Top 20 Things I Learned in 2019

Top 20 Things I Learned in 2019

The annual ‘Top 20’ article is one of my favourite articles to plan for and write. It gives me time to think, reflect and analyse how the year went, what I learned, and what I should take forward into the new year.

I say this at the end of every year, but it always surprises me just how much you can develop and move forward in the space of only 12 months!

To listen to the podcast that complements this article, search for RNT Fitness Radio across all podcast platforms, visit the page directly here, or listen directly below:

 

1. I’m not invincible

While this list isn’t in any particular order, I’m hard pressed to think of a lesson greater than this one in 2019. It’s forced me to re-evaluate many of my daily habits, decisions and method of operating, while also creating a level of self-awareness I didn’t previously have.

After going at a 100mph for weeks and months on end without a break, I collapsed twice in February. What’s interesting as I reflect on the episode is that I distinctly remember having a conversation with my mother a few days before about the concept of being invincible, and whether it’s possible to continue going at the pace I was at. Clearly the Universe was sending me a message, and the answer I was looking for – I’m not invincible!

While this event did force an initial change in my behaviour, it wasn’t enough to help me understand and manage my own red line just yet. In the six months following, I had three ‘near episodes’ where I felt all the ‘build up symptoms’, but never repeated the actual collapse (thankfully). I know when it’s coming now; my legs start aching, I become dehydrated and my body temperature goes up. On each occurrence, I’ve made a passing comment a few days before either in my journal and/or to a close friend that I’m approaching the red line. Frustratingly, I still thought I was okay and didn’t act on it until the symptoms were crystal clear.

Throughout this, I’ve realised I have this ability to continue pushing in an endeavour while ignoring all of my body’s signals telling me to stop, back off, or switch lanes. In business, it’s the ability to work non-stop. In bodybuilding, it’s to throw myself into continue pushing on extreme deficits with no breaks, only for me to flatten out, experience extreme fatigue, or in the worst case, lose a little muscle mass. This ability has its advantages in that I can be very productive and take my physical condition to new levels each time, but the downsides are clear and dangerous if I’m not careful.

2. Finding my balance and boundaries

With each episode, I’ve implemented new rules and habits to help manage the red line by creating my own form of balance and boundaries. I write that specifically because I don’t necessarily believe if you want to push forward in an area of life you can have ‘traditional balance’. That said, I am learning that you can do small things which can exponentially improve your overall state of being, and prevent you from tipping over the red line.

Finding my own balance and boundaries has come from creating spaces of solitude, recharge and low stimulus into my days and weeks.

The three ‘game changers’ have been:

  • No work after dinner. While my brain will always be on and firing past this, I won’t work in the traditional sense at my laptop after dinner as I did for years on end.
  • Unplugged walks. Every day for 30 minutes I’ll go for a brisk walk where I’m not plugged into anything.
  • My #Weekly22. I now take almost all of Saturday’s off work (except for a 45 minute blitz), which now gives me a ‘deadline’ to work towards on Friday. This day is for family, friends and recharging – in fact, I don’t even set an alarm on this day, which is a revelation in itself! More recently, I’ve been experimenting with no screens at all from Friday evening to Saturday afternoon (22 hours – so that I stay within our company 24-hour client response time policy), which has taken my ‘recovery time’ to another level. I’m excited to explore this more before writing more extensively on it.

There’s a lot to be said for managing our digital health, and coupling the above three rules with my daily staple of no phone use before 11am has formed part of a solid digital health plan that I’ve been able to sustain.

3. The difference between quality time and energy

This year I learnt the difference between spending quality time and having quality energy for your loved ones. It could be argued that they’re the same, but I thought that the simple act of being available and ‘turning up’ meant I could provide the same energy as I would for the business. I got this one very wrong!

What started happening was that while I was making time for the people I wanted to be with, I was meeting them exhausted with no energy to properly engage. While I wanted to interact, all I could think about was crashing into bed and falling asleep.

This came to strong light when journaling in Amboseli Safari Park, and reflecting on where I could improve in my personal life. Bringing quality energy to my loved ones was a common theme; since then, I’ve managed to stay up past 8.30pm on a Friday night (as opposed to crashing on the sofa!) and be more present in building my most meaningful relationships. The lesson has transformed into a win!

4. The hidden power of sleep

To improve my quality energy, the biggest catalyst has been my sleep. I always thought I slept well; the reality was I’d forgotten what good felt like. I thought that sleeping six to seven hours a night was enough to perform at a high level, but for the past few months, I’ve been deliberate in getting a full eight. What a difference it’s made. My productivity, energy and overall well-being has gone through the roof, and when I now have the odd night of only getting six to seven, I’m shocked at how bad I feel. Especially because at the same time of increasing my sleep, I also went cold turkey on all the caffeine I was habitually consuming every morning without thought.

Outside of the improvements in quantity, I’ve also focused on improving the quality by doing the following:

  • Wearing blue light blockers for 60-90 minutes before bed.
  • Switching to a light alarm clock, instead of using my phone. While I don’t use my phone in the morning, I have a habit of checking it all the way up till the moment I sleep. By using an alarm clock, I’m able to now leave my phone out of the bedroom.
  • Waking up at 6am. To get my full eight hours, I wake up at 6am (versus 5 to 5.30am). It took a while mentally to break this barrier, but I feel so much more productive and alive by waking at 6am instead of forcing the 5am. To ensure I don’t counter the benefits of sleeping more, I’ve kept my sleep and working ‘cut off’ times the same.

5. Managing my mental energy units

The second catalyst to improving my quality of energy has been better management of my mental energy units (MEUs). I learned this year that we all have a finite number of MEUs, and that the more intense, engaging and high value the task is, the faster your MEUs diminish.

I didn’t understand this for a while until RNT Coach Nathan likened the way I was operating as a ‘high volume, high intensity’ training method. He said it was like doing DC training (one of the most intense protocols out there) twice a day, every day. I thought the analogy hit the nail on the head, so I’m now much more aware as to the tasks and projects I spend time on.

I’m now conscious that if I take on a project worth five MEUs, I can’t treat it as the same time value as an admin task only worth one MEU. For a long time, I didn’t make this differentiation; it was only when I started writing the book that I realised that two hours of focused, strategic creativity felt the same (if not more draining) as doing six hours of admin work that I was previously accustomed to earlier in the year (before we had a real team).

6. Understanding my wiring

Because of all of the above, I’ve been diving deeper into my own inner wiring. I’ve been asking myself why I push myself the way I do; why I’m always on; why I struggle to celebrate the small wins; why I always strive for more.

For a period of this year I started to think there was a problem, and that what I was doing and how I was wired was an issue I needed to solve. I explored this in different forms of therapy, journaling and conversations with people who are either the complete opposite, or the exact same (Type A, high performing, constantly pushing).

I thought the answer lied in balance, or in dealing with childhood experiences, or in finding a new path. While I still don’t know the exact answer, the best learning has been to accept that this is who I am. This is how I’m wired, designed and meant to be. I’m here to create, produce and build, and if I don’t live in this state of being, I don’t feel great, nor am I living true to myself. I love the feel of pushing myself on my own accord, and now appreciate that I feel best when I’m living in my flow, of which part of it (which I’ll come onto next) involves being creative and producing.

This is an interesting learning to write about that I’m sure I’ll come onto more in 2020. I battled for a while thinking I needed to change, or that I may be doing this for all the wrong reasons, i.e. trying to prove a point, or doing it to please others. But as of writing this, I feel content and grateful for the wiring I have, and the impact it allows me to create. What I’m doing instead is looking at ‘plugging the holes’ and preventing the downsides that come with this wiring.

7. My evolving ‘why’ and definition of success

In almost all of my reflective pieces, I’ve discussed my ‘why’ and my definition of ‘success’. I’ve learned that this will continue to evolve and grow as I go through different seasons of life. 

When I think about the evolution of my definition of success, it’s gone from ‘doing what I love’ to ‘being able to work from anywhere, anytime’, to having ‘freedom’, to being able to ‘live a life of my own choosing’.

I’ve spent time this year really dialling into this and I’ve learned that it’s a mix of all of the above to a certain degree, with this year in particular being all about ‘living in my flow’

I identified clearly during the Grind period of my shoot prep this year that I have some core ‘flow’ states that I feel most fulfilled and successful within.

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.

Money is an interesting one. It doesn’t drive me, and working hard has never been about the money. What I do value from money is the security it can bring, especially in my ability to create and produce without fear, and my desire to be an active father for my future family.

Which brings me onto my ‘why’, which can be split as my role as a coach and for why I work.

As a coach, it’s simple, and hasn’t changed for a decade. I’ve experienced first-hand in myself and in 1000s of clients the power the physical transformation has as a vehicle for the greater good in all areas of life. The level of confidence, focus and control it can bring is something I believe everyone should experience, why is why its firmly part of the mission and vision of RNT.

My personal ‘bigger why’ is a little different. I started to speak about this on my solo podcast (episode 93), and it boils down to three things:

  • Self-mastery. Business, coaching and training are all vehicles for me to learn more about myself, how hard I can push, and to provide an opportunity to master my craft.
  • Autonomy. Being able to live my ‘ideal day’ is important to me, and it’s why within the team we stress the importance of lifestyle, mental and physical health, and crafting a ‘life by design’.
  • Future family. It’s interesting that the more I journal about my ‘why’, the more this continues to crop up, as I alluded to earlier in this point.

8. My role in the company has changed

As we’ve grown as a company, my role has completely changed. Up till May I was doing absolutely everything in the business, but as of writing this, most of my day is geared towards doing what I’m best at. I’m lucky enough to be part of a team that excels at what I’m not good at and/or don’t enjoy, and this makes us better placed to serve our clients as a result of it.

At the start of 2019 I thought I could throw time at any problem, but I’ve learnt that the best use of my time is to focus on my 5% (creating, strategy and coaching) and empower the team to manage everything else. This has personally been one of my biggest wins for the year, as it’s allowed us to operate as a proper functioning business now where we have defined roles, KPIs, strategy and accountability.

9. Writing a book is brutally difficult but rewarding

Without transitioning my own role within the company, I wouldn’t have been able to start work on our book. Now that I’m in the editing stage, I have a new-found respect for authors. Writing a book is no easy task. It demands a lot of time and quality energy, and becomes mentally draining over time. That said, it’s incredibly rewarding, and it’s been one of the best projects I’ve ever worked on. To say I’m excited about launching it in May 2020 is an understatement – this book will be like nothing else in the health and fitness market, and I can’t wait to spread the word about it.

10. The competitive advantage of thinking time

Through writing the book and reaching many roadblocks along the way, I’ve learnt that one of the greatest competitive advantages we can have is thinking time, and being deliberate about carving it out in our days. I do this in two ways. The first is with my journal in the early hours of the morning, where I’ll ponder on a specific strategy or problem with nothing else but a pen and paper for at least 20 minutes. The second is through my unplugged walks, where I’ll often start with a problem in mind and use the walk to play with the idea in my head and see what comes of it. There’s something to be said for unlocking more creativity when your body is in ‘automatic’ motion; it allows you to step away and see the forest for the trees.

11. Old mistakes will always come back to bite you

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my time, but this year has taught me in particular that old mistakes can always come back to bite you. In the early days of RNT fuelled by overly enthusiastic entrepreneurialism, I made a series of mistakes that cost me over two years later. I learnt this year that I can’t rewrite my past mistakes, and even if it hurts to admit it, taking ownership of these mistakes and moving forward is always the best recipe. The key is to never make it again.

12. Always sleep on it

I got into a bad habit this year of making important decisions at the end of the day, or worse yet, reacting to a decision close to bed time without thinking it through. Not only is my decision-making ability poor at this time, but it’s also impossible to think rationally. At the end of the day your willpower is zapped, your MEUs are fried and the likelihood of making a mistake is always going to be higher. If you couple this with ‘reacting’ versus ‘responding’, it’s a quick recipe for disaster. Lesson learned? Always sleep on it and come back the next day.

13. It’s been a year of four quarters

As a business we went through four key phases this year:

Q1 – Storm

Q2 – Systemise

Q3 – Scale

Q4 – Settle

The ‘storm’ phase was the period of time I was doing absolutely everything; we were growing, but I was red lining regularly and completely burnt out.

The ‘systemise’ phase was the game changer. At the start of the year I agreed to go off the grid for four days completely on a Cambodian island, Koh Rong. No WiFi, no screens and no connection to the outside world. Up until then I hadn’t taken a day off in over two years. This created massive accountability to build systems and a back-end team into the business in order to allow it to continue operating smoothly. Agreeing to the four day off the grid period may have been one of the best decisions I made this year as it changed the entire operations of the business. In order to make it all happen, we shut the doors for any new clients at the start of May for 12 weeks, before we entered the ‘scale’ phase by breaking the Internet on 14th July!

The ‘scale’ phase was only possible because of our new team and systems, and this period led to the addition of four coaches and two sell-out intakes for July and September.

Since then, we’ve been in a ‘settle’ phase, whereby we’ve been able to normalise, tweak our systems further and refine the process. This phase has brought some rhythm into the business, and allowed us to reflect on 2019 and strategise for 2020, where we plan to go from good to great in all aspects, with the key focus being on our culture, coaching and systems.

14. You have to shed the skin with each step change

Whether it’s in the systems, service providers, team members or even the way you think, I’ve learned that with each step change we’ve made a business, we’ve had to shed all of the old skin. There are specific tipping points along the journey where we’ve had to ‘break the business’ in order to find the solution to go to the next level. What I’ve learnt is that what may work great for you up till a certain point can be quickly rendered below par at the next. This has been a fun challenge to embrace, and really forced us to level up across the board.

15. I must plan my weeks in advance, but only 60-70% of it

I used to always feel overwhelmed on the weekends with everything I’d need to do during the week ahead. It was all in my head, and I had no real structure about it. I’d wake up on Monday morning and just go. This was a behaviour I had to ‘shed the skin’ of in order to continue thriving into 2019.

It’s now very different, as I don’t start the weekend until I’ve planned for my following week. I’ll spend time every Friday blocking out my diary in different calendar colours and have a ‘top five hit list’ to work my way through, which will be strictly focused on moving the business forward.

As I adopted this practice through the year, I started to feel overwhelmed again, which is when I realised I was over planning. I was blocking out every single possible slot in my diary with no room to breathe in case life cropped up – which it always did! And so now I only block out 70% maximum to leave a buffer for the inevitable.

16. You can never have too much clarity

Clarity is king. One of my 2020 personal goals is to be crystal clear in all my communications and expectations. I learnt the hard way this year that a lack of clarity creates confusion, distrust and animosity, and can cloud over an otherwise healthy relationship. In the latter half of this year I’ve tried to correct this with an aim to always be clear on expectations, never assume, follow up, and to ensure there’s agreement on both sides when starting something new.

17. You have to go through the five phases to be in the shape of your life, for life

This year we created a level of clarity in our unique methodologies by formalising the Five Phases of the RNT Transformation Journey. It’s changed our approach to coaching, and allowed our clients to see the journey ahead of them at all times. Having now worked with so many people along different stages of the journey, we’ve learnt if you want to be in the shape of your life, for life, you have to be willing to go through all five phases.

18. The importance of meal hygiene

Meal hygiene is something I’ve taken for granted before this year. I’ve always been a slow eater, chewed my food and engaged in conversation over dinner instead of being focused on finishing my plate as fast as possible. As we started to talk about meal hygiene, it surprised me to learn just how much of a missing piece this was for people. I couldn’t believe how the simple practice of chewing your food 20-30 times, putting your cutlery down between bites and taking at least 20 minutes to eat could be so transformative. In fact, if you want to be in the shape of your life, for life, adopting healthy meal hygiene is one of the best things you can do.

19. #12in12 is hard work

I had a goal this year to do 12 trips in 12 months. I was warned by multiple people at the beginning that this wasn’t going to be an easy feat, but I thought I’d give it a go. They were right, because after 10 trips I’d had enough. While I thoroughly enjoyed my trips, when I got back from Kenya at the start of November, I was craving long-term routine and a month off visiting an airport (I don’t know how people do it on a weekly / biweekly basis for work!).

To recap on my trips for the year, I travelled to:

  • Paris, France
  • Mumbai, India
  • Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Sorrento, Italy
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Thailand (Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Koh Tao)
  • Cambodia (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Koh Rong)
  • California, USA
  • New York, USA
  • Nairobi, Kenya

During this, I also ticked off a bucket list item, which was to spend one month working from South East Asia, which I managed in June during our ‘systemise’ phase.

Next year I plan to travel far less and enjoy more of what London and the UK has to offer. What’s interesting is 75% of my travel this year was all in the first half of the year, which is why in my recent Quarterly Insights I mentioned that some of it was a form of escapism from the intensity of the ‘storm’ phase we were in as a business.

20. I can grow a half decent beard

In September 2018 I decided I was going to finally attempt to grow a beard under the guidance of coach KMAK. Lo and behold, I’ve managed to grow a half decent one, and I can’t see myself going back!

Is this the best transformation of the year?

Closing Thoughts…

2019 marked the last year of the decade, and 2020 promises to be more exciting than ever. It marks ten years in the industry for me, which is why releasing the book next year on RNT’s 3rd year anniversary will be extra special.

On a personal note, 2019 has been highly introspective and growth-inducing, and I plan to take my learnings into 2020 with goals to be more kind to myself, celebrate more of the small wins, and continue to focus on having quality energy for my loved ones.

Here’s to a new decade!

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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.