Learning New Skills

When I  start working with a new client, I ask them, how do you think I can help you? The answer is never what a coach would like to hear. I would like to hear some romantic, grandiose version of how awesome coaching can be and how it can change your life for good in ALL the aspects.  But of course, it’s never this. The standard answer is structure and accountability. Which usually translates to: tell me what to do and make me do it.  My very first task is to reframe that idea for my athlete, more than providing structure and accountability what I do is create contexts in which they can find what works best for them, and what they want. I create contexts in which they thrive.

But back to the question. I love this question and hearing how people answer it because it gives me a starting point, an opening. It allows me to start to create trust and to empower my client. I can build trust by focusing on delivering exactly what they are looking for. And by sending the message that my athlete knows what needs to happen, that they have the answer, I empower them to take control of the journey. After all, they don’t need me for info, google does that. They don’t need my program, there are many books written by far better programmers than I on Amazon. What they really need is my support and guidance.

However the fact that most people answer the same thing has made me realize how important structure and accountability are when learning something, or starting a project. More than needing an enforcer, what people need is another person in whom they can confide and express their commitment. The process of saying “okay coach, tell me what to do, and I will do it, I will fucking get that marathon under 3 hours” is not as much as a trust vow in me, as it is a vow to oneself. It is the affirmation of one’s resolve and one’s belief that really does the trick. The contract my athlete and I have is just a metaphor for the pact they have made with themselves. My work then becomes honoring that pact by bringing my experience to the table to save my athlete from making silly mistakes. My support role should express completely that pact, that contract, that affirmation.

Most times when you are trying to learn something or start a new project you don’t have access to a coach, a mentor, or a teacher. Nonetheless, you can still create this contract, this statement of affirmation that will keep you grounded and working. Sure, it might not be as effective or powerful as having an external guide but it is still very productive. Start by doing the exact same thing a coach will do for you.


  • Vision. Where do you see yourself after this project? Where will this project take you? Saying I want to know German is not enough–be more specific. Picture yourself going to Germany, making friends, expanding your culture, learning shit you could never do by just watching documentaries on Netflix. Follow the example of my athlete Barton who loves to snatch. He has a clear vision: he wants to lift till he’s old AF. That drives him to prioritize the quality of movement over everything else. It is the backbone of his “snatch project.”
  • Emotion. Create emotion and tie it to your vision. Imagine how awesome you will feel when you can say you can speak German fluently. Imagine how it will feel cursing like a boss in German. Picture yourself singing along with some delicious German indie techno-pop. Follow Emma’s example she wanted to have a new job where she could have a bigger impact on her school’s culture. She imagined herself getting a job like that and how happy and proud it would make her. She worked and worked until she made that happen. That feeling was her guide, and it even helped her saying no to offers that would not help her get there. Emotion is powerful, use it to your advantage.
  • Superpower. Visualize what will help you with this project. Are you really fucking good at using your phone? Then make sure your phone will be your number one tool -DuoLingo, anyone? Are you an organizational master? Get that spreadsheet out and start working. Create your own curriculum for learning German, week by week, slowly but surely. Find your superpowers and make an explicit plan on how you will use them in this project. Follow Illia’s example, she is a creative beast. When attacking her Sunday meal prepping, she decided to not do the same thing over and over. She made it into a fun creative challenge, she uses her artistry to her advantage. She now eats deliciously and sticks to her plan.
  • Strategy. Have very, very small actionable steps for each day. Find a way to track if you took those steps or not, E A C H   D A Y (HabitBull is a good app for this). Listen, speak, read, or write one phrase in German daily. Learn a new word, a new verb, discover a new German music band. It does not matter how small your step is, quite the opposite. When I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation, my daily actionable step was to write just one word. My schoolmates thought I was an idiot. You will never finish they said. Each day I ended up writing a lot because instead of circling around my computer for four hours I just circled around it for one. Writing just one word is so much less frightening than writing a paragraph. And also there is no excuse for not doing it. Sooner or later I would end up in front of the computer writing. At the end of each day, I could answer yes or no. Some days I wrote pages, some days a paragraph. But I consistently wrote. This daily yes or no also gave me a nice little number at the end of the week. That was my accountability system. It worked way better than any deadline I was given
  • Resolve. You are ready. Write down your pact, and give yourself a final reward, something you really want. For me it’s tattoos. When I finish a big project, I get a tattoo. For your German project, it might be sausage with beer. Or a tattoo of sausage with a beer? 🤷‍♂️

Now go on a find yourself a project, create a nice little pact with yourself, and make it happen. Life builds on momentum. If you get good at this you can get good at anything. Find your personal ink.


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