Managing Expectations – Leanness and Life

One of the biggest challenges I face: managing expectations.

Not just clients, either, mind you, but managing my own expectations has turned out to be quite an enormous pain in the ass. Allow me to illustrate this in typical if-it-ain’t-broke-Jonny-will-break-it fashion:

Jay Ashman, of Ashman Strength Systems, was busting my balls the other day about this photograph: “You look bloated,” he said jokingly, but a point was made that is worth elaborating on

Photo Credit: Chris Bartlett

First, some background about said photograph…

The original photoshoot plan was for me to diet down with Vanessa for her show on June 30th, with a photoshoot to be held either directly before or after. Of course, in accordance with Murphy’s law, this didn’t happen due to a scheduling snafu with the original photographer. Thankfully, our friend Chris Bartlett was willing to do it, but there was a catch: he was only available the weekend of July 16th. Considering we had just dieted over 20 weeks for her prep, this would have placed us at over 22 weeks of dieting. I had already dropped from 235 to 185 and Vanessa, well, had just done a bodybuilding show. The only logical response to the question of dieting a further 15 days:

“Fuck No.”

So we didn’t. I made a concerted effort to hold it together for a few stretches at t time, but for the most part, we just wanted to live.

We wanted Italian food. And Donuts. And Cheescake. AND A SLICE OF PIZZA! WE LIVE IN BROOKLYN FOR FUCKS SAKE!

So, am I bloated here? Yep. A bit. Scroll back up and have a look. This is a candid shot and the image is raw. We are both just standing their naturally, not sucking in or optimizing angles. This shot is just us.

I sure am, but this look as also sustainable for me. I could hold this. Am I shredded? Nah, probably about 4-6 weeks of HARD dieting away from that, but I can look like this AND enjoy cheap champagne as the sun rises at 5:36am.


A lot of times, clients come to us with unrealistic goals…

As such, managing expectations falls into our laps. Many new coaches don’t realize this, and even those of us with experience can struggle here…I’m not going to lie.

During Vanessa’s prep, she happened to be doing cardio one morning, naked, on an eliptical in the living room (there are perks, people…PERKS). This was close to her competition, and I started to see straitions on her glutes, a telltale sign of being shredded to a stupid level.

I walked by like: “I think I want to diet down to straited glutes.”

And she was like:

“No you fucking don’t. You’re not doing a show. You’ve been this lean before. Why would you do this to yourself if you aren’y getting on stage? You don’t REALLY want to make yourself this miserable; you KNOW how much this sucks.”

She was right, of course. Later I’ll talk about “difficult coaching conversations”, so remember this moment.

Moving on:

I’m not a stranger to this process. Striated glutes…for a simple photo shoot? No way, man. If you have ever gotten that lean, you know what I’m talking about. You need a really good “why” for having a level of leanness that extreme, and “just for the hell of it” isn’t good enough. Those of you who have been there are reading this and nodding your heads.

What we sometimes fail to realize, as coaches and leaders, is that our clients may not actually be aware of this. Look, we are inundated with images of ripped and lean people all day long. The sheer volume of content we see could easily lead one to believe that extreme levels of leanness are commonplace and easy to attain. This is one of the main reasons why most people abandon quests for leanness and health: they assume that something is wrong with them when they can’t reach the goal. They get depressed and lose motivation based on an ideal that isn’t sustainable in the first place.

This isn’t their fault, you know.

As members of the fitness industry, it may damn well OUR faults.

I’ll take that responsiblity on. We all should. In fact, reach out to me if you are interested in perhaps changing this…enough of that..

I try my best to keep everything realistic for people.


And yet still…

I often find myself holding on to this crazy ideal and creating unrealistic goals for myself!

Yup. I can get dysmorphic, too. I can get unrealistic. I can take a look at my goals, decide I want to get bigger, then proceed to think I can do that while keeping sharp abs (or any abs at all). That I know better and still engage in this type of behavior is a testament to how pervasive it is and the power our own brains will exert over us when we have a bias…or simply want to be told what we want to hear, at the expense of the cold-hard reality.

Knowing what I know about psych/nutrition/programming, it’s amazing to see how I can fall victim to justifying just about anything I want to based off of bullshit rationalizations and cherry-picking. This, and I’m supposed to be a role model. This irony is almost enough to make me laugh.

Truly. Can we help people if we are stuck in the box of our lens? I suppose I have in spite of myself, but I’m not sure if there is anything positive to be gleaned from this on a personal level. If people are better because of me, then I suppose that’s all that matters and eventually I will figure myself out.

Or I won’t.

There’s always that, too.


So what’s a coach to do?

Frankly, being honest and upfront with people is key, here. Yeah, I know that this requires having numerous “difficult coaching conversations”, but managing expectations from the get-go is only going to help adherance. Properly managed expectations mean realistically set goals. As I have talked about in the Flow article, setting goals that are optimal within the context of one’s abilities vs. the difficulty of said goals is critical in staying in the coveted “State of Flow”. When a client (or us for that matter) thinks that they are going to attain a cover-model look and sustain that indefinitely, we may be setting them up for failure by not bringing them down to Earth, educating them on what goes into extreme leanness, and being frank about their ability to reach that level based on their genetics, the time they are willing to commit, and other obligation/stressors they may currently have.

Difficult coaching conversations are just that – difficult. However, taking a moment to “rip the bandaid”off, so to speak, can pave the way for better adherance, better achievement, and ultimately, a better relationship.

And what do we do about ourselves?

Man, this one is a bit more tricky. I’d say awareness is key, but I’d caution that an outside eye is also needed. Introspection can be a sonofabitch, and bias is a rotten bastard. It’s all so exhausting, really. In the last few months, life changes have caused me to be uber-selective of the company I keep, and I try to maintain a close-knit group of people who are trustworthy while not being “yes-men” It has served me well.