There aren’t many things better than coming to a realization that blows your mind, or completely shifts your paradigm. Or coming to understand something that at once seemed so abstract and strange. For me, what’s even cooler is watching that switch go off in the mind of an athlete or a student, and then seeing that translate to other areas. With that said, here are some of the biggest paradigm shifters and lessons learned, or reaffirmed, that I’ve experienced in the first half of 2018.
The power of “I don’t understand”:
Probably the worst thing you can do for your learning potential is try to pretend you know what you’re talking about. Sometimes, it’s really easy in a classroom setting to just sit there quietly and nod your head. You may scoot by in the short term, but in the long term, you’re only hurting your own growth. Be the guy who asks the stupid questions everybody else in the class is afraid to ask. I learned this lesson while I was in El Salvador this spring, speaking a lot of Spanish, my second language. A lot of times in conversations I would hear words I’d never heard, or a use of grammar I was unfamiliar with. It can be so easy to breeze by these learning opportunities. And at first, I did. Then, one day I was going for a walk on the beach with some family members. Before we headed out they told me, “David, watch out for the hormigas.” “Hormigas?” I thought. I didn’t say anything though I just nodded my head and kept moving, avoiding the risk of sounding like a stupid American. Hormigas. Got it. Ten cuidado. So we start walking and I feel a sting on my foot, then another, then another. “David! Las hormigas!” My uncle yelled to me. I was getting stung by fire ants. “Ohhhhhhhh, hormigas are ants,” I realized. After this experience I began to develop the habit of pausing a conversation anytime I heard something I didn’t understand. My learning opportunities instantly rose. Oftentimes asking a simple clarifying question led to an entire lecture about the use of a particular word or phrase. “Well, we may say this in this context, but in this context we may say that instead,” others would tell me. Once people saw my curiosity and desire to learn, they would often go out of their way to explain something interesting about the language or the use of a particular phrase. I realized that if I could just ask one question, and learn one thing each conversation then the opportunities for learning exponentially grew. Besides, telling somebody you don’t understand something is a lot better than getting stung by ants.
The value of choosing projects that always provide some skillset or trait:
At the end of the hockey season when I was searching for something to fill the gap in my schedule, I set out to become a substitute teacher at elementary and middle schools. One of the reasons I chose this was because even if I hated it and it was an absolute train-wreck, I would leave with, worst-case scenario, new skills on how to speak more clearly and with authority, how to deal with students who don’t listen, and have a new perspective on the learning process. This criteria is now at the top of my list when considering whether to accept an offer for a project or job. A question I now regularly ponder is: “Even if the experience is a ‘failure,’ will I inevitably succeed based on the skills or relationships I will develop?”
This time corresponded with the start of our middle school Athletic Performance Class in the spring. Here I would immediately have to apply the new skills developed while teaching to a group of twelve 5th-7th graders running around the gym. But now I knew how to keep them more focused, how to bring them back in when they were distracted, and how to keep things engaging. It ultimately became my favorite class that I’ve taught to date. However, my favorite moment putting my newly developed knowledge of classroom management to use was during our adult Fitness 4 Performance class on Mondays. Once, while I was explaining the exercises, I could tell that nobody was listening. “Why can’t I use the strategies to get kids’ attention on adults?” I thought. “Stop. *clap* Look. *clap* Listen. *clap clap* The room went quiet and all eyes were on me. Worked like a charm.
I don’t write to teach others, I write to teach myself:
I used to think of writing as a means of sharing what I’ve learned to others. Yet, everytime I sit down to write, I find myself questioning what I had perceived as “truth.” It forces me to really look at whether I understand the concept myself. It makes me to look back into my sources, rethink my logic, and reform a more solid argument. Or, it makes me shift my argument, as I come to new realizations. Then, it forces me to ask big questions about how I’m communicating that topic. Does what I’m trying to say actually make any sense at all? Have I just been spouting confusion trainer-talk for the last three months to everybody I train? A lot of times, great speakers with charisma and charm can convince people of their argument with their non-verbal communication. When written down, this is evaded, exposing the argument. So, nearly every time I’ve written about a topic, whether it gets published anywhere or not (it almost always doesn’t), I’ve emerged from the writing session with a much clearer picture of the concept. As such, now I no longer write to serve others. I view that as a byproduct of explaining a concept to myself in a way that can be easily processed and understood. This article is the perfect example. It’s forcing me to reflect on what exactly I have learned this year, how I’ve applied it, and how I can apply it moving forward. It’s really just for me, and if it’s of support to others, then that’s just a bonus.
“Don’t be afraid to do something you’re not qualified to do”:
This quote is the reason I have this job. As a high school senior and not yet with a certification, John and Sheila asked me if I could start teaching bootcamps. Of course I had on paper absolutely zero qualifications. I was nothing more than a guy who had read some books about training and gone through it himself. But I did it, just started getting experience and putting myself on the steepest learning curve I could (see lesson #2). This lesson became reaffirmed when, after the hockey season this year, I decided to become a substitute teacher. Now, in what planet would a 19-year old be qualified to teach kindergarten? Well, apparently this one because the school district let me. Through this experience, I learned how to communicate better, give clearer directions, speak more confidently and fluidly, and become an all-around better teacher and coach. If you don’t do things you’re not completely qualified for, there’s no way to move beyond where you’re at. You’ll be stuck there forever. This lesson I think should also be applied on a smaller scale. It’s a simple as adding five pounds to the bar that you couldn’t do last week. Doing an extra rep you didn’t do even last set. It’s a reminder to keep moving forward, keep progressing in some way.
Cuanto mas sabes, mas te das cuenta que no sabes nada:
This one, as you can see by the title, was accomplished primarily through language learning. After this realization, the light bulb went off on how this is applicable to any learning process. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. When I hear this I think of the scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when they’re in the department of mysteries. They’re surrounded by twelve doors and they have no idea where each one goes. The first door they open brings them into a room with twelve more mysterious doors. That’s what learning is like. Everytime you open a door, and grasp a concept, all it does is bring up tons more questions that had never even occurred to you before. When I returned from my trip in June, I saw how this applied to much more than language learning. I thought about how when I first started out as a trainer, I thought I had certain exercises figured out and how to coach them. For a hex bar deadlift, we start in a neutral position, hinge at the hips, drive through the heels. Boom. Simple. But I learned that that’s not the full story. Some people will have a more extended posture, and we’ll have to set up with more of a posterior tilt. Others will shove their hips back too far, while others not enough. I’ve seen funky things going on at the shoulders, the knees, the neck, and each athlete is different. Furthermore, each person responds to the same cues differently. “Think about shoving your knees out,” may improve an athlete’s position instantly, while another athlete with the same problem will just give me a funny look. With respect to form and how to coach it, each time I have a new breakthrough it opens up so many more smaller yet significant potential weaknesses. We’ll never get to the perfect hex bar deadlift. But we’ll keep trying to get there with each athlete. The lesson here is that you can keep getting closer and closer to complete understanding, but you never get there. There’s always twelve more doors to open.