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newstasis :: a blog about improving wellness

The Habit Of “No”

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’llĀ  - 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.

“Systems” - A Dangerous Buzz Word In The Fitness Field

Systems are sales tools and things used by business owners to maximize profit. There is nothing innately wrong with them or with how they are used but we should be upfront about what they are and why they are being created.

Sales people need to be confident that what they sell will be what is delivered to the customer. The creation and implementation of a system gives them the certainty that their promises will be honored. In this area, they are a tool used to eliminate doubt thus freeing-up those resources to focus on making the deal.

Business owners love them because they ensure a baseline level of service that allows them to hire almost anyone to perform a role within a company thus lowering the cost of labour. The benefit to profit from hiring less skilled and less talented staff is huge given that highly skilled talent demands fair compensation.

“Systems” is a buzz word that triggers an automatic response within people. Using it will effectively lower resistance in potential customers and instills a sense of confidence in what they are buying.

Many of the big automakers focused on systems. This allowed them to sell millions of cars and trucks that had defects some of which ended up killing and injuring people. It allowed them to remain unresponsible for the outcome because their system had a flaw. What some would consider negligence can be perceived as a growing pain. Regardless of what it is called, it was for profit taking and it allows for inferior cars and services to be delivered.

In a service industry that calls itself personal training, systems have very little place because they are impersonal and ensure that the cookie cutter approach is upheld while the talent gets a smaller cut of the profits and the customer gets only what the system dictates.

Again, nothing wrong with this so long as seller, business owner and customer are aware of their role and what is happening.

Cognitive Biases - Some Reasons Why Nothing Changes

With the sheer amount of sensory information that bombards us at every moment it is not surprising that our brains have evolved to use shortcut to help filter the important information out of the noise. These shortcut serve us well, but the automatic nature of them can present us with challenges when we neglect information or make a decision to act without getting more information.

Cognitive Biases by Drake Baer and Gus Lubin on Business Insider gives a list of automatic ways of thinking that can lead to errors in thought. The list is important, not just because it outlines some of the ways that the human brain can deflect accurate perceptions, but because of their nature, we cannot automatically notice them occurring. This is critical. You can combat them using direct conscious effort, but this will take effort and may never become automatic.

Consider the Conservatism bias, “where people believe prior evidence more than new evidence or information that has emerged,” for a moment. This bias may be active within you right now as you look through the list of the cognitive biases and think that they are false and don’t exist. The fact of the matter is, they are real, and over time your brain may begin to accept them as true and alter your understanding of the world to accommodate for their existence. But for the time being, before your brain assimilates this new information, everything you know about how the brain works says that it is a logical information processing machine that puts the same weight on all information it receives.

Why someone would feel this way makes sense. If we are still alive, everything we did before contributed to our survival. Anything new that we learn may not contribute to our survival so we resist it. Why accept untested information when the consequences can be so dire?

Okay, a few thousand years ago. But given that our brain hasn’t evolved much in the last 20000 years, it is no wonder that these cognitive biases exist. Our brain is the product of an environment that ceased to exist eons ago but is still running the same software with the same intention and now both need to be updated.

Read the list and notice some of the instances in your life were these cognitive biases has played a role in your thinking. You may not commit all of them and are likely very good at preventing some of them from happening. That’s great, it means that we are not powerless to their impact. We can, with conscious effort and practice, become aware of them, observe them happen and reprocess the impacted moment bias free. Taking this moment before acting will make your life better, and much closer to what you want it to be.

“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.

Some End Of Life Considerations You May Not Have Considered

Everyone dies. Until that changes, there is a very good chance that you will need to deal with the end of life of someone you care about; maybe even yourself.

The challenge in dealing with these issues is that death is an emotionally charged subject. As such, your logical thinking capabilities are going to be turned-down or off and your actions will be automatic. The goal of this post is to outline some of the things that can happen and offer-up an alternative possibility that will serve your interest more effectively. Keep in mind that almost everyone is selling something and there are people who will take advantage of your decreased resistance and get you to buy things you don’t want, need or have options about.

1) Parking - for some reason the parking garages of many hospitals are now regarded as profit centers to help bridge the gap between costs and funding. This may be true, but it is a poor justification for charging the loved ones of a terminally ill person $16 a day to park. This cost can grow very quickly and may eventually become a reason for NOT visiting. $112 a week is money that can be better spent.

What To Do: If you cannot get a ride to and from the hospital consider finding a parking lot that is close-by and does not cost anything. If you do need to pay for parking, look for a weekly / monthly pass. These passes may be transferable so you can share it among your relatives and other loved ones.

2) Bringing your own casket / urn - in Ontario you are allowed to supply your own casket / urn and the funeral home legally must use them. This can save you thousands of dollars because you remove another tier of profit takers.

What To Do: Google “casket outlet” and check out some of the sites. You’ll quickly notice that the caskets look great; the same as the ones you will be offered at the funeral home. The outlet will deliver the casket to the funeral home so after you buy it, you can focus your energy on the more important things that need to be addressed.

3) Embalming is not necessary if there is only going to be a single viewing. The tips of the fingers and the finger nails won’t look the same, they’ll likely appear slightly discolored and a little shriveled, but the face will look effectively the same. Having seen both the embalmed and un-embalmed it is a fair statement that neither looks like a living person.

What To Do: If there is only going to be a single viewing, talk to the funeral director about not embalming. They’ll likely try to sell you the service, but they’ll be able to explain the visual differences.

4) You can barter with almost everyone involved in the end of life industry. There is a huge mark-up in everything associated with funerals so you are free to ask for discounts, ask for different vendors and to supply your own. There are a few items / processes that must be taken care of by government regulated companies - there is no DIY cremation for example - so anticipate “no” on a few items, but there is no good reason to pay a 400% mark-up on flowers or catering.

What To Do: Know your budget and be firm with it. Tell the funeral director your budget and always be aware that the amount of money spend on a service has no connection to the life the person lived or the amount of love you feel towards them. The directors are going to suggest more expensive services, upgrades and add-ons that will balloon the cost in no time. They want to create a beautiful experience so their suggestions are probably fair. But only YOU know the experience that is appropriate so stay firm with that. Paying more money for the same experience may not make sense so take the time to consider all of the options and to ask for a lower price.

Every life will come to an end. It can be sad but this sadness should not mean that you get ripped off. Knowing what you want for yourself or for your loved one will arm you to make good decisions that mean you pay only what you need to pay and that you get only what you want. The intensity of the grief will fade and, when it does, it doesn’t need to be replaced with regret or hours of work to pay for stuff you were sold unnecessarily.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Heather and I took a trip to Washington DC on the Labor day weekend and spend a couple of days walking up and down the National Mall looking at the many sites.

I was particularly moved by the quotes at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.

What landed on me most of all was that the quotes apply to no person or group of people specifically, but to all of mankind. His language was inclusive, he referenced an almost universal struggle against the injustices suffered by any person. The quotes are from a time in human history when a number of different groups of people were pushing society to give them the same rights as the most privileged of any society. He was a man of colour, but before that, he was a huMAN and powerfully communicated the equality of all people.

Reading the quotes and noticing all the people who were spending time at the memorial it was both fantastic and frightening. Fantastic that a member of our species was capable of communicating so clearly what is right and needed for society to truly prosper. Frightening that some would regard this as so dangerous to their way of life that they would be compelled to murder him, and so many who were working to move society forward.

Society has made some strides towards embracing the dream he had, and we’ll continue move in that direction. But at the core of the love and hate that people share and act upon are beliefs. There is nothing unique about people today who view equality as a guiding principle. Had they been born in the 1940’s there is a good chance that they would not considered race or gender to be just tiny differences between people. They may simply believe differently than we do today because they were taught something different.

The quotes are worth reading and reflecting on even if you are not at the memorial. They apply as much today as they did when he spoke them, and they’ll always apply no matter how enlightened we may become.

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.

Some Thoughts About Keeping Talented Workers

People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” Heather mentioned this to me a few weeks ago during a chat about employee turn over.

Having moved on from more jobs than I can count, I can say that with a few exceptions she is correct. The two exceptions were when I was an IT recruiter for 7 weeks and didn’t like the job (the managers were really great people though). The other was my last Group Fitness job that I needed to move on from to focus on building my own business (both managers are great people who I consider friends and mentors still).

So when you have decided that a job works for you and that you will continue to work for a company, the only thing that is going to have you leave is your manager. Below is a list of the things that a manager will do that will maintain high levels of engagement and lengthen the duration of employment.

  • Treating the employee and all other employees fairly. Human beings respond negatively when they perceive a lack of fairness. It creates an emotional response that prompt fight, flee or freeze behaviors, none of which create a positive work environment or are conducive to great work. It is safe to say if someone who works for you believes that you do not act fairly, they will not do their best work for you and have one foot out the door. Your actions have created a lose:lose situation.
  • Being direct and honest. People tend behave logically and make the best decision possible based on the information they have available at the time. While it is not necessary or appropriate to share everything about a company with the team members, managers should be honest with them. Fearless honesty provides the individuals with the information they need to do their best work and to plan their future course accordingly. This doesn’t just mean having powerful conversations, it also means having regular performance reviews to help people develop their talents and grow into their roles.
  • Treating employees as individuals. Every person is different. Commonalities between people cannot be mistaken for absolutes. While it is usually more challenging to take the time to figure people out, it is a lot less work in the long run. What you learn about them can be integrated into their development plan and create more meaningful work experiences. By treating employees as individuals, you will be able to leverage their strengths to compensate for their weakness and help them grow professionally and personally.
  • Be willing and capable of doing the job they are asking people to do. Bosses are NEVER too good for any of the tasks they are asking their team to perform. While they do have very different responsibilities, the moment they imply that they shouldn’t / aren’t going to do the tasks of their subordinates, they are elevating themselves above the very actions that generate company revenue. If you can’t or are unwilling to do the jobs you are asking others to do, don’t be surprised when they do do them only a little better than you do.
  • Use common sense when it comes to the implementation of systems. We are energy conservers - we innately try to make things easier and will spontaneously alter actions to get the job done but by using less effort. For this reason, company systems need to reflect this tendency. Having people duplicate tasks, take extra steps or perform a job using more effort than is needed will be identified as wasteful and create friction. For this reason, managers need to review systems, listen to employee feedback concerning them and accept that the workers are usually going to be better at solving problems of efficiently simply through practice. This is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of leaders because it requires that they forfeit some control in the interest of getting the job done.
  • Act with the end goal in mind. Effective managers / leaders do only the things that are going help their team and the company achieve service delivery and profitability. There is no room for ego or power struggles as these things tend to inhibit pragmatic action. Their actions are efficient, they take the fewest steps needed to achieve the goal and they are open to the evolving nature of work. They model the behaviors that, if copied, will move others to the same outcome. They take an objective inventory of how they spend their time and will eliminate the work actions / tasks that do not serve to directly improve service delivery or productivity.

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.