Your Two-Step Formula For Improving At Anything, Including Becoming A Better Health and Fitness Pro
By John Berardi, PhDReputation Development
Many go around with the notion that we’re either good at something or we’re not. However, to truly grow, it’s important to understand that ANY skill can be built, even a skill you thought impossible, if you first believe you can improve and then practice until you do.
All Skills Require Practice
We all know people whose smile, personality, and social presence provide the energy equivalent of the sun. They exude good vibes and seem to get along with everyone.
Seeing those folks at work makes it easy to think that “some people have it and others don’t.” That you’re either great with people or you’re not.
But that’s simply not true.
As a lifelong introvert, I spent my early years exhausted and confounded by nearly all social interaction. Even being in public was difficult. I remember when I was a child, visits to the local mall with my mom would require a few hours of recovery in my room alone with the lights out and curtains drawn.
This pattern persisted until my mid-20s when a friend introduced me to the “pick-up” industry, sending me an ebook by information marketer Eben Pagan, then writing under the pseudonym David DeAngelo and selling products under the company name Double Your Dating.
Though there are definitely creepy, sexist elements to the “pick-up” industry, Eben’s use of social psychology research to examine human interaction rituals appealed to my inner nerd. Plus, the promise of his work—be better with people!—appealed to my inner recluse.
As I worked through his materials, I gathered new social strategies that made meeting people (both friends and romantic interests) much easier. As someone who assumed I’d be “inflicted” with introversion and social phobia for life, this was a revelation.
Through Pagan’s work, I was also turned on to another book, a practice-based handbook outlining 30 days of small daily activities that, if done regularly, promised social mastery.
So, every day for a month, I tried something new from the handbook. One day it was to make friendly eye contact with three random strangers. Another was to make small talk with three people I didn’t know. And so on.
After this month of intentional practice, social interactions became dramatically more comfortable and I was set on a path to actually seek out new social experiences.
But, even more important than specifically learning how to develop my social skills, I finally grasped a life-changing meta principle: The idea that any skill can be built, even a skill I thought impossible for me, if I first believed that I can improve, and then practiced patiently until I did.
Of course, I was first exposed to this idea in the gym. Starting out at 5’9” and 135 pounds, I used daily exercise and good food choices to build 70 pounds of muscle and a national championship body.
But this principle didn’t become a deep part of my worldview until I transformed from someone shy and introverted, with social phobia, to someone comfortable meeting new people, starting up conversations at events, and speaking in front of audiences.
Now’s your turn to incorporate it into your worldview.
It All Starts With A Growth Mindset
According to Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset, the people more likely to build new skills, or change old patterns, start by believing their efforts will actually pay off.
In other words, they believe the most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. And, because they believe the hard work will be worth it, they see learning as fun, not frustrating.
People with this mindset see criticism as necessary feedback, not soul-crushing judgement. They become bold in the face of challenges rather than cowering in fear. And they look at everything—even “bad” things, annoyances, or temporary setbacks—as a path to getting better.
This is what Dweck calls a “growth mindset,” something she believes is the hallmark of fast-developing people and professionals.
Those with a growth mindset see every experience as a chance to improve their skill. They see challenges and failures as opportunities to ask future-thinking questions, like:
- Why did things happen that way?
- Could things happen differently?
- What if I tried a new way to solve the problem?
- What if I put more effort into it, or asked for help?
- Who else can help me learn how to do better?
The Opposite Is A Fixed Mindset
On the other hand, those who believe certain qualities are unchangeable—oh, I’m a hardgainer and can’t build muscle; no, I’m socially awkward and won’t be able to get better—are practicing a “fixed mindset”. They don’t believe in the ability to grow. They don’t think practice is worth it.
As a result, they see everything but positive feedback as a threat. Eventually a kind of learned helplessness sets in as they start believing “things are what they are” and can’t be changed.
Of course, very few people would raise their hand and say, “Yes, this fixed mindset idea describes me completely!” In reality, many people practice a growth mindset in certain areas and a fixed one in others.
The key to making progress on any skill is recognizing those areas where you’re practicing a growth mindset and those where you’re practicing a fixed one. Simply calling out where you’d benefit shifting from fixed to growth will unlock a huge vault of possibilities.
When doing this kind of inventory, be especially careful not to let fixed-mindset symptoms parade around as oversimplification and rationalization.
For example, some people rationalize a lack of growth with sentiments like: “Relationship people know how to ‘suck up’ or ‘play the game.’ I’ve got more integrity than that. So I’ll stick with being me.”
The problem is that “me” isn’t a fixed entity.
Research shows that people are much less constant, over time, than they think. It’s called the “end of history illusion” and it’s a phenomenon in which people of all ages believe they have experienced significant personal growth and changes in tastes up to the present moment, but will not substantially grow in the future.
A 30-year-old’s impression of how much they’ll change in the next 10 years feels small compared to a 40-year-old’s recollection of how much they actually changed in the last 10 years. This happens at every age.
The bottom line is that you will change in the future, much more than you expect. Practicing a growth mindset means being in the driver’s seat of those changes.
It helps you understand that change and skill development are possible. It helps you direct your attention to the areas you most need to improve. And it helps you feel like all the hard work that’s about to come is worth doing.
Yet Growth Happens Through Daily Practice
I’ve previously written about how your clients can only reliably achieve their goals when they a) engage in the daily practices that b) lead to the development of the essential skills required to c) reach those goals.
It’s important to know that this applies to everyone and every goal. Indeed, to develop the reputation skills you’ll need to become the ultimate change maker, you’ll also need daily practice.
What’s fascinating about daily practice is that most of us are on board with it when we’re recommending it to someone else, like a client. However, when it’s recommended to us, we frantically search for another way.
Isn’t there a life hack for this!?!
I’ve seen this thousands of times with the Precision Nutrition Certification program. The Level 1 program, as mentioned earlier, comprehensively covers the art and science of nutrition coaching. And it’s delivered in the way you’d expect. There’s an authoritative text, a workbook, online learning modules, and quizzes.
The Level 2 program, on the other hand, is completely different. It takes Level 1 graduates through a practice-based program. This means that every day students are asked to practice specific coaching skills with clients, family members, friends, and more.
These practices map to multi-week modules that are part of a year-long curriculum designed to help students become master coaches. This is all accomplished by moving away from cognitive learning and toward embodied doing.
As we all know, clients don’t get healthy by learning about health. They get healthy by patiently practicing nutrition and fitness, consistently (and, often, under the guidance of a coach).
Likewise, coaches don’t develop expertise by learning about coaching. They become experts by patiently practicing excellent coaching, consistently (under the guidance of their own coaches).
Yet some bristle at the idea of taking a dose of their own medicine.
Sounding just like the clients who frustrate them with their own impatience, some of our Level 2 students will wonder:
One year… why can’t it go faster!?!
This program isn’t what I thought it’d be… it’s too slow and I can’t see how it’ll help me become a better coach!
I don’t have time for any of this practice!
You should hear the distress when we ask them to actually do their own food journal.
Don’t be like these students!
Instead, do whatever it takes to remind yourself that daily practice is the only way to develop any skill, from learning a language, to playing and instrument, to improving your fitness, to earning a degree, to building your reputation.
There are no shortcuts, no hacks, and no 4-hour work weeks. There’s only believing you can get better (growth mindset) and doing the painstaking work of actually getting better (daily practice).
Want To Learn More? Go Deeper?
Then download this FREE sample of my latest book, Change Maker.
Change Maker shares the tips, strategies, and lessons I learned growing Precision Nutrition from a two-person passion project to a 200 million dollar company that’s coached over 200,000 clients, certified over 100,000 professionals, and revolutionized the field of nutrition coaching.
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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