A Gorilla in the Weight Room

A Gorilla in the Weight Room

One of my favorite icebreakers to do in my Teen Life Support Groups in the final weeks of our curriculum is something I call “Gorilla vs. Grizzly”.

The premise is simple: who would win in a battle between a Grizzly Bear and a Silverback Gorilla?

Now, you might have an instant strong opinion on this hypothetical fight, and you wouldn’t be alone. Once we introduce this scenario, there are instant ideological lines drawn in the sand between students on who would win this epic showdown between two of nature’s alphas.

Before I go any further, it should be stated that this is only a scenario. There is no ethical setting in which this experiment would ever play out. They are from two completely different native habitats separated by thousands of miles of ocean water. So remember, this is just a thought experiment.

Yet students take this VERY seriously. And to be fair, I ask them to. In fact, I go so far as to ask for evidence to support their positions. So for instance, if they insist a gorilla would make short work of a grizzly bear, they need to provide solid reasoning as to why they feel this way.

And, boy do they offer evidence. Lots of it. In the years that I have done this activity, I’ve heard so many compelling arguments on how each one of these animals might win in a battle. I’ve heard very few ideas that haven’t passed muster. In other words, it’s not hard to see why each one of these animals might win.

But what is striking to me is the answers these students give. Here are a few examples. Pro Grizzly:

  • Sheer size
  • Sharp claws
  • Pointy teeth
  • Huge paws
  • Thick skin
  • Savage nature

Pro Gorilla:

  • Huge muscles
  • Superior intelligence
  • Opposable thumbs on hands and feet
  • Fast
  • Killer instinct

All true, right? All of these traits are used not only to survive fights like this but also to thrive in their respective environments.

But, the next question I pose is the one that brings it all together:

“Guys – have you ever seen a gorilla in the weight room?” Or “Have you seen a grizzly bear in the nail salon getting sharpened up?”

No, of course not! It’s an absurd, even hilarious notion. These animals have these strengths because it is WHO they are.

Grizzlies don’t sharpen their teeth or claws. They don’t take supplements to gain their size.

Gorillas don’t pump iron or do pull-ups. They aren’t vainly looking in the mirror at their biceps!

These incredible works of nature are strong simply because they are. And, we believe that our teenagers are as well.

Simply put, if our adolescents were pointed to their core strengths – the ones they didn’t need to work on – imagine how much better they could solve their problems or take on new challenges.

When we pose this idea of natural strengths to teenagers – especially ones from hard places, they are a little uncomfortable with the idea. For so many it’s inconceivable they could have natural strengths they could lean into, and not worry so much about their deficits.

What if we looked at our teenagers as bearers of great strength and promise and not “problems to be solved”? This is what we are all about here at Teen Life. We believe students are made in the image of God, and if they understood the power of what they have, they would reach great heights.

What would it look like for you to see the strengths of your student first, not where they need to get better? Just like the gorilla in the weight room, we would see how silly it is to doubt how incredible they are just by being themselves.

How does this idea strike you? We would love your feedback in the comments!

Chris Robey

Chris Robey


Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.
Searching for Strengths and Solutions

Searching for Strengths and Solutions

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Join Chris and Karlie as they talk about Teen Life’s philosophy for working with teenagers! With a quick intro to Solution-Focused Therapy, Chris and Karlie discuss the importance of helping teenagers find practical solutions while also pointing out the strengths and resources they already possess.

In this episode, Chris and Karlie will give some practical tips for how you can use solution-focused tools and questions to interact with the teens in your life. By using scaling, fist-to-five, and good questions, you can help teenagers focus on how they can make a positive change in the future. This discussion is full of practical tips that can help you empower teenagers this week. Join the conversation and let’s start assuming the best about teenagers!



In this interview, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:
Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Chris Robey

Chris Robey


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If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!

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Strengths Are Better Than Weaknesses

Strengths Are Better Than Weaknesses

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 In this episode of Season 3 of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey talks with Dr. Becky Taylor about the importance of helping adolescents focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. While it is easy for us to point out our own flaws, improving strengths are a greater motivator. Join the conversation with Dr. Taylor and find out how you can encourage teenagers to use their strengths to become more successful!

[bctt tweet=”Talent development and strengths are built through relationships. // @dontpanictalk” via=”no”]

In this episode, Dr. Becky Taylor discusses…

  • The impact of focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses.
  • How adults can use relationship to encourage teens’ strengths.
  • Some ideas on how to help teens build talents and strengths.
Ask yourself…
  • Am I giving my teen opportunities to discover their talents?
  • How can I encourage and point out the strengths in teenagers?
Go ask a teen…
  • What are the things that you feel come naturally, and what things do you have to work harder on?
  • What are the strengths that help you meet your goals?

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Becky Taylor, Ph.D., was appointed to the TCU College of Education faculty in 1998 to begin the school counseling program, and in 2009 she was appointed Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Education. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor/Supervisor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, an approved family mediator, and a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor. Dr. Taylor’s research lies in the areas of risk and resiliency and its application through Solution Focused Therapy.

Chris Robey is the Program Director for Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!

Karlie Duke started working as Teen Life’s Communications Director after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications with a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 5 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!