Before I was in the wonderful world of fitness, I did the internet marketing thing. Specifically I looked at numbers and made recommendations for how to tweak websites to make them sell more stuff. The world of website analytics revolves around “key metrics.” Unique visits, time-on-site, and above all: conversions. Conversions are the number of people you “converted” into customers. Which doesn’t sound creepy at all, right? But creepy or not, when conversions went up, everyone in the room knew something was working. There could be a lot of things contributing to conversions, but conversions up? Good. Conversions down? Bad. That’s a key metric. Now that I’m a coach, there are still numbers that I like to look at. Is the load going up? Is bodyfat going down? But the key metric that I have settled on in my new career has been client confidence. Is confidence going up? Good. Is confidence going down? Bad.
The major thing to know about key metrics is that you often don’t know why they are moving up or down. They are a snapshot of information that is comprised of so many moving parts that knowing why they are moving the way they are often takes further investigation. But it’s precisely because they take into account so many different things that you know everything is peachy when the key metric is on the rise. Here is why I love confidence as a key metric.
KStarr says that mobility is being able to “get into and maintain a position.” I would add, “with confidence.” Someone dropping into an airsquat for the very first time is rarely the picture of confidence. Their whole body is screaming to their brain, “you shouldn’t be here! We’re all gonna die!” But the position is just new to them. Anything you can do to increase their confidence down there will often yield a more stable position. Hand them a bell as a counter balance. Tell them to push their knees out with their elbows. Maybe place your leg behind them and ask them to puff out their chest. None of these queues change the position, they just effect the confidence the person has in that position. And on the flip-side, if I see client confidence going up globally, mobility is usually on the rise as well.
If mobility is being able to get into and maintain a position, then strength is when your body is confident that it can do it under load. Watch a beginner try to press a 12kg kettlebell. There’s very little I would describe as “confidence” going on there. Now watch a strong person move. The body seems to act as one piece, even under moments of extreme force or resistance. The body is confident that it will survive under load and responds to such loads with grace. As clients get stronger and move greater loads more masterfully, they often respond with greater confidence that they can move even greater loads. This feeds their belief that they can do just about anything well. Watch a middle-aged woman deadlift her bodyweight for reps and crack out a pull up. She’s gonna tell everyone she knows about it. That’s confidence.
A year earlier, if I asked that same lady to tell me on a scale between 1-10 how confident she was that she would pull 145lbs off the floor in a year, do you have any idea what she would have told me? Well I did ask her and she told me, “somewhere between 0-2.” At the last Booty Camp of the year though, when I loaded up the plates she told me “9 or 10.” Of course, I didn’t tell her it was 145lbs. I just told her it was more than the last time we had deadlifted and the confidence rose with the weight week by week. But you should know that 80% confidence in attaining a goal does not have a statistically different chance of success than 0% confidence in attaining a goal. Set reasonable short term goals and let the long-term goals take care of themselves. Have the courage to aim low, but often. If I see my clients' confidence in their abilities rise with each short-term goal, I know we are headed in the right direction and at the proper pace.
Ego-depletion is a thing. But with great respect to Mr. Ariely's fine summary, it’s a complicated thing. Yes, you have a biochemically limited amount of decisions and resisted temptations in your daily life. Willpower is limited; but it’s also trainable. And according to Job, Dweck, & Walton (2010) a main mitigator of ego-depletion is confidence. In short, if a client is confident that he or she can do something, it’s likely going to get done. Completion of a short-term goal will increase the client’s confidence in their ability to complete the next, slightly harder short-term goal. And guess what? It’ll get done too. Willpower will increase and confidence will increase in kind.
All of these physical and mental qualities that are so important to lifelong fitness and happiness are dynamic. They change a lot. As a coach I’d go nuts trying to track every little piece that went into every one of these metrics every single day. But all these qualities feed into global client confidence. If a client deadlifted 145lb last week but can’t handle 135lb today, I’m not worried if she tells me, “I’m OK. I just don’t have it today. I’ll get it another week.” Because I can hear the confidence in her attitude. The key metric is up. But if she gets 145lbs off the ground and her low back is rounded, I can see that the confidence isn’t there. The metric is down. Time for us to readjust. And as I learned from my old career, the point isn’t knowing every number: it’s knowing the trends on the metrics that matter.