27 Dec Top 20 Things I Learned In 2018
Whereas last year I waited right until Christmas before I reflected on the 12 months previous, 2018 has been a little different.
Through my ‘Quarterly Insights’ series, I’ve been able to note down lessons learned along the way, and in writing this piece for 2018, it’s been interesting re-reading over these articles to see how things may have changed along the way.
I always enjoy reflecting, and I’ve found this ‘top 20’ piece to be no different. In a year that’s been both challenging and extremely rewarding, it’s been fun looking back and seeing how much life can change in 12 months.
1. We’re not in the body transformation business
Before this year, I always thought what we did as a business was purely body transformation. But the more I think about it, and speak to our clients who are experiencing our work, I’ve realised that we’re not just changing bodies, we’re changing lives.
This realisation came to me after a score of feedback emails from different clients across the business, who were raving about the benefits and changes they’ve seen in their lives since starting to work with us.
What was interesting is how the focus of their feedback rarely fixated on their physical changes.
It was everything else. It was their mental health, their business and work, their family, their relationships, and so on. A common theme was that the physical process of transforming the body provided the vehicle to make the necessary change in other areas of life.
This makes complete sense. If you can master your physical being, you’ll have the confidence and courage to master any domain in your life. You’ll have the inward focus, and the positive habits in place to push forward in any area you want to improve in.
2. I’ve found my why
In part one of ‘Quarterly Insights’, I reflected on my inability to hone in on my ‘why’, and not knowing what I was working for. Since realising how impactful our work is, it’s become clear. I believe everyone should experience the life changing coaching we’re able to elicit, because I know how powerful improving and changing your body can be on your life. The habits, structure and discipline it instils into you can set you up for success in anything you do. So I now feel it’s become my duty to spread the work of RNT to as many people as possible around the world.
I’m also aware of the seasonality of your ‘why’. I know I want a family in the future, and so another big part of my ‘why’ is to design my life to facilitate being as much of an active father as possible. I have an ‘ideal’ day in mind that I’m working towards that revolves around family, writing and building the business to achieve the mission I stated above, so everything I do now has a series of objective filters to pass to make sure I’m on track.
3. Any version of success is fine
In last year’s ‘top 20’ I touched on my version of success being the ability work from anywhere, anytime. It’s still there, but perhaps I wasn’t being specific enough. Without that specificity, it created too much room for stress and pressure to creep in to make it feel inadequate.
Instead, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of ‘success will be having X number of clients’, or ‘success will be earning X amount’. What I’ve now realised is this is a fast route to constantly chasing a never-ending tail, and not in alignment of my mission, nor my ‘why’.
I remember speaking to a good friend of mine recently, and he asked me where I saw the business going in the next few years. I replied stating ‘X number of clients with X number of coaches’. His reaction was exactly what I needed to hear: ‘and then what, what will that do for you?’
He went on to explain that the autonomy of running your own business can be freedom like no other, and it’s absolutely critical you build the business to create a lifestyle you want for yourself. And to not fall down the ego-driven route of purely chasing numbers.
This really hit home. Starting an online business was all about freedom, creating worldwide impact through the power of our coaching, and for the ability to live my ‘ideal day’, both now and in the future. I need to remember this everyday.
4. My morning writing is critical
I’ve learned at various times this year just how critical my morning window of writing is for me. Besides being the big driver behind building RNT, it’s far more than that. I’ve noticed that even after just a few days of being unable to write that I really miss it, and I feel ‘off sync’.
There’s something very sacred about this time of day that centres me, activates ‘flow state’ and gives me my ‘me time’ before opening myself up to the influx of emails, messages and social media that comes with the territory of having an online business.
I’ve also learned that I can only write during this early morning window while my phone’s on aeroplane mode, and I have no idea what’s happening in the outside world. Protecting this time at all costs is an absolute must.
5. Power of journaling
For most days, my morning routine is as simple as this:
– Wake up
– Brush teeth
– Mix up 1tsp psyllium husk, 1/3 tsp pink Himalayan salt, squeeze of lemon to drink
– Start writing for 1 to 3 hours
I’ve never been a fan of complicated morning routines because of the increased likelihood that I just won’t stick to it.
More recently though, I’ve been looking for a way of writing in a completely free-form, offline and unpublished style that’s just for me. So I started journaling in a notebook every morning for 5 to 10 minutes, just after I brush my teeth.
I’m about a month in, and there’s no going back now. I love it, and it’s becoming a real outlet to unleash my thoughts, insights and ideas that are continuously churning in my overactive brain.
The best bit for me is the lack of purpose in the writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, if it adds value or if it makes sense. It’s just a time to write whatever comes into my head when I wake up. It could be a problem I’m trying to solve, showing gratitude, remembering my dreams, what I learned yesterday, or anything at all.
A cool benefit I’ve noticed is that it starts to bring me into peak state so that when I do open my laptop 10 minutes later, I can start punching away immediately.
6. The necessity of short periods of solo travel
Last year during my ‘top 20’, I wrote that solo travel was underrated. This year, I’d go as far as saying it’s necessary for everyone to do at some point.
Since setting up RNT last May, I’ve been lucky enough to travel a total of 15 times around the world. Of these 15 times, four of them were done solo, ranging from anywhere between 4 and 8 days.
I wrote a popular post here while in Thailand about the ten biggest benefits of solo travel. Of the ten, the number one for me is the ability to gain the perspective and clarity to audit all aspects of your life.
When you’re stuck in the daily hustle of normal life, you can’t see the forest for the trees; you end up being right against the tree trunk. It’s only when you step back and look at the branches, you can really see what’s happening.
The biggest decision I made this year came from insights I gained in Sicily earlier this year. It was just me, my thoughts and my notebook for 4 days, and it was exactly what I needed at that time. If I didn’t spontaneously book that trip away, I may never have seen the fire that needed to be extinguished.
In my second trip to Thailand, I learned exactly how I like to spend my time, and more importantly, my ‘why’ for building RNT and what ‘RNT success’ would look like for me.
All that being said, I’ve also learned that my sweet spot for solo travel is 4 days. After that, I don’t feel any extra benefit, and prefer being with meaningful company (there’s only so much small talk I can handle!). While I know some people can solo travel for months, I do think a lot of this depends on the stage of life you’re in with loved ones at home and your career.
7. Don’t procrastinate on making hard, but growth inducing decisions
I count myself lucky that I’ve got an extremely strong support network around me who aren’t afraid to tell me the truth. After dinner with a good friend of mine back in July, he said to me, ‘Akash, why are you always up later now, and out for dinner or whatever almost every night?’
Deep down I knew why, but chose to ignore it. The very next day I was up at my usual time running off minimal sleep and I fell asleep while writing on my laptop! I’d never done this before, so I knew something was up. The same comment was then made by my parents shortly after, but they went a step further and asked me when I was going to deal with the issue once and for all.
I don’t mean to sound abstract here, but it’s not the details that are important here, it’s the lesson: don’t procrastinate on making hard decisions and/or having difficult conversations that will lead to future growth.
What’s funny looking back is as soon as I’d had the conversation, the need to ‘buy social time’ and escape from my day to day stopped. Escapism is a funny concept, and one I never understood the reasoning for until this year. It comes in many forms, both good and bad, but they share a commonality in that it requires you to fix what’s going on inside first.
8. Not everyone will have the same values, vision and priorities
If there was one lesson I could take away from 2018, it’d be this. Everyone is different. As cliched as it sounds, I’ve learned that everyone’s values, priorities and visions are different. And that’s completely fine. It’s just important to be aware of this, do your due diligence, and act accordingly. The only race I can run is my own, and I’ve learnt that I need to always focus on driving my own future goals forward without having anything holding me back, or forcing me to compromise when it doesn’t make sense to do so.
9. I really enjoy podcasting
When the RNT Fitness Radio podcast first launched, it was never something I put much time and energy into beyond the actual recording. Since hosting it solo from episode 44, I’m loving it! Now that I’m driving the conversations, I’m investing more mental bandwidth to it, and it’s really paying off. With downloads increasing, feedback improving every week, and more value than ever being created from it, I’m excited to see how it develops into 2019.
One aspect I wanted to focus on immediately was bringing on more of our clients to tell their stories, and this alone has been a game changer for the depth, realness and quality the episodes now bring.
10.I’m embracing going out of my comfort zone
Before 2018, I’d never been to a networking event, spoken on video, talked to an audience larger than 50 people, or gone on radio. The idea of them all would normally fill me with dread. This year I’ve started to work on many of the skills I knew I was lacking on, and it’s forced me to step way out of my comfort zone.
Every week now I’m at a networking event, I’ve started doing Instagram video stories almost daily, have filmed a segment for BBC, spoke in front of an audience of 200 people, and I spoke on my first radio segment (with more planned in 2019 already).
It all comes back to the concept of knowing that when there’s fear behind a decision or an action, it’s going to be growth inducing. The only ever option is to lean in.
In the past I’ve always used every moment of ‘dead time’ in my day to consume information. Whether it was reading a book, listening to a podcast or reading blogs online, anytime I’d have spare time I’d take in something new. While it sounds great, I soon realised that I was never taking time to actually think about the information I was consuming, and digest it in an appropriate manner to be able to apply it.
On my commutes now, I usually just switch off and listen to music, or use it as time to think about different solutions I’m trying to come up with. It now means that each book I read becomes so much more valuable and fulfils its purpose, as opposed to just being another book read.
12.Go slow to go fast
Around September time, I brought on a consultant at RNT to help with various operations, strategy and streamlining different systems. At the same time, he’s also serving as a business coach, and so far the impact has been very refreshing.
It’s opened my eyes as to how to turn RNT into a real business. We’re now learning more about our clients than ever before, and using the discipline of data to drive decisions and changes, as opposed to relying on pure gut instinct. It’s early days, but the ‘True North’ metrics we’re tracking are all rapidly moving in the right direction.
One of the lessons he continues to instil into me is to ‘go slow to go fast’. Being someone who likes to take action and apply new things rapidly, he’s been the perfect balance to pull me back a little, and force me to wait for more data before knowing a necessary step needs to be taken.
13.Building a team to produce great work
This time last year, there was no team RNT. A year later there’s a team of five of us, and having this team may be one of my favourite parts of building RNT so far. I can’t do everything myself, and having Kunal, Nathan, Ben and Indi on board has meant we can impact more people, and change more lives.
It’s also been fulfilling seeing how RNT has been able to change their lives. Case in point Nathan, who in 2019 is going to be living as a digital NOMAD around the world; something which may not have been possible yet without what we’ve created at RNT.
14.No one is getting the insights we are
At RNT we specialise in helping regular, busy people get into the shape of their lives. All online. With our team helping people all over the world coming from different backgrounds, lifestyles and walks of life, we’re consistently producing world class results like I haven’t seen anywhere else before. The insights we’re getting in different population groups is incredibly exciting, and is enabling us to develop and constantly refine our approaches.
What we’re learning isn’t just about macros or calories. It’s knowing which psychological approach to adopt when working with X, and how to differ it when working with Y. Or what to say to X to make them tick that’s different to Y. Being a transformation coach is about 10% nutrition and training knowledge, and it’s 90% communication, building rapport and knowing how to read people’s feedback and respond appropriately. The best bit about all our learnings? We share all of this on our team calls, and use the discussion to make us all better coaches.
15.Creating the personal element to an online business
As our world continues to become more digital and online, I’m learning just how much people are missing and craving the human, personal element to everything. In a business which is purely online, I know the dangers of losing this. Which is why this year we’ve spent a significant amount of time between us discussing ways to improve this. The meet ups are one part of this, and to show its popularity, the last one we hosted had over 60 people attend! We’ve also introduced video response emails and regular client only webinars all in an effort to increase human interaction and strengthen the bond between coach and client.
16.The freedom of fasting
A big change I’ve made this year in my daily routine has been to delay my first meal of the day. It all first started as an experiment for when I was on a ‘mini cut’ earlier this year, and I wanted to try something new to drive the deficit.
The results were similar rates of fat loss, but vastly improved productivity, lifestyle and freedom in my day.
In the past, I’d wake up, write for an hour, and then eat. Now I wake up and work for five hours before I eat anything. The amount I’m able to get done is game changing, and there’s something liberating about not having to spend time cooking and eating in early morning.
I’ve also experimented with fasting on planes, and on a day to day basis for longer periods of time. I’d always been against this as I thought there’d be a risk of losing muscle mass and strength, but it’s not been the case at all.
17.Debunking popular bodybuilding practices
Leading on from success of the fasting experiment, I’ve slowly begun to challenge many of the bodybuilding practices I’ve religiously held onto for almost a decade of training.
The most noteworthy ones have been protein intake, and my consumption of animal meat. For ten years I’ve eaten almost 1.2g/lb of protein every day, with about 600 grams to a kilo of meat consumed daily.
When I started the fasting experiment, I decided to also lower my protein intake to about 0.8g/lb, and reduce my animal meat meals to only dinner time. Despite initial fears of losing muscle, the only side effects I’ve really noticed are improved digestion and a cheaper shopping bill!
18.Building a physique takes years
One of the most popular articles I wrote this year was Tom Hollis’ case study about the power of investing into your physique over the years, and following the ‘ideal client journey’.
It hit home with so many people as it really shone the light on just how much it takes to really build a physique, and not just get lean.
Getting lean is the easy bit, and the first step of any journey. But if you want to have a good amount of muscle mass, and look more than ‘skinny’ when you’re lean, you need to put the hard yards in during building phases.
The ideal journey is as follows:
Phase 1: Fat loss
Phase 2: Reverse Diet
Phase 3: Muscle Building
Repeat 1 to 3+ times
These are the first three phases that everyone should go through, with a substantial emphasis on the latter. The muscle building phase should last a minimum of 12 months, and should be treated as seriously as a fat loss phase. This means staying in a surplus, embracing the ‘fluff’, and training like an animal. Many people fall short on phase 3, and so never build on their initial results.
Of course, this depends on your body composition history and overall journey, but for people who are on the naturally skinnier side, it’s very applicable.
19.It takes much less to maintain a physique, than it does to build
If I’m being honest, I’d say 2018 was probably the first year I had more than one extended period of ‘backing off’ in my training. There was a definite shift in my priorities at certain points in the year that meant I didn’t take it as seriously. It’s completely normal, and during my check ins with my coach he’d tell me that in the lifespan of a serious trainee, there’ll always be periods of ‘coasting’. And that if you’ve got years of training behind you, it rarely does much damage to you.
It was true. I learned this year that it takes way less to maintain a physique than it does to build. If you’ve spent a decade training hard, a few months of lacklustre intensity won’t really affect you. If you’ve only been training for a short period, it’ll hit you much harder. Which is why I put so much emphasis on beginners and intermediates needing to build an adequate foundation.
20.Balancing the yin and yang
For a type A, super driven personality that finds it difficult to back off, I’ve learned the critical importance of having people around that can balance you, slow you down, and make the journey enjoyable along the way.
Because I love what I do, it can be easy to create a lot of unnecessary pressure and work myself into the ground. Which is why I’m making more conscious decisions to take strategic time away from work, and build in periods into my week where I spend it with those who energise and ground me, and help me see things in a different light.
2019 promises to be more exciting than ever.
With a goal of travelling 12 times in 12 months, spreading the RNT message into even more countries worldwide, and continuing to find my own feet in this funny thing called life, I’m pumped to see where I am after another 12 months.