David speaks with Michael Ashcroft, a writer and Alexander Technique teacher who previously spent 10 years consulting on clean energy innovation.
A lot of Michael’s work centres around helping people expand their awareness. He’s written several essays and posts I’ve loved, particularly about the concept of grinding, and how paying attention to our awareness can help us maximise our creativity, productivity, posture and physical engagement.
They talked about:
🔄 Switching from corporate to self-employment
🕊️ How freedom creates tension in work and life
📝 Staying productive without burning out
🚀 How to channel your ambition
🎲 Setting the right priorities
🥷🏽 Missionary mindset vs. mercenary mindset
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📹 Watch on Youtube
👤 Connect with Michael:
📄 Show notes:
0:00 | Intro
01:54 | Transitioning from corporate to self-employment
05:02 | Building freedom at work and in life
09:09 | Staying productive without burning out
13:08 | How to channel your ambition
18:15 | Setting the right priorities
23:09 | Missionary mindset vs. mercenary mindset
28:04 | Why grinding can be a trap
🗣 Mentioned in the show:
Alexander Technique | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Technique
Escape from Freedom | https://amzn.to/3PtObCp
Erich Fromm | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Fromm
NaNoWriMo | https://nanowrimo.org/
Jonny Miller | https://www.theknowledge.io/jonnymiller/
Luca Dellanna | https://www.theknowledge.io/lucadellanna/
Ergodicity | https://amzn.to/47TWBd8
Christine Carrillo | https://www.theknowledge.io/carrillo/
The Carbon Trust | https://www.carbontrust.com/
Perceptual control theory | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perceptual_control_theory
👨🏾💻 About David Elikwu:
David Elikwu FRSA is a serial entrepreneur, strategist, and writer. David is the founder of The Knowledge, a platform helping people think deeper and work smarter.
🌐 Website: https://www.davidelikwu.com
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🎙️ Podcast: http://plnk.to/theknowledge
📖 EBook: https://delikwu.gumroad.com/l/manual
My Online Course
🖥️ Career Hyperdrive: https://maven.com/theknowledge/career-hyperdrive
Career Hyperdrive is a live, cohort-based course that helps people find their competitive advantage, gain clarity around their goals and build a future-proof set of mental frameworks so they can live an extraordinary life doing work they love.
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The Knowledge is a weekly newsletter for people who want to get more out of life. It's full of insights from psychology, philosophy, productivity, and business, all designed to help you think deeper and work smarter.
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Michael Ashcroft: [00:00:00] I think one of the ways people can get stuck and I got stuck is that the more of yourself that you have to suppress or crush or ignore to do the job, the more likely you are to get caught up in unhelpful gripping and tightness and all that kind of grinding behavior.
Michael Ashcroft: Whereas if you are aligned, that means all parts of me or most parts of me are in agreement that we should go in this direction. And there's no like suppression going on internally. So I think finding your own idea of what that is for yourself and then other people and organizations that align with that. It kind of just diminishes this sense of having to fight with yourself all the time.
David Elikwu: This week I'm sharing part of my conversation with Michael Ashcroft. Now, we ended up deciding to split this into three parts because we covered so much ground. This was a really engaging conversation covering a spectrum of ideas around life, work, and attention or awareness. You're going to hear us cover a few different definitions of what that means. Michael is a [00:01:00] writer and also teaches the Alexander Technique.
David Elikwu: So you're going to hear us talking about different types of freedom and how tension can be created between freedom in different areas of our lives. When we think about work and retirement, we think about productivity, we think about side hustles, we think about creative pursuits.
David Elikwu: So you're going to hear us talking across all of these ideas. We talk about balancing productivity and burnout. And how you can better align your personal mission with your work mission and develop a sustainable mindset to the way that you approach your work, so you can be just as successful as you intend to be.
David Elikwu: You can get the full show notes transcript and read my Newletter at thenowledge.io and You can find Michael on Twitter @m_ashcroft.
David Elikwu: And if you love this episode, please do share it with a friend. And don't forget to leave a review, particularly if you're listening on Apple podcasts, because it helps us tremendously to reach other people just like you.
David Elikwu-1: Yeah. So you were just saying, how life changes when you're no longer working full time. [00:02:00] So I'd love to know, maybe you could talk about some of the roles that you did in the past and how you've transitioned out of that and how different daily life looks now.
Michael Ashcroft: Yeah, for sure. So I spent 10 years working in corporate and consulting roles in the uk like low carbon energy industry if you like electricity networks industry. So I had the classic nine till six, nine till seven job. Often with evenings weekends depending on the need. And did that for 10 years.
Michael Ashcroft: And then in 2021, early, I think January, I left KPMG at the time to go fully self employed and my days have looked completely different ever since then. Just completely open, unstructured, I'm completely in control. I think it's, at this point I have a little bit of like leftover work trauma or something lowercase t, because I'm like allergic to putting things on my schedule at the moment.
Michael Ashcroft: I'm like, I want control. I don't want anything to impose on my freedom. And I think actually that's a bad thing. After a while you need to actually have commitments and responsibilities and things, but it's fun to go from one to the other quite so abruptly, I think.
David Elikwu-1: [00:03:00] Yeah. Was that a very natural transition for you? I know that you were already doing a bunch of stuff outside of work, but I find it interesting, I think, okay.
David Elikwu-1: So my experience with leaving my last full time role, it's strange that there's an extent to which I remember right at the beginning I was brimming full of excitement and thinking, oh my gosh, I'm going to be spending all my time having all these conversations, milling about, you know, swanning around at cafes, working in lots of interesting places. And I think at the beginning it was like that, and then slowly meetings kind of crept back in and structure to an extent crept back in. I think maybe I'm finding a bit of a balance now where it's not tremendously structured, but yet there is still some tension. I guess it's finding the balance between the extent to which you still want to be productive or prolific in terms of putting things out and still having some free flowing serendipity in your life.
Michael Ashcroft: Yeah, I think my situation was kind of weird because I left just before or just after Covid, and then we weren't traveling for [00:04:00] a year. So I went nomading and that kind of just disrupted every conception of structure that I could have had. We only came back to London a few months ago, so I was still settling into the new routine.
Michael Ashcroft: But I agree with you. When I first started, I was like deconditioning myself from all the, habits and expectations of work. I remember the first month I was like, I downloaded five video game. I was Like, I'm gonna make myself play a game. I'm gonna like practice being unemployed to see what it's like to kind of have the freedom.
Michael Ashcroft: And it felt really uncomfortable. I actually didn't enjoy it. And it just took me a while to settle into like, oh, I'm actually in charge of my own time now. And that took a few months honestly, to really believe that I had the control and that I wasn't expected to be somewhere or do something. Obviously I've been doing a lot of stuff since then, but it's the, it's the mindset shift that really messed with me for a while. Just like, oh, I can just go.
Michael Ashcroft: Even on weekdays now, I can just go to museum on Tuesday afternoon. I'm allowed, I know I don't have to ask anyone. And yet I still kind of find myself defaulting to like being at my desk during something like working hours, even [00:05:00] though it's completely in an old system, that doesn't apply to me anymore.
David Elikwu-1: Yeah, I think it's really interesting how, very often throughout our working lives, there's this continual tension between, I think it's Eric from who was a psychologist that talked about like, Freedom from and Freedom to. And so both during work and then also with retirement, I think you see people struggle with this where during work there is a yearning for some freedom, maybe from the constraints of a regular working life. And people might want to break out of, you know, you hear people talking about, oh my gosh, I want to get rid of my nine to five and I just want to be my own boss and do all of these things and this tension between, okay, are you just looking for freedom from, I guess the constraints of an external, like someone external putting this impetus on you to be productive and to do certain things? Or is it that you want freedom to be able to chase and explore? And I think sometimes when it's simply just the freedom from, you can end up in a position where the, the external force simply gets switched out for an internal one and suddenly you are the one that's still, [00:06:00] imposing those same constraints on yourself.
David Elikwu-1: And then I think you see the same in retirement as well, where you see a lot of people, they're racing to financial freedom and they, eventually can quit and leave their jobs and like, oh, it's so great that I'm retired. And then, a year later, a few years later, suddenly they're depressed and upset and life seems so much worse because they didn't quite figure out exactly what they were going to do once they were retired. Like the retirement was the goal. And so once you've attained the freedom from work, You still struggle with figuring out what work to do, like what actually comes next?
Michael Ashcroft: Yeah, I think in the retirement context, I've seen a static it could be out of date by now, but one of the highest risk years for male death is the year after retirement. because they work up into retirement and then like, now what? There's something is missing. It's like, the driving motivating force of life is kind of diminished in a sense.
Michael Ashcroft: So if you're not careful, you have to, find yourself in the same position. I had an experience when I left work where I thought, hell, I was actually more productive on my side stuff When I was at work because, the Chinese expression about, [00:07:00] revenge bedtime procrastination. Where you don't like your job so you stay up late into the night, so you can have more of your own free personal time before having to go to sleep and going to work the next day.
Michael Ashcroft: I realized that I was suffering from, sorry, revenge productivity, I mean to say, Because like, I don't like the fact that I'm spending all my time working on someone else's stuff during the day. So I'm gonna have revenge and work on my stuff in the evenings and weekends. And once the work frame was gone, I didn't have the, well screw you energy of, I'll work on my stuff in the slivers of time that I have. And I have all the time but I haven't got the, I didn't have the immediate sense of like, oh, now I can just go off and do all the things I wanted to do. I had to rediscover intrinsic motivation rather than a scrappy motivation.
David Elikwu-1: Yeah, I think there's also another interesting aspect to this. So just as you were saying that, an example immediately came to my mind, which was, I'm not sure if you've heard of NaNoWriMo, So National November writing Month. It's this thing a bunch of people do online around the world. And I've been doing it for a number of years, I think since 2012 or maybe [00:08:00] some, somewhere around there. And so essentially I've been doing it for a really long time. But what I found really interesting is the only years I've ever completed it are years where I was extremely busy working full time. So I think the first few times I tried, maybe I, think I, was studying or I hadn't started working full time and I failed like two years in a row or however many years. And then I started working in corporate law and I'm extremely busy, the busiest I've been in a long time. And suddenly I'm able to do it not without its consequences, and I guess this is part of the tension.
David Elikwu-1: So, there's a interesting balance where, okay, yes, because there's so many constraints on my time, I have to maximize the remaining time that I have for my own personal pursuits because I don't have too much freedom. And I guess maybe this is some, some the interesting aspect of, freedom, right? When you don't have too much freedom, you want to make the most of the little freedom that you do have, and so I was able to maximize it. However, on the other side of that, then you can easily get quite burnt out. I think almost every November I end up being sick [00:09:00] because it's actually a lot of work to write 50, 000 words in a month while you're working full time, especially if you're working in like a quite an intensive industry.
David Elikwu-1: So I'm interested to know what you think about finding that balance, I guess, in two senses that we've just talked about. So one is the tension between how you maximize, I know maybe maximizing your free time is another conversation, which is about productivity. But just this essence of grasping the time that you do have and actually wanting to use it when you're in control of it or I guess, the better question might be, should we be trying to control and corral the time that we have? And then the other side of it is to do with burnout, which is something I know that you've experienced. And you don't necessarily want to push yourself by max. If you're being forced to maximize yourself at work and then you're also trying to actively maximize, maximize the rest of the time that you have. You're maxed out all the time and then you can easily burn out because you don't have that many resources to expend. So [00:10:00] I wonder what you think about the balance between those two things.
Michael Ashcroft: Yeah. So I'll give some context in that I was the improver type for all of my 20s, right? So I had the, the jobs working quite hard and then I, I always enjoyed tinkering on the side. So I had a job for a while where it's like a nonprofit organization, so I could work in the evenings and weekends if I wanted to, but it wasn't worth it.
Michael Ashcroft: The progression wasn't there. The, there wouldn't have been a bonus. It was just like for the sake of it. So I didn't maximize that, but I was like a freelance journalist, freelance consultant. I took photos and sold them, like all kinds of like online tinkering stuff, as well as like self improvement stuff and my trainings and all of the, the classic, like how do I make myself better stuff?
Michael Ashcroft: So that was my, my 20s basically. And then in my 30s, I was fully on the, on the job and well I pushed a bit too hard, basically. There was a period where I was, I think six months 70 hour weeks in a context that wasn't really fit for it. So I know other professions will do that. So 70 hour weeks, not 70 hour months.
Michael Ashcroft: Other professions have the guide rails around that, so they'll like catch you and like, it's kind of a, peer thing. [00:11:00] I didn't have that environment and it was just like not noticed. So I, I basically pushed too hard and then broke. I burnt out. My journey since I quit the corporate world has been to not recreate that for myself. So a lot of people, I think they'll jump from that world and go into self employment and then find themselves grinding all hours because that's kind of what they were used to, what they expect, or that they have the capacity. My journey has been about not recreating that and not going straight back into that mindset.
Michael Ashcroft: So my lifestyle now is a combination of, I guess two things. One is the, I'm not looking to maximize for money or for revenue right now. I'm looking to maximize for, let's say, healing and exploration and, figuring out how to sense make on my own outside of that frame. But the other thing is that I was, I'm very fortunate in that I made an online course early on as I was leaving. That's actually why I was able to leave work that has largely sold itself via online, presence via social media. So I don't have to keep putting work in to generate revenue. [00:12:00] I'm not generating enormous, you know, abundant wealthy amount of revenue, but I'm generating enough revenue that I don't need to get a job and I can live comfortably in central London, which is nice.
Michael Ashcroft: So that caveat needs to be there, that I'm in a fortunate position that I don't have to grind and fill my hours with work. Therefore I don't if that makes sense. Not that I would encourage everyone to just stop working because I, I built a thing that means I can do that.
David Elikwu-1: Okay. I guess there's two really interesting things that you mentioned there. I would love to know, do you have to have created this thing that allows you to take the focus off of, like working for survival and being the rat on the wheel. Because you also mentioned that, okay, now you're able to optimize for, I guess, your happiness or for other things outside of just focusing on work. And I think going back to something you mentioned earlier, what I find interesting, I think what you were saying was, in some workplaces they might have constraints that stop people from working too hard. And it's funny how, I was just thinking of my own experience working in corporate law and sometimes it's, just a false economy. They're not actually trying to stop you from, from working too hard. I remember I had a few conversations with HR where, you know, like they will call you in and sit down with you. And I think one of those conversations was like, oh, we've noticed you're not taking any of your holiday. Is everything okay? Blah, blah, [00:14:00] blah. You know, maybe you should be taking more breaks and stuff.
David Elikwu-1: And then the other conversation was just, yeah, I just looked exhausted all the time. And so people were worried about, worried about your mental health.
David Elikwu-1: But I guess that the balance there is there's two sides of it. One side is you know, there's a bit of a principal agent dichotomy there, where on one hand, people say, yes, you should take care of yourself and all of these things, but on the flip side, you're not actually going to get rewarded for resting all the time. And so if you're optimizing for, okay, how can I grow within this job? How can I grow within this industry? You kind of have to do the work and you have to serve your clients and do all of that.
David Elikwu-1: And then I guess the other side of it is the internal striving, right? Because there could be a sense in which you want to be elevated in all of those ways. You don't want to be seen as someone who is incapable or, you know, so if someone's asking, oh, you sure you can handle it?
David Elikwu-1: That's kind of how, I'm interpreting what you're saying. Like, oh, are you sure you're cut out for this hard work? And it's like, absolutely, no, no, no, no. You know, this is all fine. I don't need any [00:15:00] rest. I don't need any breaks. And so I'm trying to think and put myself in the mind of someone that might be listening to this, that is just living that life and they might not have a business or a course or something else that currently already gives them enough money to give them some of that freedom. Is there a frame that you think is useful to employ that can help you break out of, you know, on one hand, yes, ambition is good and you should want to be successful in of these things, but how do you balance that tension between the extent to which you can also prioritize other aspects of your life before you're forced to?
David Elikwu-1: And I guess that's something we can talk about later is this idea that, you know, sometimes the extent to which you prioritize things can affect the way can affect your ability to prioritize them later on. And so there's an extent to which if you don't get your priorities right early enough, by the time you've had some mental crisis or, some issue that prevents you from then being able to work as hard later on, you don't actually get to prioritize it. Your benefit is now [00:16:00] capped, so you don't get to just suddenly decide, oh, I'm just going to switch things up and change things. So I, wondered what you think about that.
Michael Ashcroft: Yeah, I think that I was very fortunate in that I always knew when I was at work that it wasn't the right path for me fully. It's like walking with a, stone in my shoe the entire time. so I was like, this is fine. But a bit uncomfortable and I'd rather not be here. There's a different path for me.
Michael Ashcroft: So I always had this long game vision of like, tinkering, experimenting, trying different things. And you know, one day I'll find something that will let me do a different path, but it took me at least 10 years after graduating to get my act together, if you like. And that entire time I was striving, you know, ambitious and trying to do a good job, and I had this awareness that I wanted to leave.
Michael Ashcroft: I think it's tricky if you go into that kind of career path where you're grinding and you don't know whether you want to stay on it or not, like you think you do, but then something will change down the line. I would encourage people to think about the long game. Really be honest with yourself. Is this something you really [00:17:00] genuinely want to do? Like if you look at your boss or your boss's boss and look up the ladder ten years from now, like, do you want to be them? Do you want their life? And this answering that question requires real honesty. And I think awareness of internal states as well.
Michael Ashcroft: I know you just spoke to Jonny Miller about nervous system stuff. So like being aware of when you're in this workplace, when you're in this environment, when you're talking to these people, what is going on with your interoceptive with your internal states? Do you feel this thing that you know is fine for now?
Michael Ashcroft: Like, I can grind past, I can deal with it, I can ignore it, but it's not going away. You know, it's going to be there and get worse with time. Possibly in an unhelpful way. So it's fine to grind, it's fine to push and be ambitious as long as you're not incurring psychic damage or physical damage along the way that might then get you trapped in the future.
Michael Ashcroft: The reason I could only quit when I had the online course was that I didn't have enough resources to just quit. You know, I didn't have the kind of jobs that got me like half a million pounds in the bank that, okay, I can live off this. But something I think whether it's a [00:18:00] side hustle, or whether it's savings or whether it's moved to Taiwan or Bali or something where the cost of living is much lower, than you know, something will need to change if you do quit your job. But that might be more preferable than get into the point where you just have to make a change outside of your control when you want to make it.
David Elikwu-1: Yeah, exactly. I recently had a conversation with Luca Dellanna, I'm not sure if you've come across him. But he wrote a book, he wrote a book about this concept of ergodicity, and it relates very much to, in a sense, to what we were just talking about now. And in our conversation, I think what was really interesting to point out was this idea that the incentive of you and your employer are not always necessarily aligned, or at least the odds don't always add up. And so when you think of this concept of ergodicity, it's a bit like, okay, the odds of you having some kind of mental breakdown at work or burning out is one in a hundred, the linear odds of for an employer, if you have a hundred employees and you spread those odds out against all those employees, that means [00:19:00] one of those employees might have some kind of mental crisis. The other 99 are going to be completely fine and you can grind them for all they're worth, right?
David Elikwu-1: And so how those same odds play out for your employer is very different from you trying to play out those 100 days of grinding. And one of those days you have some kind of mental breakdown. And so I guess that's the first layer of it.
David Elikwu-1: But the second layer is that, what's very funny when we think about those odds is that implicitly, the initial reaction, at least for me, is like, okay, so I might know that if I grind too hard for a hundred days one of those days I could eventually like fall sick or something could happen to me. So I'm only gonna grind for 99 days. But that's not actually how the odds work. What it means is that, any one of those 100 days could be the day that you burn out and fall sick. It could be the seventh day and so the concept of ergodicity means that like if you burn out too early, you don't get to take the rest of those shots. You don't get to have the 100 days, you may only have seven days, and if you get injured [00:20:00] too early, if something happens to you very early on, that can cap the extent to which you can still perform on those other days. And so it very much changes the way that you can continue to work.
David Elikwu-1: And I've had so many conversations with people that just, in my mind, I'm thinking of a conversation I had with Christine Carrillo I think last year or a while ago, and she was talking about how very similarly she was running a bunch of businesses, you know, I think eight or nine figure businesses doing extremely well, but working all the time. And then one day she just had an incident, she had a concussion, and suddenly she's not able to work. She's not even able, it's not so much a matter of like willpower, like do you want to work this hard? You're physically incapable of working that hard, and so you now have to rearrange the entire way that you approach work because you, you've kind of hit the wall. You can't continue doing things in the same way you did them before. And so I guess that is, you know, it's a forcing function for change, and you probably don't want to get to the point where you are forced to [00:21:00] have to make some drastic change.
Michael Ashcroft: Yeah, I agree. And there's a couple of extra things came to mind when you're talking there. One is that it's not a binary thing like. The idea that you can work at full power and then suddenly a thing happens and you, you know, you're suddenly at zero. That does happen, I think. But my experience was more like, I was at, I'd say 90% for several years and then like declining, declining, declining to about 80 or 70% and then down to 10 or something.
Michael Ashcroft: So like, there is a cost to the, the non broken days. But yeah, once I had my incident I went down to like 20% for a while and then I only ever recovered to like 60 or 70 in a work context. So for the rest of the time in that job, I basically went from like a very highly performing manager you know, up for awards and stuff to kind of, just doing the job vanished a little bit. Like I didn't put the extra work in. And, you know, you can stay in a job forever in some context like that, but it doesn't feel good. Knowing where you were, it doesn't, yeah, it just kind of hurts. Then when I went to the next job after that, the one I ended up leaving for good.[00:22:00] I was just allergic to any sense of working, working in a way that was extractive.
Michael Ashcroft: So I, I went to a place that is somewhat known for, put the work in, do the hours, do the evenings and weekends, because that's the expectation. And I just didn't see the risk reward being there for me. The benefit wasn't there. So I was just like, you know what? I will do the job, but I'm not gonna continue to burn myself in the way that you clearly want.
Michael Ashcroft: So yeah, the idea that, you can, you can work up to, up to the point of failure. I don't think that tracks. And then once you have had this point of failure, it can take a very long time to recover. And even then, recovery doesn't mean going back to where you were, it probably means a whole different, a whole reorientation of what's important priorities and ways of working.
David Elikwu-1: Yeah, I think there's probably some interesting line, although I haven't fully drawn it out myself. Maybe you can help me with this, between this concept of like finding your work and finding, I don't necessarily want it to, to say like your calling or your, your passion, but you know, there there's a sense in which it could be that, but finding the work, which by doing it [00:23:00] inherently is recharging or energizing or is its own achievement as opposed to the work is the means through which you achieve some external achievement.
David Elikwu-1: And I think I've heard you talk in the past about how easy it is to inherit the mission from your job. And what that made me think of, I guess that the, frame that I was thinking of it through is the balance between kind of like a missionary mindset and a mercenary mindset. And if you have a mercenary mindset, it's like, each job or each thing that you do, you are being sent on various missions in, you know, you may be ultimately trying to achieve your own goal but your success is determined by the extent to which you can achieve all these other missions.
David Elikwu-1: Whereas if you had more of this missionary mindset where you have this inherent mission that you are trying to go on. All the jobs that you do, and the work that you do is in service of that ultimate mission. And so, the mission dictates where you go. And sometimes that might lead you to changing a job, sometimes it might lead you to leaving a job entirely.
David Elikwu-1: I'm interested to know, I guess, what you think of maybe that [00:24:00] frame and how that connects to your journey in, okay, going from consulting, working in energy, doing climate change related stuff, now teaching the Alexander technique, writing, doing a lot of the other things that you're doing now.
Michael Ashcroft: Yeah, the example that I found most useful was when I was working at an organization called The Carbon Trust, which is a nonprofit climate change energy place. And their mission at the time was to accelerate the transition to a sustainable low carbon economy. And I loved that sentence. I was like, okay, I want to do that. That's also my thing.
Michael Ashcroft: So I felt a real sense of alignment with what the company was doing. And when someone asked me, Hey, what do you do? I could almost just say that, I'm in service of this mission. And it felt really good.
Michael Ashcroft: think one of the ways people can get stuck and I got stuck is as I drifted away from that mission I found myself, there are more parts of me that were complaining if you like, and I think this is a factor in the burnout is that the more of yourself that you have to suppress or crush or ignore to do the job, the more likely [00:25:00] you are to get caught up in unhelpful gripping and tightness and all that kind of grinding behavior.
Michael Ashcroft: Whereas if you are aligned, I guess that means all parts of me or most parts of me are in agreement that we should go in this direction. And there's no like suppression going on internally. So I think finding your own idea of what that is for yourself and then other people and organizations that align with that. It kind of just diminishes this sense of having to fight with yourself all the time. Like if going to work is a chore because, oh, I don't believe in this, that expends energy. If going to work is like, well, I do this anyway. That gives you energy, I think. So that's kind of how I think about the different, the parts of yourself do we all agree internally? Are we all okay with this? And then listen really carefully, like, are we not okay with this? Okay, which parts of me are complaining here? Which parts of me don't like this?
Michael Ashcroft: And then I realized that I was drifting further and further from my mission, and then my mission was changing. I think the energy and climate thing as I was going through my career was like, yes, this is really important, but I don't feel anymore that this is something I can uniquely contribute to.
Michael Ashcroft: There's [00:26:00] plenty of good people and there are other things I can worry about or, you know, be involved with. So that's why my shift was happening. Even then I was clinging to the old self a little bit. It's like, oh yeah, I'm the energy and climate change guy. Even though I kind of wasn't at that point in my soul. So there was a lag, if you like, between my sense of what I thought my mission was and what my, I don't know, my inner guide, shall we say, was telling me the direction I was really going in was.
David Elikwu-1: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I guess, there's a question that kind of ties a bit back to what we were talking about before is, was that signal to change more like an accumulation of votes, like you are continually getting small signs that change is needed or do the votes accumulate to like a tipping point where there's like a critical sign that, I mean, aside from, obviously I know that you had the, there's the mental health side to it, but was there a single point where you were like, oh, okay, this is actually the sign, or was, it just the accumulation of this building feeling that over time all of this adds up?
Michael Ashcroft: It was an accumulation [00:27:00] of feelings, I would say. There were always like these quiet voices in my mind saying, this isn't right, this isn't the right thing. Like, you're gonna figure it out eventually, kind of thing. And I'm like, yeah, yeah, whatever. That's just anxiety, that's just, you know, whatever. Lack of whatever it's impostor syndrome or something.
Michael Ashcroft: When I discovered Alexander Technique, which I am now doing my thing online, I didn't know why I was going to it. I, You know, the training was once a month at the weekends near my office at the time finally. And I was confused as hell. I was like, this thing is weird and, strange, but kind of interesting and fun.
Michael Ashcroft: Yeah, it's costing a lot of money though, so I might just stop doing it. And whenever I contemplated not doing it, I had this voice saying like, no, keep doing it. This is really important. And I was just like, okay, I guess I'll keep doing it then. And it turned out to be a really good call. But it was more like the lack of exposure and then trusting that in a sense of, well, I'm intrinsically motivated to learn this thing. I'm curious, it's unfolding in ways that are like exciting and fun. So I guess I'll just see what happens.
Michael Ashcroft: And over time there was this reorientation but in no way was it like an overnight or like [00:28:00] a, I journaled once and suddenly had a revelation. That's absolutely not how it worked for me.
David Elikwu-1: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. You wrote a really good post. I mean, I want to get on to talking about the Alexander technique in a bit, but just, you mentioned the word grinding a few times, and I remember that you wrote a really good post, was it last year or a little while ago that was, you can achieve your goals with less grinding.
David Elikwu-1: I'd love if you could talk a little bit that. because I think some of the framing that you used in that, particularly towards the start, the analogy with like a car was really, really good.
Michael Ashcroft: Yeah, so suppose I'm thinking of, I was talking about, there's a theory called Perceptual control theory which is a modified, like a human applied version of control theory from control systems. So the idea being that the way a cruise control works is that you set the thing to say, I want to be at 50 miles per hour. And then it adjusts automatically around that. So the way that works in control theory is that you measure the actual speed of the car, you set the desired speed of the car, and then the control system like either hits the accelerator or the brake to make [00:29:00] sure that those two signals line up at the same.
Michael Ashcroft: The way that works in the human version of theory and perceptual control theory is that we, we don't control our actions, we control our perceptions. So right now I'm perceiving, let's say I'm a bit hungry, I'm sitting at this desk, I'm talking to you, and that's my reference perception. That's what's coming in right now. And I can have a desired perception of, I want to not experience hunger, I want to move around. And that's like my goal, my intention. And then I allow the system to change my actions such that the desired perception is met. It doesn't mean that I am doing things like, I'm going to go walk to the kitchen. I'm not doing walking to the kitchen, I'm not doing moving around. I'm allowing my system to coordinate itself. Based on the, the difference between my desired perception and my current perception and where grinding can come in is where you have, let's say, conflicting intentions. Conflicting desired perception.
Michael Ashcroft: Let's say if I want to go for a, this may have happened to you, you want to go for a walk or something and you haven't [00:30:00] decided whether you want to take your phone with you or not. And like you have both intentions at once like, I want to go for a walk and take my phone, but not take my phone. And you end up at this point going back and forth like juddering a little bit like, it's kind of stuck between the two states. Until you make a decision to cut off one of the paths like, okay, I'm not taking my phone with me. And then you can freely walk to the door or I am taking my phone with me, I'll go get my phone. But as long as you have these conflicting desires, your system can't solve for different things at the same time. It needs only this one can exist. I'll go that way. If you want to be like in the work context, I want to be really wealthy. I also don't want to work more than 10 hours a week. I don't know how to do this. I'm gonna have a conflict. There might be a way of doing it, but I haven't found it yet. So it's really important to be aware of conflicts and your intentions because they will cause like these recursive grinding type conflicts In your body.
Michael Ashcroft: The other analogy with the, with the car and the grinding is like driving with the handbrake on ultimately. I actually had this experience [00:31:00] where I was in Vermont I think, and I was driving across the state and I got to the destination and then I smelled fire and that kind of thing. And I realized I'd left the handbrake on a little bit. But I hadn't realized that. So I was like pushing hard on the accelerator which obviously is just damaging the car and everything's like handling worse and that kind of thing. So the solution in that context is not to push harder, it's to look for things that are resisting, is to turn off the handbrake.
Michael Ashcroft: And I think that happens very frequently in, in life and work where it's like, what can I do to stop the effort system rather than how can I go faster? Because that's how you break ultimately. And that that perceptual control theory thing is one way of identifying, okay, I've got a brake on, I'm trying to do things at once. I'm trying to pull in two opposite directions. How do I stop doing that so I can just go in one direction easily, right? So there's a places that you can look to find ways in which you're getting in your own way and then turn them off ultimately.
David Elikwu-1: I love both of those analogies. I think there's a part of us that craves optionality, we want to keep our options open. We don't want to end up in a position where we only have one choice because that is also [00:32:00] something that can cause a lot of tension that can make, that can feel like a massive constraint. But thinking just about the second analogy that you gave, which I also love, is this idea that sometimes we already know, releasing the clutch is something you should always do if you're driving. But sometimes that clutch can be something that we know that we should take off, but we kind of want to keep on and there's something that, there's that dynamic tension there between something we kind of want to keep in our lives and want to keep doing, but we, in the service of the greater goal, which is getting to some destination or to move off, we have to release that.
David Elikwu-1: And so, like you say, you can end up in this position where you are grinding and you need to exert so much more energy for the same amount of movement simply because you refuse to let go of this other thing because you haven't released the clutch. Everything becomes harder. Achieving both goals of keeping the clutch and also being able to get to wherever you're going is so much harder for the act of doing that than if you had just released one or even [00:33:00] release the other.
David Elikwu: Thank you so much for tuning in. Please do stay tuned for more. Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe. It really helps the podcast and follow me on Twitter feel free to shoot me any thoughts. See you next time.