Be the best you can be
(pic: the entrance to AUT Millenium where I work)
I’ve wanted to start a blog for quite some time now. The trick is to get the technical skills together well enough to actually know how to run one and do it regularly. Well, I’m just about there.
What will I blog about?
I am really interested in the science of how we can be the best we can be. This crosses disciplines such as biology, medicine, pubic health, and productivity management. The cornerstones are nutrition, exercise, sleep, neuroscience, psychology and well-being. I’ll be covering these topics under the broad heading of the Science of Human Potential (the name of this blog).
I’ve been interested in human health and performance for my whole career. I started in psychology then into sport and exercise psychology, then into public health especially physical activity then obesity.
There have been some twists and turns along the way which might help to give a view of why I do what I do and where it can go.
Sport and exercise has always been a massive part of my life. From an early age I played rugby union, learned to sail and race, and eventually ended up in the high school rowing squad. Rowing at my high school had no room for anything but high performance. So I was introduced to this at age 13. From there we won national championships most years. The combination of the sheer physicality of the sport and the team work and individual excellence required both mentally and physically really defined my teenage years and who I could become as an adult.
Being fit and involved in some sort of high performance activity has been part of my life since then.
I finished bachelors, Honors, and doctoral degrees in psychology at the University of Auckland by 1994. At the same time I had got into triathlon as a sport. I ended up racing semi-professionally. That’s code for “was never quite fast enough to earn a decent living, so had to supplement prize money income by working“. In the end I raced professionally in several world championships in long course triathlon, ironman and duathlon. That was great fun, and the skills and work ethic I have learned from triathlon are important to me.
The extra benefits from the high performance sport world, especially triathlo,n include:
- I met my wife Louise because of triathlon. She ended up also as a professional triathlete, a better athlete than me. We’ve been married since 1995 and have three boys – Sam, Jackson and Daniel. Louise also started Vitality Works, a workplace health company acquired by Sanitarium in 2012. Vitality Works has allowed both of us to benefit from a huge amount of professional and personal development in health and well-being.
- I figured out early that a high performance life is just as much work as a low performance life, so you may as well take the high performance life. It just requires a bit more work up front, but frankly you avoid work later and you get more choices.
- I have the skills to stay fit and enjoy maximizing my biology for my own personal peak performance.
- I still get to compete at a reasonable level in triathlon and running. This is cool because the age group triathlon and running groups are really fun, and you get to hang out with people of a similar performance, health, and happiness mindset.
My academic career began with part-time teaching in the Psychology Department at The University of Auckland during my PhD tenure. I moved to Australia (Central Queensland University in Rockhampton) and worked in the School of Psychology there for nearly 10 years. Most of our spare time then was dedicated to triathlon training and racing with Louise. I wasn’t going fast or far in the academic world at that point. Enter Kerry Mummery.
Kerry Mummery is now the Dean of Physical Education at the University of Alberta. He really mentored and started me on the journey to becoming a decent academic. We worked on several physical activity and health projects together. The most notable was 10,000 Steps. This started as a whole community project and morphed into a nationwide program which is still running successfully today.
This was the entrance into public health proper for me. I started at AUT in 2003 after the birth of Jackson our second son. Back in Auckland and into a new country with plenty to do. That’s when things really took off. I had the good fortune to have several great staff members and PhD students under my guidance. Almost all of these are still with me.
The highlights in the last decade are:
- Working with dozens of talented doctoral and masters thesis students
- Being highly successful in obtaining research grants and funding. This is the life of an academic and you live and die by this success. We are up over $20 million in funding.
- A solid and respectable publication record. Ditto above. Important for gauging success. But by itself is unlikely to put much of a dent in the universe.
- Being involved in Vitality Works. This has put a dent in the universe and allowed me to develop more formally into peak performance, well being and neuroscience.
- Being the youngest full professor around for a while. That wore off as I aged!
- Moving our work beyond physical activity into obesity, well-being, productivity, and nutrition/weight loss. Most recently the work we are starting in metabolic efficiency and weight is likely to put the biggest dent in the world.
- Starting the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition and eventually morphing that into the Human Potential Centre at the new Millennium Campus.
So that’s where I’m at. Where I want to go now, and with this blog, is to explore the science behind what helps us “be the best we can be.” It’s an emerging and multidisciplinary science. Let’s go!