Laying back in my armchair, I’m looking out the window into the sky.
It’s a cloudy day, with the possibility of future blue skies.
On one cloud, I notice a little gift.
A beautiful wrapped gift in red paper, with a golden ribbon on the top.
My lucky day.
I transport out through the window, and onto the cloud; eager to see what’s inside.
I rip the paper off and there lays an onion with a memory photo and a tag: “peel me”.
Curious, I peel each layer, with each layer revealing yet another memory photo and tag: “peel me”.
I peel and peel till I’m exhausted, with nothing to show for it except the exhaustion.
So I transport back into my chair, and seconds later, spot another cloud with a gift.
This time, I think twice, and let it go past. I know that trick.
An hour passes, and clouds with tempting little gifts continue to pass by. Then, all of a sudden, blue skies dominate, and the clouds have all disappeared. Bliss.
I’ve always known I’m someone that needs a lot of sleep. For the past four years though, since I stopped personal training (where you have no choice), I’ve chained myself into believing I need to be up at the crack of dawn, no matter what.
A typical week has always been to wake up 5-5.30am Sunday to Friday, getting about 6.5 to 7 hours sleep, then on Saturday, with no alarms, sleeping for 11-12 hours. Not as bad as it could be, but clearly, something wasn't right if that was the weekly requirement.
That was the cycle for years. This past Christmas, I flirted with the idea of stopping the alarm clock. For two weeks, I slept with no alarm and was sleeping 10-11 hours a night. As January came round, I thought to myself there’s no way I can get anything done sleeping this much.
Of course, I was in a pretty deep recovery hole, and needed to go through the initial long nights of sleep to settle on a 'normal' routine. But I resisted, and instead, went back to the grind.
Then I took a full week off everything about 4-5 weeks ago, and this time, told myself I’d persist through the initial recovery. For the first 7-10 days it was 10-12 hours a night, then ever since, it’s settled on a regular 8.5-9 hour rhythm.
And I’m amazed at the results. I’ve always known the power of sleep - but because I slept on average 7 hours, I thought I was ticking that box. The problem was, I was always fighting my body.
Now, I know I have the luxury of working online with no real schedule (I can start my work day at any time), and I don’t have young kids (which will screw all this up when the times comes!), but the big lesson for me has been to finally, listen to what my body has been telling me for years.
No more guilt, and no more thinking the only way to move forward is to wake up at 5am; I’ll only ever do it now if my body says so, which, as daylight savings kicks in, may just happen. Incidentally, I’m probably more productive than I’ve been, and I thought I already was!
The sleep hustle is well and truly broken.
One of my team always spoke of starting his days with lots of activity and self-care before any work.
I always found the idea of him starting work at 10am a bit strange. I used to think to myself, “Does he not enjoy it so much he wants to leap out of bed to do it?”.
Secretly, I wanted him to come try this method. He never did, even at the most obvious of hints. Now I know why.
Earlier today I told him that for the past few weeks I’ve been trying his way, and that I can’t see myself going back.
With it, I’ve stopped rushing the following:
I’m shocked I didn’t do this earlier. But what I’m also learning more and more is that only I can come to these realisations, and it'll come at the right time.
People can prod, coach and ideate, but it’s only when I'm ready, that it calls to me.
Ironically, my biggest fear of not working straight away was not having enough time to work. What’s happened instead is a higher output, less stress, and better thinking.
Now, all the hard work is done subconsciously while I’m vividly present in training, walking and reading.
So when I arrive at my desk, the typing is merely a formality.
We jolt ourselves awake. It’s 5am. Adrenaline is pumping.
The chains on our neck and feet are clanging together. The combined sound of millions of us moving is deafening.
Yet above all we hear, “C’mon you slaves, get to work!”
The clock strikes 6am. It’s time to change tasks. We labour away until 7am. It’s time to change again. For the next 16 hours, we’re on 60 minute rotations.
As soon as the clock strikes 12, the dreaded voice echoes across the land: “get to your next station, time is ticking!”
Digging, shovelling, building.
Everyday is Groundhog day.
Every few minutes we look up to see what the next rotation is.
Every few minutes we see the watchful tower, never missing a beat.
Decorated on the tower is a version of Tetris. Each task we finish completes a line of Tetris. Each task we finish means the dreaded voice rings again, “now move on to the next task, no rest for the wicked”.
What's the name of this Tetris version? Who’s speaking?
Our trusted daily calendar.
The boat is rocking violently over the unforgiving waves. We’re all sea sick, miles away from the shore; all wearing black and yellow suits with large cylinders on our backs.
Every one of us is filled with dread. Once the anchor is laid down, we will take a leap of faith from air to ocean. A dive into a new world.
It’s time. We start queueing at the edge of the boat. One by one, we jump. There’s a rope to hold onto, but only space for a few.
The waves are taller than ever. My buoyancy is off. I shout to the head of the crew, Sarah, “I’m struggling to stay afloat!” The weight of everything is pulling me under. I’m a strong swimmer, but this is a real test.
My legs are paddling hard, yet with each wave I swallow a gulp of water. I grab the rope; it’s of no use. Most of my crew have put their mouthpiece on and started their descent.
I’m panicking, desperately trying to string a few words to Sarah. It’s pointless. She orders, “Stop trying to stay afloat and go under. Your buoyancy will auto-regulate, and there will be no more waves to fight. You can’t win this battle.”
Begrudgingly, I admit defeat. So I put my mouthpiece in and let go.
A minute later, I’m in a new world; crystal clear waters with beautiful coral reefs and schools of fish everywhere in sight.
I take it all in. The insanity of a few minutes earlier now all forgotten.
The rebels had surrounded the perimeter.
The civilians were watching from afar, all holding their breath. Some shocks, some gasps but more than anything, curiosity.
The rebels were holding strong artillery and trying their best to find gaps in the building.
But the building, titled S-Quo HQ, had known many coup attempts. It was now indestructible. They had the best defence mechanisms and recruited only the finest talent.
The rebels had no chance. I’d come to the scene late. I couldn’t tell who the public were voting for; it seemed mixed. The crowd was filled by two groups. On one side stood plenty of suits, who were smiling every time another rebel was gunned down. On the other, we had the misfits who were hoping S-Quo HQ would finally be breached.
After an hour of rebellion, victory was announced. The building was untouched. Everyone inside was safe. The rebels were dispatched with ease. Their supporters in the crowd looked in horror.
I couldn’t understand why the misfits were permitted in the crowd if they supported the rebels. Or why the suits had a smirk every time a rebel life was lost.
It all became clear when a megaphone appeared at the top of S-Quo HQ. A tall, built man with a full head of white hair blurted out:
“The rebels are dead. Please remember the three commandments of the land:
“Let us resume normality again.”
One of the misfits screamed, “What if we don’t want to?”
The suits sneered. The misfits roared together. I looked at both groups as they began to disperse and realised that some day, S-Quo HQ needed to fall. The rebels needed to get to the remarkable talent before the S-Quo HQ, and they needed more strength in numbers.
In a matter of minutes, everything disappeared, and it was as if nothing happened. The S-Quo HQ stood tall and proud over the city again, glistening in its extraordinary power.
A high performer is commonly mistaken as one who is extremely productive in their field. But that’s only a by-product. Being productive is just an outcome, not the determinant.
Sustained high performance comes from within. It’s a real understanding of yourself, what your true drivers are, and what meaning you put into the work you do.
Only with this self-awareness can high quality work be created consistently. And I’m talking years. Else the path to high performance becomes muddied by the path of keeping up; chasing the real high performers who have set the pace and status quo for you.
The commonalities I see in true high performers are:
You always have a choice. You can hack temporary productivity. Or you can seek sustained high performance over decades. The only difference between the two camps is the hard work put towards moulding your version of the status quo.
On Sunday I wasted about 5 hours testing a new social media app.
I’m generally disciplined with my social media habits, so this was a whole new experience. And I went to bed on Sunday feeling awful: wired, anxious and in a state of FOMO. Most of all, I felt distracted.
I felt a sense of comparison, inadequacy, misalignment, and all the emotions that I’d researched a few years ago on the detrimental use of too much social media. These feelings were why I started limiting my usage; Sunday definitely took me back in time.
It got me thinking. How long will this all last? Or is this only going to get worse?
Some of my friends are totally addicted. Yet, more and more are disconnecting from social media. They’ve had enough, and have no real purpose to be on there.
I’m still in two minds on whether the work to be on social media is worth it. Because even if used in a curated, strategic and disciplined way, I still don’t know if the long-term risk is worth it.
Meaning, despite having a filtered feed across my accounts (so I only see what I want to), all the clever psychology of gamification and flashing lights is still at play. Even though I use it as a force for good, the low-level brain adaptation may not be worth the positive price.
I sense a rebellion brewing. I don’t know when, but it’s coming. It has to. This technology can only manipulate the emotions of nearly 2 billion users for so long before more start saying no.
In a conversation about this yesterday, I revisited a brilliant TED talk by Cal Newport, who has built an incredible body of work with no social media at all. Perhaps there’s a lesson or two for all of us here. Maybe I’m writing this as a memo to myself. Either way, go check it out here. It’s worth a watch.
Nothing feels better than the buzz of ticking things off a list.
Yet, the key is knowing if you're ticking off fake or productive items; it's understanding the difference between fake and productive work.
Fake work is easy: emails, scheduling, social media posts, writing lists. It's very much 'in the now'.
Productive work is often hard to track. It’s more intangible, because a lot of it happens in your head, in conversation and in quiet times.
Yet, it’s this work that really moves the needle forward. It’s less obvious, and we may not be able to tick it off today, or this week.
This problem solving, deep diving, or whatever you want to call it, allows you to pull the trigger on projects that seem like mountains to climb.
It eradicates the inertia so you can fire on all cylinders.
That’s why the most productive people are getting lots of quality work out of the door. Not because they’re good at to-do lists, or have the best ‘hacks’, but because they spent days, weeks, months, sometimes years, sharpening the axe to knock the tree down in one hit.
Waiting to be inspired to do the work is a futile thought.
Inspiration is fleeting. It comes and goes as it wishes.
A better way is to act and be inspired by the work.
Two ways to have more inspiration:
Creativity doesn’t come from magical droplets. It comes from showing up everyday, and programming the brain to know that at a certain time everyday, it’s time to work.
In 2018, I gave three talks to high school students titled, Finding Your Passion.
My message was clear: Don’t accept the pre-determined path. And use high school to apply yourself in lots of different things.
For high school students, that’s exactly what they need to hear, because often the system tries to walk you down a certain path if 1) not aware, and 2) haven’t tried other paths.
More and more, it’s difficult to go anywhere without hearing ‘find your passion’ or ‘follow your dreams’.
The reason I gave those talks was because I used to think I was someone who followed my passion (in the way you hear about it now) when I was 17 years old.
I didn’t stop the idea of becoming a lawyer because I’d magically stumbled upon a treasure chest of passion. I did so because I found what I was really good at - facilitating change through the physical body. Transformation.
Unknowingly at the time, it came from a lot of trial and error. It wasn’t that law was only for those who were too scared to break the system, it was that I didn’t find enjoyment in the aspects of a law career I’d specifically seen. (I’d interned in 4-5 firms in London, Germany and Mumbai). Whereas I found a lot of fulfilment in transformation. I was just lucky I stumbled across it early. The fact I had so many hobbies, studied a broad variety of subjects, and had diverse friends of different backgrounds, probably helped speed up this process.
For adults, my advice now is different.
It’s to think of this as an ongoing discovery, not a result. There’s a myth that ‘passionate careers’ are only for those outside of the typical finance, insurance, accountancy and law sectors. But that’s a fallacy. I know plenty of people in these sectors who absolutely love what they do.
It’s not the sector. It’s the process of work. You don’t find your passion in a sector. You find it in the work.
Here’s a better way:
If you’re working in a job you think you don’t like, maybe it's because the specific work you're doing now is not fun. Maybe it’s because you haven’t found meaning in the work. Maybe the perspective is wrong. Maybe the people around you aren’t thinking on the same page.
Your best and most passionate work will always be a form of self-expression. That lies in the process, not the sector, title or salary. Any job can be a calling if it aligns with your flow. Maybe instead of quitting your day job, your best move is to find a different role within the company. Same sector, different work. Maybe that work is what will give you an opportunity to be better, allow more autonomy, contribute to something more meaningful. Maybe it's simply changing the way you think about the work.
Next time someone tells you to go on a Lord of the Rings type search for a treasure chest of passion, look the other way. You might be closer to it than you think.
Oh, and when you are doing your most passionate work, life doesn’t suddenly become sunshine and rainbows. That's another myth worth busting another day.
After I brush my teeth, I stumble into the kitchen to have a glass of water and put the kettle on.
As the kettle’s boiling, I put two tablespoons of coffee beans in the grinder, and assemble my Aeropress. The morning brew is set.
I then go to the sofa where my laptop lies. A journal sits on top of it, so I write for a few lines, before switching on my laptop.
Next, I play either some binaural beats, or some work from Chopin.
Then I do the work. It starts with writing here.
Each signal is a precursor for the next.
Each signal primes the brain for what’s to come.
These are my short stack of things I do in the morning to fire the brain up. It’s nothing sexy. It’s about 5-7 minutes from start to finish.
But it works, and I can do it everyday. That’s what matters.
Find your stack of signals.
A website can always be more intuitive.
A blog can always have better writing.
A spreadsheet can always have better formulas.
A product can always have less bugs.
But no one will know if the project is still pending, or in drafts.
Knowing a bit more information, having a bit more time, or in other words, waiting for a clearing, is futile.
Nothing needs to be flawless.
In the quest for perfectionism, procrastination rears its ugly head. Because sharpening your pencils for the fifth time isn’t going to make your drawing any better. It's sharp, you're ready. Now go.
I started yet another gangster TV show, Bad Blood. Judging by how much budget seems to be allocated to this genre, I don’t think anyone is getting sick of these.
I like them for a few reasons.
The first is that the mafias and cartels depicted are incredible businesses, just with an illegal product. The leaders, and arguably, everyone through the ranks, have tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. And I love that. If you take away the illegal product, there’s a lot to be learnt from them. They're raw entrepreneurs at heart who play with high stakes.
The second is the interesting question of:
Even with the inevitable prospect of jail or death, and/or when they're about to lose it all, why do the people in power continue to strive for more?
In the ‘legal’ world, death is rarely a consequence. Yet, if it were, would the drive to want more continue the same? In the ‘illegal’ world, the ego chooses to ignore the possibility of death or jail, with hope of riding the fine line to get away with it one more time.
In an episode of Bad Blood I watched yesterday, the narrator described it perfectly (I’m paraphrasing): “For a year everything was going well, then as always, someone got greedy and wanted more. So we entered a bloody war, yet again”.
Why are some people wired to ignore all (potentially bad) consequences in the pursuit of more?
In our own strive for high performance, these ‘potentially bad’ consequences are the breakdown of relationships, our health and our mental health. It’s usually one or all of the three.
So really, we’re not too dissimilar to the mafias and cartels of the world. If anything, we might be more masochistic because it doesn’t quite need to be this way. Right?
That’s a question I think about a lot. As you can probably tell, I’m yet to crystallise my answers.
It was getting hard in the business. I was going through a stretch of a few months at the back end of 2020 where it just felt like hell.
Every day I was waking up exhausted. And for the first time in my near 4 years since starting my company, I didn’t want to get out of bed.
I have a journal habit. Each morning it was starting to get repetitively draining writing in it. I was documenting the same emotions, with no light at the end of the tunnel. I even once wrote, on 26th November: “I just feel battered, and I’m fed up of writing that”.
Anyway, I grinded through the following weeks to reach mid December, when I thought the answer to everything lied in rest.
So I decided to sleep to my heart’s content, frequently clocking 12 hours a night. It felt great. When the holiday period arrived, my plan was to schedule and do nothing. No work; just sleep and relax. Supposedly the ideal life.
Ironically, after a few days I started to feel more tired. I was sleeping, relaxing, doing nothing (even taking time off training), yet getting progressively more tired.
Then Christmas Day came. All plans cancelled. And I was twiddling my thumbs. We had the usual Christmas meal scheduled for afternoon, but I had no idea what else to do. I’d slept in, gone for a walk, even watched a bit of TV. Living the dream, exhausted.
So I decided to write for a few hours. The next day, the same. And the next. I was spending 3-4 hours a day during my ‘time off’, writing about the topic I’m most curious about: why don’t people stay in shape.
I was energised.
All the haze, tiredness and reluctance to get out of bed, suddenly disappeared.
What did I learn?
We have two types of fatigue. We have genuine fatigue, where rest is the only option. Your mind is fried, and your body is showing overtraining type symptoms - elevated heart rate, extra muscle pain, and similar. In this case, trying to push through is futile, and will make things worse.
Probably where I was at before Christmas. Which is why the initial rest worked so well.
The second type is more the ‘being in a rut’ fatigue. It’s when we’re doing all the things we shouldn’t be for too long, living out of flow, or just in a cycle of procrastination (like getting out of bed late). That’s the type of fatigue that is cured by one thing only: action in flow.
Which is why writing for a few hours a day, after a short total rest, was the best way for recovery.
Sort of like deloading in the gym. You take 3-5 days off totally, then start off with lighter loads to get you back in the groove.
The lighter load period is our way of overcoming the inertia that typically accompanies periods of nothing. A close friend of mine said yesterday that this was the first January he’s been able to hit the ground running from Jan 1st with no let up. Why? Because he took some genuine time off for a few days, then just worked lightly in his flow through Christmas, instead of the usual 2-3 weeks off of doing nothing.
All different strategies of managing fatigue and rest. Deciphering between the two is tricky - as I learned, yet each experiment is a way to build up my individual awareness to know when I need which. One thing for sure is that when I next take total time off, I must schedule in time to warm the tyres, else I may find myself in the parking spot for a few more weeks wondering why I'm still too tired to get going.
Action is always the best recipe for coming out of this type of rut.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “You have the right to work, but for the work's sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working.”
In the pursuit of anything, whether it be a physique, craft, skill, career or business, we must always remain focused on the work.
Ultimately, that’s all we have control over. We can’t create in anticipation of the reception, or hope of a (successful) tangible result.
In focusing on the tangibles, we can miss the magic of intangibles: the bits you can’t track, measure or see. It’s in these intangibles that we often find the most pleasure (and all we truly want). Yet, it’s in the tangibles we find ourselves as a society focusing on. It creates pressure, fear and anxiety in us as we worry if things will work out, if it will make any money, or if there even will be a result.
Modern society loves this, as it keeps us rushing and searching for meaning at new shiny objects. Ironically, the meaning can always be drawn internally. It’s why we must validate internally vs externally. There’s too many external forces out there to rely on them favouring you. Sometimes, you may put in years and years of work for no tangible result at all. That’s okay, because in the work you may have found joy and pleasure. And that’s something most tangibles fail to give.
If we only focus on the work everyday, and showing up, we can be satisfied in knowing we’ve done our part. Let the rest take care of itself.
(I read the Bhagavad Gita in the middle of 2020 for the first time - an excellent read for people of all cultures and backgrounds. It gives a universal message that is important than ever, given the world we live in. This is the version I have)
It’s not a health and fitness one, don’t worry. That’d be quite ironic given I literally wrote a book condemning them.
Instead, it’s about decluttering. Not Marie Kondo style, but an inspired activity from the new Netflix documentary, Minimalists - Less Is More.
The key message from the documentary was about having too much stuff. And how all the stuff we think is making us happier, is actually creating more sadness.
There were a few bits I loved, such as the push for more purpose, community and healthy focus in our lives, versus materialism and excessive consumption.
Luckily, I don’t have much stuff. But I could always do with less. So I thought I’d take on the challenge they promoted at the end:
These things can be anything, and you can donate, recycle or sell them. My day 1 thing was a pair of trainers I’d worn out beyond repair. Ironically while watching the show, my joggers had a hole on my kneecap, and my T shirt had three on the torso.. Maybe I need new stuff!
What was interesting in the documentary was hearing how much materialistic behaviour is driven by a feeling of not being enough, and that consumption serves to fill a void.
I’ve written about crutches a lot in the realm of transformation, but I’d not ever thought about shopping as one. Probably because it doesn’t (directly) impact body composition.
Though, in the Amazon Prime world we live in, it’s just as instantaneous and fast acting as drink and drugs.
I’ve always liked having less stuff. In 30 days, I’m not sure if I’ll have much stuff left at all. Let’s see how it unravels.
In the opening scene of the new Disney movie, Soul, Joe Gardner - the middle school band teacher tells Connie to “go for it” on the trombone.
What happened instead is she went totally off piece and into her own realm. She entered the beautiful state of flow.
After a few class laughs, Joe describes his visit to the jazz club with his dad, where he saw a piano player start with a few chords, and then, in Joe’s words:
“And I swear the next thing I know it’s like he… floats off the stage. That guy was lost in the music, he was in it. And he took the rest of us with him. That’s when I knew, I was born to play.”
As he’s describing this, you can see his own floating into another realm.
Later on, when he’s playing for a part in a band set, he does the same thing as Connie. He starts in sync, then goes into his own world where everything stands still but the music.
It tells of an important lesson for us all to find our own flow. Where time stops, everything around you is a distraction, and you feel different. Your state of consciousness is heightened and you’re oblivious to people and things around you.
If someone was to speak to you, you’d mumble a few words or make a few sounds. You don’t really know what they’re asking, all you want them to do is leave you to it.
That’s flow state.
It’s the state I seek everyday. Nothing replicates it. Writing here gives me an excuse to find it, and for this piece, write about it too.
Go check out Connie and Joe.
Then go find your flow.