Actions Not Words

This is sort of a conceptual followup to the Because We Let Them series (along with Because We Let Them: Addendum).  I’ll try to keep it short and to the point, to give you a break after the last monster series.  Also, it gives me the option to better explain something that I fear may have been taken out of context in Because We Let Them: Part 4 when I talked about doing the wrong thing for seemingly the wrong reason (which I’ll address through a comment that was left on the article).

Perhaps my favorite illustration of the point I want to talk about today occurs in the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.  In it, Bruce Lee is going up the stairs and tells his wife Linda “I love you.”  She replies “In all the years we’ve been together, you’ve never said that.” And Bruce replies “But I meant it every day.”  Then he does kung-fu on a wall and dies.

But this really sums up the point I want to make today which is this: actions matter and words don’t.  Well, not usually.  More specifically the words don’t matter when they don’t match the actions. This is a lesson that many take some time to learn, they have to experience the bad parts of this before they finally get it through their head.

Random Examples

Because we’ve all had that person in our lives, someone who says that they are our friend; often they say it repeatedly and incessantly. In fact saying it seems to be all that they do because their actions don’t match that at all.  They only seem to use the word to get something out of us, they always ask for favors yet always seem to be “too busy right now” to help us out if we ask for something back.  It’s the person that we have somehow taken to the airport 14 times yet when we need a ride they are “Just too busy, man.”

They never so much as make an effort to pay when you go out to eat and always seem to “leave their wallet” at home when you do go out.  And if we ever dare call them on it, we invariably get a big rigamarole about how they are our friends or they try to turn it around on us “Man, I thought we were friends, I can’t believe you’re hassling me about this.”  The actions don’t match the words and the actions are all that matters.

The same goes for someone who tells you all the time “I love you” but somehow their actions towards you don’t seem to match.  This happens in romantic relationships, one or the other person will say the words but their actions seem to indicate the opposite.  They treat you disrespectfully or with disdain.  And if you call them on it, you just get more verbal reassurance that they really do love you but the actions just aren’t there.  Just like Ike told Tina.

In a related vein, it’s the same way that two people can go through the ceremony of marriage, wear the clothes, say the words, wear the rings and yet act horribly towards one another.  They cheat, they lie, they abuse.  Yet two people who may never go through the ceremony may act more married than anyone you know.  Because the ritual, the ring, the words are ultimately meaningless; the actions are what matters.  Anybody can say the words, not everybody can perform the actions.

People are often taken advantage of folks who just repeatedly, constantly tell them about “all the great things I can do for you”.  Guys tell chicks this to get them to take off their pants (and girls fall for it sadly which is why guys keep doing it), people do it to other people all the time.  And invariably their promises never actually materialize.   All you get is promise upon promise upon promise and nothing ever seems to come through.  And if you ask them when they are going to come through, all you seem to ever get is excuses and more excuses.  And usually it takes longer for them to make excuses than it would take for them to just do what they said they were going to do.

There’s even an amusing version of this seen in Internet flame wars.  Invariably someone will make some claim (I can bench 700 lbs raw or they are 230 lbs and 6% body fat) and when you ask them for proof they will literally spend hours, days, weeks explaining to you why they can’t prove it to you (or don’t feel like they have to).  And it’s not like it’s 1970 when video/digital cameras are tough to come by. Every camera on the planet can shoot video or a still at this point.  And in cases like this it would be 100X faster for the person to just shoot the video than they spent explaining to you why they couldn’t.

I saw a related example of this with a friend on a personal dating site.  She was approached by a man with no picture in his profile that made her a lot of promises and a lot of claims.  Well, looks were important to her and she asked him for a recent picture.  He took the time to reply that he didn’t have any.  She asked him to take one and he said he had no way to do it.  Now, understand the context, the guy was pretending to be a hot shot big time businessman who made oodles of money. And every laptap and every phone and just about every digital device on the planet has a camera on it at this point.  He spent two email exchanges making lame excuses for why he couldn’t take a picture when it would have taken him 0.3 seconds to snap one with his laptop camera and mail it to her.

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Show Me, Don’t Tell Me

Because the reality is this: if someone is going to demonstrate that they are a friend, a lover, whatever, they will do it by showing you rather than by ONLY telling you.  I don’t have to tell my friends that I am their friend, I show them through my actions.  And vice versa. Someone who truly loves you may say the words as well but they should, on the whole, show you their love through their actions.  The words only support the actions if the actions are there in the first place; the words can’t replace the actions.

Someone who says “I respect you” shouldn’t have to say it, they will show you that respect through their actions.  Someone who is making promises won’t just sit there and promise you over and over, they will simply come through and show you through their actions that they aren’t blowing smoke.  Because the actions matter and the words don’t (again, unless they accompany the actions).

Quite in fact, many find out the hard way that the more someone tells you something (or feels the need to tell you something) the less likely it is to be true.  Because if it’s true, their actions will demonstrate it.  And when it isn’t true they have to keep verbally reassuring you about it. It’s like when someone puts in a personal ad “I’m very funny.”  It means that they aren’t.  Because if they were funny, they’d DO something that makes you laugh or that is funny.  They wouldn’t simply tell you and hope you buy it.    Because if they have to keep telling you something is true, odds are it’s not.  If it were, they’d just show you.

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The Point of All of This

In Because We Let Them: Part 4 in the section on “Doing the Wrong Thing for (Seemingly) the Right Reason”, I made the point about my coach and some of his skaters and how he let them get away with endless bullshit because he was afraid of ‘losing’ them to the sport.  And someone left the following comment that I want to address that ties into all of the rambling above.  His comment in full:

So why would they magically stop doing it?” Maybe you can explain the error of my thought process, but when I look at the bottom 20% of my class, I tend to assume “there’s something else going on here”. Their performance improves when the other stresses in their lives get dealt with, and at some level my job right then is to keep them from falling completely off the radar. I agree the teacher has a responsibility not to let the other people suffer, but I do think there’s a purpose in inclusivity, in acknowledging that people’s investment in anything ebbs and flows. Chronic lateness is a typical example – I’ve had classes and jobs where it fit my schedule and lifestyle, and other ones where I was jumping through 5 hoops and 10% of the time I missed one of them and was 10-15 minutes late. I did end a 10-year hobby due to a coach who decided to take the hard-ass approach about this; I’m not getting paid to be there, it’s something that gets slotted in between my career and exams and family, it would have cost her nothing to be inclusive and it seemed like more of an ego trip than anything meaningful. Do people who are 75% or 90% committed add nothing to your sport?

Now I don’t know if he’s just projecting his own crap onto me, didn’t read what I was saying carefully or I wasn’t clear because I was typing quickly and ran out of space but I want to explain what I was getting at in some detail.  I’ll be honest I suspect the first given his own experience with a hard-assed coach who kicked him off the squad and he’s just projecting (i.e. what he heard me say and what I said are not the same thing).  But no matter, here’s the explanation.

First and foremost, I was absolutely NOT talking about athletes who are doing their best to make it on time and are a bit late because their life is crazy or they are coming from work or whatever.   These types of folks are invariably trying their damnedest to get it done, they always let the coach know when/if they are going to be late, do the extra work as needed that they can’t get, that sort of thing. 

Their actions demonstrate that they are serious and doing their best given the situation.  Hell, even on the roughly three occasions I couldn’t make practice during my time in SLC I made sure and left my coach a message about why it happened (i.e. one day my car blew up and I had to go get a new one) and why I wasn’t there.

Rather, the type of athlete I was describing were people with nothing else in their lives who just couldn’t be bothered to show up on time or warm-up or do anything of the things that they needed to do.  They’d disappear for weeks with no explanation, be late for practice for no reason at all, you know the type.  And I didn’t explain that because I didn’t have space to be totally comprehensive although I almost addressed that very issue.  So now I’ll address it.

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The Only Good Absolut is Vodka

When you know that the athlete is doing their best to make it and have a crazy life that’s one thing; they’ll show you with other actions that they are serious and deserve to be a trainee.  They’ll work their nuts off, explain to you when and why they will be late and they won’t make excuses. Or they’ll make up what they missed on their own time. Or whatever.   As above, their global actions indicate what’s going on and that they are doing the best that they can. And it would be absurd to suggest that such an athlete should be fired because of it.   Their actions show that they are doing their best given the circumstances of their situation and it would be absurd to be an absolutist in this case even if that’s what happened to this individual.

Rather I was talking about a situation of folks who literally just choose not to come to practice, who just couldn’t be bothered to do the stuff that wasn’t fun to them like warm-ups, drills or cool-downs.  One of the athletes I was specifically referring too took this to an extreme I’ve rarely seen.  In the final year I was in SLC, he decided that he just wasn’t going to do inline skating because he didn’t enjoy it. And said the bike hurt his knee so he skipped it.  And didn’t like short track either so he skipped that.    But he liked dryland endurance in the summer and long-track when they put the ice in.  So during our 20 weeks of summer preparation, he made 2 of the 8 scheduled workouts per week.   Because those are the only ones he enjoyed.

And then when he wasn’t making the progress he wanted, he decided that what he really needed was to fly out and drop $2000 on custom boots.  Mind you, this was a guy who skipped 6 of our 8 weekly workouts and simply couldn’t be bothered to warm-up, do drills or cool-down.  Not because he was busy or had to be somewhere.  He just couldn’t be bothered.  Then when he still wasn’t making progress, he decided that he needed to hire an outside strength and conditioning coach.  And when my coach said no, he accused my coach of “Holding him back” and quit the team.  And my coach let all of this go on out of fear of “losing him to the sport.”

Another skater would tell my coach every year that she was “going to get it together” and she’d be good for about 2 weeks and then start missing practice.  She bitched constantly about being broke but would show up to practice with $4 cups of coffee.   I once went out of my way to set up a time to meet her at the gym to show her our bike workouts.  Not only did she not show up, she NEVER so much as apologized to me for having wasted my time.  She just couldn’t be bothered.

One year she was gone for like 6 months, just didn’t show up.  Then she came back to practice having done NOTHING to maintain her fitness.  She’d skate 2 laps, get tired and quit and collapse and then bitch about her lack of fitness.  She wasn’t willing to even put in 5% of the effort to meet the goal that she stated she wanted to reach and this went on for damn near 4 years because my coach let it happen. She’d disappear for 3 months and show up and my coach would try to “catch her up”.   And this was all while saying that she had a goal of making the Olympic team.

Those are the types of athletes that I was talking about in Because We Let Them: Part 4 when I talked about the need to get rid of the fuckups in your life as a trainer or coach.   Not the ones trying their best against tough real-life situations.  See the difference?

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The Realties of Reality

Which brings me to my second point, addressing my commenter’s last sentence since, again, he’s taking what I wrote and completely misinterpreting it.  Because I was absolutely not saying that someone who can’t devote themselves 100% to an activity is useless or should be fired.  I said no such thing and I implied no such thing and I consider the idea idiotic at a fundamental level.  That’s just him projecting.  Not everybody wants to reach a high level in an activity and so long as they are clear on that, I’m perfectly ok with that.  Please read that sentence 4 or 5 times until you get it.

Case in point, I remember clients I had back in the day, this was at a wellness center and I ended up working with a lot of nurses (a job filled with stress and crazy time requirements).  I remember asking one if she wanted to talk about diet or weight loss.  She said, matter of factly “No, I’m not interested.  I’m interested in only the exercise part and I’m not worried about my eating habits or losing weight.” 

And that was perfectly fine.  She was absolutely clear on what she did and didn’t want to accomplish and what she was and was not willing to do. I let her know that if she ever did want to talk about it to bring it up and I didn’t pressure her beyond that.  Her goals were clear, her words matched her actions, there’s no problem.

Contrast that to the typical client who says “I really want to lose weight/fat.”  And when you suggest a dietary change they say “I can’t do that.”  And when you tell them that means more activity, they tell you “I don’t have time for that.”  And then you go “Ok, let me get my magic wand because that’s all I’ve got left.” 

See the difference?

And it’s that second situation that I was describing in the original Because We Let Them article series when I talked about my coach’s other skaters.  Because these were not skaters who just wanted to do the activity recreationally or for fun (see below).  Rather, their explicit stated goal was “Make Olympics Trials” or “Make an Olympic Team.”  They stated outright that that was their goal.  And then did anywhere from 5-20% of what might be realistically expected to have even a remote chance of achieving that goal.  And then bitched about not progressing.

And which my coach allowed them to do by not punishing it.  He let them continue in this asinine belief that they could just “walk onto” the Olympic team by doing what they were doing because he wouldn’t punish them.  But ultimately their actions did not match their words.  What they said they wanted to accomplish and what their actions demonstrated they were willing to do (nothing) did not match.  And by allowing it to occur, my coach not only let these people waste their times and lives but allowed it to impact on his skaters who were serious.

Because practice was interrupted, or because my coach would spend weeks trying to get these skaters “caught up” and then he’d get sick and I’d lose him for 2 weeks.  By coddling them, he not only sent THEM the wrong message, but ultimately allowed his serious skaters to be punished indirectly.  And that’s not fair to anyone involved.  And that was the context of my statements in Part 4 about doing folks no favors by coddling their bullshit.  This just happened to go deeper than that because in coddling their bullshit, he negatively impacted on everyone (incluing his own mental and physical health).  And he did it for the wrong reason.  He should have given them consequences and if they didn’t change their behaviors, fired them.  Period.

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Skating for Fun?

In contrast, to keep driving this point home, my coach also had some purely recreational skaters.  They wanted to learn to skate, have fun, do some time trials and that was it.  They skated club ice and showed up sporadically when their schedule allowed.  They weren’t trying to achieve anything more than that and they did exactly what they were comfortable doing. And I have exactly no problem with that for a number of reasons.

First, they didn’t impact on me.  We trained at different times and their presence had no impact on me one way or another.  Secondly, their stated goals, actions and words all matched, just like my nurse example above.  They were there to have fun (inasmuch as ice speed skating is fun) and put in exactly the effort they were willing to invest.  Fantastic.   Because I was never saying that anybody who engages in an activity with less than 100% investment is worthless or should be fired.  Not in the least.  Nor would I ever suggest such a person be told to get out of that activity.  That’s moronic and I neither said nor implied any such thing.  My commenter was reading something into my words that I never said.

It’s when someone says one thing and does another, or it’s clear that their stated goal and their willingness or actions to achieve that goal are at odds (and again I’m not talking about someone doing their damnedest against harsh life situations to achieve their goals; I am specifically talking about people consciously being unwilling to do what they need to do) with one another that I have an issue.  And that’s where the information in the Because We Let Them series comes into play.  And I hope that is now exceedingly clear.

And, hey, be glad it didn’t take me 15 parts to talk about.

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