I’m trying to get a little fitter at the moment. I’m sporting a Jawbone and monitoring my steps. Drinking more water, and trying to get better sleep. I’m exercising plenty. But I had reached a plateau on my own and realising I needed a little help and guidance, have recently started working with a personal trainer.
I expected the process to be difficult. I expected it to challenge me. I knew it was going to be one more thing I had to fit into an already loaded schedule. But I just didn’t expect it to make me think hard about how I coach.
My most recent session went a little like this:
Me: My arm hurts from our last session. I think I’ve pulled a muscle. I need to take it easy today and not do any weights.
PT: Is it swollen?
PT: Is it red?
PT: Is it warm to the touch?
PT: There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Stop moaning. If you had really done some damage to your muscle you would know about it. Stop complaining, and get your fat lazy backside out of that chair and into the gym. You won’t get fit if you are complaining all the time. You are perfectly capable of lifting weights, so suck it up.*
*He didn’t actually say any of these things. I reckon he might have been thinking them though. What he actually said was something far nicer. Something about seeing how we went on during the session and adapting as necessary. And then he made me get onto the treadmill.
We did some cardio. I was really careful my injured, painful arm. You know, the one that was going to fall right off. The treadmill was followed by the dreaded step. Up down and up and down. And then he handed me some weights. Heavy ones, to hold whilst stepping. For a brief moment, I thought about clumping him around the head with them. He hadn’t listened to me. I wasn’t able to do that, not today. But of course I took them from him. Partly for me, because I wanted to prove that I could. Partly because I didn’t want him to think that I wasn’t strong enough. He had presented me with a gentle, silent challenge. Take the weights or find an excuse not to. Challenge the limiting assumption or give in to it.
Here’s the thing.
When we coach, we often find that people pitch up to a session loaded with reasons why and why not. Self limiting assumptions. Inbuilt beliefs. The defence mechanisms are primed. Justifications and excuses ready to roll.
This process, this single session has made me think. Made me reflect about the amount of challenge I provide to people, and when and how to give it. We know that when people find their own solutions and their own answers to their challenges, they are so much more engaged than they would be with someone else’s words, suggestions, advice. My gym session provided the perfect example of theory in action. Instead of telling me that I could do it and loading me with the burden of his expectations and beliefs, he allowed me to find out for myself with his support. And in the end, he was right. There wasn’t anything wrong with me. But I needed to figure that out in the moment, rather than being told.
I know that this lesson will live long for me. When I am in the gym, and when I am coaching.
Somebody hand me some weights.