santa-hunkA lot of people are traveling to spend time with family this week. People you see only once or twice a year have a habit of noticing very obvious changes in obvious ways. “OMG, you’ve lost weight!” or “OMG, have you been working out?!” Then inevitably, “OMG, what’s your secret?!” When I dropped 60lbs in nine months, I got quite a Christmas grilling from my wife’s family. They asked me 100 questions about my training and my diet and I mistakenly assumed they wanted 100 answers to all those questions. But they didn’t want answers. It took working with clients, and spending time with truly gifted teachers, and doing a few “Q&A with Coach Stevo” sessions before I realized what people are generally looking for when they stoke me for training and diet advice. They wanted to feel normal, and they wanted hope. They wanted to know that there was a Path, and that someone like them could walk it. So before you go home for the holidays, and in the spirit of giving, here’s the Coach Stevo Guide for How to Talk to Anyone About Fitness. Express Empathy You might find these questions annoying, but it takes a lot for someone to admit to themselves they don’t have all the answers. Listen, show you’re listening, and remember to be kind. Telling them to “put down the fork” might be funny (and true), but it’s not going to help anyone who is seriously looking to change and it’s crap for your karma. Just remember the Christmas message of the Scottish preacher Ian Maclaren: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Make It About Them My mother once told me that everyone loves my grandfather not because he is interesting (even though he is), but because he is always, “genuinely interested.” My grandfather has the superpower to turn any conversation back onto you, to ask you “how are you doing?” and really mean it. That is a very valuable skill. If someone is asking you about your diet, ask them about theirs. If someone is asking if you run, ask them if they run and what they enjoy about it. Connect your success to their pending success.

Give Them One Thing Dan John likes to joke that most people are majoring in the minors and I have never seen a teacher so adept and bringing people’s focus back to the right place with a simple turn of phrase. Like every liberal arts major, Dan knows better than anyone that the right answer to every question is usually, “it depends,” but no one leaves a conversation with Dan confused about what to do next. Dan is the master of “keeping the goal the goal” and he does his damnedest to impart that wisdom onto every pupil, no matter how brief or impromptu the class. Just remember that you only need to inspire someone to take single step in the right direction, not make the whole trek tomorrow.

Some Common Pitfalls (and easy outs): Q: “What program do you do?” A: “Program [X] is a good fit for me, but what do you look for in a training program?”

Q: “I heard olives give you cancer.” A: “Yeah, there’s a lot of confusing studies and opinions out there on this stuff, huh? Who’s opinion do you read and trust?”

Q: “Should I do Crossfit?” A: “You know, there are pros and cons to any training program that make them a good fit for some people and less so for others. What matters is finding an environment where you feel safe to learn what works best for you. In my opinion, the best training program is the one that you will do the most consistently and for the longest time. What is it that you like to do now?”

You’ll notice every hypothetical answer ends with a question and while I am quick to philosophize, I gloss over specifics and personal opinions. Because while those may matter a lot to us, it’s usually not what the people we are talking to during the holidays care about. It’s a trick I learned a long time ago as an out atheist: most people don’t want to know how you’re different from them, they want to know how you’re the same.

In the spirit of Christmas, the goal is not to bring anyone over to your side or win new recruits. You’re trying to inspire them to take a step in the right direction. So make them feel it’s possible. Show them there’s a path forward and in the words of Harvey Milk, “you gotta give ‘em hope.”