Throughout our lives we are presented with opportunities to learn, grow and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, and the world around us.
Some lessons come easier than others, whilst many important ones, like the value of kindness, are hiding right in front of us.
So how do we gain insight and uncover the illusive mysteries of life? Should we be on a never-ending quest of self-improvement and knowledge seeking? Or, is it okay to just… be still, and accept where you are?
My guest today is Sam Hart. A schoolteacher, dedicated multi-sport fitness enthusiast and host of The Insight Podcast, which features conversations with leaders in the fields of psychology, health, science and spirituality. Each episode Sam and his guests explore some big topics, including modern masculinity, sleep optimisation, mental health, well-being and nutrition. And through social media, Sam champions personal growth with a steady stream of mindful maxims, inspirational quotes and powerful book recommendations.
For those of you who haven’t yet experienced The Insight Podcast, I urge you to give it a listen immediately following this episode – you can thank me later.
Throughout our chat, a key theme that we kept returning to was that of stepping stones. From the events that led to the creation of his show, to seeing a hypnotherapist at an early age and how that led him down a path of self-discovery. And later, how Harry Potter turned into History and then a healthy diet of diverse literature.
Speaking of, we also spent some time talking about health and fitness, including the role both play in Sam’s life and how that has changed over the years, as well as the lessons he’s learned along the way.
And on that topic, Sam also spoke candidly about why he tries to impart the importance of kindness on his students, and how it’s a crucial part of his curriculum. We also explored why it’s okay to not always be learning… but instead, inviting stillness and being conscious of where you’re at… instead of always chasing what’s next.
Plus, we dive into some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of podcasting, approaches to interviewing and where he sees the show going in the future.
Okay, here we go.
The transcript of this episode has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sam, welcome to New Ways.
Sam: Cheers, man. I appreciate you having me.
It’s been a long time coming. This is a conversation I’ve really been looking forward to. You’re a fantastic interviewer, but I have to ask, what’s it like being on this side of the interview?
It’s a little nerve racking, I have to say. I find talking about myself a little bit awkward. I don’t know where it stems from, perhaps being the youngest of five. I’ve got three older sisters and older brother, and maybe I was always the quiet one, and maybe it stems from that. But I was just always in the background thinking and listening and watching, and I never really took to the stage so much. But it’s something I’ve worked on a lot in the last, I’d say, five years or so. I’d like to be more confident, share more openly. So, I feel a little bit awkward, but I’m trying to lean into that awkwardness more and more at the moment.
Nice. Well, let’s lean right in. How about this… Who is Sam Hart and what is your mission?
Oof! Right, so, 36 years old. I live in Birmingham. From Birmingham, I’ve grown up here, apart from a few stints abroad in Spain, America, Austria and things. I’ve always lived here. Yes, teach year five at the moment, year three next year. So that’s seven and eight year olds. I’m not sure how the year grouping works over there in Australia, but that’s how it is over here.
And who am I? I guess I am a person that is on a journey, realises that I realise I’ve got a lot of work to do, lots of improvements to make. And so I’m just trying to dive into that, which I enjoy. I absolutely love. I absolutely love. I love learning. I love speaking to people. And so, aside from my work as a teacher, I’ve also, as you mentioned, set up The Insight Podcast, which is all about having conversations that I find interesting, first and foremost. And I think I can take a lot from thinking about how I can improve my life in some way, do things a little better. And then hopefully other people will take something from that. So I suppose that is the mission. That is the mission to keep growing myself and then see if I can do my little part just to help the people around me as well on their journey.
You mentioned learning and teaching, and I suppose, as you said, you’re a teacher by trade, you’ve gone from teaching at school or added the aspect of teaching online as well through The Insight Podcast as well. Can you tell me a little bit about how that came to be? How did the show begin?
The show began, it was originally called the Teach Strong Talks podcast because I had a company which was all to do with staff wellbeing, so helping teachers, TAs, anyone that works in the school with their health and happiness. It’s a big focus in England at the moment. I’m sure it is around the world as well, looking after our educators to make sure that they’re in the best position to teach pupils. Thankfully, there is more of a focus on the wellbeing and the health of children. There’s a lot of work to be done. But we were seeing, my partner at the time and I, that there wasn’t so much of a focus on the adults, the staff, and so we wanted to do something about that. So we set up this company.
And then alongside that, there was, of course, it came with the social media side of things. Then lockdown came. Started doing a few Instagram lives with guests that we found interesting to talk about what can we extract from them their expertise that could help teachers in England. And then recorded those Instagram lives and thought, oh, actually, I could just take the audio from that and upload it as a podcast.
I remember getting really excited about starting a podcast. It was like, this feels right.
And so did a good 40, 50 episodes there, I think it was. But then that company is now, I’ve stepped aside from that company. That chapter of my life is closed. And then I decided that I wanted to open it out to anyone, to not just teachers, but absolutely anyone, because that was a lot of the feedback that I was getting. This isn’t just for teachers now, this is for everyone. So you should put it out there. So changed the name, started to really double down and think who are the guests that could have a real big impact on people. And so luckily, I’ve been able to speak to some amazing people, and it’s still continuing from there. So that’s how it came about pretty much. And it was one of those things I remember a night when you have those nights and you wake up, I don’t know, you slept for an hour or two, and then an idea pops in your head and you get really excited about it. I remember getting really excited about starting a podcast. It was like, this feels right. It feels really good. And so I got up, I went on, I watched a load of videos on YouTube.
How do you set up a podcast? What do you need to do? Order the equipment and all this stuff. I don’t know. I think it was 11 o’clock at night when I should have been sleeping and had the work the next day. But I think when you get little moments like that, you shouldn’t just ignore them, should you? You should think, Right, this is tapping into something here and I need to just go with it and see what happens. Of course, I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way, but yeah, still enjoying it.
And through your show, you have this amazing resource, the people you speak to, to help unlock these lessons on the topics of, let’s use wellness as an example, bringing that to the masses. How do you find that process?
Yeah, hopefully. It’s such an art, isn’t it, interviewing someone or just having a conversation with them and trying to extract the information. And then how does that actually apply to a regular person with their job and their family? I just think that’s where the power lies. Where can we learn about the science, but how does this apply to someone who’s got two kids and they haven’t had much sleep and they’ve got a busy job and they’re getting home at whatever time? That’s where the tricky part is, but where I’m learning as well and really enjoying it.
Just to add to that, and for some “inside baseball”, you’re also trying to help that person tell their story. You pick your guests for a reason, like our conversation right now, I’d like to help share your story to a wider audience. And for that to happen, you need to follow somewhat of a structure. Follow the lyrics to make sure you hit the right notes. But then it needs to be organic as well, doesn’t it? You need to allow that space in case, as I’m sure you’ve experienced with your show, something you couldn’t even anticipate comes up. And nearly 100 episodes in, do you find it’s getting easier to achieve that balance?
Oh, definitely. And at the start, I can remember the huge notes I would have, exactly how I’d ask the question with the guess. And of course, like many people now that’s just shrunk down. And it’s about five bullet points, very basic questions, one line each. And then you just see where the conversation takes you.
How do you find that impacts, say, the flow of the conversation? Have you found, I guess, what I’m trying to say is, have you found that the less you prepare for it, or the less note taking, and the less rigid it is, the better the experience?
Absolutely, without question. And it’s a bit, there are parallels with teaching and with a lesson. You can completely over plan a lesson for the children and have every little thing that you’re going to say and really go over the top with the PowerPoint and everything like that. And then you’ll have another lesson where it’s completely off the cuff because you realise, oh, no, they haven’t quite got this and we need to… Or they’re not ready to move to this next step yet. Actually, we need to go back to something that they maybe didn’t cover in the previous year, of course, with lockdowns and children missing part of their education, being at home. That’s happened a lot recently.
It’s all about stories. People want to hear about other people’s stories and how it relates to them.
And those are the, more often than not, the most impactful lessons because you’re just going with what they need. It’s the same with the podcast. Let’s go with what the conversation needs. And there’s been plenty of times where I can think of one guest, James Hewitt, who’s a human performance scientist. And I can’t remember what the question was, but it was about what’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned recently, something like that.
And he talked about sleep. And I had all these other questions about a whole myriad of different human performance things, but we spoke so much just on sleep because the conversation just went in that direction. And he’s an extremely knowledgeable guy. And it was like, why not just unpick this right now rather than going, oh, no, but it’s in my outline. I’ve got to ask this question next. It’s like, no, no, no, no. He’s in the flow now, and let’s just keep prodding it back and seeing what else we can get from it.
Yeah, because we’ve all been those conversations where you say something to someone and they’re, mmhmm, yeah, and they just talk about something else. And you put yourself at risk of that, I guess, if you follow that really structured approach, you miss the human connection. You miss, as you said, the magic in the moment.
That’s it. It’s all about stories, like you said. It’s just about stories. People want to hear about other people’s stories and how it relates to them. That’s the most important thing. Just all the time in the back of my mind, I’m just thinking, what would my guests want me to ask next? And what is the average person who’s listening to this going to want from this? So if that makes sense, I’m always trying to go back to that.
And I’m wondering then, through your many years of teaching, what you’re doing online now as well as what you’ve done previously, what do you think, and it could even be that, but what do you think is the most important lesson that you’ve ever taught?
People will remember how kind you are and people remember how you made them feel.
I think the most important lesson that I try to teach still now is around kindness and around happiness. And well, those two things to begin with, I think. I try and always get through this message. Yes, we’re learning about math, we’re learning about English today, we’ve got science later, but always just trying to throw in that to the children that kindness is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how successful you become. You can have the nice cars, you can have the big house, whatever it is. People will remember how kind you are and people remember how you made them feel.
And so I’m not saying every day I get that across, but I just would like to think that there’s that subtle message all the time. This is what matters. Your happiness matters. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the material things. And rightly or wrongly, people might hear that and think, oh, actually, that’s not okay. I don’t know. But I just think it’s the most important thing to teach children. It’s how to be kind and how to be happy as well. And these things are not being taught necessarily in schools.
It is about teaching to an exam. It’s about what next? We’re constantly asking children, what do you want to be when you’re older? And I can’t remember who said it first, but a good response to that is, well, I want to be happy when I’m older. It’s not about attaching a label. I want to be a doctor. I want to be a lawyer. If I don’t become those things, then you’re a failure. No, we need to start talking about just the person as a whole, don’t we? And how you impact others, how you impact your community around you, whatever that might be for you, it doesn’t really matter. That doesn’t matter. Whatever vehicle your impact is, it doesn’t matter. I just think if you’re affecting people in a positive way and making their lives a little easier or a little better, then that’s the most important thing.
I try to teach that, not all the time, but I try to teach that. And I’m not saying that I’m this amazing guru of a teacher because, of course, I get impatient sometimes when I’m teaching. And of course, they’ve got to learn something in math and I’m getting a bit worked up because I haven’t got it.
I’m like, come on, guys, you’ve got to focus. Let’s concentrate. Or, you haven’t written enough. Come on, I know you can produce more. So I’m not saying all the time I’m getting it right. There are times when, of course, there are the practicalities and there are just the knowledge that we want them to get. They need to know about Newton and they need to know about the solar system and all these different things, of course, because that’s so important. But subtly, I think these little messages about looking into the future and being a well-rounded person are what I’d like to think I teach as well.
And that lesson of kindness, does that apply to the individual as well? By that, I mean being kind, not just to others, but to yourself too?
Yeah, I do talk about that and talk about the way you… Children might be talking to themselves. I overheard them saying, I’m such an idiot, I got that wrong, I can’t believe it, I made a mistake. And yeah, there’s definitely an aspect of that. Don’t beat yourself up, it’s okay. Or they might get embarrassed about answering a question wrong, little things like that.
And something that I talk about in my classrooms and I’d like to think that kids would be able to just real this off straight away is, is it okay to make a mistake? And they’re like, yeah, of course it’s okay to make a mistake. That’s how we learn. Of course, it’s all the growth mindset stuff, isn’t it? And I think so. I’m getting that across as well. Talk kindly to yourself. Be a bit patient with yourself. Don’t worry, there’s time to do this, and it’s okay to make mistakes.
One could imagine there are entire cohorts of children that are coming through your classroom, taking that lesson on and carrying it to so many other aspects of life. If we were to fast forward, let’s say, five years into the future, what impact would you hope that your show had achieved?
I just would like the show to be a little stepping stone for people, that it might just spark their interest in something. When I think back to my life and early 20s, being quite an anxious person, worrying a lot about what people thought, ruminating over things as well, like, I made that mistake, I’m so embarrassed. Or just that general underlying anxiety about life, walking through life, those feelings.
And I remember it was my mum that suggested to go and see a hypnotherapist. I saw this hypnotherapist, had some great sessions with him, and he gave me a meditation audio on CD because that’s what I listened to back in the day. I’m so old now, aren’t I? And that’s what I took away with me. And that made a difference. And I didn’t stick to it from then. I had periods still up and down, and I hadn’t quite really discovered meditation. I wasn’t really regular with it or anything like that. But it just sparked my interest. And then it led to other things. It led to me reading books on the topic, and it led to me just dipping in and out of meditation and maybe going to events where it was spoken about.
I hadn’t had that little stepping stone, I wouldn’t have then become the person that I am now.
And so I just think if I hadn’t had that little stepping stone, I wouldn’t have then become the person that I am now. I wouldn’t have regular meditation practice. I shared the other day that I got to 200 consecutive mornings, and I know that’s made a difference to me. And I don’t know where I’d have been this year without that calm and keeping focus, keeping sense of working on myself. I don’t know where I would have been if I hadn’t had that suggestion from my mum.
I hope that the podcast can just spark a little interest on any topic. If they overheard that conversation, they watch the little highlight reel on sleep and caffeine or alcohol and think, okay, I’ll just try that. And then all of a sudden they’re sleeping better that week. And then all of a sudden their relationship with improved with their husband or wife or partner, whatever it is, and their relationship with their kids or something they pass on. I don’t know. And you just think, wow, that little thing could make a difference, couldn’t it? And what I’m getting more now that the show grows is people messaging me that I don’t know, strangers.
And of course, my ego enjoys it a little bit, and I’ve got to watch that. I’ve got to be careful not to get too big headed. But when people message say, your podcast has really helped me. I’ve been going through this recently and I listened to that episode and I’ve made some changes and that’s helped me. And I’m not saying that’s happening every day by no means at all, but it’s just happening every so often where I think, right, it’s almost my responsibility to keep it up now because even if it just helps one person, I said this right from the very beginning, even if it just helps one person, then it’s worth my time because every day if you can just help one person, you’ve made a difference there, haven’t you? I remember I reached out to one guest and I said, would you like to come on the show? And they emailed back saying, well, how many listeners do you have? How many followers you’ve got? How many downloads? And I just emailed them back and said, maybe it’s not the right time and let’s just leave it because I would be doing this even if one person listened to it.
If you’re worried about the numbers, then yeah, this isn’t the conversation for us and we left it. And so yeah, that’s the impact. That is the impact that I would like it to have. Just the little dip in the ocean, a little drop in the ocean where it could set people on a different path and improve their life in some way. I hope that didn’t sound too over the top and floaty.
Not at all. I mean, you had that impact on me, essentially. We connected on… What do we even call it now? It’s not Twitter, it’s X or something.
What do we… X, apparently.
Yeah, that service. And just seeing… I saw the impact that you were making and I could see the ripples, as you said, that were beginning to spread. And I thought, yeah, I’ve got a chat with this guy. So hopefully our powers combined can cause even more positive goodness in the world.
And I suppose through, as you said, having that early experience with hypnotherapy as a stepping stone to what you’re doing now and covering all the different aspects and guests that you have and that’s organically grown into the different channels that it has today. I was curious as to the different topics that you do cover, science, psychology, philosophy and spirituality, they’re big topics. They’re juicy things to get into. Why are those, and I can see behind you books on the topics as well, so many down there as well, why are they of interest to you? Why those topics?
It’s an interesting one. I think there’s a couple of things through it. I think maybe when I was growing up, I was big into sport. Maybe defined me for a long time. I remember me getting into athletics when I was 13 or 14. Then by the time I got to university, I was doing the decathlon. Not a particularly high level. I was never going to the Olympics or anything like that, but a decent enough level, winning county championships and competing at national championships and things. And I would be training six, seven times a week. And it was definitely my personality.
But then, of course, like many people, it’s like, there’s got to be more to it than this. There’s got to be more learning to be done. And I don’t want to just be the sports guy, I guess. And I don’t want to get too into this. I’d like to just be more of a well-rounded person. I don’t know if I overheard this or if it’s just something that popped into my head. But you can be a guy in the gym with a six pack, can’t you? But if you’re an ass to people, then no one wants to be around you, basically!
It’s kind of that message that I want to keep at the forefront that, yes, we can exercise and look great, but what’s the point? What is the point? How are you affecting the people around you? How are you making them feel? And of course, how do you feel inside yourself as well? Because yeah, we can go and kill ourselves in the gym and look great, but actually, if you’re not feeling good inside and you’re not sleeping well and you’re not enjoying your food, then what’s the point? What is the point? So I think that was part of it. What do I need to learn to be more well rounded? And how can I be happier? How can I be more confident? How can I be more comfortable? How can I just think about bigger questions? And how can I have interesting conversations with people? So that was part of it.
And I wonder whether it links to my career as a primary school teacher as well. Teaching in primary school always appealed to me because I love the fact that you teach everything. In the morning, we’d be teaching writing, math, reading, but then the afternoons, of course, doing a bit of science, or history, or geography, or RE, PE, whatever it is.
And so I love that. I love teaching a bit of everything, not being an expert in anything, but just knowing enough about the different topics. And so I think then I want to reflect that in my personal life as well. I learn as much about different topics as I can, maybe so that in some ways I can walk into a room and have something to talk about with anyone thing. I think that’s a really nice thing to be able to do and not just be known as the guy that can only talk about the gym or can only talk about food or can only talk about psychology, whatever it is. I’d like to be able to hold my own in a conversation about anything, almost anything anyway.
You’ve got access to some awesome teachers through what you do. You see it that way that you’ve got the opportunity to ask these very learned people who are experts in the field about, whatever. You’ve got access to them, right?
Exactly. You almost think even if I didn’t put this podcast out there live, then while I’d still be having the conversation, I’d still be finding it interesting. So yeah, I get to talk to a human performance scientist about the impacts of sleep and what I can do to improve my sleep. I get to talk to a person, a clinical psychologist about grief. And it was a time that I was finding really difficult and going through the end of a relationship and being able to talk to him about that, what do I need to do here? What would help me? And so, yeah, it’s like I’m getting free counselling in some ways sometimes, or I’m trying to think of a recent guess. Yeah, no one springs the mind exactly now, but of course, that is what’s great that I get to learn from these people and then hopefully other people do as well.
You may have tapped into a really cost-effective way to avoid having to go to TEDx’s and conventions and things of that nature. They come to you, right?
And if I could return back to what you’d said famously that you don’t want to be just known as the fitness guy, but I would like to drill into that a little bit because anyone that follows you on any form of social media has seen these amazing physical feats, running and medals and lifting things and doing all sorts of things. And I just wanted to know, I suppose, how does that fit into your mission? What role does fitness play in that?
Yeah, I think my relationship with fitness has changed and evolved over time, like it has, I’m sure, for so many people. And yet there was a time when it was, how much muscle can I put on? How big can I get? How shredded can I get? What do I need to eat to look a certain way? And then, of course, there was the training aspect when I was doing the decathlon, it was all just about performance. It was improvement, not enhancement because that maybe has connotations with it! With enhancing drugs, but anyway.
Now it’s got to the place where it’s just all about being functional for me. I shared a tweet recently which was like, training for your summer body? No, absolutely not. I’m training for my granddad body so that I can play with my future children’s children. I can get down on the floor and play Lego with them. I can carry them and I can go on a bike ride with them. And that’s what it’s become all about for me. And there are lots of people out there that have influenced that way of thinking. It’s not like I just came to this conclusion on my own. There’s plenty of people, Peter Attia and others in that space that are talking about longevity and health span, not just lifespan. How can we be healthy into old age? And so I think that’s the role that it plays now.
Having said that, at the same time, I love challenging myself in the gym and I love lifting a heavy weight and I love pushing myself. I love doing slightly crazy challenges, I guess. I’ve cycled from London to Paris. I’ve run a marathon barefoot with no shoes on and little things like that. It’s just to get me out of my comfort zone and it’s everything that comes with it as well. You’ve got to really think about these things. You’ve got to plan and prepare and be disciplined. And that’s why I think fitness and training is so valuable because of all the little lessons that then you can take away. And of course, it gives you something to focus on. It gives a busy, whirring mind something to focus on, which is what I need quite often because I can get distracted and caught up in my head like many people can. And so to have that focus is really important to me and to have the discipline of like, no, there’s no choice about this, Sam, you’re doing it.
Most of the time, of course, there are days when I don’t feel like training and I will just lay on the sofa and watch Netflix. But most of the time I’m getting to the gym no matter what, because I know how it makes me feel afterwards. And then, yeah, the sharing things on social media, I always find it a little bit awkward. Friends, of course, take the mickey out of me. But again, someone will message and say, Sam, this has really inspired me. You’ve reminded me that I need to get back into running, or you’ve reminded me that I need to get back into the gym. And so I find it awkward and a little bit cringy. But I think every so often, it’s not my whole social media account at all. It’s just something I maybe share once or twice a week. And I just think, Well, why not? If someone takes a bit of inspiration from it, then why not? And maybe also I enjoy the comments of like, uh, wow, that’s incredible. There’s part of me that enjoys that as well!
I had to laugh there for a second because you said, like a little thing, and you’re talking about running a marathon with no shoes and you’re like, it’s a little thing like that. Ya’know, just cycling to another country. A little thing!
Anyone can do it, anyone can do it! That is the point. I’ve got no right to be running a marathon, barefoot. I’m not a long-distance runner. I ruptured my Achilles when I was 21. My lecturer, because I just finished Uni, I did sports therapy, which is like a version of physiotherapy. My lecturer at the time, after I’d done it, said, how does it feel to be an ex-athlete? Not a supportive thing is it to say to a21-year-oldd who’s basically suggesting that’s your sports career, or not career because I was never going to be a professional athlete, but that’s your sporting pursuits are over now. You’re going to have to just watch yourself and go easy and you won’t be able to do the things that you used to do.
I was like, forget that! I can’t believe you said that to me. Since then, that’s provided a bit of a motivation that I’m just going to try things. I’m just going to do different things. Yeah, of course, I’m going to try the triathlon. Of course, I’m going to try CrossFit. I’m just going to do it all because why not?
Everyone can use fitness as just a means to give them freedom to explore and to play and to have fun.
While I’ve got a body that is working and functional, then let’s just go for it. And I think everyone has that as well. This is the thing. Everyone can use fitness as just a means to give them freedom to explore and to play and to have fun. It’s open to anyone. Anyone can do a barefoot marathon. Yes, of course, it takes preparation and training. You’ve got to build up the miles with no shoes on. Get your Vivo Barefoots as well, like I have. Walk around in those. Those are great. But anyone can do it. So why not just do it? Why not just find the thing that looks appealing and looks fun, even if you think, no, there’s no way I could do it. Well, just try it. And then what happens if you what happens if you can’t do it? Okay, fine, move on to something else. But I’m sure that you’ll be able to. So just give it a go.
Being able to push yourself, right. Are you familiar with Fiona Oakes? The story of Fiona Oakes?
Yeah, absolutely. With the lack of kneecaps or lack of kneecaps, right?
I think she’s got one. I think.
Oh, she got one. Okay, maybe.
Your story just instantly reminded me of that. And I just put you in the same category there of like, you can, if you set your mind to it, right? Of course, there are going to be limitations sometimes, but if there’s a will, there’s a way. It is something that can be used to really help discipline the mind, right? Because as you said, you push yourself, you set these challenges, and then you accomplish them. And then how good do you feel when you do that afterwards?
Exactly. And how many different aspects of life could that apply to? Right, I want to do this thing. I need to prepare for this thing. I’m going to do everything I can to do the thing. Once I’ve done the thing, oh, wow, that was amazing. I did the thing. It doesn’t matter what it is. Is it writing a book? Is it learning to speak Spanish? Is it learning to play the guitar? It’s all the same system, isn’t it? It’s all the same process. You see yourself as that thing. What do I need to do? What are the steps to get to it? And let’s go for it.
And the important part to do at the end, of course, is to celebrate it as well, because so often we do the thing, we’ve accomplished it and go, okay, what’s the next challenge now? I could have finished that barefoot marathon and gone, Right, okay, I need another challenge now. I’ve done that. Let’s move on to the next thing. But no, I took a good… Afterwards, I just sat and was like, Oh, wow. I just did that. I can’t believe it. And then you share the photos again and write a little caption and share a bit of your story.
And then I spoke to a student who was a journalist student who wanted me to talk about my story. And little moments like that where you replay it and really give yourself credit and recognize you did the thing that you said you were going to do, and that’s incredible and enjoy it. And then, of course, it wears off and then you have to find another thing to do. But still!
There’s that theme again, rearing its head of like, sit in your happiness. Don’t go chasing the next thing. Just take a beat, experience what you’ve just achieved and really don’t be chasing. This is the next thing and the next thing. It’s like you just achieved something. Enjoy. it.
And going back to Fiona Oakes for a moment. She’s a plant-based athlete who’s famously known for going on a bunch of running and ultra endurance events around the world despite her physical challenges, powered in part by her desire to use that spotlight to draw awareness to animal rights causes. And I believe you’ve also transitioned to a plant-based diet. What effect does that have on your training and physical pursuits? And why did you make that change?
So, it was over five years ago now since I went plant-based. And it was when I was living in Mallorca, they didn’t seem to have much in the way of recycling. So getting to the end of the day. And of course, in England, you have your cans and your glass and your paper and everything that go in certain bins. And you feel like you’re doing your part to look after the environment. How much of an impact is making on I’m not so sure. But anyway, in Mallorca, there was no… It didn’t seem like there was a recycling scheme at the time. I don’t know what it’s like now. And so it was honestly a case of me typing into Google, what can I do to help the environment that isn’t just recycling? And plant-based diet popped up. I was like, okay, I’ve not heard this before. What’s this about? Looked further into it, found out some more. I can remember watching that TED Talk, Why I’m a weekday vegetarian. In fact, I think I’ve watched that before. I’d gone to Mallorca and dabbled a little bit in being a weekday vegetarian and not buying animal products from the supermarket, only eating them if I was out at a restaurant or someone had cooked them for me.
And part of that TED Talk was about the environment actually. So that seed must have been planted a few years before. But then it was when in New York, it came to the surface again. And then I looked into it. Of course, I found podcasts like Rich Roll and other people in that field. I’m guessing Simon Hill and the Plant Proof podcast, I’m guessing that was out there at that time as well. So I listened to a lot of him and just found out more and more about the environmental side of things, but also the health side of things. So it got to the point where me and my partner at the time thought, Well, should we just try it? Should we just give it a go? We gave ourselves two weeks and went just overnight, went fully plant-based. And both of us felt great afterwards.
I can remember feeling something that a lot of other people report that after they’ve gone plant-based for a couple of weeks, which is feeling a bit lighter, a bit more clarity, just more energy, losing a bit of extra, some of that extra excess weight as well. That’s a bit stubborn, especially more stubborn now that I’m getting into my mid 30s late 30s.
And so it’s like, well, why not keep it up? And it’s five years later. And all I’ve done is read more around the topic, listen to more on the topic, watch more, and just become even more convinced that this is a good way to go, thanks to the work of the Eat Foundation, and just the reports that are coming out almost weekly, aren’t they?
Very recently, there’s been another report from the University of Oxford about the impact that a plant-based diet can have on the environment and how much more climate friendly it is compared to our standard Western diet. So why not do it? Just why not? If I can learn a few recipes and change what I’m eating a little bit, then why not give it a go? Stemming from that, of course, then I find out more about the animal rights side of things, though. Start to watch the factory farming videos and find out a little bit more. And it took until my 30s to really think about where my food came from and really start to make those connections.
And, yeah, of course, that resonated with me as well. Why do I love this dog so much and want to play with this dog so much? But then I’m not perfectly happy having a bacon sandwich. They’re both sentient beings. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. And so, yeah, I just stuck with it from there.
What I will say, what I want to share more recently is that I’m not perfect and I’m not 100% plant-based, like I perhaps was at the start. I was quite militant at the start. I, of course, wanted to share with friends and family. You have all that information. You can be a bit of a vegan cliché, can’t you? You’re sharing it all over social media and stuff, which I think is very important. But maybe I overdid it just a little bit, and I was very strict with it. Whereas now I’m a little bit more relaxed. We broke up for the summer holidays on Tuesday. One of my children bought me a chocolate bar. Now, am I really going to say, no, I’m going to put that in the bin, or I’m going to say, thank you very much and enjoy it as well, because this little boy has bought me a chocolate bar and that’s really kind of him to do.
More and more I’m thinking about how life isn’t black and white. We don’t have to be these completely opposite camps fighting against each other.
Or if I turn up with a friend or family member and they’ve cooked something and they didn’t realise that that meat substitute had a bit of egg in it, or something that they’d baked had a bit of milk in it, I’m not going to say no, and I am going to enjoy it. But it’s on the very rare occasions, it’s not often. So I must be 99.8 % plant-based, but I’m not perfect. And I think actually, if more people have that attitude, then we’d be still moving the right direction, wouldn’t we? More and more I’m thinking about how life isn’t black and white, actually, there’s a lot of grey that we can enjoy, and we don’t have to be these completely opposite camps fighting against each other. And there’s a lot of wiggle room and a lot of balance to be had. And you also talked about performance. Should I talk about that now or shall I take a breath? And if there’s anything you wanted to say about that?
Yeah, I was just going to say, being plant-based, being vegan myself, I recall what it was like in that first year. It’s what I like to call the “Soylent Green Year”, as in, you have that penny drop moment and start making those realisations. It’s like, what am I doing to my body, the planet, and of course, animals? You just want to tell everyone about it to spread that knowledge. And I’ve both lived that and been on the other side of experiencing that too.
I recall working with a colleague a few years back and him asking all the usual questions, where do you get your protein? All that stuff. And then years later, we caught up and he’d actually gone plant-based too. Only a few months prior. And I remember I was exiting the men’s room in an office space where he began having a very spirited chat with me about animal rights and things like that. And it’s like, right intention wrong place, though.
Yeah, definitely. I’m not sure the toilet is the best time for that conversation, but interesting. But yeah, exactly that. You want to shout it from the rooftops, especially from the health side of things, for your family and your friends, you’re like, oh, you just try this. It could really help you. But yeah, I think just doing you is the best way about it, isn’t it? There’s so many people that told me at the time, well, you’re going to lose all your muscle. You won’t be able to train. You’re going to have weak bones and all that. And you need to just, instead of throwing back at them with all the studies and things like that, you just say, okay, fine. And then five years later, it’s like, you can just be there. I’m okay. I haven’t keeled over yet. I haven’t broken any bones and I put on more muscle than I ever have in my life. So I think we’re all good. But what sparked it in you 10 years ago?
So I was a real… You would have loved me if I was one of your students. I was fussy. I was a real fussy kid. And if I was eating potato chips and one of them was slightly burned, that was wrong, that was dirty or… so I’m not eating that, it goes over here. I never ate, as an example, I never ate any seafood because it looked strange. A lot of the time it’s presented with a face, like fish. And I went, that’s strange. That has a face. That’s alien. How can you eat something that has a face, right? But beef is a brown little circle. That’s not a real thing. So you can eat that. Making all these weird mental gymnastics about what you can eat and what you can’t eat. The cognitive dissonance was definitely there. So I never had a lot of red meat and I didn’t have any fish or anything like that. Pretty much just white meat and eggs.
Eggs, again, was something I did in terms of putting on bulk and size and protein. But even that was a bit of a weird thing for me. It’s this slimy weird thing that comes in a shell. So I’d really have to force myself to turn into an omelette or something. So as I say, I’m totally fussy here. But just making the swap from white meat to tofu was pretty much all that I needed to do.
Also being lactose intolerant, so didn’t really have any dairy or anything. So again, by accident, twists and turns throughout my life. And then just learning more about it, going through very much the same journey that you did, learning the effect it has on animals, they die, right? And then I saw a lot of health benefits getting into a half marathon, a marathon whilst being a vegan. And I found that that was almost like the lighthouse model. That’s where I got more people to turn on to it. Sorry, I’m marking this thing about me here, but I found that that was quite interesting, quite powerful, right? Because you can show people, as you said, I’m not brittle, I’ve got muscle mass, I’m able to jump and do this thing and run over here and all the rest of it.
And then they’d say, and you can do that while you’re vegan, while you just eat tofu? And you’re like, yeah, and you don’t die. And as long as you consider a full spectrum of foods and you make sure you’re getting what you need and you get that variety in your diet, just live a normal healthy life.
Apologies for that mad ramble, but I wanted to provide context that you don’t have to be an elite sports person to make that change. It’s an everyday lifestyle for anyone, really.
That’s exactly it, completely. And I think what some people may be get a little wrong on both sides of the camp as well is the suggestion that some of the plant-based athletes, they’re so successful because they’re plant based. Actually, I’m sure (Novak) Djokovic and other people, like (Lewis) Hamilton, they’d still be just as successful even if they didn’t have a plant-based diet. But what we’re trying to get across is you can do this despite being on a plant-based diet, despite it in quotes. It’s not going to hamper performance. Actually, many people would argue that it could improve performance. I don’t know. All I know is that it’s not going to hamper my performance.
So, if we know about the environmental benefits and if we know about the animal rights issues as well, then why not do it? If it’s not going to impact you and you can live a healthy, vibrant, energetic life, then why not just go for it? The other thing you were going to ask about is performance. I think one of the things that I noticed that other people noticed is recovery after I went plant-based, that I can do a gym session and wake up and do another session the next day.
I very rarely feel sore anymore. That could be the plant-based diet or it could just be that I’m training with a bit more wisdom now and I am doing more of the mobility stuff and I do stretch afterwards and just taking care of myself and not pushing myself over the top. So maybe that’s why I can recover quickly and train again the next day not feel sore. But lots of people, and I believe there’s studies around it as well, that if you’ve got a food that is centered around whole foods that is less inflammatory, then it would make sense that you would be able to recover the next day and feel like you’re ready to go again.
That’s the one big thing that I wanted to get across in terms of plant-based diet and performance. It does seem to be affecting my recovery. And then the other thing, like we’ve already touched upon is that I just don’t feel like I need to count calories or protein or anything like that. It’s just never been an issue. I eat the same now that I ran a barefoot half marathon then…
Does that make sense? I eat the exact same now as I was eating when I was running and training for marathons. And the exact same. And the only reason I put on muscle is because of the fact that I train hard and lift weights now. That’s the only difference. It’s not that I’ve changed my diet dramatically. Maybe I am eating a little bit more, but I’m not sure I am. I’m really not sure I am. I feel like I eat the exact same. And it’s just the training stimulus that has created a response in my body. It’s not the fact that I started eating that much more protein or anything like that. And of course, that is the big focus, isn’t it? That people in the gym especially are obsessed with protein and I’m getting enough protein. And I think for the average person, they probably are getting enough protein. But I’m not a nutritionist, a dietitian. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I can only speak to my personal experience.
I think there’s some truth- well, there’s probably a lot of truth in there, especially as it relates to your own personal experience. But yeah, you do find that. I don’t know if you follow any fitness people on any social media or anything, but you are beginning to see all of them turn to plant-based or at least a lot of the things they do, right? Because they’ll be giving some vlog or monologue about their day or something, and they begin their day with a soy latte. No longer “normal” milk because it’s tends to bloat them, or they’ve switched away from whey protein because it begins to bloat them. And it’s like, you’re so close to that penny drop, mate. Listen to your body, it’s telling you something.
Yeah, it’s mad, isn’t it? Same with me. I would have a lot of dairy and feel really uncomfortable afterwards and have a bloated stomach and not just connect the dots and think, okay, maybe that’s not great for me. But you just, everyone’s doing it. So you just carry on and think that the bloating thing and the gas and stuff is just normal. It’s like, oh, man. Like you said, people are very close. And it’s not about being 100% or perfect, whatever perfect means. But it’s just if you can find other ways of going about it, if you can make a little swap, and if you can realize that tofu will be providing you with just as much of the good stuff as other ingredients, then why not just go for it?
And so speaking about your training, and you said, I think a second ago there that you train every day or every other day, and the events that you’ve done. And then I’m thinking, if we put on top of that as well, the show that you’re coming out with on a regular cadence, and then on top of that, that you’re teaching, and then on top of that, my god, the books that you’re reading, and then everything else that you do. How do you find time or how do you make space to live a balanced life with everything that you do?
I think what needs to be said straight away is that I don’t have children. I don’t have a particularly big house or anything like that that I’ve got to maintain. I’m single at the moment. I haven’t got a partner. And so I think that creates a lot of time that other people have not got. And I’m extremely grateful for that. I completely appreciate that I’ve got more time. And it even makes me a bit reluctant sometimes and a bit nervous about posting what I’m doing or trying to offer advice or something like that. Because I’m always thinking, do people see that and think, well, Sam, that’s easy for you to say. You haven’t got kids at home and you haven’t been woken up five times during the night and you haven’t got a partner that wants to go out for dinner and stuff like that. And so I completely get that message or I completely get that view of things that I am able to have perhaps a balanced life because there’s a lot of time that I got that I can have the luxury of choosing how I spend it.
Having said that, I’d like to think that when I do meet a partner and when I do have children, which I’m really looking forward to, I can’t wait to be a dad, when that does happen, I think these lessons will still carry over.
And I’d like to think that I’d still make time. Maybe I’ll just have a little only have 45 minutes in the gym instead of an hour and a half, or maybe I’ll only be able to go out for a half an hour run instead of an hour run. That’s okay. I’d like to think I would still be able to find that balance. What I’m doing now is laying some of those foundations. But having said all that, where do I find balance? I think it’s just about being disciplined and being organized. There are some things that are just non-negotiables. When I step back and when someone says it to me, oh, wow. I do quite a lot. And other people say as well, you’ve done this and this and this. I’ll say to people, no, I don’t really do much. And they’re like, Sam, look how much you do. It’s all you actually. But I think it’s all about routine and habit. I wake up and I know that one of the first things I’m going to do is I have three minutes, five minutes for a meditation. I’m going to try and read, even if it’s just a page, I’m just going to read.
It’s all about just seeing yourself as that person that does all of those things and just letting it happen.
I’ll try and organise my day. If I’m not working at school, I’ll note down in my notebook and try and break down the times of what I want to do, and when, I find that really helps me. I think it’s all about habits and seeing yourself as that person that does all of these things. And if you just create those little moments in the day, all of a sudden you can get to the end of the day and think, yeah, I meditated, I trained, I read, I texted that friend that I’ve been meaning to text. I ate a healthy meal, I got a little bit of work done on the podcast. And I also watched a couple of episodes of US Office, which is just my favourite programme in the world. And you go, okay, yeah. So I think it’s all about routine and it’s all about habits. And it’s all about just seeing yourself as that person that does all of those things and just letting it happen. But of course, I get distracted as well and I lose balance sometimes.
Yesterday is a good example of that. It was the last day of term on the Tuesday. So there was a bit of a do afterwards. I’d had a couple of beers, was up a bit later than I would normally do. So that means I slept in late and then I was all off balance. And that means that I’m just so much more easily distracted by Instagram Reels, and I’ll be scrolling through it for an hour. And you just go, okay, that day wasn’t as balanced as I’d like my day to be. But then you just go, okay, it’s done now. You know that that hasn’t left you feeling particularly energized or particularly good, but it’s got to happen every so often, hasn’t it? And you just embrace it and then move on. And today, I set my alarm for a little bit earlier than I normally would, and I’m feeling a bit tired, but I know that I want to get back into the routine that makes me feel good, which is waking up.
The first thing I did actually was today, go for a walk straight away. I’m a Huberman fan, and of course, it’s always the stuff that always goes on about is the morning sunlight. And so if I’m not working that day and I can get outside for a walk straight away, then I will come back, meditate, clean, prepare for this, prepare for another podcast that I’ve got later… So you just get back on track and don’t beat yourself up too much if the balance wasn’t quite there and you want to come back and find it again.
Because it’s both, isn’t it? Right? Like a good day or a bad day, that’s not a habit. That’s a one day. Right? So if you have a day, it’s a day. It’s not the other day. It doesn’t have to be what tomorrow is like, either.
Yeah, exactly. I like that. I like that a lot. I think that’s something for… Do you know Brad? Is it Stulberg? It’s him. He’s got a book called The Practice of Groundedness, and he works with a guy called Steve Magness. He’s got a book called Do Hard Things. They’re great on Twitter, really good. So if you don’t follow them, follow them. And he talks a lot about this stuff, the balance. And that reminded me of what I’m sure, something that he said quite recently, which is like, your biggest triumph or your biggest failure, they’re still, like you said, they’re just one day or they’re just one event and the world will keep turning.
Even if you’ve nailed it and done something really successful, you still need to then wake up the next day and think, well, what do I need to do about… What do I need to do next? How am I going to keep going here? Or if you have a massive failure and a big mistake, you’ve still got to wake up the next day and think, well, what do I do next to recover from this? So it’s just like you said, they are just events and then you just got to get back on track, whatever it is. You can’t exactly have a massive success and then just bathe in your success for the rest of the year. You’ve got to wake up and get back on it so that you can have more of that.
No resting on the laurels. And why does it not surprise me that something that we just talked about reminded you of a book that you read? You’re such an avid reader. What would you say is the most inspiring book that you’ve come across?
This is a tricky one to answer because there are just so many. I think recently, though, some of the books that I’ve… Well, maybe if I go back because I think it’s maybe important to mention that I wasn’t always a big reader. I didn’t always love reading. I don’t remember at primary school when I was young being that much of an avid reader.
But I remember being given Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by my Auntie, and I absolutely loved it. Like the shocking moment in a book where it clicks, you go, oh, I didn’t realise that character was that character. Whatever. I can’t remember what that’s called. I remember reading that and just being hooked and then going back and reading all the other Harry Potter’s before!
What am I getting out here? My history of reading. I wasn’t always a passionate reader. Something like that then just stemmed a bit more of a love of reading. I then found history. I really loved learning about ancient history. So I think that had an impact on me because it was a… There’s a bigger picture here. Sapiens by Yuval Harari and The Silk Roads as well.
These different books about ancient history and how we evolved and how civilization changed. I think that made me think a bit more broadly and a bit more openly about topics and putting everything in context, like things that we’re going through now, wars, country disputes against each other and all that. If you know the history of how we got up to this point, it just means you’re so much better able to understand and not think it’s just us against them. There’s a bit more context here, and there’s a reason why this country is acting like this, and there’s a reason why they want to pass this policy that actually you don’t agree with, all that stuff. So I think history has had a big impact.
But then more recently, it’s stuff around happiness that I found really enjoyable. There’s a couple I noted down. There’s a book called The Happiness Track by Emma Seppälä. There’s a book called The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. If saying his name correctly. And there’s most recently a book called The Good Life by Robert Waldinger. I don’t know if you know that one. He was the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. He was the director of that study. And so he’s written a book along with a colleague.
And so it’s those books that are about what really matters in life and what do we know from the research. I think those are what are having the most impact on me at the moment so that I keep my priorities straight and think, all these people they’re talking about not wanting more all the time and materialism, and they’re talking about the importance of family and friends and good connections and talking to strangers. And so I want to be happy and I want to be content and I want to enjoy every moment as much as I can. And books like that, that give you a bit of a guide and a bit of science and a bit of context as well. They’re having the most impact on me. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I still could be reaching out to friends more. I still could be spending more time with family. Sometimes I may be not getting the balance right and my priorities aren’t quite straight, but I think I’m getting there. And yeah, some of those authors I think are helping me and a lot of people as well.
Well, from where I sit, I think you’re doing an amazing job.
I appreciate that.
And I can get excited about where you’re going to be in five years, 10 years’ time with everything that you’re doing and all the information that you’re consuming and all the amazing people that you’re speaking to. If you look into the future, if you look however far forward you want, a decade from now, what excites you about the future?
Maybe there comes a point where we just need to pause and also be creative as well.
I think before I answer that, there’s something that I’ve been thinking about recently. When you say I’ve been speaking about the guests and reading, I’ve been thinking more and more about the fact that sometimes I need to switch off. I don’t know if you can relate to this as well. Put down the podcast and put down the book and just think. There was a really great Reel that a guy, I can’t remember his name, posted, and he was just like, Turn off Huberman, turn off Rogan, turn off all these people that you might be learning from. Maybe not so much in the case of Rogan, but anyway. And just sit with yourself and think, well, what are your thoughts about this, and what could you do? And I’m doing that a bit more recently, but I’d like to do a lot more. Actually, this summer holiday, that is my plan to have a week of no learning, no documentaries, no books, no podcasts. All I can listen to is music. All I can watch is funny things, and all I can read is fiction and create some time for me just to think and write down my thoughts.
Because it might be that we get so caught up, mightn’t we, in the self-improvement and the self-development, and we’ve got to get better, and I’ve got to learn more about exercise and learn more about exercise, and learn more about diet, and learn more about psychology. Actually, maybe there comes a point where we just need to pause and also be creative as well. Think, what have I taken from this and what can I put out there from this? What messages can I share and what can I make to put out there that might have an impact on the people?
So sorry, that wasn’t an answer to your question, but I just thought it was an interesting little point to make before I moved on. In terms of impact in 10 years, where I see myself in 10 years is just more of the same. As I was talking about earlier that I’ve got a lot of time to do as I please with. I’m able to read and I’m able to walk. I’m able to exercise and cook and see family and pick up my niece from school on a Friday because I don’t work on a Friday, and little things like that.
So I think more of the same, more just having a good amount of time and not getting too wrapped up in things, not getting too stressed or serious about things, and just trying to enjoy myself and enjoy the process. And also just keep doing those things that I know will keep me healthy, like exercise and and keep learning and things like that.
In terms of impact, I would like the podcast to grow because I think it is helpful to people and I think people can get a lot from it. So it’s not about the numbers, it’s not about sponsors or monetization or anything like that. Of course, those things just bring advantages, don’t they? That it means that you can do the job that much better and it means that you can become a little bit more professional and maybe reach a wider audience through those things. But it’s like I’m not actively searching for those things. I’m not particularly stressed about how many followers I’ve got on social media.
And that’s not to say that I didn’t used to be because I did really used to be. I was like, why am I growing faster and faster? And why aren’t more people listening? But the freedom that you get when you just go, it doesn’t matter, just keep doing what you’re doing, work hard. And if you enjoy it, I think things will happen. I think things will happen. So yeah, 10 years, more of the same, maybe a little bit more, maybe a few more connections, a few more followers, maybe one of those sponsors from athletic Greens and Vivo Barefoot. That’d be good. Some free stuff would always be nice.
They’ll be knocking down your door in no time. You’ll have Athletic Greens… who are the other ones? Yeah, the regulars, you’ll be hawking mattresses and underwear– hopefully not!
So a question that I like to end every one of these chats with is, we’re faced with innumerous challenges today in daily life, both for people and the planet, with whatever context or however you want to address this or frame this. But what do you see as a modern remedy for those issues?
I’m not sure about the modern aspect because it’s something that we’ve been thinking about for thousands of years. But I think it is just consciousness and awareness, isn’t it? I think it is just having more people that are able to sit quietly in a room with their eyes closed and be okay with that.
If more people were comfortable and able to sit with themselves… maybe the world would be a little calmer, a little more peaceful.
I just think we’re living in a world that’s so caught up with the progress and the competition and getting more stuff, buying more stuff, selling more stuff, owning more stuff. That’s the root cause of so many of these problems. Actually, if more people were comfortable and able to sit with themselves and be bored every so often, that maybe the world would be a little calmer, a little more peaceful, and maybe we wouldn’t need so much more stuff. Because that’s the problem, isn’t it? We’re just producing stuff.
We’re just producing stuff that we either need to own, use, or eat. And that’s at the root cause of so many of the issues that we face. I’m trying to think of the quote so I can sound really clever now. I can’t remember who said it, but it’s something like, all of man’s problems stem from the fact that he can’t sit in a room by himself with his eyes closed. Something along those lines of completely butchered it and I can’t remember the name of who said it, but it’s like, that rings true to me. So like I said, maybe not modern, but I think it’s certainly a remedy if we can just all slow down a little bit and just pause.
Stillness, calmness, kindness, and happiness. Sam, it’s been an absolute pleasure, mate. Thank you so much for making the time to chat today.
No, thank you so much for having me on. It’s been a real pleasure. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.