Written by Greg Robins
Before I made the choice to try my hand at a fitness-related career, I was given a great piece of advice. The advice came from someone who had no connection to fitness. He was a teacher and my high school baseball coach. A few years after I had graduated high school, I found myself in a few tough spots. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I was dealing with my own “growing pains.” I reached out to him for advice, and he told me that in reality, everything was a learning opportunity. He reminded me to keep an open mind and see the lessons in every struggle. Furthermore, he challenged me to look at things through multiple lenses.
I wasn’t keen on many of the college courses I was taking; I didn’t see the point in them. I was quick to dwell on my own issues; I didn’t see how in the struggle was nearly always the solution.
He died a few months later at a very young age. He was healthy, happy, and wise beyond his years. I was obviously upset. In the almost decade that has passed since then, I’ve realized that him being gone left me with a clear image of a man I respect. Someone whose belief in me, and lesson imparted to me, will always serve as a steady reminder of why things like hard work, kindness, morality, and a strong set of values will ultimately be all you need to live a happy life.
This story is important to me, and that is why I wanted to share it with you. Within this story was the advice to adopt what has often been called a “growth” mindset. Some will offer that there are two types of individuals operating around you at all times. The first is the individual who is willing and capable of receiving information and filtering it through a positive thought process. This information may be presented to them or deducted through observation and reasoning. They take this information and filter out what is not useful and apply what is useful. In doing so, they grow and expand as individuals.
The second individual operates with a “fixed” mindset. This individual receives much of the same information in many of the same ways as the other. However, the information is filtered through a different, more negative thought process. Information obtained is continually compared subjectively to what this individual already believes and stands very little chance of being perceived as useful in even the slightest context. This ultimately leads to very little expansion. Instead of growing, beliefs slowly become more fortified, protected and more incapable of being challenged with every passing reaffirmation that the individual is right.
In reality, the notion that you and I can only be of one or the other is likely too simple. We all have moments of growth and moments of fixation on specific topics, related to how guarded our thoughts on a certain matter may have become due to our experiences.
That said, my greatest piece of advice – passed down to me, and now to you – is to always strive to operate with a growth mindset. In doing so, each day will further your learning. Each opportunity you are given, earn, or volunteer to expose yourself to will serve as valuable to your growth as both a coach and a person. Allow me to describe a few timely examples.
Every four months, our facility welcomes a handful of bright, promising young coaches. They come from every corner of the country and some from as far as Australia, Ireland, and Poland (to name a few). Every two months, our staff is given the opportunity to sit down with them and evaluate their performance. In addition to commenting on their progress, we also ask them to comment on the process and how it could be improved.
Without fail, the majority of them will suggest ways in which we as a staff can do more for them.
“The gym is quiet sometimes from 12 until 2, can you take us aside and teach us more?”
“Can we be involved in the harder cases more often?”
Our internship allows these young coaches to receive nearly 300 hours of on-the-floor experience. They are treated as coaches and asked to do the same job as us, minus actually conducting assessments and writing programming for our clients. The suggestion of wanting more is not unusual. I could easily see a younger me asking the same. Not to mention, asking for more responsibility or more of our expertise is not inherently wrong.
At the same time, asking for this, in this situation, is also asserting that they have nothing left to ascertain from the situation as it stands. This notion is false. You will learn infinitely more from your clients than you will from me or any textbook. If there are bodies on the floor, or clients on your roster, treat every interaction with them as an opportunity to expand and to grow. No matter the ability or level of development of the client, there is an opportunity to learn, to fine-tune, to improve your skill set. Seize the opportunity to grow in every situation, examine how you could get more from a situation, not how others can do it for you. The very foundation of learning involves you actively taking ownership of the process.
It has only been a recent change in my role that I no longer find myself only in the chair listening to others. Instead, I am speaking to people looking up at me as well. The role reversal has been enlightening, to say the least. I spend countless hours preparing material that I have decided will make the greatest impact on those who have given me the respect of wanting to hear what I have to say. Ask those close to me: I don’t take this role lightly. To be honest, I can be a bit of a nightmare leading up to a presentation, as I want nothing more than to over-deliver.
Keeping in mind the lessons of my mentor, I personally approach every learning opportunity the same way. I clear my head of anything I might believe I know. In doing so, I make room to receive the information at face value. I want to absorb every bit and see things just as the person presenting it to me does. Only after I have received this information do I run it through my own positive filter.
“How can I take this and use it within my belief system?”
“How does it challenge my beliefs, and why?”
“What can I apply and then decide how it works?”
“Why did this person or organization choose to make me aware of this information in this format?”
Interestingly enough, in my first role as the information presenter, I was met with trivial feedback. Some thanked me and some were quick to suggest what was lacking. Given that these people sought out my opinion based on the notion that I either had something they wanted or sought to replicate something I was able to produce, I found it odd that someone would refer to the information as too elementary or suggest that it was missing something other than what I chose to present.
It was apparent that some had not run the information through a positive filter. Had they done so, then they would realize that if in fact they “knew” the information, they were either not applying what they knew or didn’t understand well enough to apply it effectively (or both). Simply receiving the information at face value first and then objectively discerning it could have been a pivotal moment in their growth.
Those operating with a growth mindset are open to change and open to differing views. They are open to receiving information and investigating why the person they chose to accept it from chose to deliver those pieces of advice. Those operating with a fixed mindset see information and only what they have done with said advice in the past, ultimately deciding that the answer is not already in front of them or not within them. With that approach, they will likely continue searching for answers that are already there, answers that can only become tangible when they are willing to accept them within their belief system.
Adopting this growth mindset was my biggest lesson and it has become the greatest lesson I can pass on to those who choose to listen. Allow information to infiltrate your walls. Dissect it, and find the value in it. Learning opportunities are always readily available if you want to accept them. You are the difference, you make them available, or you turn them away. The choice is yours.
Greg Robins is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. Greg has worked with clientele ranging from general population to professional athletes. His unique experience in many different aspects of fitness, strength training, and athletic preparation have helped him become an unbiased authority on all things fitness and performance related. Outside of coaching Greg is a former collegiate baseball player, active member of the MA ARMY National Guard, and enjoys power lifting.Website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter