Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Wu Wei of Ultrarunning. Beyond Flow.

"Wherever you are, be all there." - Jim Elliot


Wu Wei: (pronounced ooo way), from Chinese Philosophy. Literally means non action. But does not mean not acting. Non self conscious yet perfectly responsive to the situation (Van Norden, 2011). More like effortless action. You lose the sense of yourself exerting effort (Slingerland, 2014).

Flow: What athletes would call being in the zone. "Flow states tend to occur when a persons skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable. A typical day is full of anxiety and boredom. Flow experiences provide the flashes of intense living against this dull background." (Csikszentmihalyi 1997;29-31)

Mindfulness: "Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment." John Kabat-Zinn

It's dark and even in August there is a chill in the air, because we are above 10,00ft. Head torches flash around. We start running, telling your mind to calm and your body to relax, your body doesn't want to be doing this at 4am, it knows there are 100 miles to go. A rhythm develops, you trip over a tree root, land on your knee, stumble back up and keep going. Into the first aid station, a half marathon has passed but it feels like no time at all since you started. Half a cream cheese bagel from the volunteers and you keep going. The sun rises over the Rockies, you remove some layers of clothing off. Ascending, it should be hard, walk, but it is easy, there seems to be no gradient, you run up above 11,000ft. Then descending back down. Your GPS has gone haywire and stopped working, you have no sense of time or speed. Down through the trees into Twin Lakes. 45 miles have passed, how long you don't know, 8 hours? A working day? You're not sure. You feel fine, effortless.

You keep going. It strips you to the bone. Worn down like an old weathered skeleton in the desert. Wearing away an older version of you. Eroding the past, eroding who you were. Who were you again? An entire day passes, 26 hours. You're down to nothing, there is no happy or sad. 

Ultimately, running for 24 hours strips away everything until when you finish it feels like 'nothing special'. A lady embraces you and says "welcome home".

Looking Down on Twin Lakes from Hope Pass, Leadville.

And yet another time
It's hard, there is no flow, everything hurts, you retch by the side of the trail, trying to throw up. You go into aid stations, you're not sure what to eat or drink. It all feels clunky. You want it to be over. You grind it out, grimace. It feels like maximum effort but you're moving through treacle. Through the streets of the town, people cheer. It's over and you never want to do it again.

Two runs, two different situations, one of Wu Wei and flow, one not.

Wu Wei and Flow

Wu Wei or effortless action is an ancient concept of Chinese philosophy that has been around since 300-500 BCE and was espoused in various forms by Confucius, Laozi ( Lao Tzu) in the DaoDeJing (Tao Te Ching) and Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu). It is hard to describe. Van Norden (2011) likens to it to trying to explain to someone how to ride a bike. It's very hard to explain, but when you get it, you just know.

It is kind of like the concept of flow. See the figure below, which shows where flow occurs. You are fully immersed and absorbed in what you are doing.  You lose a sense of time. Flow states are about complexity and challenge, "our personal skill is perfectly calibrated to the task" (Slingerland, 2014, video lecture).

Classic examples are rock climbing, a surgeon, skiing a technical route.

If you're still wondering what flow is, Ayrton Senna explains it perfectly in this clip, 35 seconds in. (and if you haven't seen the film Senna, you need to).

It differs from something like binge watching TV, in that you emerge from the couch potato state with less energy and flow, it saps you of something. Whereas, when you are in a flow state you are energised.

However, Wu Wei is more than flow. People can experience flow in non complex situations like walking around, socialising, playing with their kids (Slingerland, 2014). Wu Wei is being absorbed in something bigger than you and it is positive.

In the classic book the Zhuangzi, there are a series of stories about skill and Wu Wei. One is about Butcher Ding. It is metaphor for how to move through the world.

"Cook Ding laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now — now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and following things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint." (Watson translation, 2013;19)

This doesn't mean you have to go and become a butcher. It means the barrier is your mind. You need to switch off the analytic part. You move effectively. But it comes with practice. Your body is the blade and it moves through the world avoiding obstacles effortlessly, or in running trails, you run a technical trail with flow not by rationally thinking where you will next step.

Slingerland argues that pursuits like Ultrarunning are not Wu Wei because of the way they are pursued in modern Western culture. He states

"In our culture activities like running ultra marathons or exploring new art museums tend to be solitary and aimed at self improvement"
"It is the connection with a larger, valued whole that allows Wu Wei or true flow experiences to leave us feeling 'clean and happy'." (Slingerland, 2014;46)

"Wu Wei is about more than isolated individuals incrementally improving their personal bests in the Ironman Triathlon or making a new level on Tetris. Wu Wei involves giving yourself up to something that because it is bigger than you can be shared by others."
"An essential fact about Wu Wei is that it is not just about the experience unfolding within the mind of an isolated individual but also about social interactions between people." (Slingerland, 2014;52)
I would argue that Ultra running, specifically trail and mountain ultra running meets all these criteria. It is not just an individualistic pursuit of self improvement. Yes, some of the people racing at the front of the pack are running to win, but most are not. Even the elites at the front are part of a certain ultra running community and culture. And having seen Rob Krar run past me in the opposite direction, I can say if anyone was in Wu Wei, it was him.

There is a reason most of these races take places in wild, mountainous places or desert environments. The ultra that takes place on a track doesn't capture the imagination in the same way. For sure, it is hard and requires a certain mental fortitude and skill set. But it is nature that sets apart the trail run.

The trail has a mixture of monotony and complexity. Simplicity and toughness.

Then there is the fact that pretty much no one runs these races without a crew. You are a team, you are not a lone individual. And if you don't have a crew, there is still the aid stations, the sense of community and support. And why do most people enter these races rather than run alone in the wilderness. The community, the social aspect of like minded people, you are not alone. The tribe.

Leadville 100.

Yes, there is flow, but it is more. The ethics of running in the wilderness. Leave no trace, leave no tracks. Can you be an ultra runner and be a bad person morally?

Default Mode Network (DMN)

A common question is 'don't you get bored running?' and 'what do you think about when you are running?'. The answers are no, and nothing really, I'm not really thinking about anything, I don't know what I'm really thinking about for all those hours. Something has been switched off.

You brain has something called the default mode network. It is several parts of your brain linked together, and it is what you mind does when you are bored. It wanders, you day dream, you think about the past, you think about the future. It is your brains default setting.

But you can quiet it down, you can focus on the present, the now. Several studies show that one way of turning down the DMN is mindful meditation. It helps you live in the now.

In mindful meditation you let thoughts come and go, you don't become attached to them. There is awareness, but a loss of your socially constructed self.

But don't think this is an airy-fairy state. Robert Wright, professor of evolutionary psychology says

"There is an edge to mindfulness. A rebellion against natural selection. A radical re-organisation of the mind." (2015, lecture Buddhism & Modern Psychology)

If you are driving a route you always drive, it is easy for your mind to wander, the task is easy. Its the same on the standard 5k route that you run out of your front door. You know it so well, that you don't really need to think about the run. You start to think about what you are going to buy for dinner and how to quit your job.

But trail running is technical. If you stop concentrating you might fall down a hole, or on a race, you might miss a turning. You need to be in the moment. I would argue that your DMN has been turned down.

A koan is a paradoxical question used in meditation. It helps to break down rational thinking and focus on the now. Such as what is Mu? Who am I? What is the sound of one hand clapping?

The question is repeated over and over. Does the repetition result in a flow state? The question is complex and simple at the same time, and the act of repeating it over and over again is also simple on one level.

Is ultra running a moving koan?

Not just the question of why the hell am I doing this?! But the mixture of repetition, relentless movement and complexity.  The trail can be complex, it can be simple, and then it goes on for a long time, maybe a whole day. You have to be flexible but have a strategy but you have to focus on each moment on the trail.

Is ultra running moving Zen. Hakuin (a Japanese Zen master from back in the day) said

"Meditation in action is a thousand times superior to meditation in stillness." (quoted in Skinner, 2015;78)
Do Zen, Moving Zen. Calligraphy by Shinzan Roshi.By Shinzan Miyamae Roshi (Daizan Skinner Roshi) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Transient Hypofrontality

There is a part of your brain called the Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC). It is the higher part of the brain involved in decision making, planning, working toward a goal, differentiating between good and bad, working memory and more.

The work of Arne Dietrich shows that endurance exercise essentially switches off the pre frontal cortex. In a similar way to meditation, hypnosis and certain drugs.

"Although the hypothesis of exercise-induced transient hypofrontality was developed to account for the beneficial effects of exercise on mental health, the prolonged disengagement of higher cognitive centers in the prefrontal cortex also offers a neural mechanism that provides insight into the alteration of consciousness known as the runner's high. Some of the phenomenologically unique features of this state such as experiences of timelessness, living in the here and now, reduced awareness of one's surroundings, peacefulness (being less analytical), and floating (diminished working memory and attentional capacities), are consistent with a state of frontal hypo- function. Even abstruse feelings such as the unity with the self and/or nature might be more explicable, considering that the prefrontal cortex is the very structure that provides us with the ability to segregate, differentiate, and analyze the environment" (Dietrich, 2003;241)
So we have
  • a sense of timelessness
  • living in the here & now
  • peacefulness
  • not being so analytical. Switching off our rational mind

In Dietrich's studies total exercise time was no more 50 minutes, at 70-80% heart rate max (Dietrich 2004). Now imagine what happens to your PFC if your are in this zone for 5,10, 24 hours?!

You are returning to the mind of a child in some senses. As the PFC does not develop fully until your late teens.

Down regulating your PFC helps us to break categorical inflexibility. In other words, think outside of the box and not have such rigid ideas. It is one of the reasons that children can play with a cardboard box for hours, they don't just see it as a box. Their thinking has not become rigid and PFC dominated yet.

Or in the words of the DaoDeJing

"Concentrating your qi (vital energies) and attaining the utmost suppleness, can you be a child?" (Chapter 10, Laozi) 

Endurance exercise is literally causing areas of your brain to switch off and return to a more child like mind! Now imagine if you take that exercise out of the lab and transpose it to a natural environment.

I went into the woods.... Attention Restoration Theory

Thoreau famously went into the woods. He realised the power of the natural environment.

Thoreau quote. Source: www.panampost.com

In one study (Berman et al 2008) two groups of students were given a memory task called an n-back task. They had to remember numbers and look for repetition, it means you have to hold 4 numbers in your head at any one time. After the initial task, half the group was sent for a 20 minute walk around the local town, the other half went to the University Arboretum.

Before the walk they were equally matched. After the walk, the group that had been in the more natural environment of the trees were significantly better at the task than the walk in town group.

The natural environment allows your directed attention to be restored and replenished. The natural environment is inherently rich in fascinating stimuli. There is a modest engagement, it doesn't take much to disengage and look at something else. Look at tree, look at the mountains, feel the breeze.

This is unlike the urban environment which consumes your attentional resources and drains you. Adverts are shouting at you, there is traffic. If you are out running, you have to cross the road, avoid getting run over, swerve around people.
"In sum, we have shown that simple and brief interactions with nature can produce marked increases in cognitive control." (Berman et al 2008;1211)

This is why the 10k road run is never going to cut it in terms of restoring your attention or letting your DMN quieten down. Urban environments are draining your attention.

Whereas running in a natural environment is having a restorative effect.

The quality of your mind is affected by your local environment (Clifford Saron, 2015).

Nature is effectively restoring your attention reserves and allowing your brain to work better.

Nothing special. Trying not to try.

Wu Wei is a paradox. Like an athlete trying not to choke when making a crucial play. Or like trying not to think of anything.

It can't be forced. But certain circumstances will allow it to happen more readily.

Ultra running is mix of endurance exercise, repetition and complexity. Ultra running is working at several levels:-

1)It can put you in a flow state. You are at the edge of your abilities and getting constant feedback (you are either moving forward or not).

2)The act of running, the repetition, the rhythm is akin to counting your breath in mindful meditation. It is down regulating your default mode network, and puts you in state of awareness, being fully present in the now.

3) The endurance exercise turns down you pre frontal cortex, the transient hypo-frontality makes you lose sense of time and rigid concepts.

4)The natural environment is restorative and make you feel part of something much bigger.

5) If you are lucky it engenders a sense of Wu Wei. You are engaging with the ground. It feels effortless.

It is beyond flow.
You, the environment, your crew, the other participants, it is all in harmony.

Running is simple on one level. Running 100 mile has no benefit outside of itself.

In the words of Shunryu Suzuki when he is talking about meditation and zen and trying to attain something, it is "nothing special". In that sense running ultra marathon is no more special than not running them, or playing ping pong or washing up. But on the other hand it is a very special experience.

It is a paradox, if you go on to the trail looking to find something or change something or transform yourself, you won't. If you chase after it you won't grasp it. As some Chinese guys figured out over 2000 years ago without running a step.

The trail is waiting, it is always there.

In short, go for a trail run. It will literally change your mind!

It is the totality of the experience. It is carrying everything you need. It is being in the wilderness and switching off from everything. It is sitting in tents at night talking, lit by head torch. It is the specialness of brewing instant coffee early in the morning while chatting. Forest, beach, ocean. It is running at night with your brother, deep in the forest. I emerged from the forest, running the sand covered fire breaks down onto the beach. The sea was crashing in. I ran south. It felt like I could run forever.

"One who is good at travelling leaves no tracks or traces." (Ch 27, DaoDeJing)
Related blog posts from me:
The Trail (Homecoming).
On Mindful Training.
On Wasting Time.
Vanishing Point. Zen and the Art of Training.

This post is massively indebted to the MOOC Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science, taught by Prof.Edward Slingerland at The University of British Columbia.

Csikszentmihalyi M (1997) Finding Flow

The translations of the DaoDeJing are taken from Ivanhoe PJ & Van Norden BW(2003) Readings in Classical Chinese

Suzuki Shunryu (1970) Zen Mind Beginners Mind 

Van Norden (2011) Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy

Translation of Zhuangzi taken from the Burton Watson translation (2013) The Complete Works of Zhuangzi

The Zen Character: Life, Art and Teachings of Zen Master Shinzan Miyamae. Edited by Julian Daizan Skinner (2015)

Slingerland E (2014) Trying not to Try. Kindle version

Journal articles
Berman et al (2008) The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature. Psychological Science


Clifford Sarons The University of Virginia. lectures on the neuroscience of meditation. Tibetan Buddhism and the Modern World

Robert Wright, Princeton University, the section on default mode network and meditation. Buddhism and Modern Psychology

Monday, January 11, 2016

Fitness and Nutrition Trends in 2016.

Want to keep at the cutting edge of health, fitness and well-being, well look no further.
These are my predictions for the top trends in 2016. Some could be real, some could be tongue in cheek, some could be both; I'll let you decide.

1.Bulletproof Tibetan Tea

Bulletproof coffee is so 2012. This year Tibetan Tea will be big. Yep, if butter is good for you, then Yaks butter must be better, plus you are getting all the health benefits of tea. And if that wasn't enough the added salt will help with your electrolyte balance post workout. Lastly, you will be helping to support local Yak herders, bonus!

Tibetan beverage: Tea, Yaks Butter & Salt. What's not to like. Image source www.fitfoodhouse.net

What could be better than Tibetan tea? This Super Chai Tea recipe that I have just invented.

Super Chai Tea (Bulletproof Monk tea)

1 teaspoon of Matcha green tea (if not available PG Tips pyramid bags will do fine)
25ml of MCT Oil (if you can't find this, organic Yaks Milk or butter is a good substitute)
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Stevia or locally sourced raw honey to taste.

Brew the Matcha green tea in the traditional way, then blend in the MCT Oil/ Yaks milk/ butter and turmeric. Sprinkle  cinnamon on top, add in stevia or honey if you like it sweet.

This brew packs a powerful punch. There is the antioxidant, tumour fighting, thermogenic tea mixed with antiviral fat based fuel of the MCT oil/ Yaks milk. Add in the anti-inflammatory turmeric, and the insulin modulating cinnamon, making this the ideal breakfast concoction.

Please note I just made this recipe up but I have refused to google it just in case someone is actually drinking this stuff for real.

By drinking Bulletproof Monk tea you are supporting your local Yak Herder

2.Mindful everything

2015 was the year of mindfulness. Eating food mindfully, mindful breathing, mindful corporations, mindful colouring books and so on. We already have a mindfully based exercise system called Yoga, but there is no way to capitalise on this. Hence we need a 'mindful workout'.

In mindfulness meditation a common practice is to count your breath and count to 10. And when else do you need to count to 10? When you are counting reps in the gym that's when. And mindfulness resistance training is now born. It has to be counting to 10, low reps such as 3 while deadlifting won't work. Also when deadlifting you are focusing on making sure your back doesn't explode. Same goes for olympic lifting. But bicep curls are perfect, 10 reps of focused curling, the ultimate mindfulness exercises.

The mindfulness workout can be applied to anything in the 8-12 rep range, isolation exercises are perfect. It used to be called bodybuilding but there is no way I can sell that to you or sell it to the female market.

Les Mills Mindful will be launched later this year combining pump, balance and mindful breathing/ counting.

Follow up your mindful workout with a beverage from the land of mindfulness and loving kindness meditation - that's right a Tibetan Tea.

3.Post Natal Exercise... for Men

F**k Dad Bod. You've been sitting at home pretending to help out with the new born, but mainly you seem to be drinking tea and eating the cake that everyone keeps bringing around. Aside from the quick hoover round and nappy change your calorie output is close to zero.

You have re-discovered daytime TV and have realised it hasn't changed since you were a student. It still consists of older greying men with younger female sidekicks (Pip Schofield and Holly Willbesomething, the bloke on Countdown who used to be on The Apprentice plus a younger female number counter, and even the Daily Politics Shows has Andrew Neil, who borrowed his hairstyle from Donald Trump, and a younger female Millbank side-kick to help him out).

It's time to do something before you start looking forward to the latest spring fashion slot on the Lorraine Show. You need to get fit. But where to begin? Post Natal Classes for men of course! Where you can all get fit in a mutually supportive environment with other men, no one will judge you for having baby vomit on your Nike Dri Fit wick-away top. Then afterwards you can have a coffee and discuss whether Andrew Neils hair is real, the misogynist nature of media, if Piers Morgan is actually a cyborg sent from the future to annoy us and if you drink Tibetan Tea( bulletproof monk tea) will you be able to fit in those skinny jeans for summer?

4.The rise and rise of online coaching, Vloggers, Instagram experts and apps

Somewhere in Shoreditch a woman in her early 20's is opening a Tibetan Tea cafe using start up money from her parents who live in Cambridgeshire. One day she is frothing up a Yaks Milk Latte for a customer and realises that someone may be interested in her flex-vegan Italian-paleo recipes.

She immediately rushes home and her housemate videos her making a pasta/ paleo mash up dinner. They link this to her house-mates own Youtube page, he is trying to carve out a niche playing banjo fuelled electro pop folk fusion. They put one of his tracks over the top of the video. Her other house mate works for a local PR company and is currently working on promoting locally sourced beard grooming products which he then mentions in their Vlog.

Before, she knows it, she has 20 million Instagram followers and a 10 book publishing deal. Even though she has no nutritional qualifications, is not a qualified chef and knows nothing about fitness she is soon on Daytime TV being interviewed about her weight-loss tips.

Meanwhile a Dad is sitting at home, while changing a nappy and eating a rocky road,  he hears her mention Tibetan Tea. He then tells all his mates at the Mens Post Natal Class. Before you know it, Tibetan tea has gone viral and a Shoreditch resident opens up a series of Tibetan Tea shops, which she then sells to a hedge fund.

Her banjo playing friend ends up in a structured reality TV show and then realised his own fitness DVD. His debut album is released on itunes...

5.Steady State Cardio makes a comeback

The last few years we have had HIIT and Tabatas and WODs. And these are all hard. Recently Hybrid training has started it make an impact mainly due to Alex Viada. And it makes a lot of sense.

The next logical step is the rise of steady state cardio. Problem is, it is very hard to re-package and re-sell, even harder to base a PT session around someone going for a walks or doing 30 minutes on a bike at conversational pace.

Les Mills have covered most areas, lifting weights, combat sports, dance, spinning, old people, young people. But they haven't covered walking yet.

Enter Les Mills Walk and Talk. The easy workout you can do anywhere. Just download the app, and every month they update your walking play list, get out there and power away the fat with gut busting steady state tunes. Two of the tracks on the initial Les Mills Walk and Talk release are from a Banjo electro pop artist based in London.

Can't walk? Don't worry there is Les Mills Chair. A series of chair based exercises with the latest motivational music. We do, however, recommend that you buy the specially constructed Reebok Chair TM, if you are going to be doing this in a small group fitness environment.

6.Strongman training for all. Strong man/women classes

Powerlifting is so 2 dimensional, and crossfit, and who's got time to learn how to do a muscle up or a handstand walk?

But strongman, that is 3 dimensional training and you get to lift lots of cool things. Re-brand it has fat burning and glute sculpting and you've got a product.

Now you need some equipment. A company has already made a fitness specific tyre, and are charging £650 for something you can essentially pick up for free at your local tip. And someone has already got a piece of plastic, filled it with water and called it The Surge. So what can you do? Atlas stones,  but we can do better, lets make it more primal. How about a rock. Yep, its a special rock, after all you can go and pick up a rock for free. But if you take that rock, paint it pink and call it Igneous Based Training System (IBTS), you've got a product.

A rock. But paint it pink, charge £200 for it and call it Igneous training and you've got a product.

Or just do some strong man inspired training with the equipment you've already got, and reap the benefits.

7.Gluten will make a comeback

Could we all be wrong, could gluten be a superfood? A special type of gluten of course, it won't be found in a loaf of Hovis. Special artisan gluten supplements harvested from a South American plant.

Or anything could become the next superfood. Personally I'm hoping it will be cheddar cheese.

8.Super hero workout.

The new Star Wars is out. And the lead character happens to lift weights, kerching. Combine with the mindfulness trend and you've got the Jedi Workout that you don't have to live in a swamp to do. Replace Yoda with a weighted vest. Or even better, if someone at Disney marketing has got their head screwed on they will produce a Yoda weighted vest.

In the summer there will also be Batman v's Superman v's Banana Man v's SuperTed. Expect all these workouts to appear in Mens Health at some point.

Banana Man v Iron Man will start production this year. The banana man workout will appear in Mens Health. Image source www.bttm.co.uk

9.Backwards running

We've had barefoot running, Hoka trainers, tough mudders and all that. Its time for backwards running to go mainstream. The easy way to avoid injuries.

Plus, you can't run backwards run on a normal treadmill, so someone will have to build a backwards running treadmill. Retail cost £15,000.

While we're at it, obstacle course racing needs to evolve. Yes, it could be run backwards or why not add a Krypton Factor element, where you have to build a 3D puzzle blindfold at the half way point.

The Krypton Factor. When obstacles and tracksuits were proper. Source: www.tvcream.co.uk

10.Carb side loading

I have no idea. Its just a buzzword phrase. But carb back loading exists. I will figure out the details of the diet later. But trust me its going to be big.

11.Nano gyms

Space is at a premium, what's smaller than a micro gym? A nano gym of course. Combine this with a Tibetan tea bar franchise and you've got a business.

Well, there you go, these are my top predictions for 2016, lets see what becomes big. All ideas are trademarked, copyrighted and patent pending.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Leisure is dying. But something new will emerge. Part 2.

For part one go here

So in part one we looked at some of the problems facing the industry, now we have to ask some tough questions and be open to new answers.

Sacred Cows and Lost Opportunities.

The most important thing we can do to find new solutions is break out of the old model of doing things. And the first way to do this is in the way we listen and really go back to the basic fundamental question of why does this business exist and who is it for?

U Lab and Otto Scharmer talk about 4 levels of listening. Most listening we do in meetings is at the basic level 1, this is where everyone sounds the same, talking nice and saying what the boss wants to hear, we are not learning anything new. Even at the next level of debate, all we are doing is listening and reacting, trying to defend our position, not getting beyond our point of view.

Scharmer gives an example of when American automobile executives visited Japan in the 1980's to look at the they way they were producing cars. When they returned they were  convinced the Japanese hadn't shown them the real factory as it was too clean and organised. They couldn't get past their own perceptions of what their industry should look like even when presented with evidence there was a different way.

To really move on we need to go to the next level of reflective dialogue and collective creativity. We need to ask genuine questions, to move away from blame and not just defending view points and excepting all the sacred cows we cannot change.

Here are a few leisure industry/ fitness industry sacred cows and trite statements and products that we persist with, that we all buy into:-

  • Of course no one is in this industry for the money
  • Swimming pools are a money pit but we can't get rid of them
  • We have a sauna and steam room that most customers don't use
  • We have a monthly membership
  • People buy PT in blocks
  • Of course we need to have PT
  • Why do studio instructors get paid 3x more than lifeguards
  • We have to open at 6am, 7am, 24 hours to compete
  • We have to have student discounts even though this group is already spending £9000 a year minimum on education and is therefore willing to get into massive debt
  • We have to have discounts for the over 60's even though at the moment this age group have more disposable income than people in their late 20's
  • We have to keep running kids birthday parties even though they are a massive hassle, we can never find the staff to run them and the parents complain
  • We have to have badminton courts that make us £10 per hour maximum where a small PT gym in the same space as a court would make £100 per hour
  • We're not in it to make a profit but we do have a profit and loss spreadsheet. Leisure is somehow different from all other industries and can't make any money
  • We need a certain amount of cardio equipment even though most evenings now most of the cardio equipment is empty and the free-weights area is full, people's exercise habits have moved on
  • We don't have online coaching or products because we have a building. We can't have an online & physical business. See the example of John Lewis later for an answer this
  • We need changing rooms and showers
  • What would happen if we closed the studios and expanded the gym?
  • What would happen if we closed the gym and expanded the studios?
  • Our IT systems are too complicated and don't work for us, they make the job of the people on the front line harder, but there is nothing we can do.
  • etc etc
I'm sure you can think of a few yourself. In the words of U lab we need to 'turn the camera around on ourselves'. 

And realise that as an industry we collectively created these problems. It's easy to blame other individuals (Peter Senge, Ulab interview) rather than looking at our part in this as well.

We are all weird now

Seth Godin has made the point there are no average people now. As an industry we still think we can attract all people at all times. We can't. The middle market that leisure centre and health clubs are all clamoring for disappeared a long time ago or never existed in the first place as a substantial business sustaining segment.

We thought we could all be Tescos and be everything to everyone, but even supermarkets can't do that any more.

Does Top Shop try to appeal to the young teenager and the old pensioner? No. But we try to, with the same space, with the same gym and then wonder why the pensioner then complains that the music is too loud. I'm never going into Hollister to shop, and I am not meant to, its not for me.

Add up all the tribes, the outliers in fitness - powerlifters, cross fitters, Les Mills (which even breaks down into sub tribes, those who only like Body Attack, those who like Body Combat), figure competitors, olympic weightlifters, yoga (which then breaks down into different types of yoga) and all these tribes out number the middle mass market.


From the above discussion hopefully a few points have jumped out already... nothing is sacred, what can you safely remove from your business with no detrimental effect, what do you need to hold onto, what differentiates you, how can you craft an experience?

Pull up the weeds...

Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University (Coursera.org course Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence) gives an example of a vineyard in the wine country of Barcelona.

This vineyard was making cheap $10 a bottle bulk wine, and it was a loss maker. It couldn't even make money. Then one day the two brothers running it noticed some of the grapes were exceptionally good. And they thought, what if we could produce a vintage wine only using these grapes?

They had no previous history of producing quality wine. So they went to the rest of the family and explained their vision and what they would have to do. They would have to pull up and destroy the poor vines, and start to only grow the best vines.  They also went to the other growers in the area to explain their vision.

They would have to accept a transition period. They knew it would take time.

Now a bottle of wine from the Mas Doix region is worth $140 and is rated as one the best wines in the world.

So what are you best products, your best grapes? What can be ripped up and abandoned? How much of a transition period are you willing to accept?

Seth Godin gives the example of Jackson Hole ski resort when it transitioned from a resort aimed at everyone to only aiming at extreme skiers.

Yes, when you remove certain products you are going to piss off a certain number of people. There will always be that person who uses the sauna or whatever but you have to accept you cannot please everyone.

You have to ask fundamentally Why are we here as a business? And like the two brothers in Barcelona, the emotionally intelligent thing to do is take into account other peoples feelings and ideas to create your shared vision. Yes involve stakeholders and customers, but mainly involve your ground level staff to create a shared vision.

The perceived degree of shared vision predicts success (Boyatzis,2015 Coursera). If your staff aren't with you then it is already over.

And bear in mind you may not get it right first time.

'Nothing important will happen with the first try' (Ulab edx.org)

Staff again.

How your customers feel about your company is how they feel about your staff. You can either make the customer feel a little better or a little worse (Boyatzis, 2015, Coursera).

Isabel Guerro (former Vice President of the World Bank) states in an interview with Ulab)

"Remove as many obstacles as possible for people on the front line"
If the world bank can do it surely a club or centre can do this. Really think about the obstacles your staff have. Are you making your product simpler or more complicated? Are support staff helping or hindering. Are ideas lost or adopted? Do your training systems, recruitment strategies and rewards work or not?

"The people working on the front lines are often better positioned to drive continual improvements." (Robertson, 2015;33)
What your HR department thinks your organisation looks like
But really are your systems working for you?

What your organisation probably looks like, source: www.integrationtraining.co.uk

The experience.

As alluded to previously in part 1, the new economy is experienced based. The whole book Stuffocation is based on people looking for experiences rather than stuff.

People go to Disney for the experience (and it may not be an experience I want, and that's okay they are not aiming at me). People go to see Star Wars for the experience of the film.

Pine and Gilmore in Welcome to the Experience Economy state

"Experiences are a distinct economic offering"
and are they are memorable, is your club or centre memorable for the right reasons?

I see some people confusing the idea of experience with architecture. Yes, if your experience is predicated on fantastic changing rooms and designer towels and shower gel you've got no choice. But experience is much more than this. No one goes to Westside Barbell or Metroflex Gym or any crossfit gym for the shower gel and towels. It is a distinct experience.

I would say a company like Les Mills have grasped this. When I visited their Head Office in London they had very much realised that the design of the group fitness space, the instructor, the music, the lighting, the feeling of a tribe (and which tribe they were aiming at - millennials or mums) were all part of the experience. Even if many of the places that buy the licence for their product have not grasped this concept. (I have no affiliation with Les Mills by the way).

What do people remember about the experience of your product, and remember the experience doesn't just have to be in your building, it can be online too.

"I don't want stuff. I want the need or experience it fulfills." (Rachel Botsman quoted in Scharmer 2013;134)
Do we even know what experience we are trying to produce? And please don't say friendly and welcoming with good customer service! Who doesn't want to be these things, experience goes beyond this.

A company like John Lewis has grasped experience (as well as a different way of employee remuneration). A few years ago they had no online presence, now they have a massive online presence. But this hasn't taken away from their stores. Their Christmas advert has become a tradition in a few short years. People still go to their stores and buy things, especially at Christmas, even though they can buy the same things online.Why? They have created an in-store experience that people want to be part of.

Experience is about participation. The customer has to be engaged. When I switch utility suppliers I don't really care about participation, it's a passive thing. But when people come to a club or centre they are actively choosing to spend at least an hour of their leisure time with you. How do engage them, how do you make them feel like they are part of something to justify your price being more than a budget club. After all, they could easily go for a walk for free outside or put some weights in their garage, why are they with you?

What adds to your experience, what detracts from your experience? A few ideas
  • Does a vending machine selling the same stuff as your local petrol station add or detract from your health and fitness experience?
  • Does your class booking system add or detract from the experience?
  • Does the entry point, music, layout, staff uniform add or detract from the experience?
  • etc etc

Fundamentally ask why does the world need us and our product? (Robertson, 2015).


You may have noticed I haven't given you a prescriptive solution, as in you need to get rid of this and focus on this. First of all, every place is different, what your strengths are (your award winning grapes) I might not have even thought of.

For you the answer might be to have a hall that only has badminton, you've figured out a way to make money from a badminton only business (if someone can make a ping pong bar then this is probably viable). I hereby copyright 'Badminton Bar'!

Or your strength is rehab and GP referral and this should be your niche. Or you've figured out a way to make a business based on swimming lessons (and make a profit?!)

Or should focus on youth strength and kids fitness. Or you should have a great group fitness experience that only does Les Mills or indoor cycling like soul cycling.

I don't know what your experience should be, but please don't just try and tack on the above ideas to what you already do and hope for the best.

Secondly, collaboration is a powerful thing, I don't have all the answers, but I bet your team has all the answers you need if you let them tell you.

You should know what dead wood needs to be removed, you should know what your strong products should be, and the experience your customers should have.

Start with

"If this was my company, what would I do?' (Robertson 2015;25)
Key points
  • Have the conversation with the front line staff, really listen they have some of the answers
  • Are managers and support staff adding value to your business?
  • What is the shared vision?
  • This vision decides which choice grapes you focus on and which weeds you pull up
  • Accept transition and you can't please everyone
  • What is your experience going to be? Craft it.
  • Keep evolving, creating and improving.

Yes, I was melodramatic at the start of part 1, is leisure dying? It will still be here in some form, of course, and it will drag on in its current form for a while until everyone goes and opens their own microgym or goes to work for Lidl to get paid more.

But something new will emerge. And collectively we can create this. Exciting times.

"Decades of scientific research have revealed that great creativity almost always springs from collaboration, conversation, and social networks—challenging our mythical image of the isolated genius. And research shows that when a group is in flow, it’s more likely to resolve problems with surprising and creative solutions." (R Keith Sawyer quoted in The Science of Happiness, University of Berkeley, module 7,edx.org)
Film reference of the day: It depends on why you built it, where you built it and who you built it for. image source: www.corumgroup.com

For more on all this stuff please see the following posts from me
The digital disruption of the fitness industry
Induction, Program, Leave, Repeat
No Joining Fee. The Fitness Industry Epic Fail
References and acknowledgements.

This whole thing has a big debt to two Massive Online Open Courses. (MOOCs). The future of learning probably isn't £9000 a year institutions any more.

Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence. Case Western Reserve University. www.courser.org
U Lab: Transforming Business, Society and Self. www.edx.org
U lab website


The Science of Happiness. University of Berkeley. www.edx.org


Goleman D, Boyatzis R, McKee a (2002) The New Leaders. Transforming the Art of Leadership into the Science of Results.

Scharmer O & Kaufer K (2013) Leading from the Emerging Future.

Robertson B (2015) Holacracy. The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy.

Wallman J (2015) Stuffocation. Living More with Less.

Pine & Gilmore (1998) Welcome to the Experience Economy. Harvard Business Review.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Leisure is dying. But something new will emerge. Part 1.

To be clear leisure as an activity is not dying. People will ride bikes, go to the park and visit the cinema. What is probably dying is the business of leisure centres and health clubs.

In part one (yes this so big it's a two parter) I will identify the reasons and diagnosis/ evidence it is dying and then in part two offer some possible solutions.

And this comes from a point of honest and open discussion, if we all just shut down and hope for the best or keep repeating what we have always done then we are doomed to failure. I happen to know about leisure and fitness, you could apply these ideas to many types of business that are dying right now.

Imagine a business where 1) most staff get paid minimum wage 2) the company doesn't have to pay rent on it's premises 3) you don't have to pay VAT 4) and if you are lucky someone gives you a grant each month as well. If this business can't make a profit or break even, then their business model is in big trouble, it is a failure model.

Film reference for the day.

The same goes for the big monolithic health clubs. They have more overheads but still follow the minimum wage model, and yes they can raise some money from the private sector for a while but eventually the house of cards collapses. There is no sound business at the core of what they are doing.

The pressures on these business are considerably higher than they were 10 years ago. The market has fragmented and exploded. The competition comes from budget clubs charging £16.99 a month, from micro gyms (so called boutique gyms, but I don't like this name, makes it sound like a clothes shop in Camden), crossfit, workout in the park, fitness apps, online coaches, people buying programmes from someone on instagram.

Too big to fail? Of course not, visit any high street, where has Blockbuster, Woolworths, Virgin Megastore and a hundred other big business's gone? They failed to adapt to the emerging future. And remember the financial crisis, several banks only exist now because they were bailed out. And then there are governments and nation states which fail all the time, such as is happening in Europe right now. To think that the people running the leisure industry are any different would be myopic at best.

You think anyone is going to bail out the leisure industry when it goes pear shaped? Local governments are £10 billion in the hole, their priority is not going to be to save your LBT class (although, local councils do seem to love swimming pools for some reason...)

The basic business model centres and clubs hasn't really changed since the 1980's. Have a big building. And the contents of these buildings have evolved from squash courts to multi gyms to big gyms, and always the ubiquitous swimming pools. And in the 1990's the big health club chains expanded and most leisure centres just followed this model with monthly memberships and gyms and studios and all that, and nothing has really changed. Then there was the concept of leisure for all, even though it never can be because at some point you have to charge some money and even if it was free some people don't want your product, and now most budget gyms are way cheaper as well.

Actual money pit and perennial excuse.

If It can happen in the private sector, anyone remember Esporta, Holmes Place, Canons? Then it can happen in the semi private/ trust/ charity/ council funded sector as well.

Signs & Symptoms.

"most companies perish while their management is frozen with terror" 
(Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee, 2002;320)

A few key pointers that an industry is in trouble:

  • Heavy discounting of the product, hoping that somehow this will attract new customers (as Seth Godin says, if someone doesn't want your product, discounting it won't make any difference).
  • Raising the price for existing customers. If they are already with us, may be we can make them pay more.
  • Reverse pyramid management structure. The front line service is cut but you still have a whole bunch of middle and upper managers (people rarely make themselves redundant).
  • A 'sell more' one trick pony strategy. We just need to sell more, this isn't a strategy but a shrill shout of someone who has run out of ideas. This is like the manager of a football team saying 'what you need to start doing is winning', and 'if you keep kicking the ball at the goal one of them is bound to go in'. Thanks coach, we all know what we need to do, but how, where is the plan, where is the coherent strategy?
  • And engaging in a whole process which Otto Scharmer and U Lab at MIT would call 'absencing'. There is closing down, holding onto what we already know, holding onto the patterns of the past and collectively enacting results that no one wants.
  • Continuing to pursue aspects of their business that do not make money in the hope that these will somehow magically transform into something that makes money and they don't want to piss off the minority of people who still use these services.
  • In his book Holacracy Brian Robertson lists some other warning signs about organisations including "emails flying around with many people cc'd in, often for unclear reasons" and "people have lots of ideas about what 'we' should do... but 'we' doesn't do it" (Robertson 2015;41)
Cutting costs, skimping on staff, not fixing things, does that sound familiar? It's the standard model for most failing business's.

"It's what most companies and institutions are doing today - they respond to challenges by doing more of the same: cutting costs and becoming lean and mean, but not reinventing themselves." Scharmer & Kaufer (2013;245)

A lone person with a Skype connection can make more money and influence more people than most of the current traditional fitness industry.

Micro gyms don't follow the same old tired model. In some ways they have figured out that 80% of their business comes from 20% of their clients (Paretos Law). However, I do see some micro gyms which end up following the same path as the business's they left. They decide to have monthly memberships with all sorts of discounts for all sorts of people, they then decide that what they need is longer opening hours and before you know they're paying some poor sap (coach) to sit on a reception desk for minimum wage while not actually coaching anyone. At this point they have become a single site version of what they tried to avoid except the owners have some equipment that they personally like in their gym. For how to do it properly see Cressey Performance, Cosgrove and Mike Boyle to name a few.

50% of people in management positions are not adding any value. Another 20-30% may be adding value in one persons view. Therefore 70-80% of people in management can be removed from their role and the organisation will run smoothly. (Boyatzis, 2015, Coursera.org)

Think about that for a second, and if you're a manager really think about that. Does your organisation really need you, do the customers in your club really need you. What do they really need, what value are you adding?

The only asset you have that can't be copied is your staff.

Most aspects of your business can easily be copied, anyone can rent a space and lease a load of equipment. Anyone can have a really good website these days. These are not hard things to copy.

The only thing that you have that cannot be directly copied because they are unique are your staff. They create the culture, they create the atmosphere. But how much are we investing in ground level staff?

Despite this, the turnover of staff is very high in leisure at the lower levels. How can you retain customers when you can't retain staff. The holy grail of member retention is lost before you've even engaged with a customer.

Right now, Sport Direct have announced that they will be paying above minimum wage. This means that a company that is widely regarded as being one step above working in a gulag has just trumped most of the leisure industry.

And why do most people leave?

"The number one reason that people cite for quitting is dissatisfaction with the boss. In a tight labor market, when people have the ability to get an equivalent job easily, those with bad bosses are four more times likely to leave than those who appreciate the leader they work for." (Goldman, Boyatwzis, McKee  2002;105)

Thinking this is a service industry when it's an experience industry.

It's easy to think you provide a service, here is a room full of machines, here is a swimming pool. Thinking in terms of pure utility. And there are some customers who want a pure utility, a cross trainer, a class taught by anyone in any old room. These people are going to go and buy the lowest price option.

In the world of renting telephone lines and broadband, this idea of service works. All prices are pretty much the same, the same line is coming into your house whoever you rent it from. However much these companies think they are different they really aren't.

It's easy to confuse customer service and experience. One way to think of it is explained by Pine & Gilmore (1998) in their seminal article:

"An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage."
And guess what, if you think you are in the service industry you probably turn your product into an experience everyday you don't clean something or someone gets told the wrong thing at reception and the complaint comments flood in.

"The easiest way to turn a service into an experience is to provide poor service." (Pine & Gilmore)

More on this later in the solutions section.

That's the end of Part 1. The stage is set, we all know what the problems are, but how do we change it? See you in part deux, which is here.

For more on all this stuff please see the following posts from me
The digital disruption of the fitness industry
Induction, Program, Leave, Repeat
No Joining Fee. The Fitness Industry Epic Fail

References and acknowledgements.

This whole thing has a big debt to two Massive Online Open Courses. (MOOCs). The future of learning probably isn't £9000 a year institutions any more.

Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence. Case Western Reserve University. www.courser.org
U Lab: Transforming Business, Society and Self. www.edx.org
U lab website


The Science of Happiness. University of Berkeley. www.edx.org


Godin S (2011) We Are All Weird

Goleman D, Boyatzis R, McKee a (2002) The New Leaders. Transforming the Art of Leadership into the Science of Results.

Scharmer O & Kaufer K (2013) Leading from the Emerging Future.

Robertson B (2015) Holacracy. The Revolutionary Management System that Abolishes Hierarchy.

Wallman J (2015) Stuffocation. Living More with Less.

Pine & Gilmore (1998) Welcome to the Experience Economy. Harvard Business Review.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The (almost) universal belief that January will be different.

We humans like landmarks, patterns and milestones.

No one starts a new diet on a Tuesday afternoon in December (and if you did, please don't write to me to prove I'm wrong).

But people start new exercise programmes on Monday mornings all the time, and at the start of the month, and especially in January.

Even though these days and months are arbitrary.

And what's more, we are more likely to write something off if we fail early. Well, I've eaten badly all day, no point starting now, this evening, might as well wait until tomorrow.

Missed exercise on Monday and Tuesday, no point starting now, might as well write off the whole week and start next week.

And I'm half way through the month, no point starting now, I will wait until next month, next year. January, the mother of all beginnings, the mother of all failures.

I wonder if in countries where the new year starts in February or the day of rest is Friday or Saturday the same thing happens?

Of course, the best time to start is now. Right now. There is no other time. You don't need a specific plan, you don't need to wait until your organic paleo meat/veg box arrives or buy those new trainers.

As my colleague once said (and I'm paraphrasing) 'I could give the best programme right now, I could give you George St Pierre's programme but it won't make you George St Pierre, you don't need a programme, you need a habit, and you need to stop that other habit you have of drinking a bottle of wine a night; that will do more than any programme or personal training session.'

How to fail 100% guaranteed and how to succeed.

The number one easiest way to fail is to be vague. Nebulous statements like I want to get fit, eat more healthily and have more energy are a road to failure. Well, how much energy do you have right now, how much do you want to have? It's like saying you want to be happy. What specifically is going to make you happy. This is why most people entering the gym in January will fail, they have a vague idea that they want something to be better, but they don't know what.

They want the future to be a certain way but they don't really know how (see Daniel Gilbert's book Stumbling on Happiness, for a more complete discussion of why people are bad at predicting the future and what will make them happy). Hint: Your view of the future is distorted by the present, for the same reason the produces of Back to the Future II thought 2015 would be full of fax machines.

The second way is making the goal too easy. If there are no consequences, if it can be achieved easily you are more likely not to bother. Yeah, I'll get around to that at some point, it doesn't matter if I skip this workout or eat 2 kilos of Dairy Milk.

As Heidi Halvorson in her book Succeed says

"Difficult but possible is the key. That's because more difficult goals cause you to, often unconsciously, increase your effort, focus, and commitment to the goal; persist longer; and make better use of the most effective strategies."


"Most goals worth achieving require time, planning, effort, and persistence."

Case in point number 1:

I entered the Leadville 100 trail run in 2014. It just so happened that the day you can enter is 1st January. For me this was a big goal. It wasn't until August, but I went out for a run that day. I knew it was difficult, and furthermore it had cost me a couple of hundred dollars to enter and I had a plane ticket to Denver that cost me $1000. Therefore, there were physical and economical reasons why I was not going to go at this half hearted. For me, a local 10k race wasn't going to cut it, it wouldn't have had the same effect; it would not have made me go out and run in the rain and snow - I would have skipped training sessions.

But everything is relative. The goal should be difficult for you, whatever that may be and you have to attach consequences.

And the last reason for failure is lack of planning.

I often hear people saying they are going to attend the gym 2-3 x week. This is not a plan, its a wish. A plan would be writing down exactly what days and times they are going to the gym, what the routine will be etc etc.  Most people don't do this, they don't want to be held accountable. Even though the research shows this is the way to do it.

Again to quote Heidi Halvorson

"Planning when, where, and how you will take the actions needed to reach your goal is probably the single most effective thing you can do to increase your chances of success."

Now, I have written before about SMART goals here and here , and I don't think it necessarily has to be in that format.

And for me intent and 'wanting something' comes before planning. For example, I could write a detailed plan about how to become an accountant. But I am never going to do it because 1) I have no interest in being an accountant and 2) There are no consequences if I don't become one.

Conversely, when it comes to exercise I don't have a plan. The thing is I find training intrinsically motivating and satisfying, I enjoy going to the gym 3 or 5 times a week. I like training and lifting weights for the sake of it with no outcome goals. However, training for 100 mile run is different, for me that needed a plan and a mindset change.

And for me nutrition is something where I can easily drift off into a world of cakes, cheese and carbs. Eat 'better' is something I want to do, there are consequences health wise if I don't and therefore a plan works. If I write a shopping list, if I write a rough template of meals for the week, if I prepare for the week on Sunday then it works.

Case in point number 2: 

For years I tried to meditate and practice mindfulness. I knew what the research showed, I knew it was a good thing to do, I knew it would only be 10-20mins out of my day but I just never did it. I would do it once and then not bother and then it was something I was going to do in the future.

Then this January I decided to do 100 days in a row. I followed a course of meditation and when that finished I followed another one. I committed to doing something everyday, even if it was 10.30pm and I was tired I committed to doing 10-15 mins at least. There was no immediate reward, there was no end goal, the goal was the process, the goal was to do it. And I did. And then in a very subtle way I could feel the change, it wasn't dramatic but it was a habit. And now if I miss a day I don't beat myself up, because I know I still do it more days than I don't.

But this isn't about goal setting.

If you want to read about goal setting I recommend reading the Heidi Halvorson book.

And this isn't about my goals, the above were just examples from my own personal experience. I know what its like to set goals, fail goals, miss opportunities, try again, succeed, put maximum effort in, put no effort in and hope for the best. And along the way I found out one thing.

It has to matter to you. It has to galvanise you. It can't be someone else's goal or idea of what is good to do or not to do. The most important thing is to start. What is the spark that will set the wheels in motion (yep, I mixed some metaphors there).

If the gym isn't your thing please don't waste your time and money (and mine by writing you a programme that you will never follow). But conversely, you have to give it time, it should be hard, it should be challenging, you won't see results in two weeks. And eventually it should be satisfying.

All I can say is don't waste time thinking about it, don't wait for the perfect moment. Don't look for the approval of others. Start now, there is no time to lose. Doing something will move you closer to the outcome than doing nothing, however small that 'something' is.

And the last word goes to some Japanese fella back in the day:

"But don't dawdle. Imagine yourself on your deathbed at this very moment. What alone can help you?"
"The problem of birth and death is momentous, and the world moves fast. Make the most of time, for it waits for no one." - Bassui (quoted in Kapleau 2000: 190-192)
Really think about that for a moment. And then use it pursue whatever you need to pursue and don't lose sight of the impermanence of everything.

This moment will pass and it will be lost. Don't lose another year, don't lose another second.

If the day you happen to start is in January, so be it, but it won't be different to any other time of year unless you are different in your approach.

Have a good 2016, make it count.

Do you think this guy knew he was going be Iron Man back in 1995? Image source: www.weknowmemes.com


Gibert D (2006) Stumbling On Happiness

Halvorson H (2010) Succeed. (Kindle book)

Kapleau P (2000) The Three Pillars of Zen