Jason Leydon (Conquer Athlete | CrossFit Milford)

Jason Leydon
Jason Leydon of Conquer Athlete and CrossFit Milford is an elite-level CrossFit coach – and, much like myself, a continuing education junkie.

I’d been looking forward to this conversation, since Jason is not only very successful in his ability to develop athletes, but also self-aware about his frameworks for coaching and his process for learning new things and applying them in his practice.

Many well-known coaches are able to get great results from athletes, but can’t really articulate how and why they do the things that they do.

Many other well-known coaches just happened to get lucky by having some freakishly talented folks walk through their doors, and have built careers on being in the right place at the right time without much actual knowledge.

Jason is the real deal, and he can articulate exactly what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.

In this conversation, we don’t just hit the nitty gritty details of developing athletes (although there is some of that). We spend a lot of time on Jason’s process for continuing to learn – and how he actually turns the things that he learns through books, seminars and courses into tangible results for his athletes and his coaches.

Check out the full conversation with Jason to learn:

  • How an identity-destroying injury started Jason on the path to coaching – and how he thinks about the psychology of athletes who have their identities wrapped up in their performance and their results
  • How Jason actually applies things that he learns from continuing education – and how he passes his knowledge on to his coaches so that they can actually apply it as well
  • How Jason thinks of the theoretical hierarchy for developing athletes – and how he picks what the top priorities are for his athletes in their training

Compliment with my conversation with Scott Young on Ultralearning for more on transferring knowledge from the abstract to the practical.

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Jason, Conquer Athlete & CrossFit Milford here:

Show Notes:

  • [1:08] What’s up with Jason’s accent? Is this how people from Milford speak? And – the sudden and shocking end to Jason’s basketball career.
  • [11:17] How to handle the sudden change in identity as an athlete who can no longer compete. And – the transition from athlete to coach, as well as the coinciding dedication to continuing education.
  • [20:21] How does Jason actually apply the things that he learns from seminars, books and courses? How does Jason think about solving tangible problems with the material that he learns – and how does he go about asking for help when something isn’t clicking for him.
  • [25:36] Connecting the practical, in-the-gym application of concepts with the theoretical learning that occurs in books or courses. Outcomes are often messy, so how does Jason figure out what’s actually working and what is just happenstance and chaos?
  • [31:14] How does Jason teach coaches who work with him to hold the same standard of coaching? Not everyone is able to learn from courses in the same way, so how does Jason pass knowledge on?
  • [37:00] How does Jason decide what his coaches need to prioritize in their coaching development? And, what lessons from learning to manage rowdy teens in a gym class are applicable to coaching adults?
  • [44:24] How does Jason manage the sport-specific needs of his competitive CrossFit athletes with their long-term development? How does a coach prioritize what an athlete needs to work on – and how does a coach create sustainability for an athlete in the sport?
  • [52:40] How to find out more about Conquer Athlete and the Conquer Athlete Podcast

Links and Resources Mentioned

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Why the quest for efficiency makes people inefficient

I’ve learned that our quest for efficiency is often one of the things that makes us the most inefficient.
Many people in management or coaching positions often get sour on the folks who they work with – claiming that they’re lazy, unmotivated slackers.
While this can be true, I’ve found that people are often putting forth a solid effort and doing the best they can, but are victims of two types of errors:
•A confused and improper focus on “efficiency” (which results in cutting corners, relying on willpower to create behavior change, and failing to set up long-term systems that are actually sustainable)
•A lack of skills to deal with obstacles, barriers, or questions that come up when attempting to engage in a new behavior.
I will discuss these issues from a management perspective, since I often find myself getting much more frustrated with employees than I do with coaching clients. (I have a healthy emotional distance from coaching clients, while I often regularly take mistakes employees make as a reflection of me in a way that is not always helpful).
In running a gym, I’ve found that one of our biggest issues as we’ve scaled is that – at each tier of growth – we have to relearn and refocus on the basics of each role within the organization.
This could be the basics of coaching a class (Give everyone in the class at least two pieces of individualized feedback – and use their name while doing so), the basics of setting someone up with a membership in our system (Please please please take their picture and have them fill out a membership agreement), or the basics of coaches communicating schedule changes for class coverage (Until the class is formally taken off of your schedule, it is your responsibility to make sure that someone shows up for it).
As we add employees and members, we tend to lose the thread of executing on these fundamental building blocks of our business. There’s more clients in the gym so classes get busy. There’s more front desk staff with a tiered management structure, so the way that we communicate and hold staff accountable is constantly shifting. There’s more to do in general, so it’s easier for things to slip through the cracks.
Over the last year, I’ve focused most of my effort on creating systems to make sure that we are not missing out on the fundamentals.
These include systems that track new members so that we can follow up on them consistently.
These include systems that track the recurring front desk tasks that need to be completed during each shift.
These include systems to make sure that all new members have all of their information entered into our software correctly.
And, as anyone who has tried to roll out systems like this in an organization, a lot of people just flat out don’t use them. Which results in a constant stream of mistakes, forgetting and oversight which can drive a high conscientiousness individual mad.
It can sometimes seem like people are actively ignoring my efforts to clean up all of these messes in an attempt to be “lazy.”
But, I really don’t think this is the case.
From conversations with employees and partners over the years, I’ve found instead that people are often searching for “efficiency” and a better way to do things.
Many of the solutions that I’ve come up with can seem overly optimized and like a waste of effort.
It can seem easier to “just remember to do it” than to create a to-do list system.
It can seem easier to “just remember your appointments” than to keep a detailed calendar.
It can seem easier to “just scan your email periodically throughout the day” rather than having structured times to handle your entire inbox.
And, in fact, it is easier to do each of those things. In the moment.
However, it’s not actually easier in the long run – neither for yourself nor for the organization that you work for.
Most people never make it past the initial difficulty of using a new system or a new protocol since it is often slower and less efficient the first several times you do something a new way.
It can still be purely self-interested behavior to develop systematic, repeatable ways of doing things. If you don’t have to remember how you did something last time, if you don’t have to rebuild the same email template every time, if you’re not constantly scrambling and cleaning up messes from things that you forgot to do…you tend to be a happier and more productive person.
And, if you do care about the organization that you’re a part of, developing systems has multiple benefits:
•The things that you’re doing can be more easily taught to a colleague – allowing you to focus on other areas, or allowing someone to cover your responsibilities if necessary.
•Systems make it easy to communicate throughout the organization what has been done and what needs to be done next.
Lets use a seemingly trivial example.
I’ve made a Google Sheet for our front desk that has a variety of recurring tasks on it – things like “fold towels, refill chalk buckets, empty trash on main gym floor, etc.”
Each task is categorized by the shift that it’s supposed to fall under.
The tasks also link to an internal wiki article that explains how to do the task.
The checkboxes automatically uncheck themselves on regular intervals relative to when the task needs to be repeated.
Tasks use conditional formatting to show when they’re due, overdue, and complete.
This ostensibly makes it very easy to keep track of what needs to be done – removing the the pain point of confusion between desk employees regarding which tasks are done, which are not done, and which need to be passed off onto another shift.
What’s not to love?
Well, it’s taken quite awhile to get front desk employees in the habit of consistently checking tasks off the list – even if they’re done.
It seems easier to just do them. Who cares if the tasks are checked off if they’re done?
It seems easier to just remember what tasks need to be done during your shift and take care of them. Why bother looking at the task list – it’s not that hard to remember to fold towels.
But, it’s not actually easier.
That’s a false sense of efficiency gained by skipping over the task list that is really a tax on the organization whenever a task is repeated prematurely or left incomplete past its due date – and it’s also a tax on your future self since you are often spending mental energy remembering what to do and how to do it (that could be externalized to a system) as well as spending time and energy cleaning up the messes that your lack of systemization created.
Or, more likely, one of the other employees or managers ends up cleaning up after you.
So, quit looking for efficiency in the wrong places. You don’t get more efficient by doing less.. You get more efficient by doing more work upfront so that you can trade in the mundane problems of forgetfulness and miscommunications and actually work on something interesting.

Shelby Lermo (Vastum | Ulthar)

Shelby Lermo
Shelby Lermo plays guitar for Vasum and Ulthar, and used to oversee the tangled web of death metal, interviews and conspiracy theories that was Illogical Contraption.

This conversation was a real pleasure for me, since I’ve known Shelby as an “online friend” for probably close to a decade, and have long admired his work from afar.

For those concerned with the stagnation of the extreme metal underground, we discuss possible iterations on the form of death metal outside of the contemporary postmodern juxtaposition of seemingly disparate genres or the rehashing of the past through “old school death metal.”

For those concerned with their ability to follow through on creative projects, we discuss Shelby’s discipline surrounding creativity – including scheduling time to create, separating creating and editing, and balancing multiple different projects.

For those concerned with conspiracy thinking, we discuss the allure and the dangers of conspiracy theories, as well as the mechanisms that have pushed conspiracy into the mainstream.

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Shelby, Illogical Contraption, Vastum & Ulthar here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:12] The process of making internet friends before social media, and the tangled web of content that was Illogical Contraption.
  • [09:17] The evolution of music discovery and communication in the underground from tape-trading to music blogs to Spotify – and how Shelby thinks about consuming music vs listening to music.
  • [19:58] The stagnation of the death metal genre, and how to think about composing outside of the standard idioms of the form.”
  • [24:21] Shelby’s creative process for multiple different projects, and the differing levels of collaboration between different projects.
  • [29:35] Where can death metal go next? Do the popular styles of metal in the underground follow cyclical patterns (ie thrash -> old school death metal -> technical death metal)? Will anyone create a new form for underground metal that isn’t just a postmodern hodgepodge of varied styles and instrumentation?
  • [40:48] Being disciplined regarding creativity: scheduling time to create, not waiting for inspiration, and separating the process of creating from the process of editing
  • [48:10] The allure of conspiracy theories – and why you shouldn’t believe them, as well as the surprising “mainstreamification” of conspiracy thinking.
  • [59:00] Implausible beliefs are a signaling mechanism for in-group loyalty, which can create feedback loops that increase the strangeness of conspiracy theories.
  • [1:05:05] Shelby’s favorite interviews from the Illogical Contraption podcast

Links and Resources Mentioned

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Do your email newsletter subscriptions stress you out?

Do you like subscribing to email newsletters…but hate having a cluttered inbox?

Do you like reading your e-mail newsletters – like mine hehe – but hate when you’re just trying to soak up some #content and you’re getting hammered with work e-mails?

Well have I got a solution for you:

Just make a new e-mail address only for newsletters.

A lot of people have some sort of throwaway e-mail address (like an old AOL account or something) that they use to sign up for stuff that they don’t want to receive.

But, why not have a separate e-mail address for things that you do want to receive?

This way, you have an e-mail inbox that’s almost like an RSS reader – just content that you want that you actually subscribed to.

I typically use the Gmail mobile app on my iPad to read my stories. I don’t have my other email accounts signed in on my iPad, so there’s a high barrier to entry to impulsively start checking in with work stuff. This works out very nicely for me. Hopefully this helps you, too.

Do you get tired of checking your e-mail constantly?

I’m probably not the only one in the world who has an e-mail problem.
I’ve experimented with a lot of different e-mail workflows over the years, and there’s been one consistent problem that I’ve never been able to solve.
Here’s my dilemma:
Checking my e-mail is a stressful time waster. 
Everyone who has read anything about productivity understands the value of batching tasks.
They also understand the energy-wasting dangers of constant task switching (beginning to write an article, then checking your e-mail, reading five messages, responding to two, then checking your to-do list, then going back to the article that you’re writing, then remembering you need to reschedule a meeting so going back to your e-mail, then responding to a few more e-mails that have come in…)
The idea of “batching” e-mail seems like a no-brainer. 
“Only check e-mail at allotted times,” cry the productivity experts. Every time you go into your inbox, clear out the entire thing – either by responding, archiving, or converting the e-mail into an actionable task in your project management system.
Sounds great.
However, I often need to access information in my e-mail while doing something else. 
I need to look up something a podcast guest sent me, download an attachment, or confirm a scheduled time.
So, what happens?
I go to my inbox and immediately get stressed out at the inbound communication. I either start reading and responding to e-mail (which means I’m not doing what I was supposed to be doing).
Or, I remain disciplined and only briefly pass through my inbox on my way to the information that originally brought me on my expedition through the digital hinterlands of my inbox.
However, in either case, I now have a corner of my brain devoted to thinking about all of the unread e-mail I just witnessed – foreboding subject lines, surprising senders, or files that I’ve been waiting for to complete some of my projects.
Turns out, a lot of people have this problem, and so folks have crafted some creative browser extensions to help. One of the better ones is the “Inbox When Ready.”
And it works great.
Your inbox is blocked when you go to it.
Only problem is that all you have to do when you visit your e-mail is push a single button to view all of your messages.
When you’re exposed to powerful, variable rewards like an e-mail inbox, it can be nigh impossible to avoid the impulse to push that button and see what’s hiding.
And, once you’ve pushed it enough times, you start to develop a habit so that your mouse is moving in the direction of the “Show Inbox” button no sooner than you’ve finished typing “.com” in your mail’s URL.
While my inbox is ostensibly hidden, I still view my unread messages just about every damn time I go to my e-mail anyway.
So, here’s my solution (which has been working fantastically):
I have “Inbox When Ready” installed on two separate browsers.
I use Chrome for most standard web-based tasks. In this browser, I set an “Inbox When Ready” lockout timer to last all day. 
I can still go to my e-mail to search for messages and find information that I need, but I’m blocked from clicking the “Show Inbox” button.
When I actually intend to process e-mail, I use Firefox (but leave it closed the rest of the time).
So, in order to actually check my e-mail, I have to fire up and entirely separate browser.
This is enough of a barrier and a hassle to prevent lapses in judgement or willpower resulting in getting lost in e-mail. And, my synapses are far less often occupied with admin tasks that are not exactly urgent but are time sensitive (updating client’s memberships, rescheduling appointments, etc.) that are best handled in a solid block of time a few times per day.
I’ve been really happy with this change in my workflow – and hopefully this helps someone else out as well!

Jake Rhodes (BearKomplex) & Jason Yule (Boxstar Apparel)

Jake Rhodes + Todd Nief + Jason Yule
We’ve got Jake Rhodes from BearKompleX and Jason Yule from Boxstar Apparel and Harbor Park CrossFit on the podcast.

I met both of these fellows when they exhibited at the inaugural South Loop Games in 2016.

This episode isn’t just for CrossFit geeks, since we dig into the ways that Jake and Jason think about building a market for their businesses in a complicated and dynamic fitness landscape.

The nuances of balancing promoting competitive CrossFit and whether that detracts from the mission of health and wellness is tricky to unpack, and Jason and Jake have some interesting perspectives from working with every day people in CrossFit affiliates as well as being involved with sponsoring high level athletes and the CrossFit Games themselves.

Check out the full conversation below to learn:

  • How to balance a complicated marketplace where some people are intimidated by elite athletes and others are inspired by elite athletes – and how to find the sweetspot for different business models
  • How to make sure your business isn’t just a vanity project – and how to figure out how to actually solve problems for people and lean into those problems when you find them
  • What Jason and Jake think of the new Sanctionals structure – and how they plan to make the new structure work for them and their business models

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Jason, Boxstar and Harbor Park CrossFit here:

Check out more from Jake & BearKompleX here:

Show Notes:

  • [1:37] Jason’s feelings toward Wisconsin always being paired with some sort of nod to cheese – particularly within the CrossFit Games.
  • [4:03] Marketing in the CrossFit world must find balance between the mission of improving health and wellness for those who feel intimidated by the sport, and the showcasing of ‘freaks’ doing muscle ups and handstand walking. By focusing on the elite athletes in the sport, folks who are curious to try CrossFit can be intimidated and put off from going to the gym.
  • [11:10] CrossFit is its affiliates, not its one weekend each year where the best athletes perform. There’s a place for showcasing the sport’s best athletes, but stepping away from making those people the whole CrossFit image is important in recruitment of more ‘everyday’ people.
  • [15:24] Businesses need to figure out how to retain customers – BearKompleX can’t only target those who are ripping their hands for the first time forever, and the focus begins to shift more toward high-level athletes as the business progresses.
  • [17:53] People view elite athletes as role models – people who they strive to be like, whose gear choices influence their own gear choices, etc. It grants companies credibility to have the support of high-level athletes. Those who are newer to CrossFit had to see an ad in their box or a cool video (with a high-level athlete as the face of the brand) and want to improve their athletic ability through gear to buy product, though. As time goes on, Jason and Jake have moved their companies away from focusing on the over-saturated elite athlete field and instead toward focusing on the average athletes who are influencers within their specific CrossFit community.
  • [29:00] The goal of being able to compete in the sport of CrossFit is more attainable now, whereas competing at Regionals was previously the goal of the most elite athletes. The changes to the Games structure have affected athletes immensely – they have to be able to handle unpredictability as a piece of the ultimate test, along with the fact that they could devote their lives to CrossFit just to fly across the world and run 400m.
  • [37:45] Will someone like Brent Fikowski struggle to compete with the new structure of early cuts at the CrossFit Games? One bad workout can send athletes home early, and it makes it more challenging for outliers in body size to compete in the sport. And why is the stereotypical elite CrossFit athlete so different than the stereotypical elite athlete in other sports?
  • [45:14] Jason and Jake’s companies have to establish strategic marketing plans. Placement at events is significant (years ago, they hustled for a main vendor spot at the South Loop Games), along with having the resources to now have representation at sanctionals worldwide.
  • [53:44] The vendor floor is very saturated and companies struggle to break even with giving away free gear on top of paying a high price to have a spot at events.
  • [57:47] Online traffic spikes for a few weeks after a company is present at an event, which could be due to spectators returning to their boxes and showing off their new gear. Giving out discounts doesn’t produce much increase in purchasing but the chance of having referrals in the future makes it worth it.
  • [1:03.58] Priorities change as the Games structure changes – global expansion tactics, prize giveaways with partnerships, and continuing to find further affiliate retail space is essential. Successful worldwide representation is a struggle, but having affiliate owners get on board with carrying gear in their boxes is as well.
  • [1:15.11] More on Jason and Jake: social media accounts, opinions on quality Wisconsin beer, and the story behind BearKompleX’s name.

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The Repugnant Conclusion and why it Violates our Moral Intuitions

The “repugnant conclusion” is an uncomfortable bit of philosophical reasoning first presented by Derek Parfit.
For a detailed discussion of the repugnant conclusion, check out this article from Stanford philosophy.
Here’s a quick summary.
Consider a population where we can measure “well-being” which aggregates everything that makes life worth living into one, rolled-up measure.
(People often get tripped up here, so consider that this includes everything in one aggregate measure. This measure is not quite the same as “happiness.” Pain, loss, sorrow, profundity, fulfillment, pleasure, etc. are all included here – as are the trade-offs between doing something unpleasant to achieve a positive outcome, etc. Any sort of Malthusian population dynamics are also accounted for in this aggregate measure of well-being, as are any amounts of individual dissatisfaction based upon inequality. You may dispute that a single measure can capture all of this information, but, for the sake of this thought experiment, assume that it can.)
Assume we have a population A with a given well-being (the height of the rectangle is the total well-being, and the width of the rectangle is the population).
Then, assume we have a population A+, which is the same as population A, except we are adding an additional population with lower well-being than population A (although everyone still has a relatively high well-being).
Population A+ seems obviously “better” than population A (or at least not worse), as there are more people with positive lives – and the total well-being of the entire group is higher.
Then, assume that there is a population B with the same number of people as population A+.
However, their well-being is averaged across the population such that the total well-being is the same as A+. Rather than having two groups with different well-beings, we now have one group with the same well-being.
This seems to be better (or, again, at least not worse) than A+, which is better, or at least not worse, than A.
If we continually perform this operation, we end up with a population Z with very low well-being (but still net positive lives). 
So, we’ve show that a very large population with lives just barely worth living is preferable to – or at least not worse than – a smaller population with a much higher well-being for each individual.

Feels rather repugnant, doesn’t it?
There have been a lot of attempts to reason around the repugnant conclusion, but many of these attempts themselves result in bizarre conclusions themselves (termed the “sadistic conclusion” and the “absurd conclusion” – see the Stanford article for further discussion.)
I think that the best way around the repugnant conclusion is by questioning the additive properties of well-being. This is touched on here in the Stanford article.
If you asked how many ants would have to have perfect lives to make it acceptable to kill one human being, most people would say “none.” In effect, they are saying that no number of ant lives is worth one human life.
If we frame this in terms of well-being, we can say something like, “Some amount of ant well-being is probably worth sacrificing some amount of human well-being. However, there is a threshold of human well-being below which no amount of increased ant well-being can justify the trade-off.”
I think we can have a similar understanding of the “well-being” of human lives. A single life above a certain threshold of well-being is worth “more” than any number of lives below that threshold of well-being. Below certain thresholds, we cannot simply add lives to get a better outcome.
Think of this like Class A and Class B voting shares in a corporate structure. We could theoretically create an organization such that, while Class B shares are able to vote, they cannot change the outcome of a decision if the majority of Class A shares vote in a certain direction.
We can imagine “tiers” of well-being that are created based upon something like diagnostic criteria for complicated syndromes and disorders. Something like the Beighton score for joint hypermobility – if you have 5 of these 9 criteria, then your life and well-being cannot be offset be anyone with less than these numbers.
While I think this is sufficient to avoid the repugnant conclusion in a philosophical sense, I don’t think that this is why most people find the repugnant conclusion so repugnant.
Instead, I think our intuitions follow something closer to a desert-based approach to human well-being.
Simply by virtue of being human, each individual deserves a certain quality of life.
So, imagining all of these people with net positive lives that are just barely worth living violates our intuitions.
This approach, however, doesn’t quite avoid the repugnant conclusion. Instead, it just moves the line for what we would consider a “net positive life.”
So, now we just have a different threshold above which lives must exist in order to be “positive,” and we can still run through the operations to generate a repugnant conclusion.
However, instead of imagining a huge population of people existing on “potatoes and Muzak,” we are now imagining a huge population existing on – I don’t know – slightly burnt toast, watery coffee, slow WiFi and Trapt.
While maybe not quite as repugnant, I think we now just have a “distasteful conclusion.” Still, I do think this is why most people’s moral intuitions are immediately violated when they first understand the repugnant conclusion.

Coaching the Complicated vs Coaching the Complex

As coaches improve their skillset, they become more adept at pattern-matching and quickly being able to diagnose flaws in someone’s movement or approach to a training session

They also develop more “soft skills” in communication, approaching clients, dealing with emotions, and generally navigating the interpersonal issues surrounding coaching.
We often talk about “best practices” – meaning that there are in, in fact, “best” ways to assess our clients, prescribe a program, and engage in ongoing communication.
However, after reading a bit about Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework, I think that the domain of “best practices” is not necessarily appropriate for thinking about coaching.
When a coach is getting start, they must go through the process of learning how to handle “simple” scenarios. 
If clients are rounding their backs on deadlifts, tell them to stop rounding or go lighter. If clients are going out too fast on long workouts, tell them to back off and slow down. If clients are struggling to put their arms over their head, have them foam roll their upper back and do serratus wall slides.
Each of these scenarios can be put into a basic flowchart of decision-making.
However, everyone who has been coaching for awhile recognizes that this kind of simple decision-making is often inadequate and, in some cases, can be counter-productive.
A lot of these scenarios are “complicated” – meaning that there is a right answer somewhere, but it may be difficult to get to and often requires deep knowledge and expertise. 
And, there’s often more than one way to get to a correct answer.
Why can’t someone get their arms over their head. 
Let’s dig into their breathing patterns. Let’s have them do a variety of different scapular motor control exercises. Let’s have them work on repositioning their ribcage. Let’s have them get soft tissue work to release facilitated and inhibited muscles. Let’s have them try both unilateral and bilateral movements.
The underlying issue could be any of these things, none of these things, or some combination of all of them.
An expert is able to conduct a thorough assessment and come up with a plan that will ideally end with the “correct” outcome for the individual.
A lot of movement correction falls into this bucket.
But, as we move up the layers of abstraction into coaching an individual rather than just fixing a specific movement issue, we are now playing with complexity
Rather than thinking of the human body as something like a Ferrari where you have a schematic and you can figure out the “broken” piece and repair it in order to get everything back on track, we are now have a dynamic system with emergence, bidirectional causality and many layers of competing systems.
There is no schematic, every change you make to the system causes multiple different feedback loops to kick in, and there are huge contributions of randomness and chaos to the actual outcome of coaching someone.
So, what is our role as a coach in such a complex system?
How do we help individuals stick to a workout routine and change their behavior surrounding nutrition?
How do we help athletes maximize their potential in sport – especially when the competitive landscape is constantly changing?
How do we navigate the self-sabotage, lack of consistency, deception, and self-deception typical of working with both every day people and high level athletes?
So, coaches need to “probe” through conversation and try out different prescriptions to see what is working and what is creating buy-in, then attempt to execute on that.
Coaches must also enlist clients to do their own probing to figure out what works for them and to more accurately characterize the obstacles that are holding them back – not just from an exercise perspective, but, more importantly, from a behavioral perspective.
And, when we make changes, we must also recognize that inputs into the system change the system itself, and that there is also always the lurking specter of black swan events like injuries, overtraining, and large life events outside of the gym.
So, some coaches live in flow charts:
Don’t round your back when you deadlift.
Eat one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Push your knees out when you squat.
Some coaches live in nuanced assessments and detailed program design:
Here’s your two week testing period to figure out your relative strengths and weaknesses.
This is a 12 week squatting progression with accessory work meant to strengthen your upper back and improve your front squat relative to your back squat.
These are your macros. Make sure you weigh and measure all of your food, and we will check on that every week.
But, the highest order coaches combine the flow charts with nuanced assessments and detailed designs – and also enlist the clients themselves to probe at what is working and what’s not working so that the real challenges can be uncovered and solved through bottom-up behavior change rather than top-down design.

Scott Young (Author of Ultralearning)

Scott Young

I’ve long been a Scott Young fan from my early days of reading blogs (miss you, Google Reader), so I was thrilled to get the chance to interview him about his new book Ultralearning. 
As a relentless consumer of information and a sometimes autodidact, I’ve found Scott’s blog to be very insightful in terms of approaching new projects and learning skills like coaching and coding without going through a formal educational process. 
With the current ubiquity of information – including entire college curriculums, endless video interviews with world-class experts, and entire industries of online courses – we should be able to learn just about anything we want. 
However, as anyone who has either attempted to learn a new skill or, God forbid, teach someone else a skill has experienced, learning is really, really hard
How can we actually transfer what we learn from theoretical lectures and books to real-life application? How can we practice skills in a way that makes us better at the skill itself – not just at random drills?
Check out the full conversation with Scott to learn:
  • Why listening to lectures, watching videos and reading books doesn’t tend to translate into applicable learning in most areas – and what to do instead so that you can actually transfer the things you learn into real-life practice
  • How to find the right balance between practicing the skill that you’re learning and doing drills – since some drills don’t translate effectively but only practicing the full skill can prevent you from improving on weaknesses
  • What really separates those who are willing to self-educate from those who aren’t – and why the common barriers (“I’m not smart enough,” “I’m not talented enough,” etc.) aren’t accurate

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

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Show Notes:

  • [1:50] Scott seems to understand that learning is most successful in an environment of doing and not in one of reading, lecture attendance, and video watching. However, he’s published a book about learning – so what exactly is its purpose and why did he choose to write it?
  • [4:21] There’s a lot more to learning than simply practicing, as certain skills seem to involve endless amounts of practice while others have more apparent, speedy transfer. Learning becomes more difficult when the type of practice performed deviates from how the skill is used in a real-life setting. Scott gives some examples of when these transfer problems arise and how transfer problems can arise even in learning about theoretical ideas.
  • [8:46] Directness and actual application are significant in order to learn all skills, but the order in which they’re performed matters. A learning strategy is likely transferring effectively when exposure to a skill is direct prior to performing any sort of drill and, once drills are introduced, it becomes important to return back to those situations of direct exposure regularly.
  • [13:01] Skills can be built up individually while lacking functionality outside of largely abstract situations, meaning that drills must be specific and relative to real performance of the skill. Feedback on those drills (and, generally, on performance of the skill being learned) shows to be a nonessential piece of the learning process.
  • [20:12] We can get knowledge into our heads, but accessing a learned skill isn’t done by pulling out a ‘saved’ memory from the brain and feedback is self-generated through realization of what is not able to be recalled – that aspect of retrieval is vital to performance of any skill, making the sophistication of recall more effective than repeated exposure.
  • [24:38] Studies may not be representative of all populations since skills vary so greatly in context – amount of acquired knowledge and ease of retrieval positively correlate, and sample sizes tend to be small. Giving learners opportunities to apply what they’ve learned can be a step toward bridging the gap in education where people review and ‘understand’ concepts but cannot seem to make any real change behaviorally.
  • [25:54] Experience is one of the many reasons experts perform better than novices at almost any skill – an expert’s experience in a particular skill allows them to chunk things together and to see prior patterns, obvious mistakes, and recognition of solutions to problems more readily than a novice, who likely attempts to piece together a multitude of individual parts of a larger concept.
  • [33:13] Learning a skill in order to solve problems rather than to simply know the information and to have it ‘stored’ can improve one’s ability to transfer. Autonomy is a necessity though: being able to apply a skill that you don’t really want to use is unlikely, no matter what super effective strategies or level of established intelligence or personality traits are present. Anyone can learn almost anything if they want to.
  • [43:04] Many people have negative experiences with learning and associate learning struggles with failure. Once you know how to put together a puzzle, it isn’t a puzzle anymore, but confidence and persistent engagement are keys to keep trying at that puzzle.
  • [53:10] Knowledge decay isn’t as serious as many believe because large ideas are retained – making a habit of performing physics problems or speaking in a particular language can help in maintaining those learned skills, but even more abstractly reminding yourself of formulas that exist can be helpful.
  • [57:38] Attitudes surrounding learning are the difference between either merely knowing about many concepts and drowning in self-doubt or having the confidence to succeed in complicated areas of work such as ultra learning. Can we make it prestigious to be a motivated self-educating person?
  • [1:04.35] Being able to copy someone else’s behavior or learn how someone else performs well at a particular skill by being able to watch and communicate with them about the subject can enhance and expedite the learning process. However, it’s possible that this is true in skills with more clearly defined ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs.’
  • [1:14.10] How to get Scott’s book if you want it. And you probably want it. And you probably also want to check out some more Scott content. So here’s how to get all of that.

Links and Resources Mentioned

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