Top 20 Things I Learned In 2021

Dec 31st, 2021


Top 20 Things I Learned In 2021

I started writing these in 2017. I met my now wife, Chandni, in the middle of 2018, and at the end of every year I’ll ask her, “has this been your best year yet?” And every year, my answer has always been a resounding yes.

I couldn’t imagine getting to the end of the year and not thinking, “damn, who was I a year ago?!” Before I write my top learnings for the year, I look back at past entries and check if I’ve taken forward the learnings. Some are a work in progress - like managing my sleep and stress. Others feel like a different lifetime - from my way of thinking, view of life and personal development.

Without further ado, let’s dive in…

1. I’ve finally thrown the alarm clock away (almost)

I’ve been facing a battle with my sleep for years. Not because I can’t get to, or stay, asleep. But because I’ve struggled with accepting I’m someone who needs more sleep. For a decade since starting as a personal trainer in the City, then building RNT, I’ve used an alarm clock to jolt myself out of bed in the early hours of the morning. I’d been fine for 2-3 days before really struggling to get through the days, and ultimately, crashing from Friday and spending my weekends sleeping. 

Everything changed in February, when I finally admitted to myself that I was burnt to a crisp and needed a serious break (you can read about this here). That’s when I took 9 days off everything, of which 7 were totally off the grid, and slept as much as my body needed. Every night I was sleeping 10-12 hours a night, with a few naps in the day too. It was only then I accepted that I just needed to let my body sleep. This took some adjusting, as I had to change from my usual routine of:
  • Wake up at 5am
  • Brush my teeth
  • Make a coffee
  • Journal 2 minutes
  • Open my laptop and start cranking away from 5.15am
My mornings are now way more fluid. I don’t start work before 8-9am, as I typically wake up naturally about 6.45-7am, go for a walk with Chandni and ease into it (Note: my productivity has not changed - if anything, it’s better). The urge to fight this is still there, as the guilt of waking up late and starting work later kicks in. A few times in the year I even thought “screw it, the alarm is coming back on”. Lo and behold, both times I tried, I got ill within a week! Whilst I’m talking about sleep, most of this is actually tied up in guilt, which I’ll tackle later. 

2. A sustainable lifestyle solution takes years to dial in

After I last dieted down for a shoot in September 2019, I slowly reversed up from 71kg to 80kg by February 2020. I then held in the 80-83kg range for almost 18 months, right up till 3rd June, where I dipped below 80kg, and have held between 77-80kg ever since. I started my fitness journey when I was 17 years old as a 58kg skinny fat kid with moobs and a pot belly. Yet, only 12 years later do I feel I’ve truly cracked it, and forged my “ultimate” lifestyle solution. This year is probably the first year on record I’ve had no slips, no food focus and no loss of control with my bodyweight. If I’ve gone up or down, it’s been intentional for either strength or aesthetic reasons. That coupled with the fact despite lots of fluctuations in my daily amounts, my average steps across the year sits at around 11,000, and my average training sessions have always been around the 4/week mark. 

Our entire focus at RNT is getting people into jaw dropping shape, then building a sustainable lifestyle solution to stay in shape effortlessly for life. It’s taken me 12 years to crack it, but with all our expertise and experience now as a team, the good news is you can crack it in about two.
October 25th 2021, 78kg

3. You gotta find a way to exercise brutally hard a few times a week

At the end of November, we started hosting our live workshops again. The biggest takeaway for everyone was the knowledge that there are always more reps in the tank than you might think. The event served as a strong reminder that everyone, no matter what the exercise modality, needs to find a way to train brutally hard a few times a week. There’s no mental reset that comes close. It’s why every Friday I do my best to train with a few of my friends for a trip to the Void with the biggest workout of our weeks. Super simple on paper, but as always, execution is everything:
  1. GHR 2-3 sets to failure
  2. RDL 2x4-6 (2nd set paused)
  3. Reverse Band Hack Squat 1x4-6, 1x8-12
  4. Banded Leg Press 1x Rest-Paused 15-20 rep
    Some of the RNT Community at our most recent Void Workshop

4. I am sky (literally)

During my break earlier this year, I started to ask a simple question: “Who am I?”

This took my exploration that I’ve been in the past 18 months to a deeper level, where I started to ask questions about what was behind the mind chatter that’s constantly going on. For the first time in my life, I started to become conscious that I’m conscious.

A friend of mine described it best. His analogy was that of a pond with a big piece of wood over it, and that most people go through life not knowing that there’s a pond underneath. But when they have a moment of truth where they lift that piece of wood, everything changes. The pond, when you first lift it, is murky and cloudy, and you can’t see much. So the journey beyond is simply to start clearing the pond to let the light shine through. I may have butchered the analogy, but it hit the nail on the head for me.

The same friend then gave another analogy that blew my mind: We are all the sky, the clouds in front of us are our thoughts and mind chattering, but they always pass. The only thing constant is the sky. Yet, we get caught up in the clouds, and identify in the clouds, and forget that we are the sky. When I remembered my name, Akash, means Sky, I was sold!

The best book I’ve read this year on this topic is Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. I’ve got a (very) long way to go on this journey, but just the simple switch of being aware of my awareness has changed the way I live my life. 

5. Always be debugging the mind 

This awareness has led me to start debugging the mind. I’ve always been a self aware and reflective person, but where I struggle is often getting caught in ruminations of “what if” and “I wish I did this better”, which then sends me down rabbit holes in my mind that is nothing else but self-torture. 

A habit I’ve tried to work on a lot is catching any of these episodes and bringing myself back in the moment. I’m always trying to debug my mind now. If I’m fantasising in the future, or ruminating in the past, I’ll try catch it as soon as to remind myself that none of it matters, and it either hasn’t happened yet (and probably won’t in the way you’ve thought of it), or you can’t change it, so move on. 

This is ultimately the war we’re all waging with ourselves every moment of every day, and it’s this battle of the mind that is our humanity’s biggest struggle. It’s a life-long journey, but one we can all do a bit better each day with a bit of extra awareness. 

A few months ago I had some real self-doubt about something I was doing, constantly playing the “what if” game. So I told a close friend of mine and he said his mantra for breaking it is from Mike Dooley - “Thoughts become things, choose the good ones”. My wife has been telling me about the power of manifestation and bringing thoughts to life for years, but as with everything, sometimes when it lands, it lands!

6. The power of meditation

This year was the year I finally started meditation. I’d been trying for years but always thought it just wasn’t for me. The reality is, I was scared of the idea of just sitting alone with my thoughts and just watching them go by. I started around April/May time after reading about a style Naval Ravikant described as simply doing nothing for 60 minutes with your eyes shut. This sounds simple on paper, but I was terrified of the idea of sitting in a chair doing nothing for 60 minutes. It was exactly what I needed. I started at 60 minutes, but the habit has fallen in the range of 10-20 minutes a day. It’s not been perfect everyday, and a few things I’ve realised are:
  1. The more I work, the more I need it.
  2. The busier I get, the messier the meditation is.
  3. If I start skipping meditation, I know I’m burning out (weird how that works!).
  4. If I don’t meditate, my mind races a lot more in the day.
  5. The biggest benefits come from being able to detach from your thoughts and observe them for what they are.
  6. When you go deep, you realise there is a whole new world you’ve yet to explore.
  7. Meditation is the best way to “connect with the source”.
I did a podcast on this earlier in the year that I’d recommend checking out if interested - it was the last of a three-part Q&A here.

7. Detachment is hard, guilt is even harder

I grew up in a household that prided itself on hard work and long hours. It wasn’t uncommon for my mum to start work at 3-4am for a few hours before we woke up, and then continuing long after we went to bed. This sort of behaviour bleeds into your psyche and is why I thought I needed to do the same with my working hours. Speaking to friends in similar positions, the conclusion is the same. Many of our parents are African immigrants who came to this country with nothing, so worked to create freedom for their family. But the freedom created in an external material sense, isn’t replicated internally, so the generation after become prisoners in their minds, with the same immigrant mentality of “I’ve got to make something happen”.

Don’t get me wrong, this can be a huge strength and tool in our arsenal, but only when it is used as a tool you can pick up and down, not as a default state. I had a conversation with my mum earlier this year about this, and she said “all I want for you is to be happy”. It’s funny how as young children, we can forge expectations, assumptions and traits that we perceive from others, yet for the most part, it’s all false. 

Challenging my assumptions is something I’m working on a lot right now. Like the requirement to work excessive hours, and the relationship between inputs and output (more input doesn’t equal more output!). Detachment is hard, but the guilt that comes from trying to detach is what I’m finding most difficult, as it’s so deeply ingrained that it’s going to require a ton of behaviour, mindset and identity rewiring - just like trying to stay in shape for the first time!

8. Live life more in acceptance

I was listening to a podcast with Mo Gawdat, who was the previous Chief Business Officer at Google X, and he was describing his equation for happiness being reality minus your expectations. And that when we face an internal struggle, it’s simply because there’s too big a gap between the two. It sounds super simple, but such an actionable way of thinking that you can apply into your life immediately. If I’m ruminating, fantasising, or whatever the emotion is, I’ll try to debug it and catch it by asking myself:
  • Is it true?
  • Can I do anything about it?
The answers will make acceptance easier. Again, a work in progress.

9. The gains don’t stop when you stop eating meat

I was on my minimoon in Cornwall on a four hour hike along the coast when we stopped on a mountain rock to have a bite. As I was watching the birds fly by and the wave crashing against the rocks, I started to think about my relationship with meat and fish. As you can tell by reading this, I’ve been doing a lot of questioning and deep thinking this year, and through exploring consciousness, this was something that was going to come up sooner or later.

I told Chandni about it and she replied with “you’ve been talking on and off about this for about 18 months, what’s stopping you?”

I hadn’t registered it’d been so long, and the only thing stopping me cutting my meat consumption down further was convenience and ease of protein! On reflection, this was just another assumption because the world’s changed a lot, and it’s never been easier to eat a high protein diet without meat.

A few years ago I was eating a kilo of meat a day. I made the decision at the start of 2018 to cut it to once a day, as eating that much meat surely wasn’t doing any good. Something clicked on the mountain rock, and a few days later I had my last steak and haven’t had meat, fish or dairy since.
A flex near the mountain rock!

I’ve documented this more in my Road to April Fools article, where from January 1st I’ll be dropping eggs, and testing myself to get bodybuilding shredded on a vegan diet. I’m excited for the challenge, but I’m already asking myself what will be coming after. Right now, knowing what I know now about climate change, ethics, environment and sustainable farming that’s scalable for 7 billion people, it’s hard to see an alternative to being plant based. 

And by the way, it’s been easy adopting this lifestyle so far, despite travelling, eating out, and going to events as normal. In the rare moments it’s been a challenge, I remember something a friend of mine says to himself, “is my convenience more important than the greater cause?” 

It’s easy to think one person being more plant based makes no difference, but global change only happens one person at a time. Our own egos and self-importance can easily put convenience first, but if we have the privilege to live a more sustainable lifestyle and eat less meat, we should take it. 

10. Observe the masses and do the opposite

I like to think RNT has led the way in the online fitness space over the past 5 years, especially in the UK; whether it’s been incredible before and afters, creating a unique transformation methodology, or advocating a long-term journey. Where the masses are all doing the same thing pushing the typical 12 week quick fix plans and packages, we’ve put a stake in the ground with our 12 month minimums whilst building our very own proprietary technology that I’m excited to continue working on. 

Building technology has been an interesting journey. It definitely takes longer and costs way more than you think, but it’s worth it. Pouring in decades of collective team experience, the next 3-6 months will be gamechanging for our product and service, as we continue creating new features in the pipeline, and taking on member feedback on our quest for the ultimate platform to transform. 

Everyone and their dog is an online coach now. The online fitness industry is still very early in its maturity cycle, so as it ages and develops, it’ll separate the wheat from the chaff. This year has been important for us to position ourselves as the go-to, premium platform for getting in jaw-dropping shape, and building a sustainable lifestyle solution to stay in shape. 

Leading the way brings with it plenty of copycats, which whilst at times can make you feel jaded, I see now mostly as a compliment.

11. Execution is all that matters

Having worked with thousands from all walks of life from all parts of the world, we know why people succeed and fail in long-term transformation. Outside of being committed, consistent, coachable and a good communicator, the overriding factor is execution. It’s all that matters ultimately. If you are ready to go all in and engage with a proven process, you will get results, period. There’s nothing else to it really.
Despite being a single mum working a demanding full-time job, Karen’s the ultimate executor and makes it happen!

12. Rebranding is (way) more work than I thought

I was telling a mentor of mine about our rebrand plans and timelines, which was due to fall a week before my wedding. He thought I was bonkers, and I thought he was bonkers for thinking that! Turns out he was right. This year we rebranded, rebuilt and relaunched RNT Fitness, and it was a crazy amount of work, both in thinking and in execution. In the end, we were 6 weeks later than I’d originally planned, but it was worth the delay, else I don’t think Chandni would’ve been too happy if I was walking down the aisle with my one eye on the rebrand project!

As I spoke about in the press release, I’m so glad we didn’t change the name. That flirtation - which began before I took my break, was an instance of being too tired to make a good decision. But I am glad we changed the colours and logo. The logo - with how simple it is - took us about 3 months to hatch. I was dreaming about it every night, when in the end, it was a simple wordmark logo!

13. Get perfect later, but… if it isn’t world class, don’t do it

A constant source of anxiety for me is perfection. In my mind during the rebrand, for example, everyone was sitting there waiting to read all 200+ articles on our website when we relaunched. Of course, this was madness. But it drove me crazy to see mistakes on old articles I’d written, or typos on pages that no one was ever going to read. 

It’s an area I’m trying to work, and luckily some of my team hold me to account on this when my perfectionism is getting a little too crazy. 

That being said though, the idea of getting perfect later isn’t an excuse for poor work. If anything, since our rebrand I’ve adopted the mantra of, “if it isn’t world class, don’t do it” (see this video as an example). The balance lies in understanding which trade offs are okay, and which need to be perfected.

14. Mentors and coaches = clarity and direction

For the past ten years I’ve had mentors and coaches for different parts of my life, mostly fitness and more recently, business. But during 2020 and early 2021, I stopped having formalised coaching in my life. I started to buy into the concepts of “it’s all within”, “it’s all there inside of you” and “you don’t need external guidance, learn from your mistakes and build from within”. Whilst true and great on paper, a few things can happen:
  • You can’t see the wood from the trees
  • You believe in your own BS 
  • You lose an objective eye
Now, I think that in certain areas of life - like fitness - everyone should be able to learn how to self-coach themselves once they’ve built a lifestyle solution, where they can stay in shape year round. And then use coaching to know how to get to the next level, like in an Investment Phase.

In other areas of life, like business, having long-term strategic mentors can be invaluable. But you often don’t realise this till after you stop. I think the best mentors come organically, and from a range of industries. This year I started formalising more mentorship in the business, and it’s benefited the team and I tremendously.

15. It’s not time for the second book

In January, I decided it was time to write my second book. So I started on Christmas Day 2020 and pumped out 25,000 words in the next 15 days as a first draft. I sent it around to a few people, got their feedback, and thought to myself, this isn’t worth publishing. So I scrapped it. This was all in the lead up to my break, so I wasn’t in the best of creative spaces anyway. Later in the year, I hatched a better plan on how to do this book, but I don’t think the timing is right to pour so much energy and focus into it, so I’ll park it for another year.

What I decided to do instead was promote my first book, Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, through an almost monthly giveaway competition, and I think this year we’ve shipped nearly a 1000 of them out for free to many countries around the world.
The most recent giveaway with my little nephew, who’s been an incredible highlight of 2021!

16. Inch wide, mile deep

In a world where you could literally do anything you want, having focus is the hardest skill to master. Some of my biggest lessons this year has come from lacking focus on what matters. I started a daily blog here on January 1st to improve my writing skills, but focusing creative energy there took my focus away from where I needed it to be - on the business. It also became a burden after I committed to doing it daily, so I scrapped it a few months later despite developing a good readership.

Instead, I decided if I wanted to improve my writing skills, I’d do it for what will give me the best results and feedback: marketing copy at RNT. That’s when I also learnt that my biggest focus in the company should remain within leadership, strategy and marketing, and letting the team who have better technical knowledge, focus on writing to develop our education hub online. Writing is a skill that has many forms, and can be used in multiple ways. I like writing that tells stories and persuades people take action on improving their lives!

17. Getting married really was the best day of our lives (so far!)

Getting married to Chandni this year was undoubtedly the number one highlight of this year. In the build up to it, I didn’t really think much of it. As it got closer, I was buzzing. The day itself surpassed all expectations. The reality was way better than I ever imagined. I was in the Void all day long, right from 4am when I got out of bed from being unable to sleep, to 3am when the party finished. It was a crazy day that I’ll never forget! Here’s a Reel of some highlights!

18. You don’t need a Big Fat Indian Wedding

I remember the conversation with my dad, when I broke the news to him that we were going to have a small wedding. Not even 300 people small, but 80 people small for the civil, and 10 people small for the Indian ceremony! He couldn’t believe it. He’d had in his mind he’d be able to invite everyone he’s known all his life to the wedding, but I was adamant from a while ago that I wanted mine to be small (with or without Covid). Luckily, Chandni was on the same page. So when we broke the news, it was tough. I wasn’t ever planning on budging, so it’s not nice to kill a dream like that. 

Fast forward to early December, my dad is at a Big Fat Indian Wedding for a close friend of his and he told me after, “I’m so glad you didn’t do this, such a waste of time and money, and no one is even paying attention to what’s happening!” 

My dad is now converted with a bias opinion of his son having the best wedding in history, and is now telling everyone to do it like we did it! 

19. No one gives bigger and better hard truths than your wife

I learnt from my parents a few years ago (on Episode 100 of RNT Fitness Radio) that the best relationships are the ones that have the best communication. I totally get it now. And  after the relationship you have with yourself, the second most important is the one with your spouse. You’ve got to keep that line of communication open, honest and regular. Else everything in your life can fall apart. I say this from knowing plenty of people in relationships that are just not happy, and most of the time when I ask why, it almost always comes down to the fact they just don’t talk, or have any honest conversations.

There is no one who will give me bigger and better hard truths than my wife. I often think she knows me better than I know myself, and without fail she won’t hesitate to give me a healthy dose of reality. Many of my struggles this year with rumination, perfection and focus have been brought to light by her, so it’s my ultimate accountability.
From Rick’s Cafe in Jamaica, December 2021

20. Gratitude for my inner circle

I’m blessed to have an incredible inner circle of family and friends around me. This year I’ve really focused on going deeper with the relationships I have, as I’ve learnt as we grow older that you tend to lose more friends and just shine a brighter light on the ones worth having are. This is due to nothing more than the seasons of life, the different paths we take, and our varying ambitions and personal growth. With more growth, you naturally distance yourself from some, and attract towards others; it’s just the circle of life playing its way out.

What’s next for 2022?

I’ve got some very specific business goals to achieve with RNT. We’ve just hired a Business Manager, and have plans for a few more key recruits to help us scale our impact. I’m excited to see the team go from strength to strength, and our new platform help transform more lives globally.

Personally, I want to continue my spiritual exploration within, with more time carved out for meditation, unplugged walks and hard training. I will be getting shredded on a vegan diet in the first 13 weeks of the year, with potential plans to compete in bodybuilding if the dates align.

Ultimately, 2022 is about going an inch wide and a mile deep and being hyperfocused on what matters most in my life. I’m pumped!

To read previous instalments:

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