Each day, week, month and year that goes by without growing in some manner to me is not time well spent. But going beyond that, if we don’t reflect on those lessons, we won’t be able to apply them. In today’s world with the access to information that we have knowledge is no longer power. Applied knowledge is power. Knowledge that we’ve taken and used to improved ourselves or others in some way. In order to internalize important lessons, you have to review, re-ponder, and reconsider what exactly they were, and why they were helpful. Then you have to actually use them. Here are some of those lessons I’ve learned in the last six months.
Be genuinely interested in others
In the timeless book How to Win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie outlines the keys to interpersonal relationships. One of my biggest takeaways is that if you’re truly interested in the lives of others, they will reciprocate that interest. We humans naturally love to talk about ourselves and all the cools things we’re doing. So, I’ve made it my goal in conversation to focus on who I’m talking to, and about the cool things they want to share. When I hear my brain want to chime in and talk about something I’m doing, I instead ask a clarification question or ask about something I’m curious about. Professionally, it has helped me get to know and understand clients better. It has given me a better picture of who they are, and therefore has helped me improve and personalize our sessions more effectively. It’s also led to me hear the experiences of those older and wiser than I. If in every interaction we all strove to learn just one thing from the other person, we would all leave our days more empathetic and open-minded, with fresh perspectives to guide our days.
It’s not about who’s right, but what’s right
The beliefs people hold are often so deeply ingrained in their being that convincing them otherwise is rarely a matter of logical explanation backed up with facts or data. These beliefs are emotionally a part of them. It can be nearly impossible to show them it’s wrong. If at any point you “attack” someone’s viewpoint they’ll close off and feel personally attacked and will now be less likely to listen to counterarguments. Being in a field with many polarizing views, I’ve needed to resist saying harsh statements that will trigger emotional responses from others. Every explanation needs to be placed over a blanket of mutual understanding, and then guide them through the logical sequence that leads to our conclusion. Along the way, any false step in explanation leads to that emotional trigger and vehement disagreement. Sometimes this takes 30 seconds, but other times it takes weeks to slowly not just tell but show the reasons why.
On the flip side, this has made me become more aware of my personal pitfalls. What views do I hold purely out of emotion? Are they actually founded on truth and logic? This is why I write. Writing makes me lay out the logical sequence so that it makes sense to me. And, if I can’t explain it, then that means that I should revisit the topic. It has also reinforced the practice o what Ray Dalio calls radical open mindedness. This means we must always strive to keep our minds open and listening for the possibility of a better, more correct solution. I’m continuing to view more problems objectively, knowing that a lot of my beliefs are just flat out incorrect. This requires not reacting emotionally when somebody disagrees, but listening, knowing I could be wrong. I truly believe that if we all practiced radical open mindedness, many of the world’s problems would go away. Rather than constantly arguing, we’d all be searching for what’s truly the best solution, and be able to approach it with fresh perspectives each time.
But, this is difficult. I remember going to see a friend one evening and meeting her friends who were strongly opinionated on the benefits of veganism. It would have been easy to argue, but maybe I just needed to listen and give their explanation a fair chance. One year ago, I would’ve dismissed arguments before even hearing them. Now, at least I understand the arguments, and come out of the discussion educated on a totally different perspective than mine.
Golden Rule #2: Make sure everybody knows about it
This fall I completed Jon Goodman’s Online Trainer Academy. Early on in the course, he introduces what he calls his two golden rules. Rule #1: Do a great job, and rule #2: Make sure everybody knows about it. Early on in my professional career, I’ve consistently neglected the second rule. Learning about this led me to creating my blog and my instagram. Now, people know me as a fitness guy. The more we do to showcase the great job that we do in our field of choice, the more we’ll come up when people are ready to buy that particular product or service. One personal goal for 2019 is to post more regularly. But, this year I’ve realized its importance and begun to put myself out there more as a professional.
I understand the argument that if you just do great work the audience will follow. In most situations this is true. But, the audience might not be as big as it could have been. Or, you may not find the perfect customers for your product. If our goal is to help as many people as we can, then it’s essential to have some means of reaching a greater audience, and that means making sure that people know about the great work we’re doing.
To give another example, because this is my last year of junior hockey (20 & under) eligibility, all of the kids my age need to find schools to play for next year. Although, I made my college decision a while ago, I’m now watching several of my teammates stress about not having schools knocking down their doors. And, make no mistake about it, these kids are great hockey players. But, they’re not putting themselves out there to the recruiting process. They’re not emailing coaches and looking deeply at where they actually want to go. They’re hoping that the perfect coach from the perfect school just shows up and tries to recruit them. And for some, this will happen. A coach will see them play and it will be a great fit. But, I fear that others will end up at a lesser school because they simply did not put the time in to make sure the schools they were interested in were seeing them. They’re crushing rule #1, doing a great job, but neglecting rule #2, and it’s hurting their chances of going to the best school for them. I’ve learned this year that rule #1 is not enough to reach our potential. If you’re crushing your work right now, but the audience isn’t where you want to be, think about how you can make sure that everybody knows about the great work you’re doing.
Authoritative coaching doesn’t create real trust
I’ve never been one to yell while coaching. As an athlete this coaching style never made me work harder. I like to coach the athletes who do the work without needing a kick in the butt. However, this is not the reality of the coaching world. Lots of times there are athletes who don’t want to be there. At Fit 2 Excel I’ve been fortunate to not deal with many of these people. Almost everyone comes completely out of their own free will. They’re already motivated, and yelling at them is just ineffective coaching. But, this fall I’ve been in charge of the strength and conditioning for both Vermont Lumberjacks junior hockey teams. These kids don’t choose to come to the workouts, and so many don’t want to be there. What’s even more difficult is that our Junior A team is my team. I’m training my own team. To get buy in from my team I have to explain the purpose for almost everything clearly and concisely. Unlike the middle schoolers, who I feel I have strong credibility with because I’m a fairly high level athlete, my teammates are on the same level as I am. Why am I the one helping them get better? What the hell do I know? I can’t take a “do as I say” approach. They would begin to resent the workout sessions and view me as just another person abusing power. That’s why I want them to understand the “why” behind the exercises. Admittedly, there are many of teammates who I don’t think trust my expertise in strength and conditioning. They say they have routines and things that work for them, and I understand that perspective. However, doing this shows the other guys that they can do their own thing too. The result is a whole group of athletes not getting the most out of the workout as they could. And, although I technically have the authority to discipline them and make them do as I say, I believe that long-term that is helping nobody. This will only further alienate them. For these guys, my goal is to show them why we need to do things this way or that way, and show how that overall makes our team better. As the season has gone on, many guys have realized this and it has improved our team sessions.
Lots of my teammates have completely trusted me, but not blindly. It’s because they’ve listened and absorbed each of the lessons, and have understood the principles behind what we do. Our captain is like this, and when the team sees him buying in, it rubs off. I also think he’d be the first one to talk about how much he’s gotten out of our team workouts this year. Although there’s still a lot of room for improvement, being a coach who’s open to to questions and feedback from the athletes has led more athletes to buy in. This coaching strategy has also led me to learn a few things. I often hear from our guys something like, “my coach back home says…” Sometimes I disagree and explain why, and other times I realize they have a good point, and adjust accordingly. The coach and athlete relationship should not be authoritative; It should be one of mutual respect and openness.
Among each of these there is a common theme: Listening. Being overall a better listener has been one of the keys to my professional growth this year. If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, allow me to offer this as a suggestion. Cultivate the power of listening this year. In each interaction be the most attentive listener you can be, and each time strive to be better. Over the course of a year, we could all learn so much by focusing on listening and learning from others. Let’s make 2019 the year we learned how to listen.