08 Apr Quarterly Insights, Part One
After the popularity of the article ‘Top 20 Things I Learned in 2017’, I’ve been urged to be more introspective with my writing and delve into topics that transcend only fitness. The start of this year has been an interesting one that’s thrown around more curveballs than I’d like to admit, but has led to more learning and subsequent growth than all of last year combined.
This is exciting, while also being a little scary at the same time. I guess it’s all part of the never-ending individual rollercoaster we all love to be a part of. In these series of ‘Quarterly Insights’, I’m going to use it as a time to reflect and put into words what I’ve discovered, or learnt more of, in the past few months.
- Self awareness is a muscle
The practice of self-awareness is essentially to think about your thinking. It’s about diving deep and analysing how you think, feel and behave. It’s learning to think about certain situations and actions you’ve taken, whether it be in the moment or retrospectively, and investigating.
Being aware and present of yourself takes practice. It’s a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Like building your body, it requires progressive overload.
As it builds, it begins to teach you that you can only control what you can control. You can’t control what others are thinking, how they act, or what values they hold.
I typically finish everyday by reflecting on what’s happened, thinking what I could have done better and seeing where I can improve for the future.
These reflections can cause a great deal of frustration if you’re not careful. While easier said than done, I try to mitigate these frustrations by remembering that I can only control my input, not the outcome.
If you obsess over the latter, as I’ve done far too much of, it can leave you in a state of helpless passivity that can leach into and slow down other areas of your life.
- We’re all driven by different desires
At around 2am on New Year’s Day, Adam and I were sitting in my kitchen when he asked me, ‘what drives you? You’re not fussed about cars, clothes, shoes or anything fancy, so why do you work so damn hard all the time? What’s the end goal?’
Since then, it’s been a recurring question in my head. I haven’t really found the definitive answer yet, and don’t know if I ever will for sure.
But I do have some ideas. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not materialistic in the slightest. New things just don’t excite me, so I’ll never be that guy who says he’s working to buy this specific supercar, or those pair of trainers. I know plenty of people who are driven like that, and that’s fine, but it isn’t me.
When I think about what we’re trying to do here at RNT, I think I’m drawn to the idea of creating maximum impact, having our names appear in as many different places as possible, and striving to be known as ‘the best’.
If I were to dissect everything I do onto paper, two parts of my work stand out to me as being the most fulfilling: clients achieving great results (both physically and mentally), and writing.
Perhaps creating more of these fulfilling moments is what drives me, but maybe it’s not the whole story.
Maybe it’s proving to everyone who raised an eyebrow at me when I switched from pursuing law to fitness that I can be ‘successful’ in an industry outside of the traditional Asian norm of a doctor, banker or lawyer.
Regardless, I’ve learnt that your ‘why’ is seasonal. When I speak to people 10-15 years older than me, it’s often the ability to provide for their children that drives them.
Your ‘why’ will change, and while right now my ‘why’ isn’t definitive, I suspect as time goes by it’ll fall into place naturally depending on the ‘season’ of my life.
- Go all in or nothing
One reason I’m drawn to bodybuilding is the all-consuming nature of it. It’s 24/7, and requires for you to be fully engrossed in all aspects (think training, diet, cardio, supplementation, sleep, stress etc.) in order to do well. Business and many other aspects of life are exactly the same.
I’ve always thought it’s better to go all in or just don’t bother. You expose yourself more, and you’re more likely to get hurt or fail, but why only dip your toes in and not experience anything at all?
I think it’s a real shame when I see people miss great opportunities and/or let themselves down out of fear of what may happen, what others may think or if it goes pear-shaped.
- There’s a dip in everything
I’ve talked a lot this year about the ‘dip’. It stemmed from a period in February that felt like a lifetime whereby there was one problem after another in the business, and it required a lot of mental energy and tough decisions to get through. At the same time, I remembered re-reading an excellent book called ‘The Dip’ by one of my favourite authors, Seth Godin.
It’s all about knowing when to stick and when to quit. It talks how successful people quit the right things at the right time all the time. But if you’re onto something that could be great, then you need to lean in, embrace the ‘dip’ and try get yourself to the ‘promised land’ of results.
This is where most people quit. Which is why it’s critical you’re passionate about what you do, because when the dip hits you – which it will – you have to be prepared to suffer through it. Even when it feels like all your efforts are producing no results.
Like in business and relationships, there’s a dip in transforming your body too. We usually see this after the initial 4-6 week ‘honeymoon’ period where everything is new and exciting. This dip in motivation may also coincide with your first sign of a plateau. At this point, it’s critical to remember why you decided to start in the first place. Use your ‘why’ to then lean into the ‘dip’ and dig deeper. Those who make it through this ‘dip’ are the ones you see on our transformations wall.
Before you get yourself involved with anything, ask yourself: are you willing to pursue through the dip?
I know we’re going through this now, but we’re learning to embrace it, and that’s exciting.
- Helping others go from zero to one
My friends and family are my greatest strength. I feel lucky to have such a strong inner circle around me that are always on hand when the chips are down, and also there to enjoy the good things in life too.
I love seeing them do well, and get even more excited when they want to talk business, and setting up side hustles.
This year it’s been really cool helping two of my best friends bring their ideas to life, turn a profit, and create something that has the potential to have tremendous impact
The first has been Jai Doshi’s 1-1 CFA coaching business, Catalyst Beta (www.catalystbeta.com), that provides tailored tuition to help CFA candidates pass the hardest set of financial exams in the world. I remember when Jai rang me up to tell me he’d achieved his charter at the youngest age possible. I was on the way to the gym at the time, and I can recall the goose bumps upon receiving the news. Seeing how friends like him work themselves into the ground to achieve something remarkable – and pursue through their own dip, always inspires me to push harder.
The second has been the birth of Bilal Khan’s Identity Chats (@TweetsByBilal). This has been a breath of fresh air, and truly remarkable to watch unravel. We’re now two (ultra-successful) events deep, with plans to expand rapidly to help bring his message to the world. The potential to invite conversation between like-minded people and create real societal change is exciting.
- Your network is your net worth
At the tail end of 2017, I was invited by a few of my clients to a local networking group where over 40 business owners get together each week and help each other grow their businesses. I always thought of ‘networking’ as a dirty word. But since attending these meetings on a weekly basis, the whole approach of ‘giver’s gain’ has boosted all areas of my life.
I now know the power of creating connections with people of all backgrounds and professions, and have learnt to not be stuck in the fitness industry bubble that’s all too easy to be consumed by.
I’m also more confident to reach out to and speak to ‘big names’ in the industry that I otherwise would not have thought about contacting.
Surrounding myself with many of these high level entrepreneurs and business owners on a weekly basis has also encouraged me to step my own game up, and to never rest on my laurels.
- What is your identity?
During Bilal’s events, his aim is to facilitate discussion between people on topics that are incredibly meaningful, but aren’t being spoken about enough.
The first event tackled the issue of identity, and what identity means to you. A few days before the event, Bilal asked me this question. I’d never been asked this, nor even thought about it beforehand, so I couldn’t really give an answer.
Since then, I’ve asked many people what identity means to them, and each answer I’ve received has been multi-faceted and based on their season of life (a recurring theme…)
Identity comes in many forms. It comes from groups and community. From the roles you play in your day-to-day life. From the work we do. Even from our names.
Each form has different importance for everyone. Some forms you have no control over, whereas others are choices you make in life.
The problem with many of the ways we define identity is that it’s generalised. It’s never one thing. If I was to say ‘I’m a personal trainer’, it discounts all the different levels this could be perceived at. It oversimplifies our complexity. It groups me into the same boat as all other personal trainers, and all the stereotypes that come with it.
What I’ve realised is that your identity is never set in stone. It’s constantly evolving and developing. It will vary at different stages of your life. Where the danger lies is when you wrap your identity into one thing. It could be a relationship, or your business, or even your skin colour. This is when you become one-dimensional, and where problems arise.
What do I define as my identity?
I’m still struggling with a proper answer on this. I think of myself as a son, a brother, a friend, a business owner, a writer, a coach and as a British Asian. I believe they all mix and complement each other to form the identity that I associate myself with right now. Despite this, I know in a year’s time, some of these forms may be different.
- Do everything possible to maximise your magic time
I’m a firm believer that everyone has their ‘magic time’ in the day where they can get their most productive and creative work done. I’ve learnt over the years that mine is in the morning, specifically between 6am and 10am.
This is when I write and work on the most important projects we have going on. No emails, no texts, no social media. I try getting into flow state and produce as much deep, focused work as possible.
At the same time, I’ve also always been a breakfast guy. Previously I’d write for an hour, eat breakfast, and then continue. A big shift in the past month has been to skip breakfast altogether and delay it until 11am. This has allowed me to truly maximise my magic time, and not interrupt this period with cooking, eating and cleaning up after.
This has meant one less thing to think about. As our business has grown and responsibilities increased, bandwidth has become increasingly limited. I’ve learnt that you really need to protect this in order to make sharp decisions and maximise productivity. If I can set my day up to make one less ‘menial’ decision, I’m going to do it. And so what started as an experiment will likely remain for the future.
- Finding peace in writing and the ‘void’
Everyone has an outlet that allows them to stay sane from all the stuff they have going in their life.
I always had my suspicion that the reason I continue to train hard was to put my overthinking mind to rest for an hour. Over the past few months, I’ve found the therapeutic benefits of lifting to be magnified. Dave Tate talks about the ‘void’ in this video here, where you mentally ‘check out’ and go into a state of nothing during specific sets.
I guess this is why people meditate. For me, there’s one set during each of my four training days where my mind goes blank. And it’s this moment that explains why I train, and gain so much from it.
On the same note, I’ve learnt over the past few months that writing has a similar effect. If I skip my writing period in the morning, the rest of the day is never quite the same. And even if I do write, if I don’t enter that state that any writer knows – where the words just flow out, it doesn’t feel the same either.
Writing can be therapeutic, especially when it forces me to be introspective and frame my reflections into words.
- Cardiovascular fitness goes fast
Finishing on a purely fitness note, I really need to keep conditioning up year round. There’s something to be said for being in shape, and I hope this is the last time I make the mistake of putting conditioning on the back burner.
The last month of doing HIIT twice a week, and introducing power walking again (as opposed to morning strolls) has been a real eye opener as to how quickly your fitness can drop. If in doubt, stay in shape!