Yesterday, I wrote about three common objections to Positive Psychology from swim coaches. Today I want to talk about a fourth, that goes way beyond Positive Psychology. Many coaches (myself included) fear new knowledge.
On its face, it seems ridiculous. Coaches are competitive- why would they fear new knowledge that could help them get better. A level below, however, there are a lot of very rational reasons coaches find themselves pushing back against something new.
Fear of Not Knowing (FONK)
Last week I was at the annual gathering of people who have graduated from Penn's Masters in Applied Positive Psychology program. I was inundated by people asking innocent questions that all went like the following:
"Have you ready book/paper/study on concept/idea/practice?"
Even in the field where I consider myself an "exeprt", it is completely impossible to keep up with all the research, all the books and all the new ideas floating in the ether.
My gut reaction is shame. Despite the fact that it is impossible to keep up with everything, I feel embarrassed. I feel like an idiot. That shame makes me feel defensive. So even though I am speaking to a nice person who just wants to have a shared conversation about something they guess we might have common knowledge about, I can start to get a little cranky.
It's good to be aware of this. FONK and the associated shame and defensiveness can keep you away from knowledge that can help you.
Fear of Being Wrong
So let's say you break through your defensiveness and get to learning about a new idea. Very often, a new idea or concept may challenge an existing set of beliefs that you have.
Good coaches are good coaches because they believe very strongly in what they are doing. That strong belief is essential to their swimmers also believing in what they are doing, and that belief is a huge boon to strong results.
Coaches have to walk an incredible tightrope. They must be open to new concepts that challenge their existing beliefs while believing strongly in what they are doing and giving to the swimmers that they coach.
To do so, they need really strong countermeasures to the fear of being wrong. When I started as a coach, I was more scared than anything of being wrong. Doing so made me rigid in my beliefs and heavily critical of others, which was ultimately not very productive to my own coaching development.
But Is It Better?
If, as a coach, you have successfully navigated your FONK, warded off any guilt about potentially being wrong, you will get to evaluate a new belief your existing one. Any good coach will ask themself: is it better?
This is the final fear: the fear of dropping a belief that "works" for something that in your own mind is yet unproven. This is how I feel when I talk to Joel Rollings about streamlines. I can see what he is saying, I am not scared of not knowing it or being wrong. But when it comes to telling swimmers not to streamline, I am scared. Is it really better than streamlining, a belief I have held since about 1992?
Humility, but not modesty
I think the answer to all these questions, at least for me, is humility. I am learning to be humble enough to realize I will never know everything, nor will I always do the right thing or have all the right answers. Even some of the things that I am most confident in, I am humble enough to know that someone out there may have something better.
It's important to draw a distinction here between humility and modesty. Humility is to acknowledge some basic human truths. Modesty is to create false beliefs that you are less than what you are. Modesty is where you lose your strongly held beliefs that are some important to coaching well, without many of the gains of humility.
So I'm staying humble.
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