A Lesson In Choosing Our Words

imageHow we say something is every bit as important as what we say.

I was made aware of that again this week as I started on a new health and fitness program at our local health club. I’d already been through the whole trainer routine, and it had been hugely disappointing for me. Each session had been a nail in the coffin on my purpose to try new things and discover the lost athlete inside. All that happened – thank goodness it was free – was that I confirmed that if there ever was an athlete inside, she’d long ago packed up and found her own way to a beach house in Hawaii. She was most definitely not still hanging with me.

So when I arrived for my first “complimentary” session of a new 16-week fitness class this past Thursday evening, I wasn’t all that hopeful it would be a good fit. I had plenty of reasons to be skeptical. After all, I’d been invited to not return to a Salsa Class, been laughed out of Zumba by some pretty unkind ladies. But I was game to give it another try.

I arrived at the front desk and asked for Leanne. One of the staff members walked me down to a packed class in progress, and as I saw the group throwing high kicks and punching in the air, I was ready to run away when the employee said, “She’s teaching martial arts right now, but she gets out in ten minutes. Just wait for her here, and she’ll walk you up to the other class.”

I waited and watched her through the window. She moved through the rows of fiercely kicking students, touching one student’s arm to help find the right placement and then giving thumbs-up to another. She smiled – a lot. And when the class was over, she spent probably five minutes hugging students on her way out.

“Oh, good, she a hugger,” I thought. You can’t have too much of the mean-girl, judgmental syndrome if you’re a hugger.

I introduced myself to her as she exited the class, and her face lit up immediately. She talked nonstop as we made our way upstairs where the rest of the group were warming up on treadmills. She told me about each of the ladies by name, why they’d come to her class and what she liked about them as individuals. She introduced me around and without making a big deal of things, gave us our next task of the night. She stopped me several times over the next hours to modify an exercise to not strain my shoulder with an old injury or to help me stretch out a tight muscle that was preventing me from completing the task effectively.

But it was the way she chose to speak to me and the rest of the group that had the greatest impact on me. My last trainer, with his bulging muscles twitching under his skin-tight shirt, had started our first session with a set of measurements to, as he put it, “see just how far I had to go to reach goal”. I was pretty sure after seeing the numbers I was never reaching goal.

Leanne was different. “Ooh,” she said, as if she was planning something exciting, “we have got to get you back in here right away to get measured so you can track ever single step of the progress you make. We don’t want to wait where you might miss some of it.”

It hit me that night, the extreme power to influence that we hold just in our choice of words. But hers wasn’t just words, it was an entire attitude of positivity and hopefulness that backed them up. And it worked. I loved the class – even the painfully awkward moves that mixed yoga, pilates and a bit of martial arts. And I pulled myself away from a cozy fire and a warm cup of coffee to do more of the same this morning.

And I left happy. Me. The awkward, clumsy, nonathletic me. I was marching up and down stairs with a medicine ball held high over my head. I was doing squats with weights. And downward dogs – or something like that. And she not only made me think I could do all of it, but she helped me enjoy the process and feel the joy of finishing a new challenge.

My goal is to be more like Leanne. Yes, I’d like to be just as fit as she is – she’s a bit of a mix between girly and I-could-clean-your-clock-if-I-wanted-to. But I also want to make sure that the way I’m saying things is just as carefully thought out as what I’ve chosen to say. I’m in luck – I’ll get to listen to her for the next sixteen weeks, so I’ll have plenty of time to practice.

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