Our lives are simply an interconnected weave of unique stories that come together to shape our existence. For some, these stories are full of positive emotions and memories. For others their stories carry moments of darkness and despair. But everyone has stories; and often one’s ability in life comes down to either embracing a story, or being willing to let it go.
In a recent yoga session, we were encouraged to think about the stories we tell ourselves that no longer serve us and find ways to “let go”. From the simple stories of “I have tight hamstrings” to deeper stories about who we are as a person, we were encouraged to embrace that dialogue and discover how it served us. As we moved through various flows, we were challenged to tell ourselves those stories and then find ways to either say goodbye, or use them to propel us forward.
Our role in someone’s story…
As group exercise instructors, our role is to inspire and motivate individuals through the joys of movement. Whether this is through a mindful yoga session, a heart-pumping spinning class, or a high intensity interval workout, we are there to create a safe and encouraging place for everyone.
We do this through the words we say, the reactions we have, and the experiences we create. For 30-60+ minutes we have the opportunity to help shape people’s stories and change their lives. They have allowed us into their lives in a way that can often times be vulnerable and uncomfortable. We get to see people at both their best, but often at their worst. We may be there at a time when they fail to succeed. Which, based on their past stories and experiences, may be a challenging time for them.
For those individuals who are paralyzed by fear, and deal with the fear of failure concept, they may simply not try in a class. It’s even possible that they will undermined their own efforts to avoid the possibility of a larger failure (Fear of Failure, n.d.). This fear may be present based on past failures, an injury that resulted from a certain activity, or simply a preconceived notion about their own ability. Whatever the reason, these participants are letting their stories control their lives. They could really benefit from the idea of “letting go” of past stories, experiences, and expectations and simply being in the moment.
What you say impacts someone’s story…
Fit pros often talk about how they want to “kill” their participants and get them to “fail” in a workout; how they want them to feel “defeated” by the time the workout is over. We create competitive environments to push people to be better than others. However, who is this serving? Does this mentality allow all participants to overcome their stories and create new ones? Or does it further perpetuate the negative stories that people tell themselves?
At the end of the day, people remember people. They remember the words we say, the feelings we give them, and the experience they had. Words we say can have more of an impact than a fancy exercises or new piece of equipment. Those memories, and interwoven stories are what foster certain mindsets in people; allowing for the different behaviors we see in our group exercise classes.
What are mindsets?
In the world of psychology there is a principle called mindset. This unique approach to mental health and conditioning, developed by world-renowned psychologist Dr. Carol S. Dweck, offers the idea that “success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities” (Dweck, 2007).
It’s the concept that mindsets are beliefs that people have about themselves and their most basic qualities (Dweck, The Mindsets, 2010). An individual’s mindset can greatly impact their way of life and the adventures they choose to select.
There are two primary mindsets:
- Growth Mindset: those who believe that abilities can be developed; they believe they can overcome difficulties and master difficult new skills.
- Fixed Mindset: those who believe that past failures determine current success; they believe their stories have defined them and thus their abilities are fixed.
Individuals with a growth mindset believe anyone can be good at anything. They allow their stories to be part of their lives, but don’t let them define future endeavors. It is common to hear someone with this mentality to say things like “I didn’t make it, guess I need to practice more”. They believe their true potential is unknown, taking years of training to perfect (Dweck, The Mindsets, 2010).
As a group exercise instructor and fitness professional, most of your coaching is probably (subconsciously) geared towards those people with a growth mindset. If your motivational strategies focus on pushing people to “do more, be better, and go harder”, then you are speaking to those who believe this is possible.
While it is perfectly normal to want to push people using these traditional coaching methods, is it allowing you to serve everyone in your class? Consider how you can fluctuate your cues to inspire those who believe they can do more, while also talking to those who believe they are stuck. Find ways to encourage everyone to let go of their negative stories, eliminate that negative self-talk, and propel forward with stories that best serve them.
For individuals with a fixed mindset, they find it difficult to let go of their past stories. They continually tell themselves things like “I was the small kid, and always picked last for the team, therefore I’m no good at sports or exercise”. For them, their experiences have defined their lives. Goal setting or motivational cues that may bring back those old memories often discourage them.
Consider those in your classes who may have had a negative experience in a group exercise class or a workout experience. Unintentionally, they will enter your class with a notion of who they are and what they can achieve in the class. Often pulling back or simply not trying something new out of fear of failure.
How do you approach this individual? Are you using coaching methods and cues that can help them let go of these stories, or are you only further perpetuating them by displacing them as the person who just “won’t work hard”?
Providing opportunities of comfort and consistency can be helpful to create a sense of success in these individuals. Instead of always trying to do something ‘new and different’, consider building consistency in your classes from week to week. This will allow people the knowledge that they can succeed.
Consider for a moment a program such as Les Mills BODYPUMP®. For 30-years they have been teaching a very consistent program (10 tracks, progressing in the same order, with similar exercises completed week to week). It has grown to be one of the largest group exercise programs worldwide, seen in over 80 different countries weekly. Whether you believe with the programming methods or not, you can’t argue with the fact that people flock to these classes for the consistent workout experience. Showcasing how people like consistency.
Focus on what you say
However, more important than what you do in the class, is what you say. Individuals with a fixed mindset are often turned off by goal setting, and don’t want to be pushed. They allow their past stories to influence their current levels of effort, and thus it may be more valuable for you to find ways to get inside their heads and validate what they are doing. It may be a great opportunity for you to encourage them to “let go” of past stories and expectations, and find ways to develop new ones.
Just as my yoga teacher returned to that concept throughout class, you too can find ways to foster growth in these individuals by encouraging them to no longer be defined by certain circumstances or situations.
To be a good group exercise instructor you must have a strong foundation in exercise science, a good grasp on technique, and a solid understanding of how to coach; skills that take years to master. However, if you can start focusing on the stories you tell, the stories you foster, and the experiences you allow your participants to have, then your classes will go from simply being a workout, to a complete mind/body experience. Moreover, in today’s world, where over 40 million Americans deal with depression and anxiety on a daily basis (Facts & Statistics on Depression, 2016), creating this mind/body connection can be the best form of exercise you can provide.
If this concept of mindsets is new to you, take a further look into Dr. Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. While it is not specifically geared towards health and fitness, it is a great look into how you can become a better coach.
If the Fear of Failure concept had you geeking out, then check out the book The Fear Project, in which surfer and author Jaimal Yogis, sets out on a mission to understand why fear so often dominates our lives and our actions.
Wrapping it up…
A few years ago, I was forced to face life head on. Those stories, coupled with the death of our friend to depression, led me to get my Project Semicolon tattoo with the words “My Story” simply scripted underneath. Eluding the concept that our stories make up our life, but they don’t define who we are.
In your next class, don’t judge or assume anything, simply respect everyone’s story. Then ask yourself, what parts of your story are you ready to let go of? What can you stop telling yourself and move forward and grow from?
Remember, we all have a different story to share…
- Dweck, C. S. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York City: Ballantine Books.
- Dweck, C. S. (2010). The Mindsets. Retrieved from Mindset:
- Elison, J., & Partridge, J. A. (2012). Relationships between shame-coping, fear of failure, and perfectionism in college athletes. Journal of Sport Behavior, 19-39.
- Facts & Statistics on Depression. (2016, August). Retrieved from Anxiety and Depression Association of America: www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
- Fear of Failure. (n.d.). Retrieved from Mind Tools: www.mindtools.com/pages/article/fear-of-failure.htm
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BS: Exercise & Sports Science
NSCA: Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
ACSM: Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C)
Yoga Alliance: 200-hr RYT
ACE: Group Fitness Instructor
Balanced Body: Reformer Level 1 Coach
Schwinn: Indoor Cycle Instructor
RRCA: Running Coach