The wonder of operating from a peak state: 10 life lessons from training for my first amateur fight

I felt the most intense pain in my jaw, shoulders and hands. After over two months of tough training, I had transformed from a bulky, flatfooted, washed up spin doctor into a lean, mean, agile raging bull.

My fight was in aid of charity and I had also raised the most money (almost £3,500) for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) charity out of over 70 fighters taking part in the same event.

My path from complete novice to confident amateur fighter required significant sacrifice to ensure I gave myself every advantage on the night. I transformed my diet, training and daily routines, and in doing so changed my body and mind.

On top of twice-weekly sessions with professional fighter Lloyd Ellett, I sparred incessantly with other ‘white collar’ fighters under supervised conditions as the matchmakers looked to pair people of similar skill, weight, and experience. In addition to my core boxing work, I incorporated sprint training, skipping, yoga, Pilates and swimming into my regime.

As a result, I found myself in the best, most well-rounded shape of my life. During and after the training I observed some of the following:

· Weight loss of 7kg and a trim ripped physique

· Feeling fitter, sharper and more energetic than ever

· A wide spectrum of emotions — largely gratitude and contentment (of the wry smile kind)

· Improved confidence — specifically a faith in my ability and a more peaceful demeanour

· Recurring pain and soreness, both mental and physical resulting in flashes of growth and maturity

· A drastic improvement in my boxing technique, fluency and awareness

· Practice of a disciplined, deliberate approach to diet, wellness and preparation

· Learning how to be patient and conserve energy to direct it where I can have an impact.

While the whole experience was undoubtedly the most challenging thing I’ve done over such a time period, I have drawn many positives and benefits from this that I want to share.

Boxing is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Few will take it up given it is violent, dangerous and very taxing on the body and head.

Below I set out the insights and lessons that I intend to implement in other areas of my life. I hope they may be of some value to you too.

You can watch the footage of the fight online here. Let me know how you scored it!

1. Improvement in one area of your life positively impacts the whole

So many positives have come out of the training. The most visible being all the lost weight. I am now the fittest I have ever been, a clear consequence of exercising intensively for an extended period.

Other positives I’ve observed in my life have been in the following areas:

Better relationships with family at home in London and in Ireland, as well as with friends new and old. The fundraising and entertainment elements of the fight have put me in touch with people I either would not have met before or with people I may not have reached out to otherwise.

Increased productivity outside the gym, where I have been working on my skills and preparing for several job interviews at this time (see next point). The intensity and regularity of the training helped me structure my days and weeks more effectively.

Professional and skills development has been apparent, more than anything I’ve become very good at job interviews recently and am close to naming it as a skill, in job interviews. I’ve continued to enjoy practicing my own and facilitating public speaking for others. I have also taken online courses in journaling and writing skills. Finally, from a project management standpoint, it is very satisfying to start and finish something as vast as this.

A new attitude to diet and wellness. I have been eating healthily but still on a meat-based diet at this time. Having learnt about the meat and dairy industries’ conduct with animal welfare, the environment and the communities close to their operations, I‘ve resolved in the New Year to trial aspects of a vegan, plant-based diet.

• Lastly, I’ve attained an even sharper perspective on what I want in my life in terms of goals and aspirations I want to go for, passions I want to pursue and new activities I want to try. So much of life is a choice about how you spend your time and where you direct your energy. The boxing training has helped me grasp even more firmly how life is too short to not fill it with things that intellectually fascinate and emotionally motivate you. These valuable things should come at the expense of irritating things that we know deep down are deriving no joy from (like Arsenal FC).

You can’t change a part without fundamentally changing everything… Success in one area of your life should simultaneously facilitate greater success in all other areas of your life. Eventually, you’ll have to give up the things you’re only pretending to want to please society or your peers” — Ben Hardy

2. Diet determines your default state

The importance of diet to an athlete preparing for competition is difficult to overstate. What you drink and eat is the fuel for the engine you will be regularly firing up throughout your training. The food and drink you take in determines fundamentally how you feel and perform daily, based on the state that you are operating from.

I cut alcohol from my diet completely for the whole process and noticed a significant improvement in my physical, and therefore mental conditioning. I could think more clearly, strategically and with more optimism than I could from weeks and weeks of indulging in red wine, whiskey and beer.

Having a fight on the horizon forced me to take more responsibility for what I was putting into my body and seek out healthier alternatives and sources of nutrients, vitamins, fats, protein and carbs. Staple items included:

- Green tea and lots of water

- Bran flakes with coconut milk and chopped banana

- Lots of smoked salmon and tuna

- Fruit smoothies with celery, spinach, kale

- Egg whites / whole eggs (poached, scrambled, boiled) with crushed avocado, tomato and cayenne pepper on brown toast

- Peanut and almond butter on oatcakes and/or “protein pancakes” with fruit, nuts.

In my training, I discovered a wonderfully healthy drink that tastes just enough like coffee to be enjoyable. Vital Ingredient describe their Matcha Green Tea Latte as a “potent antioxidant elixir,” and offer the option to “bulletproof” it with raw coconut oil. This drink is a dream. Go and have one, and tell ’em I sent ya.

3. Win the morning, win the day

Throughout training but especially in fight week, I made a very conscious approach to my morning routine. There were days — including the day of the fight — where I’ve left the house feeling truly magnificent and full of energy and positivity. I put this down to beginning my day very deliberately and with purpose.

Most of us start our days reaching for our smartphone to switch off the alarm, then proceeding to check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the news, WhatsApp, work emails and so on.

This is a very poor way to begin the day as all of these things have content that is other people’s priorities and agendas, not yours. Doing this consistently means you begin the day with a reactive mindset, rather than proactively waking and going about your day on your own terms.

Ben Hardy puts it very well: “When you wake up and put yourself, not other people first, you position yourself to win before you ever begin playing.”

The same way making a positive first impression is something most of us set out to do, a habitual morning routine will leave you in a great mood for hours later in the day. You’ll be practically smiling to yourself, and everyone else on your commute.

On fight day I was buzzing on the Tube to the fight venue, almost floating with calm excitement, virtually dancing my way down the street listening to Tony Christie and The Proclaimers on my “happy” Spotify playlist.

Experiment with it and just try it for a few weeks (what have you got to lose?). Here is what mine consists of:

• Making my bed to start day with a small win

• A 10–15 minute meditation (recently I’ve been listening to this one of Deepak Chopra’s on abundance)

• 10–15 minutes of exercise / stretching (planks, crunches, like Patrick Bateman)

• With the body temperature warmed up, then a cold shower

• A green tea or something small to eat (bran flakes, protein/fruit smoothie)

• Sitting down with my journal and writing down what I’m thankful for, happy about, looking forward to. Also sketching out goals, and things to get done today and further ahead in future. You can use notebooks or journals for goal-achievement, productivity, emotional regulation, clarity, and creativity.

• Working on the #1 thing of the day — the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? (highly recommend this book).

Cold showers have untold benefits for the immune system, blood circulation and mental health generally. It is a fine way to begin the day with some discomfort, as it teaches you to tolerate and deal with a degree of stress.

Cold showers strengthen your mind to cope with scenarios where the body is tested — very similar to boxing. It isn’t a silver bullet, but turning down the temperature on your shower will turn up the dials on other areas of your life.

4. Jump off the cliff first, and learn to fly on your way down

A parachute will only open once you’ve jumped out of the airplane. That initial leap of faith needs to come from you. Or as a teacher of mine used to tell me in plain terms, “to get motivation, you first need to do something.”

In the same way, to develop, you have to test your abilities by putting them under strain, consistently, often publicly and with increasing difficulty.

I often give short public speeches in my spare time, and thinking about giving a series of impromptu speeches to a random audience can seem daunting. But you have to back yourself to be able to deal with whatever comes.

Whatever speaking topics are thrown your way. Whatever you perceive your audience to be feeling or thinking. Whatever your fellow actor is doing or how they’re behaving when you get on stage with them. Whatever deliveries are thrown your way on the cricket pitch. Whatever your opponent is doing in the ring… it doesn’t matter.

With enough deliberate practice and training you will learn the skills and above all the assurance to take a breath and just do it. The key point is that you first have to walk into the uncertainty arena and allow yourself to be surrounded by a fog of doubt and nerves. This is all happening while you figure it out and find the sweet spot of learned, repetitive technique and unscripted, relaxed ad-libbing in the moment to deliver and perform effectively.

In the boxing, you often have to force yourself through the discomfort, tiredness and soreness of training and sparring. But all the time you’re improving your skills, every new opponent you spar — whether they’re fast and tricky, tall and rangy, awkward and heavy-handed — adds to your defensive repertoire and muscle-memory reflexes (even if they also add to the bruises on your face).

5. Embrace vulnerability and fail your way to success

Give up the absurd, but seductive pretense that perfection and bulletproof exist in the human experience

Beneath the surface of success — outside our view, often outside our awareness — is a mountain of necessary failure… This is the paradox of success: it is built upon failure” — Matthew Syed, Black Box Thinking

Vulnerability in this context simply means uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. To be vulnerable means to acknowledge that our life experience is full of risk and danger, whether we actively avoid them or not.

Being vulnerable also means accepting that joy, growth and maturity come from confronting these perceived and actual risks and allowing ourselves to feel that temporary discomfort and fear.

To succeed you have to experience momentary failures. No one is exempt from this paradigm. To improve you have to experience feeling like you’re going backwards at times. To develop and grow you have to be vulnerable — and go through periods where you feel emotionally (and often physically) drained, wounded, beaten up or tested to your preconceived limits.

You cannot open yourself to all the benefits that life brings whilst being simultaneously closed off to the negatives. It’s all the same. Yin and yang. You can’t opt out of this deal.

You have to physically get in the ring, between the ropes to get your hand raised, the title belt placed around your waist. You have to walk that walk into the arena. You have to go in there face punches of challenge, difficulty, self-doubt, low expectations from peers, family and colleagues. You have to do all this to get to the other side of mastery and accomplishment. There’s no shortcut to that place — and even if there was, would you really want to take it?

True failure only materialises when you don’t see the learning and growth opportunities that mistakes, errors and falling short present. True failure is when you don’t even try in the first place, failure by default. This learning process only occurs when you put yourself in positions and scenarios where you could trip up or not deliver something perfectly.

Challenge is chastening, and pursuing purpose can be painful but I’ve realised that growth surely follows. After the eight weeks, I feel now a more developed and complete person.

A final point on vulnerability and trust in relationships from Ben Hardy:

If you’re not willing to be honest and vulnerable, your relationships — including the one with yourself — will be shallow. In such relationships, each party is too concerned about their own feelings to confront the reality of the situation. As a result, the relationship doesn’t progress and evolve, but remains stuck.

Often there is a mismatch between what we think and what we say, or between our values and our actions. The more you can close this gap, and make all of these things as coherent and consistent as possible, the more fulfilled you’ll be in what you’re doing.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are all in harmony.

6. Create the conditions that make success inevitable

We are greatly influenced by the environments we continually place ourselves within. After a while, we can even come to embody them (think Mike Tyson).

We are affected by those closest to us. It affects our thinking patterns, our self-esteem, and our decisions. Jim Rohn puts it better: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Our workplace environments are responsible for a large degree of our happiness due to the number of hours we spend there and because most of us are ambitious people who want to get on.

If your environment is not serving you, your goals or your passions (and therefore making you miserable, and the people close to you also) then you have to change that environment.

If you cannot adapt or reform that environment, then you need to make a more wholesale change by moving on to new surroundings.

Go where you’re celebrated, not tolerated. Life’s too short to be in stale environments that don’t value you.

For my fight I went about trying to change myself and make the conditions that would make success, not just probable or likely, but inevitable. Building my confidence in my fitness and skills but also trying to influence my subconscious mind (and therefore inner state) constantly.

The concerted nature and high-intensity of boxing training was such that I exposed myself to a variety of methods and approaches in different environments to better prepare myself. These included:

• Training in 4–5 different locations — alone, with sparring partners or with qualified personal trainers

• Sprints and runs (on curved treadmills where you are generating the electricity, burning 30% more calories)

• Skipping (which burns over 10 calories a minute)

• Heavy bag and pad work — power, speed and boxing-behind-jab phases

• Intense ‘lungbuster’ boxing workouts (e.g. 200m track sprints wearing boxing gloves; padwork; rest circuits)

• Mobility and core work in yoga and Pilates

• Head and handstands

• Having medicine balls thrown at my abs to strengthen core

• Swimming for maintaining muscle and cardio fitness

• Consulting relatives about the career of my late grandfather — an amateur cruiserweight who represented Ireland — and general boxing tips (“If you stick that jab in his face he won’t know what to do!”)

• My standard training of free weight exercises, HIIT circuit and spin classes.

In our official training with our coach Lloyd, we were in a small group of 5–8 people. This meant we were able to have more focused, specific direction and Lloyd could work on our weaknesses in sparring scenarios. For example, we would spar / shadow box under some of the conditions below and progress to full ‘open’ sparring:

- Attacking with and defending jab only, and countering (then 1–2 cross, jab to head, right to body)

- Only being allowed to defend versus an opponent allowed to throw anything at you

- Holding the centre of the ring versus opponent on the back foot

- Honing our reflexes, reactions and ring generalship by mirroring opponents footwork, touching shoulders/thighs and being evasive

- Keeping opponents guessing by moving them up and down with head, body, head combinations (something I did a lot of, perhaps erratically in my actual fight).

Another part of my preparation was the mental side, which I focused on heavily in fight week. Having already mentioned the meditation and journaling aspects of my morning routine there were a few other small things I did to give myself every opportunity of being relaxed and positive.

The first was going to a sensory deprivation/floatation therapy tank of Epsom salt. This was an incredible experience, so much so that I was couldn’t stop laughing as soon as I stepped into the bath and began floating — like nothing else I’d done before and certainly something I’ll do again.

Another thing I did was to create a playlist of songs that energise and improve my mood (including this) and made a conscious effort to maximize my intake of positivity from external sources.

Uh-oh, running out of breath, but I oh, I, I got stamina… I’m free to be the greatest here tonight, the greatest… The greatest, the greatest alive (don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up, no no no)… The greatest, the greatest alive (I got stamina)Sia — The Greatest

I also tried (in vain) to visit the (closed) venue the day before the fight to see if I could go in and take in the ambience.

All of us have an internal narrative, a story we tell ourselves very often. Both in the slow moments and when events in our lives are playing out that we ascribe great meaning to.

To boost this personal monologue of mine closer to the fight I adopted the ‘Let’s Go Champ’ mantra famously used by former lineal heavyweight champion Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs.

Two-time champion Briggs was in the ring with the likes of Lennox Lewis, George Foreman and was one of the very few people to take iron-fisted and granite-chinned Vitali Klitschko the 12 round distance.

From the same Brooklyn neighbourhood that gave the world ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson, Briggs experienced homelessness and abuse in a childhood that saw his mother lose a battle with heroin addiction while his father died in prison. It’s worth listening to the man himself explain the origin of his mantra here.

Let’s Go Champ’ was a mantra I also told myself in the rest periods between the three rounds when I was feeling absolutely knackered and short of breath while my coach was trying to talk some sense into me.

Jaw and cheeks in tremendous pain after sparring? Let’s Go Champ. Didn’t get that great job after lots of preparation? Let’s Go Champ. Feeling very sad or emotional for no particular reason? Let’s Go Champ… you get the picture.

The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state… Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are”― James Allen, As a Man Thinketh

7. Focus on yourself, not others

In a fight you have to be very switched on to what your opponent’s doing. In a speech, you should be conscious of your audience throughout. But this awareness should never get to a point where you over-think or over-analyse things.

Boxing is a poker game. You are trying to convince your opponent at all times that you are not tired or frustrated and that you’re feeling fantastic and on top of it all. And they are doing the exact same to you. To take the other guy’s behaviour and expressions at face value is to play into their hands.

Equally, focusing on yourself does not mean being so wrapped up in your neuroses and biases that you can’t truly observe what’s going on in front of you. In other words you’re not paying enough attention to what’s going on around you, like Tony below in a famous scene in a diner in The Sopranos.

It means to simply commit and dedicate yourself to your own development. Groupthink is an awful thing, and unsolicited advice can often be worthless and from people who have no experience or aptitude in the area. Take advice and soundings from seasoned, professional individuals you trust and respect — but remember that no-one else can, or will, walk the path you are walking. A good rule of thumb is only to seek advice from people who’d you be happy to trade places with.

In boxing I think you want to be so present and attentive that you’re conscious of what both of you are doing, or trying to do, in the ring.

So much easier said than done when this is in front of two thousand people after two months of training. But this is the goal.

Strong minded, but not to the point of arrogance, ignorance or self-absorption. Observational, extroverted and directing attention externally. But not so you lose your uniqueness or go against your gut (or coach’s demands) by following the crowd.

8. Be preoccupied with the process, not obsessed with the outcome

Research has found that expectations in one’s own ability serves as a better predictor of high performance than expectations about a specific outcome.

Expect optimal performance from yourself and let the chips fall where they may. The organic output will be your highest quality work. Put most simply: Do what is right, let the consequence follow” — Ben Hardy

In high-pressure situations, obsession only with the result is an obstacle to your fluency. It makes you appear contrived, forced and scripted — not organic, authentic and transparent. It pushes people away.

Everyone wants to get that job in the interview but better preparing and intending to give them a good impression of you as a potential colleague.

Your friend has asked you to give a speech at his wedding — better to approach it simply wanting to be an improved public speaker generally by the time you give it.

Yes, of course, you want to win your fight, so approach it by becoming a more accomplished and skillful boxer in every area possible.

9. One thing leads to another

Also related to outcomes and processes, throughout the training, I was asked often about the fight itself and what I would do after.

I don’t know whether I’ll fight again in more amateur bouts. Perhaps I’ll spar in less stressful conditions. More likely I’ll continue hitting the heavy bag and working through boxing drills to keep the weight off.

The point is I’m not sure, and you never know what the future holds. You don’t need to know the steps three or four moves ahead, only the next step.

I didn’t know that I’d be doing this until I chanced upon the webpage advertising it in August.

I didn’t know I’d be going to Rwanda this summer to train teachers until I was asked to go by a colleague who I happened to bump into one Saturday.

I didn’t know I’d be going on to do the new job I’m doing until I got a call explaining the organisation and role when I put my CV in for it. I didn’t know there’d be a snap general election that I would be asked by former employers to come back for. I didn’t know that I’d decide to leave my last job after only six months.

You don’t have to sit and scheme and meticulously plan out the short term future because life is too unpredictable for a start. What I do know is that if you throw yourself into one thing — then a dozen other opportunities come your way. Opportunities multiply when seized.

To compete in boxing to the best of my ability — and to attend job interviews for Brexit-focused roles (a great, time-limited opportunity) — I had to turn down two different job offers from the same person. One of which was the chance to work on a very exciting project in an obscure eastern European country, one I probably now won’t get another chance to visit.

But I don’t regret it at all because I had already made my commitment and was so subsumed in the training process that to accept the offer would have been completely at odds with everything I had been doing, thinking and saying.

So seize an opportunity, or go out and make one yourself. After a while, you’ll find you actually have to turn some down really amazing ones for the opportunities that really fulfill you and what you’re trying to achieve.

10. Know and accept who you are, and that you’re part of something much bigger

A large part of my motivation for this came from my late grandfather Robert Stewart who boxed for Ireland at amateur level.

When he wasn’t herding sheep and cattle and growing potatoes ‘Bob’ Stewart was a reserve policeman for the RUC in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. He did part-time shifts in an area very close to the Tyrone-Donegal border that acquired the tagline of being “the most bombed small town” in the North.

A talented amateur boxer nicknamed the ‘Castlederg Cruiser’ he won three Ulster titles in as many years. In 1955 he was on the Ireland teams that fought the touring Americans on the Golden Gloves team in Dublin, and the visiting Germans in Belfast.

Anyone who knows me knows I speak openly and often of my roots in Ireland. More recently I’ve been more candid, where appropriate, about the supposed elephant in the room that my mother is a Protestant and my dad is a Catholic.

Their relationship and marriage faced opposition and hostility from family members in the past. I don’t know whether they left Ireland for London because of it but I know family members fell out with each other and sadly didn’t speak for a period.

It meant that when my brother and I were growing up we saw an awful lot less of one side of the family than the other. We didn’t know so much because this past, and indeed present wasn’t spoken about. Thankfully, reconciliation in the family came down the line.

Something else my brother and I didn’t know until well into our twenties was that one of our uncles was shot dead on his doorstep in Belfast during the Troubles.

Times have changed, but even now attitudes are difficult to change for some. One of my cousins in Tyrone was in a relationship with a young woman who was kicked out of her parents’ house because they didn’t approve of his religion or national identity.

This is not an article about airing grievances or pointing fingers. I mention this merely to highlight that people in my family, in almost everyone’s family in Northern Ireland encountered prejudice, bigotry, intimidation, and actual violence, murder and terrorism over a long period. By and large people there now want to look forward and move on together after a bitterly divisive history that few of them were responsible for.

Someone who knows more than me about this violence is Prince Charles. His great-uncle Lord Mountbatten was killed in a 1979 IRA bombing along with his grandson fishing off the west coast of Ireland.

During his 2015 visit to Sligo, close to the spot where his lifelong friend and godson, was murdered, Prince Charles said this of Britain and Ireland:

The point of this foray into recent Irish history is that I have only recently begun to really delve into it and be more curious about my relatives’ experiences and feelings. Not to look backward and rake over what has been, but to understand them better and have a sense of connection to their and my history.

And this sense of connection, turns out is actually really important.

In the 1990s, psychologists Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush wanted to explore why families were falling apart more often (H/T Ben Hardy). Dr. Duke’s wife, Sara, also a psychologist who worked with disabled kids noticed something peculiar: “The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.”

To discover why this was the case, Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush explored familial remembering, ultimately creating a psychological measure, called the “Do You Know?” scale that asks 20 questions. Example questions from the survey include:

Do you know where your grandparents grew up?

Do you know where your mum and dad went to school?

Do you know where your parents met?

After conducting research on many children and families, and comparing their results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, Duke and Fivush came to a fascinating conclusion:

The children who knew more about their family’s history:

• exhibited far greater control over their lives

• they had far greater self-esteem

• and told themselves a much healthier story to themselves about their family and history.

The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the single strongest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being and sense of happiness.

Years later Duke and Fivush decided to re-assess the children from their research. The results were compellingly clear.

To quote Dr. Duke: “Once again, the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”

According to Dr. Duke, children have the most self-confidence when they have a strong “inter-generational self,” which is knowing you are a part of something bigger than yourself.

Final thought

Plunging into a two-month scenario when I had to consistently place myself in front of someone trying to punch me, in preparation for an even harsher, punching situation where many of my friends would be watching live led me to experience so many different things.

When considering food, socialising and demands on my time, the boxing made me ask myself questions like: Is this going to make my fight harder or easier? Will this improve me as a fighter? Can this wait? Can I go without this? What will this add?

Going forward, with no imminent threat of a fight, I’ll be trying to ask myself instead: Is this activity bringing me closer to or further from the person I want to be? Will reaching this goal bring me closer to or further from my major life objectives? Where’s the joy?

Every decision I made in this process (not always the right one), I gave inherent meaning and consequence. Every decision we make reflects what we truly believe, far louder than any words we speak.

We all face daily choices. They are usually simple choices between what is right, and what is easy.

At times all of us have lacked confidence and trust in ourselves.

From regular practice and bold, unrelenting commitment to yourself, and to causes bigger than you, you will strengthen belief in two areas:

1) Your belief in your own ability to achieve your goals (self-efficacy, AKA ‘confidence’)

2) The belief that you, not external circumstances determine the outcomes of your life (see internal locus of control).

Thank you to Benjamin Hardy whose incredible writing has been a large inspiration to me over the past year, and has lit a fire in me to publish one of my own epic pieces.

Thank you also to my best friend and partner in crime Lucas for helping me put this together and offering frank feedback to improve the final product.

To the reader, thank you for persevering with this lengthy article. I hope it offers some key takeaways you can practically apply in your life.

Let’s Go Champ,

Stephen “Showtime” Lynch, undefeated amateur boxer