Jared Meacham, Ph.D.

Every fitness professional knows the scenario, and it always starts the same way: “What’s the best way to....?” “What’s the best diet for...?” “What’s the best exercise to...?” “What’s the best supplement for...?”

We know it comes with the territory and we all just have to work our way through it. Have you ever stopped to think that hidden within this one little concept might lie a wealth of opportunity to positively affect someone’s life? I’m the first to admit that hearing the words “what’s the best” attached to anything is a personal fitness professional’s version of nails on a chalkboard, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself “why?”.

The Truth About the “Best Way"

Why do questions that begin with “what’s the best” annoy us so much? Sure, it may go up like a beacon saying “Here’s another person wanting to do as little work as is humanly possible to achieve a fitness-specific outcome. They really aren’t even interested enough in this to logically think before asking me this stupid question!” Let’s be honest here. Anyone who have given a process more than a minute of thought is probably going to arrive at the basic truth that there is no “best way” to do just about anything. Pretty much every cool thing, that has ever been done, has been done by different people in different ways using different methods and yet still seems to yield similar results.

So what’s a fitness pro to do? This type of question isn’t going away. Most people aren’t going to think through the situation enough to arrive at a logical answer on their own, and you’re going to keep getting the “what’s the best way” line of questioning no matter how you cut it- so do something good with it.

“What’s the best” is a line of questioning that I believe is really asking us, “what is the quickest and easiest way to bring about the stated outcome?” If we, as fitness pros, can label or classify the easiest and quickest way to do anything cool we’d probably arrive at a word like “perfect” or “perfection.” I mean, after all, the ability to accurately identify the quickest and easiest way to achieve any good thing is pretty much a perfect scenario.

The Perfect Scenario

So, what is it about the pursuit of the perfect scenario that irritates us? My thoughts are that the very assumption that there is a singular perfect, or best way, to do anything in the physical fitness realm is virtually impossible to validate. We intrinsically know this and therefore are somewhat unsettled when someone starts a conversation in this manner. It’s just another situation of “let me explain how things work here and watch another person not follow through” type thing.

What if you could get them to follow through? What if you could take a seemingly naïve, uninformed, perhaps even ignorant perspective and give it clarity? Give the perspective insight and fuel it with purpose? That would be really cool! Well, the plain truth is that we can do this and I firmly believe that every person is able to be “reached” and connected with. They can be guided down a path that will not only give them better understanding, but that will also give them their desired results.

The Self-Determination Theory

So how do we do it? Well, luckily I have some information that might aid us in the matter. Digging out my doctoral dissertation, I once again blow the dust of an old friend that formed the theoretical framework for my research. This gem is called the Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1994, pg. 119). This theory basically states that:

(a) people are inherently motivated to internalize the regulation of uninteresting though important activities;

(b) there are two different processes through which such internalization can occur, resulting in qualitatively different styles of self-regulation; and

(c) the social context influences which internalization process and regulatory style occur. The two types of internalization are introjection, which entails taking in a value or regulatory process but not accepting it as one's own, and integration, through which the regulation is assimilated with one's core sense of self. Introjection results in internally controlling regulation, whereas integration results in self-determination. (Note: self-determination is what we’re working toward as fitness professionals so integration is the key).

Introjection

Herein lies great possibility for the astute fitness professional. The two words indicated by bold font give us two very distinct options for working and leading people to their ultimate goal(s). Introjection is okay but chances are your clients are going to allow other things to get in the way. After all, they’ve already asked how to bring about an outcome as quickly and easily as is possible so their level of determination probably isn’t all that high.

Integration

What I really want you to grasp is the concept of integration. This is where a person takes an idea, belief or concept, then they internalize it and integrate it so that it becomes part of who they are. That’s a legit concept isn’t it? If we can take a person, who has some general interest in a process, (introjection) and help them turn that into a value that is part of who they are (integration), we have a virtually guaranteed recipe for success.

From Introjection to Integration

The Self-Determination Model tells us that human beings have three needs that help them “self-determine” which I will loosely define as figuring out who they are and what they’re all about.

  1. Competence – Ability to control outcomes and gain mastery of things that matter

  2. Relatedness – To connect with others, experience caring, culture

  3. Autonomy – To have control and confidence in life, to gain some degree of self-reliance


So how do we take someone who we know “wants” to be fit, “wants” to be stronger, “wants” to be leaner, and help them transition these desires from a mere want (introjection) and help them turn that into a core aspect of who they are (integration)? My answer to this may be somewhat anticlimactic. Inevitably you’re reading this article thinking, not unlike the people you train, “what’s the best way” to get clients to show up, put in the time, and follow through without driving me crazy and wasting my time?

Keep reading.

Ushering Clients toward Integration




Show Them the Love

My advice is to start by simply recognizing their question and validating its worth by being enthusiastic and caring in your response. Find the things that they identify as “having an interest in” and help them fall in love with the process of achieving it. If it’s a flatter belly, help them understand and fall in love with the concepts surrounding body fat reduction and core training. If they’re wanting to know “the best way” to take their dead lift from 135 to 405 pounds, help them understand the essentials of the dead lift, the many variables that contribute to an improving dead lift, and help them set a plan to attain that goal. Remember that people crave competence. We all want to understand and be good at something. Show people the love and empathize with them a bit so you can give them a level of competence. This will go a long way toward moving them into integration.

Provide Social Proof

Use other clients who had similar starting points and highlight their successes, and possibly failures, and assure your client that the same reality is possible for them. Perhaps you place them with another person or group that is really cool and easy to get along with, but that can also help to nurture and educate them in a way that is appreciated and enthusiastically accepted. Working to create significant emotional connections and experiences achieves the concept of relatedness and helps clients internalize newly found values much more quickly.

Make Them an Expert

Give them your wisdom, your guidance, and your knowledge. Teach them to wield it for their own betterment. Never fear someone else’s growth, and always support it, even if it means they outgrow you. That is professionalism my friends. My clients know that my secret goal is for them to visit any fitness facility in the world and have professional trainers from that facility asking questions about what they are doing, how, and why. I want my clients to exceed the expertise of paid fitness professionals, because I know that they will have great confidence in their fitness process and in me, as their trainer, if they experience these kinds of situations. Beyond that, they will be able to achieve a great degree of autonomy while engaging in a process that is truly part of who they are.

Integration or Bust

We have used some terms that may be new to many, but no worries, we’re going to wrap it up well- right here. I know from experience that the vast majority of first time training clients coming into the fitness space have a “what’s the best way” mentality. They’re unaware of the how, what, when, and why. They simply want the outcome, so they can move on to the next cool thing. This is because they are exhibiting what we previously identified as introjection. They’ve identified something of value and they want it, but it’s not of paramount importance to them (yet) because they have not internalized this desire as being a critical part of who they are.

This is where the real value of professional fitness guidance and training comes into play. This is where you change lives, where you affect people on a cellular level, where you build culture, and where you cement your worth over and over again. When you can take a person in this situation and motivate them, educate them, empathize with them, and challenge them, you can move a person from being somewhat interested in a fitness-specific outcome to a state where that desired outcome is now firmly part of who they are and that, my friends, is powerful. Helping clients move from a state of introjection into a state of integration is one of the most powerful things you can do for any client. Stop and think about that amazingly successful client who is singing your praises to anyone and everyone who will listen was almost overlooked as just another annoying person who wants to know “what’s the best way” to do something.

Reference

Deci, E., Eghrari H., Patrick B., Leone D. (1994). Facilitating internalization: the self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Personality, 62(1), 119-142.


Jared MeachamOver a decade of fitness business and large health and wellness club management. From major athletic clubs around the USA to hospital and community-based wellness centers and entrepreneurial ventures my experience in facility operations and business management is vast.

Have overseen and professionally developed hundreds of fitness professionals and numerous health club business systems nationwide. Now directing all fitness aspects of a progressive, massively successful fitness programming enterprise. Developed a grass-roots in-home personal training business into a multi-state, seven location fitness authority within 18 months. I have also directed new club pre-sale, operations and staffing multiple times.

Always open to new challenges, I took an opportunity creating and directing all fitness services for a progressive and expanding health club based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.