No Excuses, Only Priorities

By Kaitlin Young

In the not so distant past, I split my time between training for fights and working as a personal trainer. It’s a profession that goes hand in hand with fighting very well. Sessions can be scheduled around practices easily.  We’re usually accustomed to gym environments, various training modalities, and a hard-earned ability to work around various ailments and injuries due to personal experience. I also studied exercise physiology in college and had completed my CSCS shortly after, so for me, slipping into training clients was a no brainer.

Are You a Personal Trainer or a Salesperson?

I worked at a variety of gyms in that 10-year span. Some large and commercial, and some small and intimate. A big part of personal training is sales. Unfortunately, being an excellent trainer does not necessarily make one great at sales. Depending on where you work, there will be more or less pressure put upon you by the higher ups to sell, and some places you’ll sooner be let go for poor sales than for poor training sessions. One tactic commonly used to sell sessions is to figure out how to remove a person’s excuses before they can voice them. Most gyms have some sort of intake process where they ask a person about their goals, what they’ve done so far, and any medical concerns they might have. During that time, we’re to ask them about their lifestyle, find out if they make their own financial decisions, and find out why they came to the gym in the first place. Then, later, when the person is presented with the pricing and tells you they have to discuss the purchase with their wife first, you can ask them why they need to discuss it with their wife when they are financially independent. When they aren’t readily willing to commit to coming back to train in two days, you can bring up that their wedding is only six months away and they are running out of time to get fit for that beautiful dress. You can squash their “excuses”. It always struck me as a bit off base, but the concept touches on a greater point that can be valuable for all of us. I don’t really believe their objections are excuses. What a person is communicating with us are their priorities.

What Are Their Priorities?

The person may want to become fit, but it falls behind a number of other priorities that take precedence. Usually when a person visits us in the gym, for fitness or martial arts training, they are at a point in their life where they’d like to re-order their priorities. They’ve been busting their butt raising three kids and working full time and have let their own health fall to the wayside. It’s time for self-care to move up the ladder. As a martial arts coach, you may find people coming to you for other reasons. Maybe they’ve been in a series of abusive relationships, and it’s time to get out and learn how to take care of themselves. Maybe they are a talented fighter who needs help focusing in order to make the most of their career. In any case, the most common reason a person seeks out a coach is to help them with reworking their priorities. In order to rework them, we must first become aware of them. We may not do it consciously, but we are communicating to others what our priorities are all the time

Some Helpful Advice

One of the most helpful bits of advice I ever received was to stop saying “I can’t” when invited or asked to do something — even if only to one’s self. If something is top priority for us, it’s very rare that we can’t do it. It’s usually that we are unwilling to do it, because something else is a higher priority. It’s not that we can’t go out drinking three weeks prior to a fight — we could. It’s just a lower priority than the rest we’d receive staying at home. We could go on that amazing training trip with our friends, but we’d have to sell our vehicle to pull it off, and having a car is a greater priority to us. This is true of the areas that are a little more painful to examine, too. It’s not that we “can’t” remember to stop leaving dishes in the living room and annoying the crap out of our spouse, it’s just not a high priority to us. As in, our spouse’s feelings are not higher priority to us than our own comfort and convenience of not taking that walk to the sink. Ouch. That one feels shitty to admit. Examining the “can’ts” in our life will help us see the order of our priorities real quick. When we don’t like what we see, that will inspire change. We will remain stuck if we are unwilling to see them.

When Excuses Are Priorities

Anyone coaching at a fight gym knows a talented fighter who talks about wanting to be the best in the world, but “can’t” manage to show up on time to practice or some days may not show up at all. When someone doesn’t show up, they’ll certainly have an excuse of some sort, but it isn’t really an excuse, is it? That fighter is telling us about their priorities. If someone says they intend to be the best in the world, we expect that all things fighting will be high up on that list of priorities. If they “can’t” make it in because it’s too early, they have placed sleep and comfort above their training. If they “can’t” make it because it’s their buddy’s birthday, they are placing social obligations over their training. If they “can’t” make it in because they have to work, their job is taking precedence over their training. Now, nobody is going to get too far if they can’t get by financially, so this can be broken down further. Obviously being able to eat is going to have to take precedence over fight training, but are they working more than they need to in order to have their needs met? Are they choosing a job with hours that won’t disrupt their sleep or time with their spouse or children? Are they working extra hours so they can afford a nicer place or car? There’s no shame in doing any of these things, if the person is comfortable with what it indicates about their priorities. The truth is that becoming the best in the world just isn’t all that high on their list. In this way, we’re communicating our priorities to others all the time, and they will treat us accordingly.

There will be times when our priorities shift. If we’re a month out from a fight, our priorities may be quite different from the week after a fight. For example, routine dental cleanings are important, but not important enough to skip practice during a fight camp. We will just make time for it after this upcoming event. This would change drastically if we broke a tooth. Then yes, we may well need to make an emergency visit. All priorities may not be exactly the same all of the time, depending on the circumstances.

Even top athletes will often place the needs of their family above performance in their sport. Occasionally, we’ll hear about someone cutting their career short to donate a kidney to their brother, or taking a break to give a bone marrow transplant to their niece. When the decisions made are in line with our priorities, we can be at peace with them. Even if family, or our significant other, is at the top of that list, we should take care to further examine those decisions as well. Our spouse needing our time and attention to help rehabilitate them after a bad car accident is vastly different from them asking us to stop going to the gym because their ego is threatened by our recent weight loss. We might be comfortable with putting our family’s needs above our progress, but not their insecurities. We should take care to distinguish between the two.

Interpreting the Priorities of Others

People aren’t always accurate when interpreting other people’s priorities, either. When female fighters market themselves as sex objects they’ll sometimes receive snarky remarks or be discredited as less than serious athletes. Is that really the case? I don’t think so. If showing her tush on Instagram is getting her the kind of sponsorship and opportunities where she doesn’t need another job and can rest between training sessions, it sounds like she’s made fighting a higher priority, doesn’t it? Doing a few posts a week is certainly better for her fighting career than working 25 hours a week in an unrelated job. There’s nothing wrong with not choosing to go that route, but the hate toward it is generally misplaced. Individuals outside of our circle will always have their own biases or impressions, and they’re free to think whatever they want. Only we, and maybe those closest to us, need to understand where our priorities lie.

Every decision we make is a decision between two or more priorities. We elevate one and lower another. What is more important at this time? What is more important long-term? Ask yourself these questions ruthlessly. Nobody can answer for us. We’re answering these questions constantly, whether or not we’re answering them consciously.