Go Forth

There is something I find interesting about working in the fitness industry: everyone at every party I go to is an expert in fitness and health. It is the exact same thing as when I teach World Religions: most people enter the classroom assuming that because they attend church on a regular basis, celebrate certain feasts or holidays, and pray for this or that, they have the background necessary to leap into the field of Religious Studies. Since we all have a body, we all know fitness. And, since we all deal with money, we all know business. I’m not sure anything I have just written is correct!

Like all learning, there is a process, best summarized as the following:

Unconscious Incompetence
You don’t know what you don’t know.

Conscious Incompetence
You know what can be done, but you can’t do it.

Conscious Competence
You think your way through the process.

Unconscious Competence
You apply the techniques automatically.

In the learning process of fitness and training, most people (and I’m talking about the bulk of people you meet in your life) simply “don’t know that they don’t know.” Many people understand other faith traditions with an offensive stereotype of the one billion practitioners…cheap, cannibals, rapists, or whatever comes to mind. Obviously, this isn’t the case.

In fitness, we tend to think that “fat people are lazy” or that long hours of cardio lead to perfect fitness. In business, we think…hang on, I’m not sure most people actually think about the business side of the fitness industry.

This is a common example of Unconscious Incompetence; one knows practically nothing about the basics about owning a gym, yet is expected to at least pay taxes and have the right kinds of safety materials, insurance and cleaning supplies. In fact, just discovering that you have to do these kinds of things pops you up to Conscious Incompetence.

As one begins the journey of learning, we tend to merge Conscious Incompetence and Conscious Competence as we work through the basic steps of learning not only the business side of things but also how to deal with group training and answering the countless questions regarding “I saw this thing on TV or the Internet.” Something as simple as determining whether or not a food is good or bad for you is not practically impossible. I always joke, but it is true that the following are all proved to be good and bad for you:

Coffee (what?)
Veggies (Yep, pesticides)
Tap Water

I can’t keep up with this and our clients seem to struggle with it, too. I believe we are all thinking our way through the process when it comes to food. On the exercise side, we seem to be improving leaps and bounds ahead, but every time I go to a public gym I realize that we are still in the Stone Age when it comes to getting good information to the public.

Unconscious Competence, in my experience, is always aided by mentors and good teaching. I have been told many times by my athletes that “seeing” me do a snatch or throw the discus was far better than the host of drills that they were performing. Yes, they had to spend the time getting the repetitions in (“Repetition is the mother of implementation”), but having the model of someone who has “been there, done that” awakens the imagination.

It is literally “imagining” the connections and building upon them. A finer writer than I said it much better:
“The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth,
The Forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
William Shakespeare
A Midsummer-Night’s Dream

A very practical example of this “imagination bodies forth” can be seen when talking about the world with a seasoned traveler: their experiences and reflections take in all the senses and give a better picture than even the best photographs from National Geographic. We often hear a speaker say, whether in fitness or business, “if I can do it, you can do it” and, frankly, this is almost always true. I just read, by the way, that storytelling lights up more of the brain than any other human activity. That reminds me of a story…

Being a fitness professional requires a truly holistic approach to education. One needs to have a grasp of the human body in all its forms, movement and the training of movement, motivation (in all its forms), nutrition, sports, games, and easily dozens of other fields However, one does not have to go around the world several times to make these connections, it is possible to do much of the work working with mentors, enjoying local opportunities and allowing the imagination to “body forth.” By all means, travel if you can and reap the benefits of first hand experience, but don’t ignore the opportunities to simplify the process of asking those who have been there, gone there, before you.

Back to top