Everyone should start the New Year with a 20-minute chat to Ant Middleton.
The former elite special forces soldier, who is perhaps best known in Australia now for his role on Seven's SAS Australia, is something of a polarising figure.
He was dropped from the British version of the reality series in 2021 amid controversy surrounding comments he made about the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. His in-your-face attitude and treatment of the contestants on SAS Australia has been called out. He doesn't sugar-coat anything, he calls a spade a spade, he's not afraid to admit he's made mistakes and he owns that. In 2013 he spent four months in jail.
I'll admit I'm a fan of SAS Australia. I like to think I can see past the stunts, the scripted drama, the stereotypes. I love the interrogation scenes where the staff, Middleton and his crew, get the contestants one-on-one and call them out on all sorts of things.
Increasingly so, in this sometimes too politically correct world, people don't like to be tested, don't like to be taken outside their comfort zone.
Middleton is the perfect antidote to that.
"I've got to be true to who I am, I've got to be honest, it might upset a few people along the way, it might not fit in with certain agendas but I feel a real sense of responsibility to help people become the best version of themselves," he says.
He's heading to Canberra as part of his Mind Over Muscle Tour, a live stage show where he'll tell his life story and give a glimpse of his life in the military and what's shaped who he is.
"It's basically about getting out there and showing people what we're capable of when we put our mind to things," he says.
After a few rough years in my life where professional advice included such gems as imagining my troubles as pebbles in a stream being cleansed by the flow of the water, part of me wants to be yelled at by Middleton. It worked for Rebel Wilson. She credits the time spent with Middleton for their 2020 television special Straight Talking as what kickstarted her personal transformation.
We need people to ask us some hard questions, to test us, to make us think.
"If I can help one person ... I love seeing people succeed, I love seeing people being positive, sometimes you need to push people to get the best out of them."
While he attributes much of his drive to his military career, Middleton says it was the death of his father, when Middleton was only five, that changed the course of his life.
"All these years later I can pluck a positive out of any negative situation, when my father died I began self-reflecting. The situation was so overwhelming I couldn't understand it, but I knew, even at six, seven, that there was no point overthinking things I couldn't understand. I learned how to deal with my emotions and take those and make the most of the situation."
It's this mental strength that Middleton wants us all to work on. It's easy to build muscles in the gym, to build endurance by racking up the kilometres. It's much harder to convince your head that you can go on. It's usually your head that gives up well before the body does. Even though we tell ourselves that we can't do one more push-up, our bodies are capable of much more than we give them credit for. Just ask Jana Pittman.
"The mind is part of the body, one doesn't come without the other, they are connected," Middleton says.
"With mind and body in perfect harmony, we can push ourselves to the highest heights and beyond."
Middleton's also been channelling his message through the written word. Among his books are titles such as Fear Bubble: Harness fear and live without limits, Zero Negativity: The power of positive thinking and the latest, Mental Fitness: 15 rules to strengthen your body and mind. They are all best sellers. (He's also recently released his debut novel Cold Justice.)
"The feedback I get from readers blows me away, and I am truly humbled to read daily posts about how the books have inspired people to change their lives, step towards challenges and believe in a positive mindset," he says.
"Those comments spur me on to explore all routes to positivity. Mental Fitness brings something very new to my readers as it connects the mind with the body and maps out a plan to physical and mental strength, and wellbeing."
He loves the rewards he gets from helping people change their lives but it's all up to the individual.
"Your mind is the most powerful tool out there and if used correctly there isn't much you can't achieve," he says.
"I won't say I can change your life, that's up to you. I can give you the tools, I can show you ways to think differently, to tackle things differently, but it's up to you to make the concerted effort to change the way you act. That's all on you."
He admits he's not a bookwork, not an "intellect". "I come from the university of life," he says.
"Everything that I've done is through trial and error, I've succeeded, I've made mistakes, but if you don't make mistakes in life, you don't make anything.
"I don't go out of my way to fail but if I get things wrong then I'm going to learn from that experience and learn to grow from it, and I'm going to become a better version of who I am."
He truly believes the lessons he's learned in combat, while he's been climbing Everest, living life on the edge, can be transferred to the everyday person.
"It's all about finding the positive in the negative, about being willing to accept change, embrace change. We're designed to change, a lot of people get stuck in their ways, they get a bit complacent.
"If you change the way you think, change the way you do things, when you do that, that's where the growth is."
- Ant Middleton's Mind Over Muscle Tour is on at Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, on January 30. Presented by TEG Dainty. Tickets from $95. Book at tegdainty.com