To highlight the great work of the Burnalong instructors, and to introduce you to America’s Favorite Trainers, this week we spoke to Akai Jackson. Akai recently won the title of America’s Favorite Mindfulness and Meditation Instructor. In this interview, he shares about his journey to becoming a trainer, how he works with clients, and provides some really helpful tips for all of us to change our perceptions and behaviors.
Q: You are America’s Favorite Mindfulness and Meditation Instructor. What did that mean to you?
It was such a blessing and a journey to get here. It’s such a humbling and incredible experience. When I got the email, I was on my way to see a client and I pulled up the email as I was parking. It was such an emotional day for me. I actually lost my grandmother about a year ago, and she was, and is, the most important person in my life. Whenever I do a speech or something big hap
pens, I call my father, and then I call my aunt, and then I call one other person that’s really important to me. In particular, that morning, I just wanted to call my grandmother to say, “we did it.”
So, for me, this is not a “me” award, this is a family award. This is a friend award. This is for every single person that has been in my life since day one who has coached me, motivated me, mentored me, empowered me, and taught me something so that I could be who I am today. And so that I can be a bridge for people to help them become the best versions of themselves.
This is not “Akai is America’s Favorite Trainer,” this is “everyone that’s been in Akai’s life for the last 35 years, we are America’s Favorite Trainer.”
Q: Tell me about the first time you can remember intentionally thinking about mindfulness.
That’s a great question. I learned a lot from my upbringing, my grandmother, my aunt, and my father. They put a lot into me. And honestly, it was from when I was at a very, very young age where they used to just talk to me. They would just say things to me that were very impactful.
The first conversation I really remember having with my grandmother, she said, “hey, you know Akai, people are not obstacles, they are opportunities for you to love on, for you to encourage, for you to empower, for you to educate, for you to teach. So, if you’re not making other people feel better about themselves, you’re wasting your time here on Earth.” She said that to me when I was five.
And my aunt is the biggest cheerleader. She’s the loudest person in the room, she claps loud, and she talks loudly. She’s just constantly been my supporter and cheerleader since day one. So getting encouraging words from her and then my father like, “You’re going to bless others and you’re going to use your mouth to do it.” They each empowered me with words and told me there was life in words; that you can use words to create things, move things, and build things.
I feel like mindfulness was just something that was breathed into me and something I was really meant to step into. I just had to be obedient to do that.
Q: You’re a personal trainer. But you take things to that mental level. What does it mean when you are coaching your clients and talking about the mind? Why is the mindfulness aspect something important to focus on?
The mind is the thing that you have to teach people to overcome. People can trick themselves into thinking that they can’t do something before they even attempt to try it.
Everything starts in your mind. For example, when you wake up in the morning, the first thoughts that you have running through your mind, whether they’re positive or negative, will impact how you spend the rest of your day. If I can take someone and teach them how to become the best version of themselves and I can pour into someone and really build their mind, we can get their body to follow.
The mind is so important. All your behavior comes from your thinking, whether its good or bad, right, wrong, or different. Everything that you do is predicated and starts with how you think about it.
If you can get people to shift their perspectives from “I have to” to “I get to” or if you can get people from “I don’t know how right now, but someone is going to show me how to do this” or “I’m going to figure it out,” that’s the difference between being successful and not being successful.
The difference between a ditch digger and a surgeon is the thought process. The difference between an amateur or a professional is the thought process. The difference between somebody that just does it enough to get it right and someone who never gets it wrong is thought process. If we can train your mind, we can get your body to do anything.
Q: I like the piece about how you start your day because I think a lot of folks start their day by turning off their alarm and scrolling. How do you recommend people start their days?
For any of my clients, the first thing that I have them do are words of affirmation. That is the very first thing that we do. I don’t care how old they are, I give them homework. That homework is to write down words of affirmation. I need them to affirm themselves because what you say when you talk to yourself is extremely important.
Unfortunately, it is scientifically proven that we have been programmed for failure. We have been programmed to not be successful regardless of how positive your household might be. We are taught not to do things with words that have negative connotations. “Don’t touch the stove, it’s hot!” The keyword there is “don’t.” Even though that is said to protect you, you learn how to not do things by being told: “don’t do it.”
This is instead of learning things by what you can do, what you will do, what you must do. For example, you can do this or you will conquer this. You hear the negative words way more as you grow up. So, the first thing we put in place is words of affirmation.
The second thing we put in place is making the bed right away. If you are a client of mine, one of your responsibilities is to say these words of affirmation at least 50 times a day. Make your bed first thing in the morning. Next thing, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth. While you’re brushing your teeth, say your words of affirmation. I have them attack the day with these steps.
Proper structure precedes predictable results. Bill Gates said it best. There are two types of businesses, there are businesses with structure and there are businesses that are out of business. For me, people’s minds are business, people’s bodies are business, people’s spirits and their souls are business.
If we put in framework, I can tell a client where they will be 30, 60, 90 days from now because I’ve done it with hundreds of thousands of people before you. I’ll do it with hundreds of thousands of people after you. Even though the pieces of the program are customizable, the anchoring pieces with the framework are 100% able to be duplicated.
Q: On Burnalong, your longest video is less than five minutes. What is it about bite-sized content that works for you? It’s clearly working for the people who support you.
People’s attention span isn’t really that long. For me, it’s about connectivity. I try to draw people into who I am. I’m very raw and uncut. If you listen to some of my stuff, it can come across as harsh or intense sometimes but it’s authentic, it’s who I am. I coach that way. I talk like that. My hands move all the time, my eyes do specific things.
All of this is intentional. Knowing that the average adult attention span is less than four and a half minutes, why put something out there that’s 15 minutes long, knowing they only heard 15 or 20 percent of that?
As a coach, what I learned is that regardless of how long I speak, I assume you forget 20 percent of everything we talked about as soon as we walk away from each other. So if I talk for 15 minutes, 20 percent of that 15 minutes is going to land you somewhere around two, three, four, five, six minutes. That’s honestly why I do it that way.
Q: You are one of the few trainers today that isn’t afraid of the “p-word.” I’m talking about perfection. What is it about perfection that’s motivating for you?
I ran into this quote and it says “Perfection is my goal, excellence will be tolerated.” It’s something that my father really put into me. My father is a pastor. He builds houses. He really instilled in me at a very young age, “I would rather you measure this thing 150 times and cut it once than have to cut it 150 times.”
If you have the ability to perfect your craft, why wouldn’t you put the time and effort into doing that?
When I wake up every day, my goal is to run my engine as hard as I possibly can all day, every day so that at the end of the day, I am completely and utterly exhausted. As long as I did it with intent and purpose, I know that my day was lived to perfection because that’s exactly what it was supposed to be.
Q: Let’s talk about the trainers that you’ve had in your life. What have they meant to you? Do you feel sometimes that they impact the way that you train?
I got started in this industry when I was young, 17 years old. I just didn’t want to pay for a gym membership so that’s actually how I got into training.
I was an All-County, All-State basketball player. I was awarded an athletic scholarship to play basketball at the next level, the highest level. And I just really didn’t want to have to pay for a gym membership. So, I got a job working at a gym. And my mentality when I was young in this industry was if you don’t puke or pass out, you didn’t work out hard enough.
The trainers that poured into me, Eric Flynn, Michael Chaffin, those two people mentored me in this industry. Then I got connected with some chiropractors. Matthew Herber was someone who spent a lot of time with me to teach me just a little bit more than what the normal trainer knows. I got to learn about the spine and how it connects to different organs and the functionality that the spine has.
With this holistic practice, I took a completely different approach to fitness. I was being groomed at a very young age by these three specific people. My original thought that if you don’t puke or pass out, you haven’t worked hard enough quickly changed. We had an opportunity to really heal the body from the inside out.
Then, I got a certification back in 2006 from an organization called PTA Global. It was called BCE, which is Behavioral Change in Exercise. We were literally able to take people who were addicted to things like opioids, cigarettes, and alcohol and with things like lack of motivation, no inspiration, no purpose, no drive, to really frame some things up in their lives. It legitimately changed their behavior in 90 days.
We can literally get someone to go from “good” to “great” in 90 days. Then, we can get someone from 90 to 180 days to go from “great” to “exceptional.” It’s a very methodical and structured way of designing and putting someone forward.
Q: Not everyone has the philosophy of needing to puke at the end of a workout. How do you adapt to your clients? What is your philosophy?
People now have a better understanding when they come to me of who I am and what I do. Thank God, I haven’t had to market myself in 15 years. And that’s not due to me. That’s due to the people that have trusted me who have followed a program in a structured way of doing life.
When people come to me, they understand that it’s a little bit deeper than just counting reps, telling them what to eat. They come to me for a specific reason, and they can tell on day one, from the first few sentences that come out of my mouth, that this is going to be different. I’m asking them questions about their sleep, what they eat, and about themselves. I’m not talking about your weight loss goals, and I’m not talking about you wanting to look good for a cruise.
I’m asking who they are, what they want, what they want their life to look like, what is keeping you from being that person? I ask how they like to be coached. That’s not something that people normally ask. I ask how they like to train. Because what I find is most people train others the way they themselves work out but that doesn’t work for everybody.
I’m really in tune with finding out who people are. After that, we have the opportunity to put that in a framework and move forward in a 30, 60, 90-day window and then move into 120, 150, and then 180 days out.
Q: In the past year and a half everything has been different in the fitness world and everyone needed to go virtual. How did you adapt to that?
I actually started doing virtual training about seven years ago. So virtual training wasn’t foreign to me. It wasn’t a hard transition for me and my clientele, and thankfully, we really didn’t get shut down for very long. I was only out of my facility for nine days. So for the nine days, pretty much everybody went virtual.
A lot of clients liked the virtual option a little bit better than being in person and have continued to stay virtual to make themselves feel comfortable. They obviously get a good experience with who we are, what we do, and the packaging that we deliver. So, some have stayed virtual, and some have come back to come face to face.
What did change was how much more mental preparedness and mental health issues I had to be aware of with my clients. Some of them were locked down from really not having any work for three to eight months.
They went from attaching their self-image to what they do for work, to not having that. They had to reinvent themselves or reconfigure who they are in a very short period of time. There has been a lot of growth but it was disheartening that we had to experience something like that. However, it has been such a tremendous blessing for people to get reengaged with who they actually are.
Q: Why do you use Burnalong?
I was introduced to Burnalong through a good friend of mine. He is Ricky Persad’s cousin (a Burnalong employee). I chatted with Ricky eventually and sent him one of my videos. He introduced me to it and I thought it sounded awesome.
Burnalong has given me a place to house who I am, what I am, and what I would like to leave to this world. For that, I will forever be grateful for what Burnalong has done for me and my family. Just given me an opportunity to touch more lives, giving me an opportunity to sit in front of people that I might not have been able to sit in front of had it not been for Burnalong.
I absolutely love the platform. I love interactions with Ricky and the friendship I’ve been able to build with him. He shares with me that people want me to speak, or CEOs are listening to my videos. I think that’s great!
I feel like I know so many people because of Burnalong. I appreciate the opportunity to work alongside of people at Burnalong. It’s been world-class. It’s been second to none. I’m just thankful to be a part of the family.
So, What’s Next?
Burnalong is so grateful for Akai Jackson and extends a big congratulations to Akai for his win as America’s Favorite Mindfulness and Meditation Instructor. We also appreciate the time Akai took to sit down with us to share more of his story.