An Approach vs. Method: You can’t get there from here

As for methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have troubel. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve opened many workshops with a slide containing Emerson’s above words. To me it speaks volumes in perspective when working with the human body.

If I knew then what I know now….

How many of us have said that? As health and fitness professionals we should be assuming a best practices, evidence based strategy in our work with clients, athletes and patients. And as new research provides valuable insights along with practical experience, we evolve.

Personally, I have had to completely let go of and modify many of my long standing beliefs about the work I do. From my college experience in the mid ‘80s until today, much has changed. I have worked with chronic pain clients for 20 years, and the last several years alone have brought a monumental shift in the understanding of chronic pain and the neuromatrix involved in its perception. For me, this has influenced how I design exercise programs and how I educate my clients. But it has not changed everything. In fact in many cases it has provided a clearer understanding to why what we do has worked so well for clients who have not been successful elsewhere.

We have referred to what we do as the Function First Approach from day one. I did not name it a method and I did not name it after myself. Why? Because from the beginning I realized that an approach is more of a philosophy geared toward specific objectives AND that a great deal of what I was doing was based on the knowledge I gained from others. A method, on the other hand, is self-limiting and quite honestly a bit presumptive.

Merriam-Webster provides one definition: Method- (1) : a way, technique, or process of or for doing something (2) : a body of skills or techniques

At Function First, our core values are to improve the quality of motion and the quality of life of every client we are given the privilege to work with. Frankly, we can’t do that if we try to force every client into a recipe that we whipped up before we ever met them.

I assume that anyone who has ever called what they do the ___________(fill in a name) Method is very confident and passionate about how and why they do what they do. I would also suggest they have painted themselves into a corner. I personally know several brilliant people who have created a “method” and my point is not to make them wrong. But the reality is that those who have created a method will likely grow and evolve long before any of that information makes its way down to and is applied by their followers.

Holy Grail

Are all the answers in one spot?

So why does this matter? Because practitioners who use or follow one specific method do so at the exclusion of other potential interventions that might help. Dedicated to a guru? If you are, realize that you see the world only through that person’s lens.

Does Facebook drive you crazy reading posts by those ridiculous practitioners and what they are doing with their clients/patients? I bet you can’t even get half way through their blog post or video before you stop in disgust.

Thank God we can scroll down a little further and see a post by that brilliant professional who actually “gets it”. Now this one really knows what he/she is talking about, right?

Or perhaps they both do?

Your disdain for the first post could be what psychologist B.F. Skinner referred to as Cognitive Dissonance-ignoring or refuting other information regardless of how valid if it conflicts with or threatens our views. Your attraction to the second post might have you experiencing Confirmation Bias. This is when we surround ourselves with people that think and act like we do to keep ourselves comfortable in our decisions. We follow their work, use their ideas as our own and become offended and defensive toward those that have opposing views.

Can we grow personally and professionally if we impose these self-induced limitations upon ourselves? For me, the first step was and continues to be the ability to realize whether I am ignoring important facts as I hold on to long standing beliefs that may no longer be valid.

As an educator, it is my responsibility to deliver information accurately and to be clear on communicating that which is evidence based, that which has worked for me and that which has worked for others-which may or may not be evidence based. The good is news is that I have some pretty happy and grateful clients from around the world. The bad news is that they may not have improved for all the reasons I originally thought.

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

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11 Responses to “An Approach vs. Method: You can’t get there from here”

  1. Olea DeFore says:

    I think you are absolutely right!! On all points!! Olea

  2. Deb says:

    Anthony – how timely and wonderful this post is. I had to laugh, because I find myself in the exact same mindset and middle of writing a very similar post. You’ve expressed my words almost to an identical snug fitting T!

    Your post encourages me, because as I always say, when it comes to helping people overcome chronic pain, you are more than just a body. Subscribing to a dogma that only “one method” works, really limits the opportunity to help.

    The way you described your journey parallels my own in such a profound way. I am printing this off and keeping it close by to review and read when I get frustrated by “method”. We have to constantly be open to advances in information and training techniques to truly help our clients heal. Because, after all, we are all more than just a body.

    Thank you so much. You probably have no idea how you’ve encouraged me to go on.

  3. Katherine Crawford says:

    Kudos! Well said!

  4. Ami McMullen says:

    Preach! Well said, AC!

  5. Annette Lang says:

    Anthony, thank you. I don’t understand the motivation or rationale behind doing what you describe, and it does drive me crazy. Is it because you have to seem/be extreme in order to be noticed?
    I hope to get to see you soon.

    • Hi Annette-great to hear from you! I’m not sure what the motivations are but my guess is they vary from person to person. I wrote this as much for myself as others because I’ve found myself being privately and sometime publicly resistive to research that challenged my beliefs. Hope to see you soon to my friend.

  6. Heidi Barajas says:

    I always glean something useful from your postings & information. I do find myself wanting to be more open-minded to different ideas, perceptions and practices while too often falling into the trap of what is comfortable.

    I’m getting much better as I follow & research on my own alternative practices that don’t 100% align with our fitness industry. As much as I’m swayed, I am still frustrated that the fitness industry is slow to catch-up on this philosophy that there are alternatives – some evidence-based and some not.

    I applaud your philosophy and teachings as well as some of those alternatives such as Paul Chek and Dr. Ray Peat. Your posting is a great reminder that I need to better practice being open-minded to different opinions because I have the ability to research and learn the validity of that philosophy and/or practice.

    Keep enlightening us! We are listening and very appreciative!

  7. Cognitive Dissonance is a wide spread problem facing many professional pursuits – in my experience it is especially alive in the field of personal training, rehabilitation and exercise physiology. The term mean – ‘the more you know, the harder it is to learn something knew’. In managing a team of eight Exercise Physiologists – cognitive dissonance is my biggest challenge to overcome in continually developing and challenging their professional knowledge.
    Great article Anthony – well written and a great insight into a major challenge which ‘us’ and an industry must overcome.

    Brendan Rigby
    Exercise Physiologist
    Corrective Exercise Practitioner

    Inspire Fitness for Wellbeing
    Gym, Personal Trainers and Exercise Physiologists

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