Ego Oriented Me: Finding What Matters

A Prelude to Ego Oriented vs Task Oriented Motivation

NOTE: I have been asked a lot of questions about Ego Oriented vs. Task Oriented motivational climates. The next few articles will deal with this, and the following antidote will serve as a good segue into the individual topics.

I have this memory of a conversation. I was a child and my father had a standardized test score sheet in his hands. It was an Iowa Test of Basic Skills, if I’m not mistaken, and he was talking to me about areas where I needed to improve. Laughably, the only areas where I WASN’T in the 99th percentile were Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science. Furthermore, I was somewhere between the 90th and 95th percentile in these.

It’s a miracle that I’m not more mentally screwed up than I already am.

I often ponder if my parents TRULY meant well. I’d like to think that creating a child with an Ego Orientation wasn’t their end-game, but it is hard to tell. More likely, they were seeking to fill some sort of gaps in their own lives, by using me. I find it hard to impartially judge the way I was dealt with as a child, because I have no children of my own.

Both academically and athletically, I have alway had an Ego Orientation with regards to my motivation.

I wasn’t sure how to label this prior to my formal education, although I realized that something wasn’t quite right. Granted, I am intelligent enough to excel in various intellectual pursuits, but I also had a tendency to avoid any types of challenges that I didn’t think I could dominate. I did the same thing athletically. It wasn’t about personal mastery of an educational subject or athletic task, it was about looking better than my peers.

As such, I became a rampant self handicapper and failure avoider. I’ve written about this ad nauseam, so click on the links for more details about these particular afflictions. Oftentimes I wonder how many experiences I missed out on because I was more worried about how I compared to others than mastering specific domains.

Being ego oriented is not necessary a bad thing, as I will explain in upcoming articles. This is another grey area, and this type of motivation exists on a continuum with task orientation. To oversimplify: it is ok to be personally Ego Oriented if you are also Task Oriented. However, your overall climate (home, team, etc.) should be Task Oriented lest you lose motivation when you don’t stack up. This will make sense in a few articles.

This type of orientation still creeps up on me. I often find myself comparing myself to others and being reluctant to compete. I claim that I don’t care about getting the highest score in any class I may be taking, but secretly, I do.

We all have Ego Oriented tendencies in certain areas. What are yours? Have you ever thought about this? If so, what are your plans to conquer this and move on?

Stay tuned for more elaboration on this topic.

 

 

Situational Leadership, Coaching, and Being Coached

Different situations require different leadership techniques.

A Naval Officer told me that the reason he wanted me to stay Navy was due to my grasp on situational leadership. I took this as a huge compliment. It is something I always tried to work on. Frankly, it is something that a lot of coaches seem to lack, so if you are looking for a coach/trainer, this is something you definitely need to be aware of.

If you ARE a coach or trainer, it should be an area of focus.

When examining the education of a typical trainer, its plain to see that there is a lack of regulation. Truthfully, I’m not complaining about this. As someone who is currently working to get a Massage Therapy License in New York, I can say that regulations can be a nightmare. However, there is an overall lack of consistency between trainer certifications. This means the education trainers get ranges from comprehensive to complete nonsense.

Interestingly, there isn’t a requirement for actual, practical coaching and situational leadership with most certifications.

Dealing with people is a bit more complicated than writing an exercise program. It gets even more complicated if you are adding nutritional interventions. Optimizing performance makes this EVEN MORE complicated. People aren’t motivated by screaming or by shaming.

Interesting situational leadership

I am often asked about my thoughts on “Bootcamp” styles of training and coaching. Jason Leenarts asked me this when interviewing me on his podcast, my response was straightforward:

Certain types of training have a specific goal in mind. Bootcamp is FANTASTIC…for taking young men and women and preparing them for the structure and regulations of military life. Unfortunately, this type of leadership isn’t needed often, and that INCLUDES after bootcamp, when you are in the military.

Bootcamp type training has a place. Look, I have served almost 13 years in Active Duty Military, and I’ll be the first to tell you that there were more than a few moments when I found myself thankful (and alive) because my basic training kicked in and moved me into action.

However, in normal life, having a trainer running around like Gunny Hartman after finding a jelly doughnut in isn’t going to be the greatest idea, especially if you are looking to have the intrinsic motivation to come back consistently and reach your goals.

 All situations require customization based on your individual needs.

Situations may even change by the day. Heck, I have even modified my coaching strategies in the middle of a client’s session. Either I went easier on them, or turned up the intensity a notch. I realize many people call it a cop out to label things “in the grey area”, but leadership and coaching often falls into this zone, so make sure you have a trainer that is experienced enough to adapt to changing circumstances.

As for trainers: Marketing and Sales are important…critical even, but make sure you are putting time in on the floor and studying the COACHING side of fitness. Situational leadership is also important. Not only will this bring clients better results, it will keep them coming back and keep YOU in business.

Foundations First

I found myself in an interesting Facebook thread – where the original poster was asking trainers what they did to ensure that they instilled success in their client’s programs.

Not in terms of sets, or reps, or rest…rather, in terms of competency and autonomy.

The responses I saw showcased a fairly large hole in the general skill sets in this industry. When faced with a question like that, we respond with what we know. MOST trainers are competent with program design. A FAIR number are competent with corrective exercise and motor learnings.

Very few actually know anything about how to develop motivation and self-efficacy.

This is called “coaching”, by the way.

Almost ALL of the responses dealt with some sort of exercise progressions, exercise form training, and equipment education. None (save a few from Coach Stevo, who is the CEO of Habitry Co. and an AASP certified Sport Pych consultant –  and myself) actually talked about intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy.

Look. When dealing with rank novices, exercise programming is going to be secondary to motivation approximately 100% of the time. We need to establish the foundations first. I know its a cliche, but you can’t build a house on a shitty foundation.

So don’t start a journey to health and fitness on a bad foundation, either.

I’m trained in Corrective Exercise, Nutrition, Neurokinetic Therapy, etc. I get it…programming and movement are critical.

However, when I get a beginner trainee, straight off of the couch, with NO exercise experience, the last thing I’m worried about is how quickly I plan on progressing them from hinge drills with a dowel to single-leg Romanian deadlifts.

Are you kidding me?!

I’m just concerned with getting them to show up 2-3 times per week! To the average trainer, that loves to work out, this may seem absurd, but to a beginner, this is a huge deal.

I can’t execute even the most perfect diet and exercise plan if they don’t actually show up to work with me! Without them there, all else is useless. Therefore, the first thing I’m going to do is develop intrinsic motivation.

  • I’m going to put the client in control, with active goal setting and assessments.
  • I’m going to let them know that they have what it takes to succeed.
  • I’m going to make it known that we are a part of a team.

Autonomy. Competency. Relatedness.

Self Determination Theory – Bolstering intrinsic motivation since 1985

If you get them motivated and confident in the gym, everything else will fall into place and beginning to alter habits and make progress will be an absolute breeze.

So let go of all the fancy stuff and start where you need to be starting: at the beginning. There will be plenty of time for RDLs, Drop Sets, and Deadlifts. 

Foundations first!

Me, Part 4: Pay it forward…

So I’m out of the Navy.

I’m also going through a divorce.

I’m also out of money.

Oh, and my lease is up on my apartment, so I have nowhere to live.

On the bright side, I managed to trade in an awesome BWM for a Fiat 500, and the seats reclined quite nicely, so I’m leaned back and contemplating life.

I HATE asking for help, and only a few people knew the exact depth of the shit I was in. What I didn’t know: help was on the way.

Let me backtrack a bit…for context.


Listen, as a Navy Chief, as a leader, I always prided myself on being fair and impartial. I tried to keep emotion out of decision making processes, and I wasn’t one to hold a grudge or not let someone come back from making a mistake. I’m also really fond of having fun and love to laugh while working.

But…I can be challenging to work for, and that’s putting it rather lightly.

One of my key leadership philosophies: You have to give your people what they NEED…and what they NEED isn’t always what they WANT. This means, that, short-term, people could end up hating you as you work to elevate them to greatness in the long-term.

If this sounds emotionally draining, it’s because it is.

With junior Sailors, this wasn’t too bad, as I believed in empowering my direct reports and the younger Sailors often had interaction with me that was generally positive (unless the REALLY screwed up). Nonetheless, everyone was required to be fully qualified, and knowledge of the technical aspects of the job, including extensive training and studying for examinations, was the norm.

However, with my first line leaders (First Class Petty Officers, for the nautically-inclined), things were a bit different. As my right-hand men and women, these were the people who were training to take my job. These were the people who would have no choice but to take my job if I were to be killed.

In a very real way, inaction or incorrect action on my part could be setting them up for failures in the future. I couldn’t allow them to be ill prepared.

I was BRUTALLY hard on them. I demanded a standard be set. I demanded excellence and accountability. I wasn’t abusive or tyrannical, by any means, but I was unwavering in my expectations.

Learning how far to push someone, both mentally and physically, is an art that needs to be learned through practical application – you can’t simply read about it in a management textbook, or learn it while getting a Personal Trainer Certification. If you don’t push hard enough, someone could never realize their full potential; push too hard and you could break someone, to the point of never regaining their trust.

Leadership is, after all, a privilege. Don’t be dumb enough to think otherwise.

Oftentimes I would lie awake, floating in the middle of the ocean, wondering if I was truly being effective.

Had I done enough for these people who were trusted to my charge?

How would I know?


I got my answer lying awake in my Fiat. I’m not sure who spread the word, but those same people I was so hard on were the ones to reach out.

The general theme: “You gave so much, let us give YOU something.”

Indeed, I was reduced to a blithering idiot while scrolling through all the text messages offering: couches to sleep on, beer (damn Sailors), meals, rooms to rent, or simply someone to talk to. It was overwhelming.

I’ve learned a lot in my life, and will continue to do so, but the lesson here is one that will stick to me forever…

GIVE. Give some more…and continue to give. This is especially true when you are entrusted with the development and well being of people. GIVE. YOUR. ALL.

No, it’s not easy, but by paying things forward, I was given a gift that I cannot place a value on. I was shown a tremendous amount of love by those who I gave a lot of love to, even if they couldn’t see it at the time.

My greatest moment…at my darkest hour.

“About Last Night” – Self-Handicapping

Ah, Self-Handicapping.

I mentioned this in my previous post about Failure Avoidance, and I would be remiss if I didn’t go a bit deeper on this one. As long as I am offering you some performance psychology tidbits to help you with yourself or with clients, I might as well start with the ones I am notorious for using.

After all, I know them quite well.

Self-Handicapping is when we have excuses readily available so that, in the event of a failure, we are able to justify why we didn’t perform well. If this sounds lame, well, it IS lame. As a coach, it is often difficult to keep a straight face if you recognize this, because you almost can’t wait to see the athlete, just to hear what they will come up with next. I cringe, knowing I have driven more than one coach insane by doing this.

Oddly enough, this was a stop on the journey for me. First, I was a failure avoider, but once I took steps to mitigate that with enhanced self awareness and strategic goal setting, I found that self-handicapping crept in.

I wasn’t avoiding competition or challenge anymore, but I sure had a vast array of excuses set up JUST IN CASE things didn’t go as planned:

– “I tweaked my back last week while ceremoniously burning an effigy of my ex, so my squat was not be as good as I wanted it to be.”

– “I had a few beers last night to celebrate Festivus, So my 5k felt awful.”

– “I spent all night moaning about my existential dread…so I wasn’t rested fully for my workout.”

– “My dog is suffering from acute depression, which explains why my heart wasn’t in the Badminton semi-final match.”

And so on, and so on, and so on.

Interestingly, this doesn’t not necessarily suggest a lack of confidence in the handicapper, but rather indicates a preoccupation with winning or performance over other parameters such as: trying one’s best, executing tasks, learning, and improving. EGO over TASK…

This preoccupation has to do with the Goal Orientation we have, as well as the Motivational Climate we find ourselves in. Ultimately these two topics need to be addressed in another post, but it is critical that we move away from an Ego orientation and start to embrace the process.

Unchecked self-handicapping can create negative thinking and set the stage for a multitude of performance degrading thought, mental images, and behaviors. This can snowball into a full-filling prophecy, creating a negative feedback loop the perpetuates bad performance…nasty stuff.

If you, or one of your athletes, is constantly self-handicapping, you need to ask why there is such a need to avoid the perceived embarrassment of “failure”. Most of the tike, this can be traced back to a climate the emphasizes winning and being better than peers over improving and being better than ourselves.

Do you find yourself doing this?

Awareness is key! Be very aware of the language you re using in your own head and question your motivation behind the thoughts you play with.

And, as I’ve stated before, the PROCESS is where the good stuff happens, so embrace it.

 

The Myth: What is Your Story?

Mythology always fascinated me.

In fact, one of the better general education courses that I took was an introduction to comparative mythology, and I found it to be one of those classes that has stuck with my long after my degree was completed. (Part of this had to do with the fact that the professor was an AMAZING Iranian atheist, but that story is for another time.)

Through the ages, myths have been used to describe the unknown; a way to address the hows and whys of the world long before science was capable of giving us the answers…stories of creation, the gods, nature, and the cycle of life.

Myths also provide us with stories of heroes, and the common thread of the Hero’s Journey, as described by Joseph Campbell and others, can be seen in numerous different cultures all over the world. Interestingly, these similarities appear in cultures completely independently of one another, suggesting that these elements of the journey could be latent desires in all of us.

Though the elements of the “hero’s journey” differ depending on the scholar your are studying, all of these myths share a few common themes*:

Departure

The hero is called to adventure…and, often, resists. As well, the hero often is aided by a mentor, who will prepare them for the journey at hand.

Initiation

The hero is tested. This involves numerous trials and tribulations, and often culminates in a “death” and “rebirth”. This is either literal or figurative, depending on the myth being discussed.

Return

Here, the hero returns to the “real world”, often quite reluctantly, with the wisdom, knowledge, and master gained during the adventure.

Does this sound familiar?!

The truth is, we all are heroes, in one way or another. At some point we are all called into the real world, where we will be faced with trials, hardships and struggle. The hero’s journey is a manifestation of OUR journeys.

Mythology provides for explanation and entertainment, but, more importantly, mythological stories pave the way for introspection by leading us to ask:

“What is MY story?”

So, with that being said…

What is it you are currently struggling with, and how will that help you when you return from where you came? How can you see through your struggles as learning experiences that will aid you in the future and lead you to mastery?

Are you currently feeling the call to adventure, but actively resisting Why? What is holding you back? What are you afraid of?

Who can help you take that first step?

What is YOUR story?

*(NOTE: If you are a Star Wars fan, you will clearly see the elements of the Hero’s Journey, as George Lucas consulted EXTENSIVELY with Joseph Campbell during its creation.)

Interlude: What I know

I know that when you lose everything, you find out what you actually have.

And, trust me, you WILL lose much in your life. To think otherwise is naive and unrealistic.

You will fail and fall…

When you find yourself in the position of lacking two nickels to rub together, you realize who only stuck around for your status. When you have to trade in the NEW BMW and downgrade to a leased Fiat, you learn who your real friends are…quickly.

You can say what you want about that car. I LOVED that Fiat. I slept in it for a few days when I din’t have anywhere else to go. It kept me warm when everyone that I thought was a friend gave me the cold shoulder.

I had to lose most of what I owned to realize exactly what I had. I didn’t have luxury cars anymore, not did I have a luxury apartment. The security and benefits of the Navy were long gone, and I was on my own.

Big deal.

I still had food. I still had breath. Hell, I somehow managed to still have a rental home in Virginia that own. I was alive.

Some have it worse.

There is an infant in a neonatal intensive care unit, right now, that won’t make it. Never had a chance. Never did anything to anyone.

And you think you have it bad?

Nope.

I’m in the process of penning an article about “positive thinking”. My formal education is in Sport Psychology, so I am well aware of the power of positive thinking. However, as you’ll see when I talk about this, many gurus miss the point and fail to be realistic.

Failing, falling, and losing are not to be avoided. It’s simply not possible, but, more to the point, it provides valuable lessons: developing perseverance, grit, and the ability to adapt and weather the trails of life.

Because, in case you haven’t figure it out, life isn’t fair.

It isn’t supposed to be.

The Universe doesn’t owe us shit. No explanations, no reasons, nothing.

Sorry.

I know that you can take everything away from me and I will still survive, I will still rise, I will continue to grow and move forward.

How do I know this?

Because it has happened to me.

The Art of Listening

The hardest course I took while working towards my Bachelor’s in Sport Psychology was MOST DEFINITELY Counseling Techniques. This class involved practical applications of counseling techniques and strategies and was a hands-on course. This meant that it required us to act as a therapist for another student, and then get critiqued by other classmates and graded by the professor, who so happened to be a licensed Clinical Psychologist.

Something that becomes glaringly obvious, VERY quickly, in a course like this:

People love to hear themselves talk. Really, REALLY, love to hear themselves talk.

All of us do. I’m not exempt. I, actually, might be one of the worst offenders.

Unfortunately, talking AT people is not conducive to counseling or coaching in the majority of situations. There is a time to talk and instruct, but learning to listen to effectively gather information is a critical skill to develop.

Some of the more impressive sessions occurred when the “therapist” barely said anything, but rather reflected and gave feedback until the “patient” eventually came to their own conclusion about their particular problem after a thorough examination (which is one of the reasons for therapeutic counseling).

Reflecting is a powerful technique that allows you to get clarification on what your client is talking about, encourages further exploration, and let’s the client know that you are listening to them and processing the information that they are giving to you.

For example:

A coach and client are talking about the client’s current workout schedule. After listening intently, the coach reflects by summarizing what the client has said:

COACH: “So, what you are saying is that the 5-day per week workout routine isn’t working for your schedule?”

CLIENT: “Exactly.”

COACH: “Tell me more about what isn’t working…”

This is repeated as long as necessary for full, effective communication to occur.

In the event that the coach reflects, but is incorrect, this ISN’T a bad thing. In fact, it is a GOOD thing, as the client will (nearly 100% of the time) simply correct the reflection, which provides additional information and allows the dialogue to continue.

Foe example:

COACH: “It sounds like you feel as though your nutrition is your biggest reason for poor recovery from your workouts, correct?”

CLIENT: “No. I mean, we are still improving the diet, but I think the main culprit is my lack of sleep, lately.”

COACH: “I see, I wasn’t aware that your sleep has been suffering. Talk to me more about your evenings and what has been going on…”

It’s almost like magic. The only BAD part about this is that it take a whole lot of practice and a whole lot of talking to people in real-life situations in order to really get proficient at this. Sorry, people, but this is not a skill-set that you can master by simply reading about it in a textbook. Hell, I have been formally trained in this and it is still something that I feel i need a TON of work in.

Learning the art of listening, or, rather, the art of keeping one’s mouth shut….it’s easier said than done. But, it is a foundational skill and one that leads to using other, more advanced skills (i.e. “challenging”).

At the end of the day, by using this skill as a coach, I have ultimately found that the client will often tell me the information I need to know EXACTLY how to coach them….

And by using this skill with me, in a coach/athlete relationship, I end up telling them EXACTLY what to work on in accordance with what they need.

 

Me, Part 2: Learning and Leading

My parents wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. I don’t have children, but I suppose thats what happens when you see intellectual potential in a child: you want to see them reach the pinnacle in a profession that society deems to be challenging and prestigious.

There was ONE small problem: Both professions completely disinterested me.

I lacked direction in high school. I was the student who was smart enough to never study and always get high and still maintain decent grades. This resulted in one mediocre semester full of “Incompletes” before I decided to join the Navy.

Why Navy? Simple, they were the only service that didn’t talk to me like I was an idiot. Really…it’s that simple.

By and large, the Navy was very good to me. The Navy is unique in that you attain rank based on both performance AND a test based on your rating (job). I was an Aviation Ordnanceman (AO). I built and loaded weapons on fighter aircraft and maintained the applicable launch systems….and I was really fucking good at it.

So I made rank quickly.

And quickly learned that leadership was, well, pretty hard.

By the time I was 26 or 27, I was a Chief Petty Officer. It’s often hard to relate what this means to a layperson, but you can Google what a “Chief” is. There are 9 Enlited ranks, E1-E9, Chief is E7…Some people try 20 years to attain the rank and never make it…

I did it in 8 years.

I was AOC(AW/SW) Jonathan Pietrunti. I looked like a little kid in my uniform and still had red service stripes, denoting that I had less than 12 years of service…which looks VERY weird on a Chief. They called me “Petey”, “Baby Faced Assassin”, and other manner of obnoxious shit.

Trust me, all wasn’t sunshine and rainbows. In fact, my first year as a Chief was a complete shitshow.

I don’t care how many books you read on management and leadership, there is no way to prepare yourself to the practical implications…some stuff you just have to learn…sometimes you need to be thrown to the dogs. Sometimes you have to sink or swim.

“Fail. Fail again. Fail better”.

And, please, don’t you dare stop learning.

I learned to surround myself with people who were smarter than me in many areas. I learned to admit what I didn’t know and set up plans to correct my deficiencies. I learned to be humble. To admit when I was wrong. To apologize. To discipline in private. To rain public praise on those deserving.

God help you if you came after one of my Sailors without my approval.

This often meant I butted heads with peers and superiors, but that was of little consequence to me. My people were always the priority.

It always baffles me to work for managers who are insecure and try to belittle employees. One of the biggest lessons I learned, which has made me a better leader AND a better COACH, was to empower people around me. To build a team than was inclusive to all members, and to be humble regardless of the amount of position authority had been handed to me. This isn’t just applicable to military environments or athletics…this is LIFE.

Respect is earned, and to get a little, you had better learn to give a little.

To this day, I still admit that I was clueless my first year as a Chief, any Sailors who worked for me, who happen to be reading this, are probably laughing.

By the time I left I had led Bomb Building Operations for the G-3 Division (over 250 personnel), and eventually managed the QA programs for the entire department (330 personnel). People who read my resume often call references to verify that I’m not embellishing things, but its all true. Little old me somehow got a whole bunch of wild young Sailors to work like the most beautiful machine ever conceived.

What did I do. How did I get this done? Nothing, really. My PEOPLE did it all, and I just provided oversight. If there was success, it was their fault. If there was failure…that was on me.

This is a lesson that many coaches and FitPros don’t get, simply because they haven’t been thrown into the fire and forced to survive.

Fortunately, I was…and I survived…and I learned…and I never forgot where I came from.

Of course, al good things must end…but that’s for another day…

Humble Beginnings

I figured I’d start religiously blogging by revealing a bit of myself, so here I am…from the beginning:

When I was younger, I sucked at everything athletic that I ever tried.

For a while, I was reluctant to talk about this, as I feel like it is something all “Fit Pros” SAY as a marketing ploy in order to make prospects feel as though they can relate to them.

I’m not kidding, though. I was horrible. Looking back on it, I wonder if there were moments when my father was flat-out embarrassed by how much of a spaz I was.

I can recall one time, during a little league game, I slid into first base…and missed. Enough said.

Fortunately, any of my athletic shortcomings were overshadowed by my academic abilities. As an adult, I realize this was a blessing, but as a kid, it wasn’t so great for me.

I grew up in Johnston, Rhode Island. A town with a huge Italian population, where being a tough guy was valued more than academic prowess.

I suffered for it.

I was bullied relentlessly. It’s funny to me, because people who didn’t know me back then are often SHOCKED to look at me, see how I carry myself, and know that I was once pummeled and abused. But I was.

I was nerdy and pimply and awkward. I loved books (still do) and loved exploring all aspects of the natural world (still do).

I don’t say this as a sob story. The truth is: I’m so glad if happened. It made me the person that I am today and paved the way for the coach that I am.

I learned to be relentless, because I wasn’t built to be the best, so to even have a shot at being competitive, I had to work.

I learned that I wasn’t hopeless, from a physical standpoint, but that my mentality was timid and shaped by being treated like trash. I lived in fear, and the implications of this mental block laid the foundation for my study of psychology and my pursuit of formal education.

But, perhaps most importantly, I learned the value of being a GOOD PERSON and treating others with respect and dignity. I never lost sight of that nerdy kid who was just looking for someone to be his friend. I see that kid in the mirror every morning.

I once went back in my mind with that little kid. I walked next to him, as a big, strong 210 pound lifter, to return to my childhood and confront those bullies. In that moment, I realized that I didn’t have any hate for them, but rather pity. That’s right…all of those times I was left down in the mud and crying, and it was ME who felt bad for THEM.

Being part of that “macho Italian” scene, they only knew fear: fear of not being a “man” by some bullshit standard. The only knew anger: anger for being insecure and constantly having to prove themselves.

I never had that. My parents loved me for my smarts, my awkwardness, my flaws.

Perhaps this is the reason why I sought to help people. Because I know what it is like to be shunned and abused for your uniqueness against the backdrop of an arbitrary societal standard. Either way, these moments are the keystone of who I am.