Publicize your learning process

Every fitness professional, exercise scientist and kinesiology student should have a blog. I know this seems contrary to opinions on the more popular fitness blogs, those telling everyone to filter their info and criticizing people for pushing articles online without at least a decade of experience. We’re putting limits and qualifiers on who can contribute, but really who has the right to decide what you can or can’t do online? If the fitness industry spent more time fostering a collaborative online environment, we’d all be better off for it. I might be new to the blogging world but the concept of collaborative environments and ‘learning out loud’ is not a new one to me. Collaboration is a necessity in the scientific world, and my experience teaching anatomy in the School of Rehabilitation Sciences (Physiotherapy Program) at McMaster University has shown me how these cooperative experiences benefit everyone involved.

The terror of problem-based learning

I’ve had the benefit of teaching in a problem-based environment for the last four years. Students are encouraged to think out loud, ask each other questions, and most importantly, not be afraid to make mistakes. Their learning process is essentially public, albeit to a smaller audience than what would happen on the net (the amount of traffic on this site may suggest otherwise).

Problem based learning is painful at first. You definitely have to be comfortable with the sound of crickets chirping when you start teaching this way. Many of your questions will be followed by a lengthy awkward silence, and you need to be comfortable leading people through the exercises to help them arrive at the answers. But over time, that ego-preserving nature of the students that keeps them from speaking up gradually fades. They become more comfortable with each other (the fact that they have to poke and prod each other, often with minimal clothing probably speeds this up) and you see the quality of discussion increase rapidly, alongside their educational ‘risk-taking’. Gone is the fear of being wrong, of being labelled ‘stupid’.

I’m sure many strength coaches and trainers would benefit, even just from a content perspective, from attending a physiotherapy program, but there’s a much cheaper way to get this level of interaction. How many trainers have ideas that never leave the confines of their small circle of clients?

Going Public

The monetary cost of going public is insignificant. If you have $100.00, you can buy a domain name and get a year’s worth of hosting at any number of the big, cheap online services. With free software like wordpress, drupal, or even Tumblr, you can be up and running with your own blog in under ten minutes.

This low barrier of entry has the kings of the internet fitness business worried. They post about how we need to apply filters to info, only trust people who’ve been around for ten years, who have mortgages that depend on their ideas. Seems a bit dramatic, and I’m not sure I agree. Actually, I don’t agree at all, and posts like these down-right piss me off.

There’s no question that information overload exists, but I think comments like these are just marketing tactics to cut down the competition. Sometimes I think that the guys deemed ‘in the know’ are really just those with the best ClickBank affiliate payment programs. When there’s a glowing endorsement, there’s usually an affiliate-link-laden ‘review’ post close behind. Let’s spend more time worrying about the ideas themselves and less about how long people have been ‘in the trenches’ or the number of letters behind their names.

Don’t let people like this get to you. Don’t let them stop you either.

What’s holding you back?

There’s always a million reasons not to do something, and blogging is no different. Since launching my blog, I can’t help but discuss it with people I know as well as those who take the time to email me through the site. When I’ve suggested that they start their own blog, I’ve heard my share of excuses why they shouldn’t; ‘I have no time’, ‘no one will care’, or maybe they just don’t have the stones for it because the internet is such a ‘scary’ place.

But what if we stop thinking of blogs solely as a business opportunity, of driving passive income into your bank account, and start to take a sandbox approach where you develop a community that you can share and develop your ideas with? I think you’ll find that much of the fear and resistance to the idea will dissipate.

I thought I would take a few minutes to outline some of the best reasons I’ve come up with when I have these discussions, and hopefully persuade a few of you that it may be worth taking the plunge.

1. You have time to think

No matter who you are, there’s likely someone busier than you out there. But that doesn’t matter, life isn’t a competition, the point is that you have the time to think, research and write about your ideas. We all use our 168 hours per week differently, but I’d argue that if you’re any type of professional (personal trainer, strength coach, physiotherapist or other), you owe it to yourself and your clients to sit down and thoroughly research and flesh out your ideas. Articulating yourself in writing is different than simply thinking or speaking about something. It forces you to be more systematic and methodical in explaining yourself, to take the time to consider and develop your ideas.

Most importantly, sharing your ideas through a blog will allow you to get the most out of your time. Someone may have tried out what you’re thinking, or be able to add to it in a way you haven’t thought of. You can certainly have too many cooks in the kitchen, but calling on a collective of knowledge and experience will be more a benefit than a hindrance. Your ideas are often the sum of the people around you, I’d be sure to have a little diversity of influence to ensure you’re evolving.

2. Not everything you read and/or write needs to be actionable

We fill our heads with quotes like:

Well done is better than well said

- Benjamin Franklin

or

An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied

-Arnold Glassgow

But we’ve misinterpreted these quotes. I’m sure the men behind these didn’t want people to only write, or exclusively read list posts of actionable steps. In their day, they took the time to consider their ideas, distill complex problems into manageable actions, and discuss their problems with their peers. They refined their ideas based on the results of their actions and reconciled everything against their previous experiences and the input of their colleagues. Looking at the Glassgow quote closely, the idea PRECEDES action! Looks like it might be worth taking some time out of your day to think and at least partially develop what you’re going to do, instead of running around ‘taking action’ and ‘getting shit done’.

This problem is really just an extension of those who feel they have no time. Because we’re all so ‘busy’, there can’t possibly be time to read (or create) something that we can’t directly integrate into our lives, right? If you think everything you read has to have actionable steps, then you might as well give up on my blog now. I’m all for efficient use of time, but let’s face it, some ideas take time to develop, test and refine. Your ideas on nutrition, training, or anything to do with the fitness industry are no different. They’ll be shaped by more than one source, and if your career depends on blog posts with quickly scannable lists of actions, I suspect you won’t be around the industry for too much longer.

Take the time to write out your ideas and develop them over time. Let them incubate, mix them up with others’ experience and what you’ve seen online and read in articles. Test them, refine them, and test them again. Just don’t forget to do it publicly so everyone benefits!

3. People will listen to you

I have no training in search engine optimization or internet marketing and I have no slick tips for funnelling traffic to your site. I’ve spent the first six months on this site focused solely on content, and outside of posting links on twitter, haven’t spent any time marketing my site. Despite this, the site has developed a small but consistent amount of traffic, and a group of regulars who take the time to send me emails or comment on a post. Sure, I need to spend time focusing on the other aspects of the site, bringing in more readers and interacting with even more people, but for those just starting out, I’m confident there’s someone, even if it’s just your mum or significant other, that will take the time to read what you’ve put out there.

4. The internet really isn’t that mean

If you had asked me six months ago, I’d tell you the internet was a nasty place. Spend some time on any of the major strength training sites and you can see some pretty caustic comments about articles, and we’re all too familiar with the types of low-brow exchanges that can happen on any open-access online forum. But when you have your own website, things are different (at least in my experience). Totally different.

When you take a genuine risk expressing yourself and your ideas while asking others their thoughts and opinions, and do so without being anonymous, people will appreciate it. When everyone can hide behind the mask of the internet, the quality of the discussion ultimately suffers, and you’ll get the internet ‘tough-guys’ out in force. But when you’re honest with your identity and share your ideas, you’ll find people will follow suit and reciprocate.

People are quick to label those who disagree as ‘haters’ just as quickly as they are to label their own content as ‘epic’. But even when people don’t agree or don’t like what I’ve said on the blog, they’ve let me know respectfully. You could argue that I just haven’t hit the point where the true ‘haters’ start coming out in droves. Maybe you’re right. I think something different is going on here.

5. What you write may be there forever, but your ideas can still change

People are afraid of the permanence of the internet. What you post today may be there for generations to come, and can be found by anyone at any time. Sure those pics of the drunken debauchery of a bachelor party you had in Vegas may kill your chances of landing your ‘dream-job’ at some stuffy corporate bank, but there’s a pretty big difference between posting your thoughts online and your not-so-PG photo collection.

Seems scary to some, but when you really think about it, whether or not your opinion is the same doesn’t really matter. I would argue that if in ten years you feel the same way about everything you think today, you’re probably not evolving. Better yet, the evolution of your ideas becomes the content. One might argue that MORE learning takes place by watching ideas as they are refined and adjusted. Use your blog as another avenue to showcase your ideas to other professionals and adjust and tweak them based on the feedback of the public.

Don’t mistake the permanence of what you post with the idea that your ideas should be permanent.

Start today. Go! Do it now!

Time’s wasting! Head on over to any of the big web companies and buy a domain (preferably YOURNAME.com), buy a hosting plan and get some blogging software (most companies have one click installs for the major platforms). Start throwing your ideas up and send it to your friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else that you think will listen. You don’t need to have a master plan for your site, all the SEO tactics mapped out, or even ideas for product launches and monetization; just treat it as a place to experiment, develop your perspective and ideas, and best yet, SHARE IT. I think you’ll be surprised about the response you’ll get.

If you’ve recently started a blog, are a seasoned veteran, or still holding out and keeping off the grid, let me know in the comments, on Twitter, or shoot me an email to let me know what’s going on with any of your major projects. Next week it’s back to science!

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