Top 10 Things I Learned In 2020

Top 10 Things I Learned In 2020

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Where to start. I had difficulty with putting this one together. I sat in my hotel room in Lanzarote in the middle of December with a blank page in my journal and had nothing to say for a good half hour. So I decided to read over my entries at different points in the year. Then it all came rushing back and I wrote down about 50 things, which I’ve condensed into ten deep dives (instead of the usual 20). That segues nicely into lesson one of my top 10 from 2020:

1. The power of a journal

In the back of the RNT journal I created, there’s 12 prompts. Part of prompt 10 is the following:

There’s a lesson in a win, an opportunity, or a success.

There’s a lesson in a loss, a failure or a weakness.

No regrets, only lessons.

What are yours?

Be rigorous. Analyse. Look inside. You’re on the path to self-mastery.

I like this because it brings together all of what 2020 has been for me: lessons through wins, opportunities, successes, and more lessons in losses, failures and weaknesses. It’s been easy to sit and ponder on the latter only, and throw myself into long periods of regret, questioning myself and my being. Part of the rollercoaster of life, I know.

The journal has been a huge friend to me. It’s been my anchor in the day – the 5 minutes I spend time in before anything else, and an opportunity to braindump all of the above emotions. It’s a reset.

We all need outlets to anxieties, insecurities and thoughts – this is one of mine, along with training. 

More recently, I’ve found power in reflecting on old entries. I look back at certain points of the year and think ‘ah, it was all there’. It’s crazy how much your journal reflects your gut. Because the journal is something you don’t need to lie to or paraphrase with. It’s brute honesty. My lesson for the year is to pay attention to the entries more. I used to write it and forget about it, but it may be one of my most powerful, strategic tools for being a better person. 

Any mistake or revelation this year was spotted by the journal way before it played out in real life. Trust the journal!

2. The gut never lies

In a similar vein, I’ve learnt my gut instinct is always right. Again, anything that may have played out this year was always a gut instinct before. More often than not, it was written in my journal. 

Some particular decisions which have been hard this year could have been avoided by just acting on my gut instinct 6 to 12 months earlier. 

I read one entry from my journal the morning before writing this that would have stopped a whole cascade of events if I just paid attention to my gut instinct. 

The gut is an unfiltered, unadulterated thinking mechanism that we all have, and all I need to do more of now is pay attention to it. 

I learnt this year that when I don’t, it always manifests physically, whether in rashes, infections, eczema, partial hearing loss, joint pain, and various other ailments that are almost always linked to a gut instinct I’m sweeping under the carpet.

That carpet is something I’ve had to pull off more times than not, to many people’s dismay, but that’s okay – it allows for growth and progression. The problem I learnt with the carpet is that the longer it stays under, the more the manifestations come alive. 

I can remember one instance in the summer where I had a rash on my arm which wouldn’t go no matter what I tried. Then I had one hard conversation to pull the carpet under someone and it disappeared the next day. 

3. The entrepreneurial roller coaster 

I’m not sure why entrepreneurship is glamourised the way it is in the media. It’s sold as a lifestyle of glitz and glamour, so I’ve often wondered if I’m missing something. Turns out – I’m not. Not if you’re doing it properly. 

Entrepreneurship is a wonderful thing. I see it as an opportunity to bring together like-minded people on a collective strive to make a difference in the world. The opportunity to create a genuine impact in a specific tribe is what it’s all about. 

With that comes a lot of pain though. I watched an Elon Musk interview recently where he said (in similar words):

Creating a company is a very difficult thing. A friend of mine has a saying: ‘Starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss. After a while, you stop staring, but the glass chewing never ends’.

I couldn’t agree with that statement anymore. I’ve been running a company for over 3.5 years now, and I can say that the glass chewing only gets worse. You face bigger problems, harder conversations, and greater anxieties the more you delve into it. The ironic thing is the first 6-12 months, personally speaking, was the opposite. It was the fun lifestyle you see popularised, and I was living it. 

But then a reality kicks in – because the honeymoon period always ends, and you have to ask yourself a question: do you want to build something that actually lasts, and is bigger than yourself?

If so, get ready for the ride. I learnt about a year in that I didn’t want the easy lifestyle, and I was more than happy to sign up for the rollercoaster of pain. Partly because I’m wired that way, but also because I have a bigger mission to fulfil.

I’m not going to see a world where people use the physical as the vehicle staying as a one man band, or a small band of brothers partying and going on holiday together. I did all of that. Purpose and impact requires high performance. With that comes a filter, and with that means pushing forward no matter what.

Mental health as an entrepreneur is rarely spoken about. The truth is until you have a systemised business that works (for the most part) without you, you’re in for a massive struggle. Getting to that point was brutal in itself, and most will quit – which by the way, is not what you’ll see advertised on social media. 

Getting to the next level of performance, whereby it’s set up to achieve a big vision, is even harder. That’s the ride I’m on now, and while the masochistic part of me is loving it, I’ve learnt a lot about my resilience, pain tolerance and ability to push through a constant state of exhaustion.

My anxieties always play out physically. I don’t get stopped in my tracks with my mental health; instead, it just builds inside until I get rash, infection or injury. Then I often push on even harder until I tune into my gut (which probably clocked on a while back!), realise the carpet that needs pulling, and pull the plaster. Then the cycle repeats.

I wish this side of the game was shown more. The constant, day-to-day isn’t sexy, but it’s the reality that playing in this field will bring. The only thing that keeps me going is the vision – which is why a strong foundation of purpose is so important.

4. My success definition hasn’t evolved since the last one

In each of my top 20 pieces I’ve had a section on what success means to me. Last year I spoke about it being about living in my flow, where I wrote:

I’ve further refined it since to three core pillars:

  • Creativity
  • Connection
  • Self-Care

So long as I strive to live my days filled with creativity (writing, coaching, strategising), deep meaningful connection (with family and friends), and lots of self-care (training, sleeping, eating well, journaling and walking), I am successful.

I’ve not evolved this definition, only tightened it further this year. I really notice this difference in my mood and days when I’m nailing these three. A day with lots of deep thinking, great conversation and hard physical training feels amazing. Time stands still when that happens, and it’s a trance. 

In fact, I’m writing this in an elevated state of consciousness, which is what flow is. The words are mangling together. It’s been an hour so far and I’m 1500 words in. Getting into this flow is the most amazing feeling. Once you’re in, you don’t want to leave. Attempting to set my days up with as much flow state is the key to my feelings of success. 

It’s why I’ve always loved training, and I’d train even if I’d never make any progress again in any form. Because of those deep, dark sets where everything stands still and there is nothing. The void. That’s what I train for. It’s an addictive feeling. 

It was something I couldn’t always get when training at home during the various lockdowns this year, because the right environment helps so much. That’s why I campaigned so hard for the gyms to stay open. It was a personal fight. 

5. Environment dictates growth, performance & success

The old adage, you are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with, still stands true. This reflects in everything, and I’ve seen more evidence for it this year than any other.

The gym is one environment. It’s why I’ve never been a member of a commercial low cost gym chain, because the environment inside isn’t conducive to serious, hard training. You can just tell by the quality of equipment.

I’d rather pay the extra money for the environment. You need an environment you can lose yourself in and get into that void state.

The right environment is why I place such a strong focus on team and community. I have to filter the wrong team members out because one bad apple can spoil the bunch, which affects culture, and therefore performance. A toxic environment is the worst place to be – and it affects everyone, even the good ones.

With purpose and a big vision, comes a filter that naturally throws bad apples away, and also brings together the right people to strive forward together. That’s powerful.

Similarly, the community aspect of the RNT Family serves as a place to leverage a shared mindset, vision and purpose: to achieve self-mastery, growth and transformation. When you surround yourself with like-minded people on a similar quest, your own journey amplifies. I’ve learnt this year that peer accountability, support and community might just be the most powerful tool to transform anything. 

It’s like the James Norbury story goes:

“Which is more important”, asked the Big Panda, “the journey or the destination?”

“The company.” said the Tiny Dragon.

At RNT, I’m grateful for the community of like-minded people pushing to become the best version of themselves, and the team who share the vision to see a world where the physical is the vehicle for everyone. It’s the best part of it all.

6. Growth Vs Goals

At the tail end of every year I sit down to write some goals down for the next year: personally and professionally. This is the first time I’m not doing it, and it feels liberating. A big mindset shift I’ve adopted this year has been one of focusing on growth vs goals. I know my vision and long-term strive, that’s all that matters. Now all I need to focus on is growing a little bit each day, week, month and year. That doesn’t always mean tangible growth – most of the time it’s actually intangible, unknown and impossible to track. But that’s the best growth.

I was talking to one of my friends about some of the low points of this year and she said back, “This year has been nothing but 100% growth for you”. It took a while to get my head around that statement as tangibly, I couldn’t see much. 

On reflection, I understand it more than ever, and have started spotting commonalities in it – especially in the realm of staying in shape. Getting into shape is a very tangible thing. You see results every week and can visibly see your body get better and better. Staying in shape requires a huge shift in mindset from setting goals, to seeking continuous growth over time. 

The focus becomes incremental, 1% gains. Not setting goals to stay in shape, but doing it because you love it and have a purpose to do so. And because progressive overload it’s the best metaphor for life.

I was asked what my training goals for 2021 were, and my response was different to the norm. Previously it was a certain PR or bodyweight. This time it’s to enjoy the journey, train hard as often as I can, and get a little better on my favourite lifts each time. I’ve had a goal to RDL 160 for 6 for a while, but now I’m less attached to when or even if it happens. It’s like the vision in the business – I know it’ll happen one day, it’s now just a strive to doing the small things daily, a little bit better, to get there.

This year’s growth has been multi-faceted. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I do what I do, my deep frustrations with the industry (and how I want to change it),and what I truly want to strive towards. It’s now crystallised, and in the first half of 2021 I will reveal this in depth. In fact, everything about what we do now will transform – the way of working, our delivery and our communications. It’ll be a level up, and something the industry hasn’t quite seen before. 

7. It’s a dire industry we’re in

The fitness industry is a rogue place to be in. I’ve always had a lot of frustration with it – but this year it’s amplified to another level. I think there’s a difference in how you view it when you’re in it as a client, a ‘professional’ and an employer. Each one just adds to the other. When you have a team of 10 to 20 people, you start to see everything this industry is about from a multitude of angles. 

There’s so many issues with it – I wrote a raw and honest piece on it here which I’d recommend you read if you haven’t already. Right now there’s a serious need for accountability, education, ethics, a quality standard, and a barrier to entry. 

Accountability is arguably the most important, because it umbrellas over the rest. In a team environment like ours, it’s there in spades. The problem is, those who don’t like accountability struggle and go, and then you’re left with a one man band scenario where you’re operating with no accountability, and no client will know the wiser. That’s a dangerous place to be. Especially when you combine it with the lack of ethics and the profit over purpose mentality, which is where the vast majority fall under.

The money at all costs mentality, coupled with the vast array of ‘fitness business coaches’ who sell the dream to these vulnerable trainers is just compounding the problem. The genuine educators of this industry are up against it, but we will work to eradicate this problem in the next decade. Purpose will prevail – after all, this is an industry that’s supposed to be focused on transforming lives. 

I’ve also learnt this year that the majority of these ‘fitness business coaches’ are either failed fitness coaches, or worse yet – people who’ve never actually run a proper business. What’s crazy is their first proper business is often a business teaching other people about business. The irony is hilarious. These people will all be weeded out, and I have no problem in helping create awareness around this.

8. Everyone has a book in them

This year was a special year where I published my first book. It fulfilled a ten year dream for me, and one which consolidated a feeling I’ve had for a while: everyone has a book in them. There’s nothing like writing to properly express your thoughts, clarify your thinking, and put an idea out in the world. 

Don’t get me wrong – it’s hard work. And it will ask a lot of you, but it’s totally worth it. If anyone takes anything away from this blog, it’s this. Go write a book. Make 2021 the year you publish a book.

There’s no barrier to entry either now, and this time it’s a good thing. You can publish on Kindle with no expensive publication costs, and ship something creative that’s yours. Earlier this year I encouraged one of my team, Puja, to do it. I gifted her a writing workshop where the goal was simple: write daily for 180 days and at the end you’ll have a book. There was some accountability with her peers, and all she had to do was write a few hundred words a day.

The result?

She published on Kindle on the 21st December with her first book: The Hill. Go check it out here and grab yourself a copy. There are no rules – the beauty of writing is you get to write them yourself, in a style that is authentic to you.

When I wrote my book, I always called it the first book. I kind of see it like body composition. Getting into shape is one thing, staying in shape is a different ball game. Writing one book is great, writing two solidifies yourself as an author. Which is why everyone should write their first, so they can write their second.

This month I penned down the skeleton of my second book, and I can’t wait to start in Q1 of 2021 – I’ve yet to set a release date but it’s looking like September time. 

(You can read about my journey of writing the first one here)

9. Missing travelling

After clocking 10 trips in 10 months in 2019, I was exhausted. I loved it but I was ready for a nice long stint at home. Little did I know that would mean only two trips in the next 14 months. 

This year I’ve learnt the value of travelling and time off. While I’ve always worked from home, lockdown blurred the boundaries more than ever. With limited social plans, less time outside and all the various restrictions meant I just spent more time ‘on’, inside and working. I can only imagine for those who have gone from offices to home working, it’s even worse.

Previously, my proper time to recharge was when I’d go away. While I’d often still work, I could get out of the day to day and have genuine time and space to think. There’s something about going abroad that I find impossible to replicate at home. I have no idea how people have holidays in their homes. I’ve missed travelling, and I hope to be able to get away more often in 2021.

I’ve heard stories of people who usually take a full 25 days off, but this year have taken only 3 to 5. I think a lot of people are very burnt out at the moment, and the lockdown restrictions have played a big part in it. 

I’m not sure what exactly the long-term plans for lockdowns are, but each one is going to tax our country’s mental, social, emotional and economic health more and more. Only the last one is tangible – the former three are deteriorating the lives of millions with the impact yet to be seen.

I’m no expert but my view on restrictions are simple: if you’re young and healthy, you should be allowed to go out as normal. If you’re old, at risk, or have symptoms, stay at home. The lack of consistency across the rules has made little sense, and is only playing into people’s anxieties and frustrations around the whole situation. 

10. Communication in relationships

This year I took a big plunge and popped the question to my now fiancé! Moving in together and getting engaged was definitely one of my top highlights of the year. We timed it just right – only a few weeks before lockdown.

I remember when we moved in I said, “So as you know, I work from home everyday, and I know you take a work-from-home day every week usually, but probably best to reduce them so we have our space”.

Little did I know that a few weeks later we’d go into a four month lockdown of being at home together 24/7, and it turned out to be the best thing ever. Lockdown was a special time for me as it took our relationship to the next level. Going from living apart, seeing each other 1-2 times a week, to being with each other all the times is probably the best way to gauge if it’s right or not. It’s only going one of two ways: to the next level or apart. Luckily, it was the former, and I know if it wasn’t for this period, I wouldn’t have proposed on the 7th August.

I literally decided on a walk a few weeks before it happened, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. I was thinking about why we survived this (massive) lockdown test, given I knew of some friends who’s lockdown experience exposed their relationship negatively.

And it comes down quite simply to communication.

One of our relationship staples is a weekly check in. Every Saturday morning we have a ritual. We go to our local coffee shop, Artisan Cafe, take our dedicated shared journal out, and run through the following structure:

  1. Appreciations of one another (minimum 3)
  2. Together to-do’s
  3. Plans for good times 
  4. Opportunities to improve
  5. Wins for the week

I was turned onto a variation of this by a friend of mine back in November 2019, and thought I’d try it that week. We haven’t looked back since! It’s become a weekly staple, where it provides the perfect balance of not only gratitude, but genuine development too. It’s become a proactive and safe forum to air any concerns, issues or feedback, so nothing lingers or as I’ve been speaking about a lot in this piece, get swept under the carpet. 

This structure typically triggers deeper conversation thereafter, and more than anything, allows for communication to remain strong at all times. It’s an anchor for us, a non-negotiable,and I know the consistent nature of it allows for a compounding impact.

I often joke with my fiancé that it’s not easy dating someone like me who is consumed by their work. With everything the rollercoaster of my work brings, especially this year, I also know I couldn’t do it without her. It’s probably why I had to lock her in this year!

What does 2021 hold?

I’m grateful for this year – my personal and professional growth has been through the roof, and it’s set me up to really go after what I want in life. 

I learnt that with extreme challenge comes extreme filtering: in people and in purpose. The support I’ve had from some people has been incredible, for which I’m eternally grateful. I’ve been able to filter out the real from the pretenders, and I’ve sharpened my BS detector. 

Filtering purpose is an interesting one. At no point through this year did I ever think this isn’t for me. That maybe I’m not here to create a platform to transform. Or that my purpose lies elsewhere. It’s only solidified. 

In extreme challenge you also separate the amateurs, hobbyists and hacks from the professionals. People who may dip their toes in or want to try something out, usually quit in the midst of challenge. Like I said earlier: it’s easy to get into shape, it’s hard to stay there. It’s easy to start something, it’s hard to stick with it. The parallels of the journey run deep through everything. 

What was interesting this year is the periods of extreme challenge came with it a spiritual awakening. I started to connect the dots across the board with various experiences that have proven to be nothing short of eye-opening and life-changing. The deeper you enter the realm of transformation, the more you begin to see how the physical is the vehicle to mental, emotional, social and spiritual health. It’s taken me a long time to unlock the last of the five pillars. It’s one many of us often dismiss, or turn a blind eye to. Yet, it’s often when you least expect it that it comes to light. I’ve learnt that nothing is a coincidence, which makes meeting certain people, having certain experiences, and reading certain texts, all a part of the journey.

I want 2021 to be the year of flow. I know what puts me in that trance like state, and I want to craft my days more and more to be all flow. That’s the strive. I’ve started writing book number two. I’m going to transform our mission delivery and experience into a whole new realm of our own in this industry, as well as continuing to educate the world on the truth about transformation. Personally, hopefully Covid-19 allows my wedding to take place, and for the boys, I hope our stag plans aren’t interrupted. 

With a new year comes a new chapter to write. I want to thank you all for being a part of this journey – it’s an absolute pleasure, and I look forward to growing together in 2021. 

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Akash Vaghela
akash@rntfitness.co.uk

Akash Vaghela is the Founder of RNT Fitness, where his mission is to see a world where everyone experiences the power of a physical body transformation to act as a vehicle for the greater good in their lives. Akash has produced 200+ blogs, 100+ videos and hosts the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, which has amassed over 110,000 downloads in 90+ countries across 100+ episodes. Alongside this, he's been seen in Men's Health, BBC, T-Nation, Elite FTS and the PTDC, while also regularly speaking nationally and internationally on all things transformation.