“The Fog Of War” – Eleven Lessons Applied To Personal Training

Robert McNamara was the Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ during the escalation of the war in Vietnam. He had an interesting life with many jobs, but as he got older he opened-up a lot about Vietnam. He had no lust for war and had reservations about it while he was in a position of influence. When he left office in 1968 he had already suggested that the sunk cost of the Vietnam war was too high and that the US should transition their direct fighting role to the South Vietnamese. These suggestions were not accepted and the fighting continued.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara is a 2003 documentary film about Robert McNamara. What is interesting is that he admitted to his mistakes and expressed that he had done some very wrong things while Secretary Of Defense. He learned from his actions and tried to move forward applying these lessons.

From the movie, the 11 lessons are:

  1. Empathize with your enemy
  2. Rationality will not save us
  3. There’s something beyond one’s self
  4. Maximize efficiency
  5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war
  6. Get the data
  7. Belief and seeing are often both wrong
  8. Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning
  9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
  10. Never say never
  11. You can’t change human nature

When I read the list, I considered how these lessons would apply to personal training. This is possible if we regard war as a partnership between two countries / groups to fight; in a fashion similar to the partnership between client and trainer. Maybe it’s more of a thought exercise and that I have defined the players in a way that allows me to apply the lessons to something that they were never intended to cover. And that is fine, what matters is if something is useful, not that it is right.

1) If a client wants to change, you’ll benefit from gaining an understanding about how they are suffering and what is motivating them to change their course. While you may not know what it is like to be in chronic pain or how unsatisfying seeing your reflection can be, a moment or two spend considering these things can soften the most dogmatic trainer enough to actually connect with a client to establish the trust needed to guide them towards a more fulfilling path.

2) Burning more calories than we consume is, for the most part, how people lower their body weight. That is a logical and rational thought. People know this yet it does not help them achieve their fat loss goals. Their choices are based on something less rational so the solution is likely going to flow out of uncovering or addressing the illogical something that is making life unfold as it is.

3) Often, people will only change for other people. Having enough energy to be an fantastic mother is one of the biggest motivators for a women to begin to exercise and improve her cardiovascular health. Being told that you are 6 months away dying from a heart attack moves people to make the changes they need to in order to enjoy eventually seeing their children graduate, get married and start their own families.

4) Busy people do not have ample time to do all the things that are needed to quickly achieve optimal health. If they are able to create 3 hours a week to dedicate to to improving it, these three hours need to pack in as much of the most effective movements as possible. Stretching, while important, is not going to improve strength or boost energy as much as lifting weights and increasing movement intensity to elevate heart rate. In this case, there is an enormous opportunity cost to stretching or low intensity exercise.

5) If your goal represents a 5% change in your body / fitness, you need to dedicate a small amount of time to it. If the goal is a 50% change, proportionately more effort is needed. Both the client and the trainer will spend a lot more time and effort at the beginning that then will towards the end simply because there is less to achieve towards the end.

6) Great trainers, like great people, make great decisions when they have all the information they need to make a great decision. Without the information to guide your decisions, your solutions will be incomplete and maybe even geared towards solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Listening without judgment is critical for collecting the highest quality data. You’ll remain open to what is actually occurring and this will shape your counsel.

7) Cognitive biases impact our perceptions in such a way that we see what we believe we see and we find the evidence we need in order to support our beliefs.
The things we see may not exist at all and the real world is likely somewhat different from how we perceive the real world. Effective personal trainers are always aware that they have the capacity to see things that aren’t there and to believe things that are not true. These keep the trainer open to the world and bring them closer to seeing the truth as it unfolds in front of them.

8) Progress is a state of constant change and each change may impact the next action. Effective coaches re-examine their clients course regularly and select different actions when they are called for. They know the reason for doing particular things and will not continue coaching something if a better action exists.

9) Doing good work for your clients is going to mean that you engage the worst parts of their behavior. You may not track in completely on their reason for over eating chips and under eating veggies, but to do the good work as a trainer, you are going to have to engage your clients evil and self destructive actions.

10) Everything that is possible IS possible and will come to be with the correct strategy and enough hard work. If the possible remains impossible it is simply because the strategy is incorrect or the work has not been done. “Never” is something that is said at the end of life or in the event that someone quits working towards their goal.

11) You cannot change human nature and as a personal trainer, you need to be aware of your clients nature. In some cases you can just tell someone to stop eating candy and they will stop eating candy – it’s not these peoples nature to eat candy. Regardless, you will need to work with a persons nature to help move them towards their goal. Someone who loves eating candy will probably always love to eat candy so they need to be allowed to eat candy every now and then because their nature will be expressed if repressed for too long, and these unplanned expressions tend to be over the top and extreme. You can work with their nature by asking them to eat good quality food 80% of the time, and have some candy once a week.

It’s probably fair to say that any good lesson can be applied somewhat to any other area in life. The Fog Of War does present some lessons and growth opportunities for personal trainers.

Your Self-Talk Might Be Holding Them Back

Fitness professionals spend a lot of time talking – they give instructions, coaching, advice and wisdom. They listen to their gut and to their clients say out loud the solutions to the problems their intuition identifies. And it is not just fitness professionals who do this, it is a habit of almost all people. Assume something is wrong, identify what it is and come-up with a solution.

There are many areas in which problems do need to be solved quickly – areas of survival and imminent threat – but the fitness field is not one of these areas.

The fitness industry is an area of choice and not of survival. Those who engage in fitness activities are usually working towards improving the quality of their life, NOT just surviving it. Any work in the area of choice requires a different approach than the innate problem / solution automatic approach all humans exhibit.

When we, as fitness professionals, listen to our guts and point out the problems we perceive in our clients, we kick the achieving of their potential down the road even further. Problem / solution approaches require obedience and eliminate choice.

The better approach is to give the clients choices, many of them, and let them know the ones that will lead them to the life they want to have. Your knowledge comes into play when you educate them about the impact of each of these choices, along with knowing which choices there are to make. You’ll use your skills to coach them when they make a choice and to keep them on track. Your wisdom will be called upon when you frame their previous choices in terms of serving exactly what they were about at the time – they choose the exact amount of movement and to eat the exact amounts and types of foods that made their life exactly what they wanted, needed, and what it was. Your role is to contribute to their self-awareness that they have exactly the power they need to make real the life they need to live, to shine a light on the fact that they have been wielding this power for years and that they can use it whenever they want, to make different choices and to create a new experience. They are free to choose, not because there are right choices or wrong choices, but because there are only choices.

So, when you notice yourself feeling that one of your clients needs to do something different, stop yourself from speaking and consider what is going on for a moment; is your-self talk playing out the role of problem solving when there is no problem to solve or is something else occurring? If you have identified a problem, make sure you adjust your thinking so you voice the choices that exist and leverage the clients own power to make and follow though on the choice THEY make.

Fight the urge to believe that YOU know better and accept that the client knows what is right for them REGARDLESS of what your self-talk is claiming.

Dreams – Meaningless? Maybe, But Something Is Realigning

During my coaching conversations I ask about sleep and dreaming. The answer to these questions are import because they can indicate a lot about a persons level of stress, their readiness for change, and they uncover a lot about unfulfilled expectations. This is not an opinion that is supported by a lot of scientists so I accept that I’m flirting with pseudo-science here.

Sleep is important for recovery. 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is critical for most people to push reset on their brain and bodies, consolidate their daily memories and repair their muscles, joints and nervous systems from their daily activity. If there has been a change in sleeping patterns recently, or if someone isn’t getting sufficient amounts of uninterrupted sleep, we’ll try to unpack the reasons for it. Usually the things that wake someone up in the middle of the night tend to reflect some unresolved conflict or identity issue that needs to be resolved.

I have notices that during times of unrest / upheaval, someone may begin to dream a lot more. After my dad died, I experienced months of vivid clear and memorable dreams the likes of which I had never and have never again experienced. Again, the scientists cannot make any claim about the cause, but anecdotally there seems to be a connection to changes in dream patterns and life or transformational stress.

The key reason why I’ll ask people about there dreams though is to help build rapport and to give my clients the opportunity for some introspection. Last night I had a dream that I was one of the characters in the television show “The Walking Dead”. It felt real and I was filled with a sense of despair that one of the walkers was going to get me. Now I know that it is fiction and has no baring on my real life, so it was a random experience that brain cultivated, right? Well, maybe not. I have been spending a lot of time reading about the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. It is possible that my brain, in an attempt to consolidate some of what I have learned, integrated some of the Ebola information into a freaky dream about zombies and imminent death if they get you.

Since there is no universal mean of dreams, we are free to interpret them however seems most fitting. This is a great way to get people to talk about the things that are on their mind. When they interpret a dream, they tend to do so using the information that is immediate available to them at the time. Often times, they’ll attribute the dream to something that they didn’t speak about before, but that is having a big impact on their progress. Even if the scientists are correct and that dreams are meaningless, the conversation and insight that that the dream analysis can be valuable. Given that the goal of training is to move the client forward, I’ll use any ethical means available.

Cultivate Their Talent, Don’t Groom Leaders

The best leaders / managers I have ever had asked questions, listened to the answers and gave me the freedom to express my vision without judgment. They assumed that I was an expert of my own life and were at my service when I needed guidance, coaching or a chance to talk something out. I’m sure they would have groomed me for their job had I expressed an interest in it and the willingness to work hard to earn the opportunity, but they saw me as an individual with my own hopes and dreams and didn’t view me as future version of them.

I am grateful for this because it is the only fair way to engage staff. It might just be the height of arrogance to assume that other people should follow in your footsteps as opposed to blazing their own trail. Sure, if someone enrolls you in that, pull out all the stops to help them become a carbon copy of you, but it’s a mistake to move forward believing that YOUR way is THEIR way.

When you hire someone for a job, do so with the intention of helping them make the most of that opportunity. Be truthful about what the job entails, what your responsibilities are to them, how they will know that they are performing well and how you will coach them to gain the needed skills to excel at the role. Honoring these commitments is what leaders do. Too often people are hired into a company and left to fend for themselves under the guise that the best people will act like a leader and figure it out. The best people will act like a leader and figure it out, and they’ll leave very quickly. There is little to be gained working for someone who is unwilling to invest the time to figure out what you want or to listen to you tell them what you need. Cultivating talent is a skill and success is not being promoted into leadership or leaving the organization. Success is measured by how much they improve coupled with how well they perform the job they were hired to do.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with promoting someone into a leadership role, nor do I believe that creating a leadership training program is a bad idea. But these things should only occur when there is a leadership role for them to move into. Suggesting that something exists that doesn’t just to get someone to step-up or change their behavior clearly demonstrations a lack of leadership skills. If you can only motivate using dishonesty and false promises you will quickly find that your talent leaves and your business will suffer.

Affective Forecasting

It never cease to amaze me just how wrong I can get it. So much so that as I get older I make fewer and fewer predictions about how something I have never done is going to make me feel when I do it. There’s just no point in trying to figure it out because I don’t get it right. There are just so many ways it can go, so many emotions to feel that the likelihood that I’ll get it correct is close to zero.

When I started working out again, after I moved on from being an IT manager and began working for GoodLife, I wanted my abs to be visible. Maybe I had been that lean before, but if I had been, it had been years before when I was in high school. So I worked at it. I trained and ate well and projected myself forward into a time when I would have abs conditioned myself to feel amazing about it. And when that day came when I looked in the mirror and saw my abs three things hit me. Initially I had a rush of excitement thinking that I had achieved my goal. After about 15 seconds the excitement was replaced with a feeling of loss. Now what was I going to do? And then came the realization that NOTHING had changed. Big deal, I had a six pack, I was still bitter and unhappy, looking for something that would make me better than what I believed I was.

And that’s the thing about the future. It isn’t going to be much different from the present, particularly if the present is very different from the past. Just because you achieve a goal doesn’t mean the world is any different. It doesn’t mean anything is any different. If you are a 6 out of 10 in happiness you’ll return to being a 6 out of 10 in happiness pretty quickly after you reach your goal.

Human beings are dreadful with affective forecasting. We have no idea what our emotional state is going to be in the future in response to some future event. The best predictors are how we feel right now and how we felt when a similar thing happened; which is probably going to be very similar to how we feel right now.

I’ve known a few people who have had cancer. After the initial shock of being told that they are going to die sooner than expected, their lives went back to normal. I’m inclined to say that the last 6 weeks of my dad’s life were happier than the five years leading up to them. He laughed more, ate whatever he wanted and generally didn’t give a crap about all the stuff that, when we take a real hard look at, doesn’t matter anyway. Maybe my dad was sad, but when I asked him he seemed more concerned about my mom and her future than he did about his upcoming death. He didn’t seem sad, he didn’t really seem to care in a way that I would have imagined he would have cared.

He did remark a few weeks before the end that he was wondering why he wasn’t feeling bad about it, that maybe there was something wrong with him not feeling like there was something wrong. I said maybe he didn’t regard what was happening as anything other than what was always going to happen – rather trite and useless, but my dad was a pragmatist and realized that everyone dies.

For anything other than the most extreme cases – beating cancer, a loved on pulling thought a dreadful illness, a child being recovered alive from a kidnapping for example – a human beings ability to predict their future emotional state is going to be poor, and this is something that I keep in mind when I am coaching people or talking to them about about training and goals.

I’ve seen it too many times to count, someone believing that the world will be different if they lose weight, gain muscle, do this or that thing, but their world isn’t different. All of them say the same thing after a few months: “I’m glad I did it, but not much has changed.” And this is why, in the fitness industry, there are so many relapses with body transformations – an awful lot of people return to their old habits and regain the lack of health & vitality they worked so hard to shed.

For those who are actually interested in helping their clients, it is best that they take the time to unpack the clients motivation and reframe their expectations in terms of the likely outcome. For example, every person who gains strength will notice that life just gets easier. But very few people seek out the help of a fitness professional to make life easier in the ways increasing strength will make it easier. In fact, most people do not realize the positive impact that a stronger back will have. Picking-up the laundry basket is as hard as it is, until it gets easier, then you will realize how hard it used to be.

Most of the really positive outcomes of improving your fitness are unknown until you improve your fitness. Having low energy is normal until you do the work needed to have high energy. The fog that dulls your thinking is always there until it is gone. The slowness of your digestive system is only noticed after it speeds up when you start eating real food and moving more.

Given that people are poor affective forecasters, to make sticky the changes your client makes, you’ll serve them better by finding-out why and how they ended-up in front of you and by pointing out all the good things they’ll notice that other people have noticed. You’ll help them more by ignoring or speaking very little about the things they believe they’ll enjoy about achieving their goal because they’ve probably got them wrong anyway.

Fitness Professional Smell

During lunch today my brother talked about code smell. I hadn’t heard of the term before, but have a lot of experience with a similar thing in the fitness industry. “Code smell, in the realm of computer programming, is any symptom in the source code of a program that possibly indicates a deeper problem” – the program works but there is something about the code that isn’t as it should be. Seasoned programmers are able to identify them because they have had enough experience to gain a high level of distinction about what works, what doesn’t and what things actually mean.

In the fitness field, there are what I will call Fitness Professional Smells and they indicate with accuracy when a professional doesn’t really know what they are doing. My list is below and if you find yourself working with someone who displays them, considering checking their references and their back ground because they may not be worth the money they are billing you in-spite of their claims.

Someone making a claim that seems outrageous, unreasonable, or well outside common sense. There is a saying that a line of bullshit is a line of bullshit. When it comes to improving your health and fitness it will require your hard work, your attention to nutrition and your introspection as to why you ended-up in the position of needing to improve your health. Getting out of shape takes time and sustained effort / rituals. Getting into shape isn’t going to take as long, but there’s a very good chance that it will take a year to drop 50 pounds. If you are starting on your first journey to improved your health, it will probably take longer. You’ll get there, but it is going to take YOUR conscious direct and consistence effort.

When emotional selling practices are used or when they try to make you cry so you buy. Unflappable people buy only the things they want to buy because they always remain in control and always think logically. When someone is trying to trigger an emotional response within you to get your compliance, be guarded. Things may not be as they appear. Let the emotion fade and do another check when you are able to process things logically. Very often things will be different, and if they are, engage the person and find out what their objective is. Maybe they just used the wrong tool to get the right outcome when an honest conversation is the way to go but maybe they are just trying to line their wallets and your are their mark.

Someone is making a promise on behalf of another person. Some gyms / personal training companies sell training packages and subcontract trainers to service the sessions. I am not a fan of this for a few reasons: First, the trainer does not get paid as much as they should, or the trainer gets paid what they are worth and are not of a high caliber. Next, when someone is selling something that they are not servicing, they cannot be held to account for the promises they make. Finally, training is about building a relationship with your trainer. Just because you like the person who sells you the package doesn’t mean that you are going to connect with the trainer they find for you. Pay the trainer directly and if that isn’t possible, talk to the trainer BEFORE you buy anything and find out why they are having someone else sell for them.

Someone who doesn’t have YOU as the engine of action and behaviors that will create change. If you want different results you are going to need to do things that are outside of your baseline, and you are probably going to need to do them consistently and for a fairly long time. When selling personal training, some people will neglect to tell you this because it can crush optimism and create a sense of hopelessness. But the truth is that YOU have created the very life that you feel you deserve; every action has moved you to become exactly what you are today. Becoming something different is simply a matter of deciding what that is and taking the actions needed to create it. You’ve been doing it all along.

Anyone who is selling a short cut. There are no shortcuts and you cannot hack the approach. There’s a very good chance that you already know what you should be doing in order to get what you want – hard work and mindful action. Anyone suggesting that there is a different way is selling something to you, plain and simple. It’s fine if you buy from them but you are never going to get what you want without the hard work and mindful action. It will always be there for you to do after the shortcut takes you somewhere different.

Anyone who doesn’t consume the product or service they are selling. I cannot reconcile a fitness professional who doesn’t workout. It isn’t just their lack of integrity that I struggle with, it’s the fact that being in great shape just feels really good – why WOULDN’T they make doing what they are selling a priority in their life before everything else?

Being asked to do anything overly complicated and for which there is no simple reason why it needs to be done. There should be a reason for everything you do in the gym or while being trained. If there isn’t a good reason, there’s a good chance that the trainer hasn’t thought much about it and is just selecting exercises that they’ve seen before or that they know how to coach. While better than doing nothing at all, it’s a poor substitute for well thought out program design that builds upon the movements you have become good at performing.

When you get the creeps from someone or the feeling that something doesn’t add-up. Almost all of our mental functioning is unconscious and very often we are not aware of the outcome of a process. But there will be times when we get a gut feeling about something; this represents the outcome of a process. These feelings are the result of a pattern matching some past similar experience. It is best to pay attention to your gut when you have one of these moments because there is critical information being revealed; a flag is being raised. Take a timeout and reengage the situation only when you figure out the source of the feeling. Invite someone with more experience into the situation to get a second opinion on what is going on.

Someone is suggesting you do programs that are for someone who is more advanced. High performance or advanced athletes are not the same as us normal folk simply because they have done so much work that their bodies adapt very quickly. In a lot of cases, your body would adapt just as quickly if you had done the same things they have done. But you haven’t, so your gains and adaptation are going to take a lot longer. Programming for the untrained doesn’t need to be complicated and you will progress a lot faster if you are given the time needed to adapt to the movements. A one week micro cycle may be what an Olympic weight lifter needs to pull a new personal best, but it isn’t going to do very much for most people. Programs should change a little bit over time, not all at once every 3 weeks.

So there you have it, a list of things that to me indicate that a fitness professional may not be exactly what they are presenting themselves to be. Fitness Professional Smells that you can use to figure out if you need to ask more questions or find someone else to work with.

Interesting Stuff About Conflicts of Interest – Post Revisited

In early October 2012 I posted Interesting Stuff About Conflicts of Interest and have decided to take another run at the topic because my feelings have intensified and evolved since then.

Heather likes sales people – well, she likes listening to their pitch and she completely admits that she is open to being taken on the “what would your life be like if you owned this” ride that skilled sellers can take you on. But she doesn’t buy anything she doesn’t want to buy. She is open, but always in control. Sellers like her up until when she says “no thanks.”

I’m the opposite of it this – I hate it when people try to sell me stuff. I rarely allow myself to consider the benefits that buying their product will bring me while I am in front of the sales person. I’m on guard constantly when I shop. It can take me a long time to buy something and I rarely use the items I buy on an impulse or was “sold”. The buying (the sales) process for me is about collecting information that I will consider later.

Both approaches work, but Heather’s seems to deliver a more joyful experience than mine.

Heather is extremely strong and has a clear vision of what she needs in her life. She is able to go along with the sales process to see if the object fits her vision. Items that do, are bought, items that do not are not. It’s very simple. At her job she says “no” to a lot of vendors so she doesn’t seem to fear the consequences of saying “no” and she is already primed with the knowledge if someone is selling something they cannot be trusted to speak objectively about the negatives of that item. She buys when her mind is made up, and she ONLY buys when she wants the thing that is being sold.

I’m different here. While I’m strong and have a vision of what I want my life to be like, I need to try things on in a more reflective way. The reason I believe I am like this is because I have spent a lot of time selling in the fitness industry and am aware that effective selling can be about doing something to the other person vs. doing something for them. Be it a gym membership, personal training sessions or supplements, these items are sold the same way, on the hope of a better life or some improvement if someone ends up buying. While I was selling, I had a conflict of interest that biased my view of what was true.

Much of how I see the fitness world now is based a need for me to live with myself. Given that, as revealed in the clip of my initial post, IF I have a conflict of interest I will have a tough time being honest, in order to live with myself I need to remove the conflict of interest.

What I’ve stumbled on, through experience and conversation with my brother and Ben, is that the industry as it presently exists is incompatible with my views. Most of the people in the industry are selling something OTHER than what the industry is offering. They are selling the hope of a better life disguised as a short-cut. Regardless of their conscious or mindless intentions, very few of them are actually being honest about what they are doing. “Join this gym and you will lose weight”, “eat this supplement and you will gain muscle”, “train with me for 6 months and you’ll become a brand new person”, etc…..

Some of what they promise might actually come true, but that doesn’t make their sales pitch an honest one because most of the people who buy from them do not achieve their goals. In the fitness industry, the sellers are leaving out two very critical pieces of information that one must keep in mind when someone is attempting to sell them something:

1) The seller stands to gain from them buying. Even if the seller is a very moral person, they will lie, manipulate, pressure, etc…. to get the other person to buy their product or service (P&S). IF the seller honestly believes their (P&S) is effective and amazing, and will help the other person get what they want, can they really be blamed for playing hardball to get them to get them to buy? After all, they are acting in the other persons best interest even if the other person doesn’t see it that way. While not necessarily malice, it does imply that the seller does actually know what is best for the other person and knows with absolute certainty that their (P&S) is the best. In the fitness industry this is rarely the case.

2) The future actions of the buyer are what will determine if a (P&S) is actually helpful. In fact, the (P&S) is essentially interchangeable for any similar (P&S), equally effective or useless depending upon the actions of the buyer. The responsibility for the outcome is solely on the buyer.

Consider these for a moment.

If it is the actions of the buyer that determine the value of a sellers (P&S), can the seller really make any statement about the efficacy of what they are selling? The answer is almost always no. The fact that so many people in the fitness industry fail to recognize and mention that their P&S are useless without the consistent effort of the user makes it a dirty industry, loaded with salesmen, cheats, lairs, charlatans and the otherwise “need to be ignored”. Given this it’s easy to understand why so many gym rats dislike the personal training industry. They don’t care that the clients are using the equipment, they don’t like seeing people getting taken advantage of. The gym rats clearly understand that the individual works hard to get the results and that no mentor, coach, trainer or paid companion will ever do the work from them.

Exclusivity Agreements – What They Indicate

These are a dirty little secret in the fitness field and, with few exception, they are put in place to benefit the employer. The person or company offering the job to the fitness professional will usually make a seemingly reasonable claim to justify the need for one, but rarely do the claims stand-up to closer scrutiny.

The reason an employee might want to sign an exclusivity agreement is to ensure that the company does not go out and find another person to perform the role that they have been hired to perform. For example, a nutrition practitioner may ask their employer to sign one ensure that they get the full opportunity to service an existing client pool without concern or fear for their job. The same would apply to a personal trainer or group fitness instructor.

A brand manager, marketer or sales professional could benefit from getting the employer to sign one covering a predetermined length of time to give them the chance to get their efforts up to full speed, given that it can take a little while to gain traction. Without one, there is nothing stopping a company from working with multiple people on the same task to get a larger footprint yet prevent any one person from being successful. I’ve seen this done and it is demoralizing for the worker and confusing for the clients / public.

The challenge within the fitness industry is getting a company to sign one of these. They simply won’t do it unless you are a keystone figure for their business. Most of the people who work directly with clients / members are regarded as expendable by most owners / managers and replaceable.

Within this industry, exclusivity agreements are one way – the employee is asked to sign it saying that they won’t work for another company while they are working for company A and many of the agreements have a clause that states the employee cannot work for another company in the same industry in the same geographic region for a period of time after employment ends. You are free to not sign the agreement, but then you won’t get hired.

While I support a companies right to protect their intellectual property, the way exclusivity agreements are used with fitness professionals has nothing to do with this. They are used to control the actions of employees and to provide the biggest supply of workers so they can pay a lower wage. A company may have no problem scheduling someone for 2 hours a week yet prohibiting them from working anywhere else. Your overall income doesn’t matter to them and if you don’t like the hours you are being offered, don’t sign the agreement. The problem is you are asked to sign BEFORE you know your hours.

The best gym I ever worked at, Fitness Etc. in Milton, did not ask me to sign an exclusivity agreement. The owners knew that I needed to earn a living and simply asked that I act in the best interests of the gym while I was at the gym. It wasn’t until I had been working there for a while that I realized the impact that NOT having one had on me. It was positive because I was free to work anywhere else, so I had options, it was positive for them because I viewed them as loyal and caring for my well-being so I worked more intensely, and it was extremely positive for the members because they got the best of me and what I had to offer. There was no ill-feelings at any point and it was win:win:win.

I came to realize that asking someone to sign an exclusivity agreement when working with public domain knowledge makes a negative comment about the company. First off, they are setting the tone by saying that you may not be happy here, you may not get enough hours, you may not get paid what you are worth. We know this already so we are preemptively addressing the consequences to this being a lousy place to work. Next, they are saying that they manage relationships with staff using paper work vs. building relationships – you are a number in a spreadsheet and we need check boxes checked so we don’t have to think about you anymore. They are saying that their profit is their primary objective and that employee satisfaction and customer service take a back seat to these. It is saying that they would rather rely on fear to get what they want than to create a work place that brings out the best in people.

The current business model benefits only the owners – when a company regards their staff with such low regard, they cannot passionately care about their customers. They are paying lip service to their members while compensating those who work directly with them poorly. This is why there is an exodus of highly qualified and passionate trainers and coaches from the fitness field and it is the very reason why most people do show little improvement when they work with a trainer. It’s why the average age of a fitness professional remains the same, and it is why their average years of experience seems to be unchanging. It is why people leave the industry and do not retire from it.

How I Have Been Wrong

There is this thing people do that used to annoy me but that I now use as a vetting tool and that is a persons ability to admit that they were wrong. Regardless of their motivation, if someone isn’t able to say that they were wrong they are not a scientist, so their inflated opinion of what they know is tainted by an unmentioned emotional need and biased by something that isn’t an objective truth or reality.

I have been wrong a lot, even if it was well intentioned and based on everything that I knew at the time. And it is important to be wrong and to admit it because only the divine and the foolish do not change.

Here is a list of some of the ways that I have been wrong and changed over the last 15 years in the realm of the fitness industry:

Believing that nutrition is more important than food. This mistake, like a number of the ones I have made while in the fitness industry, was based on the need to make statements that sounded correct, were thought provoking, and that were sticky. But it is nonsense. Human beings NEED to eat food to get nutrients, they cannot thrive consuming the nutrients alone. Whole food is a natural concoction of 1000’s of chemicals that work in a synergistic way inside the body. When these chemicals are taken in one at a time, they have a different impact on the body and there is no certainty that this is going to be a health promoting.

Believing that the program is more important than consistency. I used to believe a lot of the hype and I would dispense this advice as though it was scientific fact. The fact that my clients were getting good results I interpreted as proof that the programing was effective. But over time I started to notice that the clients of some other trainers who programed using the same methods were not experiencing the same results. Furthermore, I noticed that clients who were using extraordinarily simple programs were experiencing great results. What I had missed was the fact that doing small things consistently will generate better results than a perfectly crafted program that is done occasionally.

Believing that by creating an emotional response a transformation has occurred. This one is false, completely false. While there may be times when an emotional response indicates a readiness for change or that a person has started their transformation, setting out to make a client cry is not helpful and will usually permanently damage the relationship. This is not to say that there is no useful information revealed when a client has a spontaneous and organic emotional response, there is just very little useful information to be gained by setting out to create an emotional response. It’s a sales tool that is used to breakdown defenses so someone can sell their services. It’s unforgivable and anyone who sets out to do it is trying to help their own bottom line and doesn’t care about the well-being of the person they are trying to take money from.

Believing that EVERYONE should workout and become more healthy. Morally I struggled with this one for a while. I believe that everyone is entitled to live an amazing life, rich in health and vitality BUT they must choose to live this life. Any coercion or pressure that forces them to choose it will usually result in more suffering as they fail to achieve success and feel worse than they would have had they not tried. I am always enthusiastic and possibility driven with anyone who is suffering the effects of poor health choices, but I’m only at their service when they choose to transform their life. Everyone CAN be more healthy but people shouldn’t be pressured into it.

Believing that what gurus said was more useful than what I knew. Within the fitness industry the gurus have a field day selling their wisdom to anyone who is looking for a shortcut. These people in turn make money dispensing this wisdom to the people they convinced would benefit from it. The problem with believing the gurus is that they rarely have any scientific basis for supporting their claims, and given that they have a financial motive for stating anything, there is a conflict of interest that motivates them to lie. Their well of wisdom in poisoned and unless science supports their claims, you shouldn’t buy into them. After 15 years in the industry, the formula for success is very simple, consistent intense work through a full range of motion, moderate amounts of good quality food (mostly vegetables), adequate rest and recovery, and a positive outlook on life in general. This isn’t flashy and it won’t make me millions of dollars, but it works for everyone and it is based on science.

Tell Us How Much – We KNOW the Context

ust received an email from a mailing list that I joined telling me all about this great opportunity that is going to close on Friday. Thing is, I need to act soon because there are only 60 spots left and it would be a shame if I was to miss out on it. I got a very similar email from them a few months ago about the same program so I’m confident that if I miss this chance another one will come along before the end of spring. Opportunity sometimes keeps knocking.

My challenge with the email and the mailing list in general is that they never say that price of anything; it might be available on the information video clip they link to, but I haven’t watched them because I don’t feel like watching them. There is also an email address that I can send any questions to, but I don’t feel like doing that either.

When I worked for Canada’s big chain gym, they forbid us from giving out prices over the phone. If someone called, our job was to book them in for an appointment to tour the facility because a membership coordinator (sales person) would be able to create the proper context for the price. We were trained on how to paint context and everything we did was based on statistics. It was better to not book someone in for an appointment while not giving out the price than to give out the price over the phone.

And I think this practice is pretty stupid; not just for big chain fitness clubs but for anyone who believes that they’ll be able to create a context by which the price isn’t actually what the price is.

In this day and age, if you are concerned about price, you’re probably going to buy based on price vs. any other variable. It doesn’t matter who is sitting across from me, if they work for a company, they have a conflict of interest that is going to have them act in a way that serves this interest BEFORE my needs. This happens not because they are bad people but because most human beings cannot act in any way contrary to their best interests.

Take the big gym for example, their biggest selling features are that they are the largest in the country and that their group exercise programs are well standardized – you can workout at any club and will get effectively the same class experience from any of their particular classes. The price of the club doesn’t really matter because almost every club in the country costs about the same price. The equipment is basically the same, the weights weigh the same, they play the same music, they are clean, they have parking lots, sell water and other drinks, and they offer child minding and personal training at additional fees. The big companies are corporation, they pay their staff poorly and they are profit centered. This being said, the reason they want you in front of them is because they want to sell you a membership for their club and their sales tactics cannot be employed over the phone.

The same thing applies to the coaching course I just received an email for, the personal training company I used to work for, the sports conditioning centers I used to work for, and the self-help organization I participated in a few years ago. They exist to make money so getting you to sit down and talk to one of their representatives is critical for them to create the context that gets someone to buy a service. Some of what they will say is accurate – in most cases, some professional coaching will end up being safer and faster than doing something uncoached, and there is greater accountability when someone else is helping you stay on track.

BUT the price is the price and the context is that they are trying to sell you something. If your program costs $1497 put that on the literature. Doing that will actual mean people like me will be more likely to buy. Put another way, if you don’t put it on the literature you aren’t going to sell to me because I’m not calling. And I’m not calling because your context is obvious, and you have no problem wasting my time.