April 15 2015 12:00 AM
I'm a communication skills expert and a lifelong taker of group exercise classes. Recently, I took a new dance-based class with a new fitness instructor and found myself not enjoying it at all. "Was I just annoyed because the teacher I liked wasn't there?" "Do I hate and resist anything new?" Midway through class, I put on my communication skills hat to try and figure out what was happening.

The teacher was smiling broadly and trying to get the class to smile, pose and enjoy ourselves. Nothing wrong with that - in theory - but I was getting the distinct, uncomfortable feeling that she was trying too hard. It made me and a gym buddy of mine in the same class have a decidedly unpleasant workout. This made me curious about what it means to try too hard, how to avoid it and why it makes people so uncomfortable.

The day after class, a friend happened to share with me a New York Times article called "A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying." (John Tierney, 12/15/2014, link below). The article references the work of Dr. Edward Slingerland, a professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia and author of the book: Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity. Dr. Slingerland talks about a concept called, Wu Wei, (Pronounced ooo-way) the Chinese term for "not trying" or "effortless action."

There are two theories about attaining Wu Wei.
1. You work hard at something and eventually get to the point where you can perform that "something" effortlessly.
2. Your gifts are innate and you need to relax and allow them to emerge.

The article states, "However wu wei is attained, there's no debate about the charismatic effect it creates. It conveys an authenticity that makes you attractive, whether you're addressing a crowd or talking to one person."

So what does all this mean for fitness professionals?

In a highly competitive profession like yours, where personality, charisma and likability is the guiding force behind why people choose to work with you, achieving Wu Wei could impact your bottom line.

Here is my way for helping you find Wu Wei
1. Proficiency: Work hard, then forget it:
Training and certification is important but be sure to put in the work needed to gain proficiency; then, once you've achieved a level of expertise – own it, trust it! Let it happen; don't make it happen. And don't think you need to be "perfect" before you own it. "Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection." - Kim Collins

2. Generosity: It's about giving, not getting:
This step may not fall under the traditional art of Wu Wei, however, I think it's extremely important. We often get carried away with how fabulous we are; how up to date and unique the techniques/tips/services we offer are, and we forget that it's all about giving the client an experience and results that will enrich/change their lives. People can feel when an instructor is making it all about them. I know I can.

3. Authenticity – Do YOU! Everybody else is already taken:
There is no one-size-fits-all way to communicate, teach or present yourself. It's tempting to watch a successful colleague and think, "I can teach/train like they do and be equally successful." Unfortunately that's not true. We all have specific communication styles based on both our nature and our nurture. In my book, Standing Ovation Presentations, I've broken down these styles into what I call ActorTypes. It's important to figure out what your authentic communication strengths are and trust that you can use those strengths to be successful. In fact, it's imperative to use those strengths because people can tell when you're "faking it." As the New York Times article states:

"Some people, like politicians and salespeople, can get pretty good at faking spontaneity, but we're constantly looking for ways to expose them. We put presidential candidates through marathon campaigns looking for that one spontaneous moment that reveals their "true" character."

The above quote also explains why I was having such a hard time enjoying that class. Because I sensed the instructor was trying too hard and not trusting her own style, my brain was looking for ways to "expose" her and reveal her "true" character.

So practice your skill. Trust the work you've put into that practice. Let your authentic talents and style shine through. And above all else – care about giving.


How much of your time would you estimate you spend growing your business?