven’t read or do not remember, check out Choosing A Fitness Club. There are a few other tips or considerations that you might find helpful.
Human beings tend to keep doing what they have been doing for a number of reasons.
And the main reason why we continue things is because doing them before helped to keep us alive – IF someone is still alive, their behaviors and strategies are effective. But this raises a question, “did the behavior actually contribute to survival?” Put differently, “what role did an individual behavior or action play in ensuring survival?”
After some consideration it usually becomes clear that the survival assumption constitutes false evidence or a false justification as the behavior played no impact on survival. This isn’t to say that there is not a valid reason for doing something it just says that there physical survival was never a factor in the decision to do something or to not do it. It was the thing that we did before and it worked, so we do it again, and again.
The impact of the survival hypothesis is that we don’t spend much time considering why we make a decision because doing so requires energy and time. It is imaginable that at some point in human history taking too long to act would have meant death. These deaths would have removed most of the considerers from the gene pool. Those who remain might act more quickly. They’ll be able to find reasons to justify their actions. They’ll – keeping things exactly as they are. This evidence collection is automatic and requires little conscious effort, so we go along with it believing everything we think. When we get used to doing this, we become increasingly inclined to continue doing it. When this becomes our habit, our immediate reply to a request is to say no simply because doing what we are doing is keeping us safe. The outcome is that we close-off to new experiences for no valid reason. We just got lazy with our thinking.
Imagine there is a moment of time right between when you think no and say no. In this moment you’ll be able to notice the direction and intention of your thinking. Does it know exactly why you want to say no and is that reason compelling enough to say no? It probably isn’t a habit when there is a good reason. But if your mind is searching for reasons to justify saying no it could be that the habit of no is presenting itself. The difference between these two ways of thinking is that the first knows why and says no while the second says no and hunts for why.
Habits hunt for reasons for their existence when your mind is in a non-critical state. Until logic and higher level thinking are applied to a thought stream, the habit will find its justification quickly and consistently. But it doesn’t have to. When you pay attention to your automatic / initial thoughts you’ll notice that you become more aware of them as they unfold. You can then take as much time as you want before you say anything. It is going to take some mental energy to make this happen, but it is energy well spent for the boost your self awareness and control.
Is saying “no” one of your habits? In some cases it is. It’s really easy to say no because it allows you to continue to do what you are currently doing; which by virtue of the fact that you are alive and doing it, is safe. Because what you are presently doing is safe is rarely a good reason to avoid doing other things. Unless there is a real reason to not do something, maybe you should be trying other things out. Remember, there was a time when you could do practically nothing and you’ve come a long way from that point.