What's Holding You Back?

In a gym, a woman attempts to run while a coach holds her back with a thick rope tied around her waist.

This is a hard post to write. It might be a hard post to read. But these are the truths I’ve had to face about myself to make my gym successful.
The thing that stops our gyms from growing isn’t lack of knowledge. It’s certainly not lack of ideas. It’s usually our own self-limiting behaviors and beliefs.
Here’s a great example: When I found my first mentor, I thought, “I need better marketing.” It took an objective third party to say, “You have no systems. You’re yawning in front of your clients. Your staff don’t feel secure. And you’re mad all the time.”
When we take clients through the Two-Brain Incubator, we know we’re taking them through a process that often requires them to change their beliefs. We can say, “Discounts are bad. Here’s why you need to eliminate them and how to do it.” But, as I’ve written all week, changing behavior means more than informing the rider; it means motivating the elephant.
Gym owners usually don’t want to change their beliefs. Their brains wriggle around, trying to find an easier way. They procrastinate. Sometimes they argue. The elephant doesn’t want to follow the hard path.
Trust me: I face tough decisions and hard conversations all the time. I still try to avoid them. My rider is very informed, but the elephant in my head has its own ideas.
Self-examination is critical for the growth of your business and your growth as a leader. I needed my first mentor to perform this examination of my business because I was too close to see its flaws. Now my mentors help me work on the biases and bad behaviors below. You might have them, too.

Confirmation Bias

We surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe. We create online “echo chambers” around ourselves. We seek out people and ideas that confirm what we think we know instead of challenging ourselves to see another perspective.

Novelty Bias

We tend to believe that the last thing we learned is more important than anything else. How often have I read a great book and immediately changed my business because of its message? Too often to count.
The last thing you learned or read is important, but not so important that it replaces everything else. This is sometimes called “recency bias” but could be called “frequency bias,” too—you also tend to pay attention to the things that appear most often. So if other affiliate owners are talking about Facebook ads all the time, you’ll pay attention to advertising on Facebook even if it’s far less important than retention or lead nurture.
I once had a coach who attended a weightlifting seminar. He didn’t own weightlifting shoes, so the instructors had him place 5 lb. plates under his heels while lifting. When I walked through his first class on Monday, every person in the class had 5-lb. plates under their heels!
We had a long conversation about the goals for our clients and recency bias after that. The memory still makes me smile.

Busy-Ness Bias

We believe that if we’re super busy we must be getting closer to success. But this isn’t true. Truly successful people have control over their time and brain space.
Like the other biases and behaviors, being busy can become hardwired into our brains. Everything we take into our minds for processing goes through this little almond-sized part of the brain called the amygdala. It’s a really old system that predates our prefrontal cortex, and it’s mostly responsible for fight or flight. The first unconscious thought we have about anything in our world is, “Will this hurt me?”
The thing is this: Founder-phase entrepreneurs face a ton of fight-or-flight decisions every day. Everything is an opportunity and everything is a threat. Plus they’re stressed out. These factors are like exercise to the amygdala, and it grows. Then, when the entrepreneurs finally reach Tinker phase, they try to relax—and their amygdalas fight back.
To justify its own size and control, the amygdala seeks stimulus. The entrepreneurs can’t put down their phones. They create drama in their lives unnecessarily. They make sweeping changes to prove their businesses still needs their constant attention.
For more, read “The Hustle Is a Lie” here. Most gym owners I know are working really hard. Very few of them are actually accomplishing anything that will grow their businesses.

Multitasking Bias

We try to do too many things at once. The reality is that you can only do one thing at a time, and jumping back and forth between them makes you tired.
If you have five big ideas for 2020, I can guarantee you won’t deliver all of them. I can almost guarantee you won’t deliver any of them. But if you have one big idea and work on it with singular focus, you’ll probably bring it to market.


It might not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.
When I see box owners complaining online, I always want to ask: “What are you going to do about it?”
Complaints about city zoning, rants about their clients, frustration about their staff—when you realize that you have to actually solve the problem instead of just sharing the problem, you waste less time complaining and spend more time working on the answer.
Still, I love to play the blame game. “If that guy had just done what I told him in 2018, he wouldn’t still be stuck with a broken gym!” But that’s the wrong mindset. Instead, I should say, “If I’d only convinced him to work with a mentor in 2018, he’d be successful by now.”
Here’s one I see all the time: “My clients gossip or chat while I’m explaining the workout, and then they ask me questions instead of warming up! Why can’t they just pay attention?”
The real question should be: “How can I get my clients to engage with my workout explanation?”
Blame and ownership are mutually exclusive.
Leadership means radical acceptance of responsibility.
If you’re blaming others, you’re not fixing problems.
That’s fine if you’re an employee. It’s not acceptable if you own a business. If you don’t solve problems, they’ll kill you. And if you’re blaming others, you’re not solving problems.


This is the hardest of all.
Ego isn’t the enemy. It takes a bit of ego to coach people. It takes more ego to open a gym. When you’re starting something new, ego is a tool.
But ego is also the mental trap that kills most gym owners. It almost killed me.
When I opened a gym, I didn’t have a plan. I was just really passionate about teaching exercise. And, in full honesty, I was probably the most knowledgeable coach in town.
But that didn’t make me the best coach in town.
My ego said, “You’re the smartest, so you’ll make the most money.” That wasn’t true.
My ego said, “If you tell your clients how dumb that other coach is, they’ll respect you more.” That really wasn’t true.
My ego said, “You’re smarter than all those business experts. You don’t need their help.” That almost killed me.
My ego said, “Asking for help means you’re too pitiful to deserve help.” That was completely backward.
My ego said, “You can outwork your mistakes. You can dig yourself out of this hole.” That was—well, crazy.
My ego said, “Your wife and kids will respect your sacrifice more than they’ll miss you at bedtime.” And that almost ruined my life.

Tough Love—and Learning

It’s hard to write this post because reading the list of biases makes me realize that I haven’t eradicated any of them completely. And that’s a bit depressing—until I realize that even a little progress on any of these biases will have a tremendous impact on my business. I don’t have to eliminate my ego. But if I learn to recognize its tricks, I’ll remove the barriers that are stopping my growth.
Because here’s the ultimate hard truth: All of us are holding our businesses back.
The knowledge and systems are out there. But most of the time we’re pushing the brake pedal while we’re pushing the gas.
Identifying and working on these biases and behaviors will take your foot off the brake pedal, a little at a time. But you can’t do it alone. It’s impossible. It took my first mentor to help me see. And every mentor since has helped me peel back the behaviors a little more, allowing my business to grow faster and faster.

Other Media in This Series

How to Change Your Clients’ Lives
Changing Behavior: The Elephant and the Rider
How to Change Your Client’s Behavior
Behavior Change: How to Turn New Year’s Resolutions Into Long-Term Success


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.