Autonomy is the REAL secret to looking hot and feeling strong

Everybody knows the clichéd expression.  The one used to explain to someone why it’s better to teach a person how to do something, as opposed to just show him or her how to do it:

Hand someone a weight, and they’ll lift for a day.  Teach someone how to lift a weight, and they’ll do it for a lifetime.

Nobody really knows where the expression came from.  Some say it’s an ancient proverb preached by a Shaolin Monk as he walked on his fingertips, others claim it was first printed on the insides of a Musashi protein bar.

It tells the story of a man.  Once a week he would wake up and meet his Brozilla trainer for one hour of ‘feel the burn’ exercise.

At the end of the session, he would head home, muscles inflamed and swollen, proud of what he had achieved.

But then he’d eat a meat pie for lunch, pizza for dinner and skip his next two trainer-less workouts because his friends wanted him to go drinking instead, and you know, you don’t want to become a social pariah so you need to have one, two, ten drinks or you won’t be invited out again.

The next week, he’d meet up with his trainer again, bust his gut for an hour, fail the rest of the week and repeat, wondering, all along, why he wasn’t seeing the scales go down.

Sadly, this is stereotypical of many trainer-client relationships.  And, even sadder, the trainers thrive on this parasitic, symbiotic relationship.

“If I teach you how to deadlift by yourself, or where to find the latest fitness information, then you won’t need me, and I won’t be able to pay my bills!” thought every Brozilla trainer ever.

Unfortunately, if this is sounding familiar, your trainer is setting you up for failure… no matter how many times he says, “bro, I can see your triceps.  You’re getting swole!”

Dan Prink, writer of the bestselling novel ‘Drive’, highlights three different elements to motivation in the business world: (1) Autonomy- the desire for freedom or independence, (2) Mastery- the urge to continually get better, and (3) Purpose- the yearning to do what we do for a reason that matters to us.

Herein lies the problem.  Many trainers fail to teach their clients how to be autonomous, and how to function without them by their side, which means they can never reach true mastery.  Instead, trainers simply skip to purpose, today you’ll do exercise A so that you will achieve outcome X.

You cannot succeed in a fitness program without autonomy.  If you are unable to direct your own training, and take ownership of it, you will never achieve mastery and begin to exercise because it’s fun and satisfying.

Teaching an individual how to be autonomous leads to a greater sense of fulfilment and competency in the activity (exercising), a greater increase in intrinsic motivation and a higher participation rate[1]– which means your client is more likely to hit the weights without you there to scream, “it’s all you bro!  It’s all you!”

Which is what you want, right…. Right?

Instead, exercise will remain something you do because the media and glossy magazines preach its importance and your trainer tells you that performing todays Crossfit WOD will get you ripped for Stereosonic.

From a trainer’s perspective, constantly dependant clients are great.  As long as you never teach them how to become autonomous, they’ll never make real progress, and they’ll consistently rely on you for all their nutritional advice and training programs.

Plus, you’ll never have to learn anything new and you can scoff at all those trainers wading through the Internet, trying to ensure they know the latest training and nutritional information to help their clients.  You know the broscience that the six week, impossible to fail, fitness course taught you, and you’ve got the TRX and the kettlebells you brought after seeing Michelle Bridges use them on The Biggest Loser.

From a client’s perspective, it isn’t your job to learn how to become autonomous or achieve mastery within the confines of the gym walls.  If it were, you’d be a trainer.  Which is why, if your trainer isn’t teaching you how to succeed without them, or you’re learning more from some random gym junkie-enthusiast who spends their downtime blogging about fitness because they have little or no life (oops, that’s sounding familiar), then you need to consider getting a new trainer.

And for those of you without a trainer, the buck stops with you.  Thanks to the Internet, there is a wealth of information out there.  I’ve said this before, but pick a mentor (someone like Tony Gentilcore or John Romaniello for men or Nia Shanks or Rachel Guy for women), read their blogs and follow their advice.

The more information you learn, the more empowered you’ll become to go and seek out more exercise and nutrition tidbits and, eventually you’ll begin to ravenously devour and internalise new information until you start truly understand how to get that body and mind you’ve always wanted.

When you feel ready, you’ll begin to branch out and spread your wings.  You’ll reach the mastery stage of motivation.

Then again, you could just keep training with your trainer once a week and wondering why, every year, your clothes are getting just that little bit tighter… what ever floats your boat.

[1] Moustaka FC., Et al. Effects of an autonomy-supportive exercise instructing style on exercise motivation, psychological well-being, and exercise attendance in middle-age women. J Phys Act Health. 2012 Jan;9 (1):138-50.



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