A Coach’s Guide to Avoiding the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Mediocrity
by: Daniel Lucchini
You’ve just graduated with your personal training and/or coaching certifications and have landed your first job, brilliant! You have just begun your first day of working in your dream job. However, have you also just begun the first day on your path to mediocrity?
I remember my first job as a PT just about 10 years ago now. I walked in full of confidence, ready to change the world one sixty-minute session at a time. Then before I knew it, I was standing in the middle of the gym busy floor faced with a large room full of lots of people. All I had to do was go up to one of them and start talking about the thing that I loved, easy right? But do you know what happened that day? I spent 4 hours walking around the gym floor, tidying up weights and making myself small. That was my first step towards mediocrity.
Many beginner trainers have similar stories, as well as teachers, counsellors and other similar occupations. Beginner trainers often have increased stress because of feelings of fear, anxiety and guilt. These feelings and emotions are generally the result of unnecessary fears of a manufactured reality whereby they are not good enough, a fear of incompetence (FOI). Although the FOI will often go away simply with time and experience, it can also have detrimental consequences. A FOI has been shown to create a reduced ability to use learned theories in practical application. Meaning it stops you from using the knowledge you do have in a logical and effective manner with your clients.
It may also result in a loss of critical thinking and an increase in self-criticism. The problem with this self-criticism is that it’s often an exaggerated criticism of your ability and the work you’re doing. This state that has now been created becomes volatile as it increases the risk of disengaging emotions such as irritation and leads to a reduction in compassion and empathy. This can cause stress on the relationship between trainer and client and eventually between trainer and the career itself. Disengaging emotions such as irritation can form a negative feedback loop. As you disengage with the client, they will notice and start to disengage with you, which cause further disengagement and so on. If these feelings grow into resentment, the overall experience of both parties will become negative and ineffective at achieving the desired outcomes and likely a complete breakdown in the relationship. If the client has come to PT with any doubts about the session, like many clients do as they begin their fitness journeys, it will significantly increase their chance of drop out which will only confirm the previously felt FOI.
Another element of this self-prophesying path to mediocracy is anxiety from a lack of immediate results or towards needing immediate results. We all want our clients to achieve their goals, but if we do not have a steady grip on realistic expectations, we may be building ourselves a whole. If we enter with glamourized expectations about what we can achieve in X amount of time and fall short of these targets we may find increasing levels of frustration and guilt. These feelings reduce our ability to empathize with the client as our attention and presence shift towards our own insecurities and problems. This may also result in and exaggerated attempt to find validation from the client which impose the solutions provided- viewing success in universal truths rather than what the client wants. For example your client’s goal may be to lose weight but after 3 weeks they haven’t lost anything so you justify it by saying they might have gained muscle and muscle weighs more than fat. The key to avoiding the anxieties associated with a FOI and the lack of immediate results is to develop the areas of concern you may be lacking.
Although the FOI is exaggerated and not necessarily a reality, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that need to be worked on such as:
- Countertransference management – Overly emotional responses
- Misuse of silence – Not using silences appropriately to engage the client and giving too many cues/too much information to try and prove something about your level of knowledge.
- Inability to be present – To busy focusing on yourself and your insecurities. This comes as the result of a lack of understanding of self, training philosophies and values
- Boundary crossing– Not setting appropriate professional boundaries can lead to you becoming too involved with the client, heightening emotional responses. Boundaries to consider are methods and frequency of contact outside of training sessions and appropriate topics and information to share. There is no black and white here, but both you and the client should be clear and comfortable with the boundaries. This becomes critical in your own self-care. Without proper boundaries you increase your risk of burnout and partaking in unhealthy behaviours as coping mechanisms.
So what can you do?
- Increase your level of knowledge in particular areas. This can range from communication to specific training methods. The greater your knowledge of a method the more ability you will have to be flexible within the framework and adjust the method for the individual in front of you. Course such as those offered through The M3 Initiative can be a great place to start.
- Training and supervision. Having a mentor/coach/supervisor can be a great source of guidance, support, empathy, validation and positive feedback. This can be a manager at your workplace, an online mentor or even just hiring your own coach is a valid way of increasing your knowledge, experience and confidence.
- Emotional regulation. By spending time to understand your triggers, prejudice and biases, you increase your awareness around your immediate reactions and will be better able to regulate your emotions appropriately. Be sure of your values, purpose and beliefs and apply them to your PT work.
In conclusion, novice trainers mainly face adversity stemming from self-imposed inward pressures and due to a lack of refined and professional experience. Anxiety in this profession (or any other profession for that matter) is practically unavoidable. Imposing a self-critical view that one lacks competence is avoidable. Furthermore, an exaggerated and unchecked critical view of oneself leads the trainer to act in a way which validates this untrue view of oneself. Experience and guidance will shape beginner trainer throughout their careers, and patience should be had when striving towards goals. They must leave the rest up to the process of learning and acquiring experience, feedback from clients, and when applicable, advice from a supervisor.