How Being Wrong Made Me Become a Better Coach

 

I hate being wrong. When I was a little girl if my mother was looking for a misplaced item, like the kitchen scissors and she asked me if they were in my room I would reply, “No!”, even if they were sitting in my desk drawer. Then I would pretend to help her try to find them, sneaking into my bedroom when she wasn’t looking to get them and then running to another location in the house and eventually proclaiming I had found the kitchen scissors in the bathroom and say, “Isn’t that odd? Why would someone put them there?”

My mother never called me on this tactic, but I wish she would have. It allowed me to continue trying to be right, even when the stakes were low. Let’s be honest, most of us love being told we have the right answer. We loved raising our hand and giving a teacher an eloquent explanation of the problem on the chalk board, and when we were wrong, it stunk. The class would giggle, we’d feel deflated, stupid, and embarrassed.

When I started coaching people in Muay Thai and became a personal trainer people asked me questions and expected me to have answers. It’s hard as a coach to say, “I don’t know, sorry” or “Let’s find out together!” It’s a shame that comes with being wrong and the burning desire to be right that cause people to look for a hard and fast answer to everyone’s problems.

My students today know that often when they ask me a question, my answer is, “It depends on onto not have.” While it may be not to have a single answer to “What should I eat?” “Whats’ the best counter to the jab?” or “Which is better lifting or HIIT?”, it’s true that the most accurate answer is often: it depends on.

Here is a list of things I have been wrong about in chronological order…

  1. The scissors were definitely in my bedroom, every time.
  2. Simply eating less and exercising more will make you lose weight – Wrong! There are so many other factors at play.
  3. A raw vegan diet was the answer to all my problems – Wrong! I just ended up sick all the time and skinny fat. It might work for some people, but it doesn’t work for all and definitely didn’t work for me ( I was vegetarian for 18 years and vegan for 2).
  4. Carbs are evil and we should avoid them at all costs – Wrong! We need carbs for muscle growth and athletic activity, the trick is to finding a balance according to you goals, activity levels and genetics (metabolism).
  5. All grains will cause health problems!  – Wrong! For some people they can be very bad, and gluten intolerance is real but for those with no sensitivity to certain grains (like rice), a moderate amount of grain in the diet will not automatically make you fat and sick.
  6. Strict Paleo is the best way to lose weight and be healthy for everyone! – Wrong! While I find many benefits to a Paleo template for nutrition and some people thrive on it, for others the strict nature of the diet can be too restrictive and lead some to  neurotic food behavior. Finding a balance that works for the individual is best.
  7. You don’t need LISS cardio (low intensity stead state) and all you need to do is HIIT (high intensity interval training –   Wrong! It depends on your goals, fighters do need some LISS cardio, just not as much as previously thought and there are some health and training benefits (cardiovascular, mood boosting, etc.) to training LISS. HIIT is superior for fat burning, and will retain more muscle than LISS but it isn’t realistic to perform it everyday and many athletes need LISS too.
  8. Everyone should lift heavy weights – Wrong! There are plenty of ways to be strong. While lifting heavy is awesome and I’ve seen many clients reach amazing goals with heavy strength training, some people may prefer to do bodyweight training or circuit training and that is sufficient to keep them healthy, mobile and happy.
  9. Heating olive oil at high heat is bad for you health – Wrong! I’m not sure how this myth started, but olive oil is fine at high heats, just as long as it’s REAL olive oil and not cut with processed PUFA’s like canola oil. (Yes there are fakes out there!)
  10. You must have a post workout meal for recovery, in at least 15 minutes after your workout – Wrong!  Overall macronutrients  (i.e. the right amount of protein, carbs and fat) from a healthy diet throughout the day is more important than the “post workout” meal. And you don’t necessarily need carbs or a specific carb to protein ratio post workout.

I’m sure I could come up with ten more things I have been wrong about, but I’ll stop there. While I understand that making mistakes is okay, will probably always happen once in a while for the rest of my life, and is helpful to growth; I’m still not jazzed on making them! So how has being wrong helped me become a better coach?

Owning Your Mistakes Breeds an Inquisitive Mind

When I admit I’m wrong it leads me to seek out and dissect the truth in a way that helps me learn more. If I pushed away all the information that would cause me to be wrong I wouldn’t be nearly as educated. Everything from research studies, to self help books, to reading the blogs from people who disagree with me, all have taught me more than getting angry and trying to hold my position ’til the death.

 

Not Having a Definitive Answer Helps Me Meet Others Needs Better

As a coach and trainer if I know I don’t have a one size fits all approach, I can ask questions and get to the heart of what people’s goals, needs, individual biology and preferences are. There are so many factors in giving correct advice, but so often I have looked for the one answer, thinking that people want this (and often they do) – but life is not as neat and tidy as one answer and so with my students today I ask more questions and get them involved in the investigative process before giving concrete advice.

 

Being Wrong Celebrates Diversity

I often say, “It depends”, because it does. It depends on your goals, it depends, on your body’s unique physiology and metabolism, it depends on the situation, what your opponent is doing in a fight, where you are in your program and what you limitations are. The answer can even vary depending on the simple question, “What do you love to do?” What I’ve found through coaching is that we are the same, but different. The diet that works for one person won’t work for another. The fitness program I gave one person will make another person plateau. I could get annoyed with people and yell at them for not following my program correctly, or I can get creative, ask more questions and try to find what works for them.

 

Being Wrong Helps Me Make Friends

There was a time that I felt so strongly about my various beliefs that I couldn’t be friends with someone who ate meat or didn’t eat meat, or who didn’t workout, or who worked out the “wrong” way, or who drank, or who didn’t drink, etc., Today, I have friends who are vegan, I have friends who are Paleo, I have friends who CrossFit, I have friends who only do Yoga and I can sit down with them to lunch and just be happy enjoy their company. Who am I to tell someone else the “best” way to be. I’ve learned there are four things that I don’t like talking about at parties with mixed company 1) Religion 2) Politics 3) Nutrition 4) Working Out. None of those topics is worth losing friends over and none of those topics will result in one person being totally right. As much as I love to “talk shop” I avoid these discussions with new people and friends who I know have different opinions.

 

Being Wrong Helps Me Understand Who I Truly Am

In the past clinging to things I wanted to be “the answer” gave me a way to define myself. I am vegan, I am Paleo, I’m a fighter, I’m a CrossFitter, I’m a Yogi, I’m a powerlifter etc… When we tell ourselves we are certain things, and give ourselves these labels we not only box ourselves in from growing but we also set ourselves up for high expectations. What if I want to take a break from weights and try out Yoga or Pilates for a month. If I have defined myself by what I do and touted it as the be all end all, then I have closed myself off from the opportunity to learn and explore. What if I decide that my body needs some fish once in a while, cause that feels right and I’m having trouble with my health, but I’ve said that I am vegan ’til the death. Do I sacrifice my health for my label? It’s fine to have favorites. It’s fine to be excited about what you love to do, but I have found it’s better to be careful about letting our labels define our core being. You are more than your labels.

If the only way I define myself is through what I do and what I eat, I am not allowing myself to get to know the real me. Even if I say, “I am a teacher”, or “I am a writer”,  or “I am a business woman”, I am setting myself up for expectations of what that looks like. Approaching my tasks of writing, teaching and running a business with the idea that I am here just to give and express myself puts way less pressure on me than letting the labels define me. I understand giving yourself labels for marketing and professional reasons, but I do better realizing that deep down I will learn and grow more if I focus on just being my true self.

 

I may still get a twinge of dissatisfaction and/or panic when I find a new study, read a article or encounter a vocal person that shakes up what I believe. But I have found that Facebook debates and dinner party arguments do little good. If someone wants my advice they will decide to be my student and/or they will ask for it. Besides, the answer usually lies in the middle of two extremes and if I simply have an open mind, learn more and let others be I am a happier and more helpful person for it.