Hiatus: Finding Balance In Your Continuing Education

I took a hiatus from writing last week.  Each morning was spent in pajamas, accompanied by a cup of coffee, mostly in silence; and I read.  Books, articles, blogs, and everything in between.  My focus was on filling up on the best information that I could find.  I was drawing back the bowstring.

For the better part of two years I’ve felt an inherent struggle with finding balance between taking information in, and getting it out.  It’s a struggle that I’ve been aware of, and that I’ve found both irritating and empowering.  Perhaps it’s a lucky position to be in, to struggle with learning so much that it’s become a challenge to share it.  I’m not sure if this is as much luck as much as it’s the curse of knowledge.

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According to Wikipedia, “The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties.”  I’ve found this to be the biggest predicament I encounter within my corner of the training community.

I have no doubt that I’m lucky enough to learn from and work with some of the most brilliant minds in strength and conditioning, and we all struggle with the same thing: We speak in a way that makes us look stupid.

I agree with Derek’s belief that using big words has the potential to make one look stupid, and I think that the stupidity bias can go both ways.  Relying on clinical terminology in a general population setting has the potential to make your clients, most likely not a medical or fitness professional, feel out of touch with their own bodies, and completely out of touch with you.  Few folks enjoy feeling stupid, and the process largely ends with the assumption that you, the user of large words, is the stupid one.

My belief is one that when something is misunderstood, it’s the responsibility of the person delivering the message to reinvent how they communicate.  It’s not enough to work on delivering your message; it requires that you phrase it with an understanding of how it will be interpreted.  If we categorize any given fitness goal into the overlying categories of “Health” or “Hotness”, I see them all under the control of One Ring of human performance:

Human performance is about happiness. 

Our individual definitions of “performance” are governed by the goal of happiness, and recognizing this is key.  Many of us in the training world are obsessed with human performance, and completely overlook this simple, essential fact.  We read about how to train harder, recover faster, and see the most optimal results ever in the history of the world… and fail to recognize the human factor.

If you think that more reading is the key to understanding human psychology, you’re wrong.  The Key is being a human who spends time with other humans.  My struggle with finding balance in continuing education is a product of seeking this Key.  Is it possible that we spend so much time learning new information that it’s actually making us stupider?

For myself and many of my peers, I think this is immensely possible.  We learn and learn and learn, all in the hopes of communicating this information and in the end, we fail to teach.  There is a difference between transmitting information, teaching, and empowering learning.   If we don’t recognize the transition from one to the other, we’ll become irrelevant.  Sometimes we need to intentionally take the time to determine the difference.

Several months ago, MFF Trainer Erin Thompson lovingly asked, “But when do you get it all out?”  I was speechless.  At the time, I had been studying from the Postural Restoration Institute’s Myokinematic Restoration, taking Developing Innovative Ideas on Coursera, reading several books and listening to Audible during any free moment available to me.  When Erin asked me this, I had no idea how to respond.  I was spending so much time learning that I wasn’t really learning much of anything at all.

When I decided to take a writing hiatus last week, it wasn’t to take a break.  It was to provide the time needed to synthesize ideas to make them usable.  Much of what we choose to learn in the world of exercise science can be useless if we don’t apply it in the right way; it’s important to take the time to draw the bowstring instead of constantly building arrows.  Consistent learning without the opportunity to share seems like an awful silly problem to have, but it sure is a problem.  It would be akin to making as many arrows as possible, and then never shooting them.

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Many of the most significant conversations I’ve had recently have included my own opportunities to share this idea.  Perhaps more learning isn’t actually helping us.  Perhaps focusing more on helping others in their own terms is how we truly learn.  I’ve long said beginning as a snarky response to my Mom, that “Not every moment is a teaching opportunity, but every moment is a learning opportunity.”  

In the land of strength and conditioning where we focus heavily on corrective exercise, we forget this time and time again.  Let’s stop teaching, and encourage learning instead.  Our endless quest for knowledge shouldn’t be limited by our ability to connect with others; we should make that a priority so that we can endlessly learn.  Embracing that duality has been a key step for myself, as well as many of my peers.

Recent conversations with my friends Bill Rom, Henry Lau, and MFF’s own Mark FisherKyle LangworthyMatt Wilson, and Katie Kaufman have reminded me of the continued need to learn not for the sake of my our knowledge, but in the interest of sharing and empowering others.  For many of us, this means actively learning less, and doing more.

Between our courses and classes, we need to spend more time reading blogs and articles, and more importantly, writing blogs and articles.  We need to take the time to synthesize  what we learn so it’s accommodating and accessible.  We need more time in front of authentic people, explaining this in terms that honor where they are in that moment and in their fitness Journey.  We need more time in 140 characters, during 30 second breaks, and to people who we’ve made feel broken in the past.  That is how we can get better.

Allow me to run with that bow and arrow metaphor and share a video I made after a visit to the archery range with my girlfriend.  She took me to an archery lesson for my birthday, and I guess you could say we both hit the bull’s eye.

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