Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 August 2019

Robin Sharma's new book is both valuable and completely bizarre

Rather than walk us through the benefits of ‘The 5am Club’, the best-selling author of 'The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari' cloaks them in a perplexing work of fiction

Robin S. Sharma, one of the world's top leadership experts. Alamy Stock Photo
Robin S. Sharma, one of the world's top leadership experts. Alamy Stock Photo

Rock star leadership guru, bestselling author and self-help expert Robin Sharma wants you to own your morning. By doing so, promises the Canadian in his new book, The 5am Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life, you will achieve a "substantially better life". Unfortunately, being a member of his newly minted 5am club does actually mean getting up before the crack of dawn – and resisting the urge to reach for your phone to check for news of vacuous celebrity escapades that occurred when you were, briefly, asleep.

Instead, you must Move, Reflect and Grow, in three 20-minute segments. But the benefits he believes will come your way are compelling. You will become a visionary ­thinker. Develop a formidable inner life, become ultra fit and an amazing leader. Set that alarm now.

Still not convinced? Neither are we. But not because the benefits to be gained from getting up early aren’t entirely plausible. The sheer number of books about or by successful people (Richard Branson, Michelle Obama, PepsiCo’s recently retired Indra Nooyi) who rise before dawn is staggering – to the point where it seems odd that Sharma is heading down such a well-travelled path for his new book. His argument is that The 5am Club is actually the culmination of a concept he’s been honing for more than 20 years, which has helped his clients “accomplish epic results while upgrading their happiness, helpfulness and feelings of aliveness.”

The real problems with the book, then, are not his ideas but how Sharma has chosen to present them. Rather than walk us through the processes and benefits of his 20/20/20 Formula – effectively you do some exercise between 5am and 5.20am; write, meditate, plan or contemplate between 5.20am and 5.40am; and then read books, listen to podcasts or “review goals” for the last third of the hour – he chooses to cloak all this in a fictional story of an entrepreneur and an artist who meet an eccentric, seemingly homeless man (actually a billionaire tycoon), who becomes their secret mentor.

It’s not entirely surprising that Sharma has taken this approach. He did something very similar with his bestselling book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, a step-by-step guide to living with “greater courage, balance, abundance and joy” told via the fable of a lawyer battling to make sense of an unharmonious life.

As the top Google question on that book asks: Is The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari fiction? The answer is yes … of a sort. His characters go on clunky “journeys” to enlightenment and Sharma repeats the format 21 years later, with hilariously bad dialogue, which is just the start of the problems with this “inspirational fiction”. Almost every page has an exchange like this:

“Amazing insights,” the entrepreneur acknowledged. “But how exactly do I do this during my Victory Hour from 5 to 6am?”

“You’ll learn how to implement The 5am Method in the near future,” the billionaire replied. “You two cats are becoming open enough and strong enough to embrace the 20/20/20 Formula soon …”

Why Sharma takes this approach is perplexing. No matter how valuable his thoughts and insights are – and there’s some really good stuff here on defending yourself against digital distraction, the ­neuroscience behind daily exercise and the small yet fun steps to increasing productivity and, ultimately, happiness – hiding them behind completely unrealistic characters and dreadful storytelling seems completely bizarre.

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It is true that people around the world have loved listening to Sharma talk about The 5am Club over the past 20 years. Apparently he has been handcrafting this tie-in book over a “rigorous four-year period”, so I wonder if he has actually overthought what he wanted it to achieve.

Earlier this year, Allan Jenkins wrote Morning, a really lovely diary of waking up early, which throws Sharma’s approach into sharp relief. Mixing philosophy, anecdote and reflections from other early risers – writers, actors, artists and fishermen – Jenkin’s book might be slighter and less ­bombastic than Sharma’s, but it certainly won’t sell as much. Its quietness matches the subject matter, though, and the beautiful ­writing (“dawn is an ­enchanted world behind a hidden door”) steadily makes it just as persuasive an ­argument for seizing the day as The 5am Club.

But then, Morning doesn’t have a linked app called The 5am Habit Installer, or a meditation programme that encourages you to “optimise your Mindset, purify your Heartset, fortify your Healthset and escalate your Soulset”. If that sentence makes you giggle just a little, then you probably won’t last a chapter of The 5am Club. It is a book that will test the patience of those who are not wholeheartedly in the Sharma camp. Rise and shine? The first rule of The 5am Club should be, well, not to write a silly story about it.

The 5am Club published by HarperCollins is out now

Updated: December 11, 2018 09:27 AM

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