Beyond Books, Courses, And Seminars: How Your Continuing Education Must Evolve As Your Experience Grows
By John Berardi, PhDEducation and Professional Development
Successful health and fitness pros make education a career-long process. Yet your continuing ed strategy should evolve as your experience grows. Here’s how I’ve continued to learn and develop, even after formal education began producing diminishing returns.
There’s So Much Still To Learn!
I used to be riddled with anxiety about how little I really knew compared to how much I had yet to learn. I felt behind, impatient, and stressed out. Like I’d never get to where I wanted to be.
At some points I wondered if I should leave the industry altogether.
If you’re feeling that way yourself, remember: It’s not a race. You’re not behind. And there’s nothing to “catch up” to. Education is, truly, a career-long endeavor. If you do it right, it won’t ever stop.
For those of you at the beginning of your careers, I’ve written a host of articles to help you do it right, from the start, including:
Creating A Curriculum
This article shares 4 important questions and my #1 favorite career planning tool to help you plot out a career-long learning curriculum.
Choosing The Best Learning Format
This article outlines the pros and cons of the most popular continuing education methods and helps you choose the right format for you.
- Continuing Ed In Health And Fitness: The Pros And Cons Of 7 Learning Formats (Plus How To Choose Which Is Right For You)
Selecting From The Many Courses Available
This article introduces a proven method for surfacing the best continuing education courses available to you and choosing among them.
- Ray Dalio’s Triangulation Method: What A Billionaire Investor Can Teach You About Choosing Continuing Ed (+ Other Things Too)
John Berardi’s Top Course Recommendations
This article includes a list of the top continuing education courses I’ve learned the most from and have recommended to students.
- The Ultimate Guide To Continuing Ed: Here Are the Companies (And Courses) I Recommend After 25 Years In Health And Fitness
For those a little further along the path, today’s article is for you. In it, I’ll share how my continuing education has evolved.
And how yours may need to evolve too.
How My Continuing Education Has Evolved
Early in my career, my education was dominated by what I’ll call structured learning: Academic programs, coursework, and guided mentorships. That’s about 10 years of building a rock-solid core of foundational knowledge.
In addition to my university training (Pre-Med Undergrad, Exercise Science Masters, Nutritional Biochemistry Doctorate), I also spent a lot of time with self-directed learning: Books, seminars, certificate programs.
This approach—structured plus self-directed learning—is one I recommend for those in the early stages of their career in a particular field. However, once you’ve gotten as far as you can with this strategy, forging on in the same way will produce diminishing returns.
So where do you go from there? Consider these three continuing education strategies, some of my most productive and effective.
Success Stalking… Err… Success Following
This is my favorite continuing education strategy. I call it Success Stalking. Or, more politely, Success Following.
You see, every year I pick three impressive people and/or companies to closely follow. And when I say closely, I mean closely.
I visit every page of every website they operate. Follow them on every social media platform. Read all their communications. Sign up for every mailing list, free course, and free offer they make. Buy all their products.
Essentially, whenever they tell me to do something, I do it.
Think I’m exaggerating?
Several months in, Jon emailed me to say thanks. Apparently his email list management software sent him a report saying I was #1 in terms of email opens and click-through rates among a few hundred thousand subscribers.
Like I said, I become people’s most loyal
stalker subscriber and customer.
Of the companies I follow…
… one is bigger than Precision Nutrition. This allows me to watch a company in action that’s bigger and more financially successful than any company I’ve run. This helps me envision the future.
… one is the same size as Precision Nutrition. This allows me to watch a company in action that’s experiencing the same level of success and facing the same sorts of challenges. This helps me deal with the present.
… and one is smaller than Precision Nutrition but growing fast. This allows me to watch a company in action that’s able to do amazing things with less. This helps remind me to always stretch my resources as far as they can go.
In each category I choose companies that offer products and services I’m at least a little interested in. And I make sure they’re doing similar things to what my company is doing (or what I’d like it to be doing). At the same time, I make a point to not always choose companies in health and fitness.
Also, if I’m following an individual (instead of a company), it’s usually someone talented but younger. I do this because, in following them, I get to see how they’re using fresh strategies and technologies to leverage timeless and unchanging principles.
In the end, this approach helps me learn from what people are doing vs. what they say they’re doing. I prefer this because people aren’t usually very good at figuring out, or talking about, what’s working for them.
They have ideas of what they’d like to work. They have post-hoc rationalizations about how something they did was successful. But unpacking causality is difficult, especially when you’re close to the subject.
That’s why I prefer to take a look for myself.
Think this could get expensive, especially if you’re buying each company’s products? Well, it could. But I’ve found it rarely costs more than a weekend seminar or certification program. And I learn so much more.
The Brain-Picking Fee
Here’s another continuing education strategy I’ve used for the last few years: The Brain Picking-Fee.
Taught to me by my late colleague Charles Poliquin, whenever there’s something specific I want (or need) to learn, I find one of the world’s leading thinkers on that subject—whether scientist, educator, or in-the-trenches practitioner—and offer them an hourly fee to pick their brain on the subject.
Charles taught me that people like scientists and professors, especially those working for public institutions, are often eager to spend an hour or two talking with someone deeply interested in their area of expertise. Especially if that person is well-prepared and willing to pay for their time.
Being well-prepared is critical, though, to make sure a) I’m not wasting my own time and money and b) they don’t feel like I’ve wasted their time. This means becoming very familiar with their work, understanding what they’re excited about now, and coming up with important, insightful questions.
And, when it comes to compensation, I usually offer between $100 and $200 USD per hour for their time. Sometimes they ask for more. More often, though, they waive the fee altogether.
Remember, though, that the best insights are gained through triangulation with more than one believable expert, especially if those experts have minor points of disagreement. So be sure that you’re not staking your whole future on the ideas of just one person.
For more on the concept of triangulation, check this out:
- Ray Dalio’s Triangulation Method: What A Billionaire Investor Can Teach You About Choosing Continuing Education (+ Other Things Too)
Creating New Knowledge
You’ve probably heard the saying: “The more I learn, the more I realize I have yet to learn”. The only problem? Where will you learn it?
As my career has progressed I’ve started to realize that many of the questions I want answered haven’t yet been answered… by anyone.
Doesn’t matter how many connections you have. Or how big your pool of resources. If the core questions haven’t yet been answered, there’s no company to stalk, no brain to pick, to get that knowledge.
So you have to create it yourself.
Personally, I’m now in a unique position where I can create this new knowledge through research trials (i.e. laboratory experiments with small groups of volunteers and clinical trials with large groups of consenting clients), business-related projects (i.e. exploring new organizational structures and launching new beta products), or marketing-related projects (i.e. testing price sensitivities and exploring new launch models).
For example, a few years back I kept hearing about how greens supplements could help alkalize the body. But there wasn’t any reliable evidence to support the claim or refute it. So I recruited 34 healthy men and women from our Precision Nutrition community to test the idea.
My co-authors and I went on to publish the findings here:
Similarly, my colleagues and I (at Precision Nutrition) wanted to test whether our habit-based nutrition and lifestyle coaching ideas would outperform conventional weight loss interventions. So we put it to the test in a few different populations (with more to come).
- A personalized, multi-platform nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle coaching program: A pilot in women.
- Evaluation of a web‐based weight loss intervention in overweight cancer survivors aged 50 years and younger.
While each of the studies above was done in conjunction with an academic institution, and published in a peer reviewed journal, you don’t need fancy connections to create your own knowledge.
For example, I kept hearing about how eggshell membrane supplements reduced joint pain in exercisers but couldn’t find evidence to support or refute the idea. So I did a study and published the findings on the Precision Nutrition website* here:
Likewise, I saw a host of case studies suggesting that blue spruce and balsam fir essential oils could increase testosterone and growth hormone levels respectively so I did my own case study and published results here*:
*With these last two, I published them on the Precision Nutrition website, intentionally, to compare reach vs. publishing within scientific journals. The results: Publishing on the PN site lead to >10x the readership. So sometimes I publish this new knowledge in peer-reviewed journals. Other times in more widely read publications.
Now, whether you like this publishing approach or not isn’t the point here. The point is that, eventually, continuing education means doing more than looking to others for answers. It means coming up with some of your own.
Here’s What To Do Next
As you can see, my education continues to this day, even if it’s different than my early days of academic programs, structured coursework, and guided mentorships/internships.
I have a hard time imagining a time where I’ll feel “done” when it comes to learning, growing, and developing. And I suspect my learning curriculum will continue to evolve until the day I die.
If you plan your career well, your T-shaped curriculum will also continue to evolve. (Again, if you haven’t figured out yours yet, this article will show you exactly how).
Just remember, it will always represent future you. It’ll never be finished. Because, for ambitious people, the mountain always gets taller as you approach its summit. When you reach the heights you now aspire to, no matter how high you think they are now, there will be many new things you’ll want to experience, learn, and do.
That’s why the only path forward is to take it one step at a time. One course at a time. Here’s what I recommend:
Begin where you are today.
Be honest about where you are in your career, your baseline knowledge and experience, and what your prospects and clients need most today.
For example, signing up for a super-elite physiology course after completing your basic specialty training might not be a great move if you still know very little about client acquisition or change psychology.
Check your gaps.
You drew your T, right? Look at the areas you’re lacking. Once you have your specialty training, build out your horizontal row before throwing the kitchen sink at your vertical row. Go broad before going deeper.
Additionally, recognize and respect the power of the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological phenomenon that means when we’re less experienced, we don’t realize how little we know, or how relatively unskilled we are.
So if you notice yourself thinking you already “know it all” or “have everything mastered,” be on your guard and make sure to calibrate your own skills and performance against that of world-class experts.
Of course, don’t fall prey to the opposite problem: “I’ll never be at the level of So-and-So! There’s no point trying! It’s too much!” Calm down, figure out a plan, and fill those gaps one by one, slowly and steadily.
Do a limiting factor analysis.
Now that you know what you’re missing, ask yourself the most important question in the process: Which weak point is holding you back the most? In other words, which factor is most limiting for your personal and professional growth?
This is called a limiting factor analysis. It forces you to be critical about your information and skill gaps and to prioritize learning in the areas that’ll make the biggest difference to your career immediately.
For example, if you’re like most health and fitness professionals (who have to get their own clients) marketing and sales may be your limiting factors. Without the ability to attract, register, and retain clients, you won’t be able to stay in the field very long.
Or maybe you know a lot about how the body works but don’t have strategies for working with living, breathing humans in the context of their actual lives. Your limiting factor might be change psychology.
Or, maybe you’re a fitness model with an extensive exercise and nutrition background, plus 100k followers, but your not sure how to turn that into a business. Your limiting factors might be business systems and strategy.
Run a tournament.
Once you’ve identified your limiting factor(s), it’s time to prioritize learning in those areas. However, prioritization is difficult. Even after following the steps above you’ll still likely end up with a not-so-short list of courses that feel important to your career development.
As mentioned above, it’ll be a list that takes years to check off. Instead of being stressed out by this, or paralyzed into inaction, make your list items compete, like in a bracketed sports tournament. (I show you exactly how to do that in this article here).
Want to learn more? Dive deeper?
Then download this FREE sample of my latest book, Change Maker.
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Whether you work as a health coach, strength coach, nutritionist, functional medicine doc, or rehab specialist, Change Maker will help you discover the right direction to take, the fastest way to make progress, and the practical steps required to build the career of your dreams in health and fitness.
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