HOW TO GAB
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” -Mother Teresa
People often have a hard time managing what’s not currently plopped in their laps—and even sometimes, well, a lot of times, that is difficult for people. We need simple structures that help us guide our actions toward progress. Without them, it’s hard to make the requisite sacrifices, and to enact strategies and actions that take a human being from current point to a future, more desirable point. Hell, without them it’s tough to know whether or not we just did something worthwhile.
Goal setting structures, no matter the time frame associated with the goal, give us the chance to denote something meaningful and then act in a way that coincides with achieving that meaningful thing—that meaningful thing could be a better emotional state, a skill, or an event like deadlifting 500 pounds before you get married.
People need other people, armed with a good structure and the ability to ask questions, to plop that meaningful thing into their lap—and those plops need to be different sizes. Some plops cover years, and some months. Other plops are weeks or so. But we also need plops as short as an hour or so—effectively the time that most training sessions get slated for. Help people control their intent for an hour and you’ll help them…
GABing is the best tool we’ve found to plop the next hour of someone’s life into their lap and ask them what they’re going to do with it.
GAB Where’s It Come From?
GAB stands for Goals, Assessment, Barriers, and we borrowed it from Motivational Interviewing in Nutrition and Fitness. Their use, however, is a little different. As we use it to set an intent for a training session, they use it to get people thinking about their goals at the end of a nutrition counseling session so that they can make successful progress between sessions. It totally rocks that way, too, and we’ve used it that way, but we love it most as a tool for focusing and setting a direction a training session. (P.S. If you haven’t read Motivational Interviewing in Nutrition and Fitness yet, get on that.)
So, What’s all this GABing Do?
Let’s start big picture (goal setting skill building) and work to smaller focus (what it gives us for the task at hand) in answering this question.
GAB starts the process of thinking through what it takes to achieve a goal, while building the skill and practice of setting, and achieving, goals in a ultra-manageable time frame, building the necessary skills to expand out into larger goal-setting time frames. It gives folks the chance to say, “I want this by before I leave the gym today” and gain some momentum-building success with goal-setting. People need to feel competent with smaller tasks before they can successfully move on to bigger ones—and feel as though they can actually order themselves in a way to achieve that bigger task. GAB is the small task that preps folks for the bigger task of setting, acting towards, and achieving a longer-term goal.
It also gets people thinking about what they’ll need to achieve goals. GABing gives them the answers to questions like:
What do I want?
Do I truly believe I can do it?
What do I need to get what I want?
What do I do when things don’t go as planned?
For fear of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to talk time frame again. Answering these questions about a short time frame like an hour can build the competence and confidence to answer these questions over longer periods of time. It can do wonderful and wondrous things for a person that has a hard time articulating what they want and what they’re going to do about getting it.
In the short-term, within the context of the training session, it gives clients a focus and a way to direct their actions toward that focus over the course of the session. The process gives them something to aim for, as well as a chance to order their actions and think through how they’d deal with any potential issues that could get in the way of them achieving their aim.
It does something rad for us coaches, too. It tells us exactly what we have to focus our coaching on for the day—especially when someone gives us their perceived obstacles toward achieving their GAB goal. That’s where they see trouble coming, and that’s where we can best guide them through bushes, killing tigers on the way, because that’s where they want to be guided. They tell us, even if indirectly, where they want to be coached.
How Do We GAB?
Here’s a quick preface: this might seem stiff and sterile at the beginning, but it becomes more natural with practice.
Ninety-nine percent of the time it starts off by looking at someone’s program with them and asking them what they’d like to focus on/do/achieve today. Doing this with the person in mind—for example, knowing as much as you can about what is, or might be, important to them. The program is the path, and GABing tells us all how we’re going to walk down it for the day.
So, we look at the program and ask what they’d like to do today. A lot of times folks will say something like, “I’m not sure.” That’s where your coaching and observation skills come in. If you know there’s a particular exercise, or a bigger goal, that’s important to the person, have a look at the program with that context and start asking the person questions in reference to that exercise or goal. If you know that the person likes bench pressing, but doesn’t have a well-articulated long-term goal yet, chat with them about bench pressing. They may want to focus on that for the day, they may not. But it will at least get them thinking.
If you know someone has a longer-term goal, say improving a race time or something similar, ask them what they’ve been struggling with in their training right now or if there’s something in particular that they’d like to accelerate with their training that the day’s session could help with.
These forms of questioning will pull some kind of aim out. And, here’s the thing, when you get something, even if it seems like some feeble, little, insignificant thing, go with it—especially if goal-setting is new to the person. If someone has some reps under their belt, and you’re sure they can do better, hold them to a standard. Again, consider all of this within the context of the person.
Once we mine a daily aim out of them, we get a confidence integer. That’s the A in GAB. We ask them how confident they are that they can achieve the aim…on a scale from one to ten—one being the least confident and ten feeling like their confidence is going to burst right out of their chest.
They’ll pick a number and we’ll ask them why they didn’t pick a lower number. This gives them a chance to evaluate why they feel so confident and further talk themselves into being able to do it. After they give their reasons, ask them if their confidence is still at the same level or if it’s gone up. A lot of times people will talk themselves into a higher rating.
If they give an answer of six or lower, however, it’s probably best to move on to another goal for the day. Go through the process of asking them why they chose that number, and let them think through it, but they probably either don’t really want to what they say they’re doing, or they don’t actually think they can do it on that day.
Once we have our confidence integer sorted out, we ask what, if anything, could get in the way of achieving the goal? This question launches them into an expedition through the jungles of gym circumstance to find any potential tigers that could swipe them on their way to a successful training session. Once the tigers are found, we can kill them. There’s ALWAYS something that could get in the way. Always. People will often say that they don’t see anything that could…that’s when you need to ask another question or two to get them to think more deeply about it.
Ok, so listen, sometimes if the daily goal is small enough, or you’re totally sure that it won’t be a problem, let the person to ride high on their confidence and kick ass. But it is a rare occasion that nothing, absolutely, nothing could get in the way of achieving the goal for the day. It doesn’t mean that you have to poke and prod and be a doomsayer. But you do have to say that you’re pumped that they feel so confident, and you want them to keep that confidence throughout the session. And the easiest way to do that is to make sure that they have a strategy for any potential problem that could come up. Then, with both of you thinking with more focus, ask again. Or you could just throw out a “what about….” scenario.
When to GAB
GABing, in this context, is best done at the beginning of a training day as the client is looking over the work that is waiting for them during the course of the next hour or so. It’s also good to do at least once per week with a person so they start to build skills they can internalize from GABing. The ultimate goal is to get them to internalize the GAB conversation so that they can start to have it with themselves. The goal is to make them autonomous in their direction setting.
A Bit o’ GABing
Ok, let’s check out an example of a GAB conversation. The coach and the client are looking over the program and all of the training slotted for the day.
Coach: Alright, Debbie, what would you like to get done today? Is there anything in particular that you’d like to focus on?
Debbie: Well, I’m not sure. Just have fun and not get hurt I guess! (Debbie finishes with a laugh.)
Coach: Alright, well, that’s a good start! Do you think there’s something more specific? You have hex bar deadlift and dumbbell chest press on the docket today. Either of those feel like something you’d like to focus on?
Debbie: Will deadlifting make my butt bigger? Cause I’d like that.
Coach: It certainly can!
Debbie: Ok, let’s focus on that today.
Coach: Cool! So, what would you like to focus on with deadlfting today?
Debbie: Well, last week I just felt like I wasn’t doing something right…like I didn’t have my back in the right position or something. It didn’t hurt or anything, I just didn’t feel like I was doing it right.
Coach: Ok, so you want to focus on your form today?
Debbie: Yeah, I’d like to make sure my back is in a good position.
Coach: Cool, so if you had to put a number on it, one to ten, how confident do you feel that you can figure out that back position today?
Debbie: Oh sheesh, I’m not sure. I guess I don’t think I was that far off last week, something just didn’t feel right. I don’t know. I guess a seven or so.
Coach: Alright, great. So, why did you pick seven and not six?
Debbie: Well, I don’t know. I guess I feel like I can figure it out and I’m pretty sure you can coach me to do it.
Coach: Cool, I like that. So, do you think there’s anything that might get in the way of you improving your deadlift form today?
Debbie: I guess what kind of coaching I get. What I mean is sometimes I don’t necessarily understand the words when I get told to do something, sometimes I need to see it and feel it. So, if I can see it and feel it I’ll probably get it. But if you just talk to me I probably won’t.
Coach: So, you want me to do some good demonstrations and use some other tools to help you feel the position?
Debbie: Yes, that would be great.
Coach: Ok, let’s do it!
A GABing Recap
- GAB at the beginning of a session at least once per week with a person to help them internalize the process.
- Nail down a goal for the day. If it coincides with a longer-term goal, great. If not, that’s ok. Just help them get something out.
- Use the assessment to help them figure out if they really want to do the thing and to help them talk themselves into a higher confidence rating.
- Be real about barriers. There’s always something.