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Part One: The Growth Process

To empower growth. That is my WHY. I wake up every morning striving to be a better version of myself, as compared to who I was the day before, and I want to help others do the same. While growth can take many forms, my question is: What are the underlying principles and phases of growth? Part one of this article will attempt to answer this question by discussing what I have come to know as The Growth Process. How can we grow as individuals; what are the basic steps? Why is balance important? Why should you want to jump into The Grey Area? We all want to improve and become better at the passions that consume us, but where do we start? While part one will emphasize the process, part two of this article will attempt to put The Growth Process into motion by discussing one specific topic; one specific area of understanding I have come to know, and continue to push myself to understand deeper.

Training, similar to life, is about balance. Pushing hard, but not too hard. Promoting damage, but only enough to achieve positive adaptations. Eating healthy, but still eating one of those glazed donuts every once in awhile (yep, guilty). Jocko Willink preaches about how leadership is about balance. Balancing all of the dichotomies that come with being a leader: “Confident but not cocky; courageous but not foolheartedly; competitive but a gracious loser; attentive to details but not obsessed by them…” (1). The list goes on. We all lead differently, just as we all think differently, move differently, act differently. We all balance the dichotomies of life differently. We all sit at different points on the endless spectrums.

Push-ups... Yes or no? The answer is it depends; on the athlete, their training background, their goals, etc. Live in The Grey Area

I’ve seen coaches fight over the use of a speed ladder. I use a ton of variably loaded movements; the coach next to me does not. One coach doesn’t believe in the weight room; one doesn’t leave the weight room. But, what is right? That is by far the question I have struggled with most since entering the strength and conditioning world and I think it can be applied to many different subject matters. I come from an accounting background (long story), and while I didn’t love the overall subject of accounting (for many reasons), one thing that it did have to offer is a solution. One way is correct, one is incorrect, and there is very little grey area in between. It is within this structured, black and white subject matter that I came to realize growth has a difficult time being present. I am not saying it can’t be or that it does not exist. I am saying individual growth is much less original and more standardized/linear in subject matter in which there are direct answers. Is growth truly occurring here or are we memorizing the correct answers?

There are many (assumed) black and white ideals in our world (nutrition is a big one that comes to my mind; we all know a Keto guy), and while firmly choosing one side of the spectrum can give you a sense of ownership and community, I challenge you to always reside in the middle area, The Grey Area. You do not need to choose only one way of lifting, one theory of nutrition, one way of leading, etc. To me, The Grey Area, the balancing act, finding the middle ground, whatever it is you want to call it, is what initiates the need for deeper understanding, which in turn will lead to growth. Throughout my experiences, research, and learning in the realm of strength and conditioning I have come to realize: there is NOT one “correct” solution to the problem, nor will there probably ever be. The "correct" solution, is not a point on the spectrum but rather an area that lies in the blurred landscape in between differing ideals, and the individual that can understand the spectrum in totality will have the most success navigating this area, The Grey Area.

The Grey Area can be intimidating, confusing, and straight up messy. So how does this lead to growth? Wouldn’t it just be easier to know what is right and wrong and be able to grow by finding the right answer? How can we grow when there isn’t a correct solution? The process of searching for the answer, the process of understanding deeper and critically thinking, is what will lead to growth. Results are important, and can serve as a helpful sidekick, but true growth occurs during the process.

The first phase of The Growth Process is to understand; not just the tip of the iceberg, but understand what lies underneath. Don’t stop at understanding WHAT, dig deep to understand WHY.

- Why is that coach programming that exercise?

- Why did I fail?

- Why am I struggling to lose weight?

- Why might Crossfit not be the best way?

- Why is that Carter dude using so many resistance bands?

No, I do not have anything against Keto or Crossfit (in fact, I considered myself a “crossfitter” for 6 months), however, I do have an issue with the stereotypical individual who believes their way is the only way and totally cuts out all other opinions opposing their own, declaring them useless. This same individual, while residing outside of The Grey Area, has successfully cut-off all external pathways to growth by not allowing a deeper understanding. Vice versa, the individual that maintains certain beliefs, but continues to question them, ask WHY, and envelopes themselves in The Growth Process will continue to improve upon their current beliefs and become a better version of themselves. I am not saying all of our prior beliefs need to change. I am saying they need to be constantly questioned. Live in The Grey Area, live in the confusion, live with the purpose of understanding deeper and growth will take hold.

By developing an understanding, we can then produce critical thinking. We cannot think deeply about something that we do not first understand. This is the second phase of The Growth Process and it requires an internalization (or externalization if you’re working with others) of the understanding developed in Phase 1.

- How can I incorporate that exercise into my own (my athlete’s) training?

- How can I improve for next time?

- How can I increase my activity levels within my busy schedule?

- How could I evolve my Crossfit training in order to better fit my goals?

- I still don’t get why Carter uses so many bands… (Stay tuned for Part Two of this article.)

Through this vehicle of critical thinking, internalizing (externalizing) our understanding, we can begin to translate that understanding into an action plan. Critical thinking is the essential transition phase between understanding and growth. However, not until we put this thinking into action will we reap the rewards of The Growth Process, and this is Phase 3: Empower Growth. Phase 3 requires becoming a doer and enrolling the action plan discovered in Phase 2. It is the true attempt to climb out of The Grey Area. We may have success, we may fail, however, it is through this process of diving into and then fighting our way out of The Grey Area that will move us closer to the final solution we crave, only to realize, there may not be a correct solution in the end. This is because, once we think we have found the answer, we believe we have completed The Growth Process, it is now time again to understand deeper, question if there is a better way, and ask WHY. Growth is a never ending process, and therefore join me, and dive into the beautiful, never-ending realm I call The Grey Area.

Be sure to come take the leap with me next week during Part Two of this article (sign up for the Newletter to be the first one to know when it drops) as we will dive into a specific subject together in the attempts of creating a deeper understanding. This understanding will allow us the opportunity to internalize (externalize) a new idea and continue navigating the always present, loaded one-word question: WHY?


About the Author:

I graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a business degree in accounting and a minor in exercise science. Further, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to intern under two highly experienced strength and conditioning coaches (the man Austin Jochum being one of them). I have trained athletes, both men and women, ranging from middle school, to collegiate athletes, to those 65+ years young. Covering a wide spectrum of the human athlete, I have learned something different from each one of them. I played football all four of my years at the University of St. Thomas, as long as we consider being a kicker, "Playing Football." I have always had two central passions: Learning and human performance. Because of this, I will be attending graduate school, pursuing a masters degree (and potentially a PhD, we'll see what the bank account thinks of that idea later) in Kinesiology. After that, I will be pursuing a future in understanding deeper and empowering growth; the vehicle of that future is still to be decided.

1. Willink, Jocko, and Leif Babin. The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win. St. Martin's Press, 2018.

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