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Traversing the Mind, with Dominic Zijlstra (Learning, Science, Mindset, Psychology)
Episode 40522nd November 2022 • The Action Catalyst • Southwestern Family of Companies
00:00:00 00:20:57

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Dominic Zijlstra, founder of Traverse.link, an app that helps professionals learn faster using science-backed learning methods, explains how to adopt more effective learning habits, recounts his time as a rocket scientist (sort of), and details the steps to building a growth mindset, finding the root of learning, and creating a roadmap, plus the 4 steps to enhanced learning and recall, the value of making it personal, and letting your unconscious mind solve problems for you.

And just for Action Catalyst listeners, sign up at https://traverse.link/actioncatalyst and receive a superlearning guide customized just for you, courtesy of Dominic!

Transcripts

Intro:

Today's guest is Dominic Zilstra, founder of traverse.link, an app that helps professionals learn faster using science backed learning methods.

Intro:

He studied in the Netherlands, Germany, and Brazil, and holds a master's degree in engineering physics.

Intro:

Dominic has worked as a space systems engineer for Airbus and a data scientist before starting his entrepreneurial.

Intro:

His app has helped over 10,000 professionals learn skills like languages, programming, marketing, psychology, and more.

Intro:

Dominic also hosts the Super Learning Professionals Podcast.

Intro:

We hope you enjoy.

Dan Moore:

Hello everyone, this is Dan Moore.

Dan Moore:

Welcome to the Action Catalyst, and I'm very excited that our guest is coming to us from the Netherlands.

Dan Moore:

Mr.

Dan Moore:

Dominic Zilstra.

Dan Moore:

Dominic, you have an incredible background.

Dan Moore:

We're gonna hear all about it.

Dan Moore:

Welcome to the Action Catalyst.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Yeah, thanks then.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Very excited to be here.

Dan Moore:

This gentleman has been a data scientist.

Dan Moore:

He has been a rocket scientist.

Dan Moore:

So for the people that say it doesn't take a rocket science to figure some things out, I think maybe it does take a rocket scientists to figure some things out.

Dan Moore:

, and you have definitely done that with traverse.

Dan Moore:

Anyway.

Dan Moore:

If you don't mind, walk us back through some of the, the key moments in your past that led you to where now you have created this wonderful, wonderful learning system traverse.

Dominic Zijlstra:

I grew up, my grandfather, he had a farm in Germany.

Dominic Zijlstra:

He built his own business there.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So I went to Germany initially to study physics and um, and engineering.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And, uh, I took some time to, to integrate.

Dominic Zijlstra:

You know, people can be a bit close there.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Uh, so I had to learn the language.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Uh, eventually I made friends and I made very close friends there.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And later on I went to, to Sweden on an exchange program.

Dominic Zijlstra:

I met a lot of people.

Dominic Zijlstra:

All over the world.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And that's when I really started to feel like more than just citizen, more like a world, a world citizen almost.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And at the end of that, I actually met a, a girl from, from Brazil and we started dating and I decided I wanted to go and graduate in.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I, I wrote my master Jesus there in, uh, in aerospace, as you already mentioned, not, not quite a rocket scientist.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Definitely the era . Yeah.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And then I came back to Europe and uh, that relationship ended and I got a job in, uh, in spacecraft engineering at Airbus.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I actually met my partner, my current wife at that um, point, and she's from, she's from China.

Dominic Zijlstra:

That's when I, when I really kind of hit a roadblock was, cause whenever I.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Went to China to visit her friends, her parents, uh, they couldn't speak in English.

Dominic Zijlstra:

They could only speak Chinese.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So I had tried to learn Chinese just like I had learned other languages before, but it just turned out to be impossible.

Dominic Zijlstra:

It was, it was much harder.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So that's when I really took a step back and I, I took a look at how I had approached learning in the past.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So I had, I had learned several languages.

Dominic Zijlstra:

I had learned.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Physics, uh, rocket science, data science.

Dominic Zijlstra:

But actually the method that I used were kind of weak.

Dominic Zijlstra:

They were not, not effective enough, not effective enough to learn something as challenging as as Chinese.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So that's what I really dove into the science behind learning.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I learned about meta learning, like effective memorization techniques like space repetition, active free call.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And then I came up with a method that I.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Used myself to learn Mandarin Chinese, and after that I discovered it's, it's much more broadly applicable so that I used it to learn other languages.

Dominic Zijlstra:

I used it to, to learn programming skills.

Dominic Zijlstra:

At that point, I was actually planning to move to China, to s.

Dominic Zijlstra:

To, um, yeah, really get really fluent in Chinese, get a job there.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Uh, but that was when, when Covid struck as well.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So that was for me, another turning point where, where the universe was telling me, well, you're not supposed to go there and just be like, like a teacher, you know?

Dominic Zijlstra:

Instead, you have to take this system and bring it out to the world.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So I, I turned into, into an app.

Dominic Zijlstra:

That app is, is traverse.link and it yeah, incorporates a lot of the scientific method that I used to learn.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And yeah, now people are using it to learn all kinds of things from languages to like medicine, to, um, skills like, like marketing, psychology.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And that's, and it has come full circle again.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So I'm actually working with a, with an online Chinese course now they're, they're using the app as well, so yeah, now, now I've really been able.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Turn my, my personal learning method into something that, uh, people from all over the world can use, uh, whatever they want to learn.

Dan Moore:

I think it's a phenomenal story.

Dan Moore:

And you are a citizen of the world.

Dan Moore:

Clearly.

Dan Moore:

You've traveled so much.

Dan Moore:

You've lived in various places.

Dan Moore:

I'm also married to an international, my wife is Portuguese, Puerto Bay.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Ah, follow up

Dan Moore:

Thumb.

Dan Moore:

And I know that that ability to learn is such an important thing, but people have mental blocks about things they can learn and can't learn.

Dan Moore:

Don't.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I think a lot of those mental blocks are actually already, um, instilled by school.

Dominic Zijlstra:

In school we kind of have to learn a fixed set of things.

Dominic Zijlstra:

We have to learn the curriculum, um, we have to learn to pass a certain exam, and that's it.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Then we move on to the next thing, and I think there is a couple of problems with that.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So, so for.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Kind of kills off our curiosity.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Like if you, if you look at a child, he will explore and dive into, into something and find out everything he can, he can about it.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And it's very, very curious.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Um, but there's actually research that shows that our education system kind of reduces that, that natural curiosity over time.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Another thing that it does, it's, uh, because we have those exam scores, people think that, oh, well I'm, I'm bad at like math.

Dominic Zijlstra:

I'll, I'll never learn, I'll never learn math.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So it establishes this fixed mindset almost like this cannot be changed.

Dominic Zijlstra:

I'm bad at math, but the reality is that our brains are.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Incredibly flexible.

Dominic Zijlstra:

The key to overcoming those roadblocks when, when getting stuck is adapting what's called like a growth, a growth mindset.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Mm-hmm.

Dominic Zijlstra:

. So we actually accept that by using, using the right methods, we can approach any subject, like no matter what level we are coming from, and start learning it, start getting better at, better at it.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Like, like one step at a.

Dominic Zijlstra:

As long as we are confident that we can actually do that, can actually achieve that.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And that might take, might take a long time.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And the key is building that a learning, learning habit.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So even if we improve just 1% a.

Dominic Zijlstra:

It accumulates over time.

Dominic Zijlstra:

It adds up to, I think it's like 38 times in a year due to the power of compounding.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So the key to overcoming those roadblocks is really establishing that, that growth mindset and building an open habit.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And also not being, not being afraid of, of failure.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Cause you will, you will feel it's, it's almost inevitable when we try new things in at the beginning, we are gonna be bad at it.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Um, but accepting that we will fail and.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Good to fail that we can, that failure actually strengthen us.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Failure.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Failure makes us better.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And that's what, uh, will help us overcome those, those roadblocks.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And, um, eventually,

Dan Moore:

well, it seems like we have two strikes against our current education system because the worst trade you can give in education is f, which means you failed.

Dan Moore:

And also the fact that so many people are rated according to where they got the right answer.

Dan Moore:

And there may be more than one right answer, but as long as we're training to get the right answer, it's gonna affect some people's confidence and certainly their creativity.

Dan Moore:

Exactly.

Dan Moore:

Yeah.

Dan Moore:

Let's, let's dig in a little bit more to this, this growth mindset and how somebody could develop it.

Dan Moore:

Let's say for example, that I've been a pretty good student in, in English and history and I love to.

Dan Moore:

But again, mathematics is sort of like, no, get away from me.

Dan Moore:

Math, math stuff.

Dan Moore:

What are some things that I can do on a, on a daily basis to eliminate that negative belief that I've got and to build that growth mindset?

Dominic Zijlstra:

Yeah.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So basically what I, what I've found when learning those different things, like yeah, learning languages, um, learning new fields like.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Data science, which also involves a lot of math, is that every learning process can be, can be broken down in, in more or less the same steps.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And if you follow those steps, you will still face challenges, but they will be manageable.

Dominic Zijlstra:

They won't, they won't stop you from achieving what you want to learn.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And, and the first step is basically drawing out a map of what you want to learn.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So, uh, there's so much information out there, it's very easy to get overwhelmed, especially now in, in, in the digital age.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So the first step is, Throwing out a map and creating almost like a, a tree of knowledge where you separate the, the really important things from the, from the small details and really get it clear in your head.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And once you've done that, you, you have identified basically the place to, to start.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So basically the roots of learning.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And from there you can then take, take the next step, which is building the initial understanding.

Dominic Zijlstra:

A good way to build understandings is by writing and drawing in your own words.

Dominic Zijlstra:

You, you, you can have a textbook full of math with intimidating equations, but you never gotta get anywhere unless you stop.

Dominic Zijlstra:

You start doing it yourself.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So take the simplest equation you can find, write it down, take an exercise from the book maybe, and just.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Start doing it and start, start making it your own.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And an important part of this process is also getting feedback.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And that feedback can either come internally from yourself so you struggle to, to solve a problem.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So that's feedback that, well, maybe you need to try another approach, or it can be feedback from other people who are ahead of you.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So maybe a teacher or a friend who's slightly better at math, uh, suggests well, you've, you've, you've taken this step to solve that equation.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Let's try the other approach instead.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And that kind of feedback improves our understanding.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And then the, the third step after that is the, the memorization.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So once we figured out the right principles, the right ways of doing things, We need to memorize those so that we can apply them next time.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Next time we come across a similar problem, and there are several techniques for improving memorization.

Dominic Zijlstra:

A very important one is, uh, called space repetition.

Dominic Zijlstra:

It basically means that we don't do it all in one go, but we space out our practice over time.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So maybe we do one or exercise the first day, another exercise the second day, and then, then we take it like an even bigger break.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And during that break, our unconscious break keeps processing and then maybe we try it again on the fifth.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And we will suddenly notice, Hey, I, I got it.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Like in the back of mind something happens and, and it just clicked.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Right?

Dominic Zijlstra:

So that's, uh, that's very important to really build the long term, long term memory.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And then, yeah, the, the last final step is actually applying it, applying it in real life, cuz.

Dominic Zijlstra:

When you, even, when you know how to solve a math equation, if it's, if it's not gonna be useful for you in real life, after a couple of months, you will probably have forgotten how to solve it.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So you have to find some kind of exercise for you that leads you towards a goal you want to entertain.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Maybe it's like you want to construct a shed next to your house and you need to do some, some math to figure out like how much, how much wood you want to, uh, you need to buy, for example.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So, um, really apply it.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Real life and find a practice, a deliberate practice that you can do periodically to practice that skill and drill, drill down on that skill.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So those, those four steps, like first, uh, mapping it out, building the initial understanding solid, solidifying the memory, and finally like applying it in real life, following those speeds up the learning of, of any, of any skill or, um, or

Dan Moore:

subject.

Dan Moore:

Dom Three days ago I downloaded the traverse.link onto my computer and began to create my own process here following what you suggested here, and I can share with our listeners that one of the beauties of the whole process is because it's our own words, we tend to believe ourselves more than we might believe someone else.

Dan Moore:

The other thing that do does so well is he uses the ancient technique of a flashcard.

Dan Moore:

And most of us remember learning our multiplication tables where the teacher would hold up the card and say, three times four is, and the class would yell it out.

Dan Moore:

But because they're flashcards that we've created ourselves, it has terminology, even humor.

Dan Moore:

It can help us remember something in, in a much better way.

Dan Moore:

So I commend you on, on the program that you've created.

Dan Moore:

It's very easy to use.

Dan Moore:

I get an email from you every day asking how I'm doing, which is really nice.

Dan Moore:

So that's part of the feedback too.

Dan Moore:

Yeah, it's great.

Dan Moore:

It's great to hear that and since I'm a real believer that our limiting beliefs hold us back in so many areas, this is very, very fruitful.

Dan Moore:

I think it's a tremendous project.

Dan Moore:

You back on.

Dan Moore:

Yeah.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I, I love what you mentioned, like really making it, uh, making it personal is so very, very helpful for, for learning, because very often when we learn from a textbook, it's abstract concepts, which are not very, very memorable, not very easy to understand, but instead, like humans, Are very good at learning by, by stories.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Like tell us a particular story about a CEO that make it, make it made a particular mistake.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Um, and the company fails and we will, we will remember that, oh, when I have to run a company, I need to do things in, in a way that avoids that particular mistake.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So we will remember much better from stories.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And this personalization that you mentioned, writing it in your own words, Adding humor, adding all kinds of weird personal details is really, um, helps so much to acquire, uh, new, new skills to learn new subjects,

Dan Moore:

right?

Dan Moore:

And I love the space repetition, this layering of the learning.

Dan Moore:

In fact, I was watching my almost three year old granddaughter the other day as she was putting a puzzle together.

Dan Moore:

And she's done the puzzle probably 50 times and as soon as she finished it, guess what she wanted to do?

Dan Moore:

She wanted to do it again because that repetition helped build her confidence.

Dan Moore:

And then when she gets to a harder puzzle, she'll know she has the experience of doing puzzles and that space, repetition is a big part of that cuz it builds our internal confidence that we can do so much better.

Dan Moore:

If we don't learn to add and subtract, it's really hard to do multiplication in division.

Dan Moore:

But if we learn to add and subtract, then we can go to those next layers.

Dan Moore:

Then we go to algebra, we go to geometry, trigonometry, et cetera.

Dan Moore:

But it all builds, and I think that's such an important thing.

Dan Moore:

It also occurs to me that when we're studying for an exam, To get the right answer because there's no application of it after that.

Dan Moore:

That's why that in five minutes that answer can be gone.

Dan Moore:

So really sound stuff you got going on here.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Yeah, exactly.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I love that your granddaughter actually figured out this, like the important of repetition and especially space repetition, um, herself and I think children are probably in some ways much better at that than we are.

Dominic Zijlstra:

We have to unlearn some, some bad habits that we picked up in, in the education system first before, um, before getting to learn in an effective way.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Building

Dan Moore:

blocks.

Dan Moore:

Building blocks.

Dan Moore:

So important.

Dan Moore:

Yeah.

Dan Moore:

Well, let's talk a little bit more about, about yourself for a second.

Dan Moore:

Do you have a routine in the morning?

Dan Moore:

How do, how do you start your day?

Dominic Zijlstra:

Yeah.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Um, I picked up a, a new habit a few months ago, which, um, before going to bed, I will try to set my unconscious to think about a particular problem that I'm, that I'm wrestling with.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And then when I wake up in the morning, I just sit down and meditate for, for 10, 15 minutes, and I have a little, um, notepad in my, in my hand, and I just write down everything that comes to mind.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And so very often it turns out, Basically when I was sleeping, doing nothing, my unconscious has come up with some new approach or, or creative solution to the, the problem I was, I was struggling with, and I mean, our conscious unconscious does that all the time, but because our bad habits, like the first thing we do in the morning, we pick up our, our smartphone, right?

Dominic Zijlstra:

And look at our emails.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Basically all the work of our unconscious is, is gone.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Taking that time to, to meditate and to reflect a bit in the morning helps us recover some of the, the power and the work that our unconscious is, is already doing.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So I, I found that a very, very, Helpful habits and generally I like to take things quite slowly in the morning.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So yeah, after the meditation I do some yoga exercises basically to get, get the blood flowing and slowly get started.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And after that I will sit down again and, um, write down everything I've.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Learned in the past day.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Usually during the date, there's a couple of things I will just write a quick note off, but I won't have time to actually dive deeper into that.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So then the next morning I will look at those few bullet points and come back and write in full sentences.

Dominic Zijlstra:

What I've actually learned and what I still need to explore.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So that's, that's basically how I learn my day.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And then after that, of course, the actual to-do lists starts.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I usually try to have one, one item every day.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Like that's the, the one thing that I need to do.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Uh, and once I finish that, the day is good and the rest of the day I still have to finish, um, to finish less important tasks.

Dan Moore:

Those are like the bonus achievements if you get the most important one done.

Dan Moore:

Exactly.

Dan Moore:

Well, let's, let's dig a little deeper into this.

Dan Moore:

Um, how you get your mindset, your subconscious mind working on something during the night.

Dan Moore:

How do, how do you do that without it keeping you awake as you worry about that problem?

Dominic Zijlstra:

This has actually been a tricky one, and I'm still trying to, to figure out, so I, what I do is in the evening I will, To a bit of focusing on the specific problem.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So I, I will identify at least one problem that I want my unconscious to work on.

Dominic Zijlstra:

But then of course, I don't want to to be awake because I'm thinking about it all the time.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So after I focus, I will actually do another 10 minutes of meditation as well, just.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Thinking about nothing, just focusing on the breathing.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I found that helps empty my mind while still keeping my unconscious focused on, on what I, what I wanted to think about during that.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And, and it's not like a 100% guarantee that it will come up with creative solutions, but it does work well enough that every now and then I get like a surprising idea or a new approach that I hadn't thought of.

Dan Moore:

Somebody was described the way our minds work, they're like a sandbox in a children's playground that by the end of the day it is just a mess.

Dan Moore:

It's uneven, there's holes in it, there's leaves and weeds, and maybe even occasional animal in there.

Dan Moore:

But then during the night, somebody comes through and rakes the whole thing, cleans it out, smooths the sand, and if we can avoid tracking it in the next morning first thing, then we can find some really cool treasures in there.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Wow.

Dominic Zijlstra:

I love that analogy.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Yeah.

Dominic Zijlstra:

I think it describes very well what I, what I try to do

Dan Moore:

as.

Dan Moore:

You know, you've been an entrepreneur, you've started this business now, and I think it's a subscription model.

Dan Moore:

Is that right?

Dan Moore:

After an initial trial period?

Dominic Zijlstra:

Yeah, that's that's correct.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Yeah.

Dan Moore:

But I'm wondering what advice you might have for some of our listeners that are kind of stuck right now.

Dan Moore:

They are discouraged.

Dan Moore:

Any suggestions for those that are just not sure where to, where to go next?

Dominic Zijlstra:

Yeah, so I think it's very important and human nature.

Dominic Zijlstra:

We always want to help people and when we help people, it not only makes the person we help feel better, it also makes, makes us feel better.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And it doesn't really matter what the scale of helping is, if I can.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Help just one person next door who, who's in need of something, and I can help them with a, even with a, with a kind word or something very small, that just improves my, my, my mindset and my, almost my, my belief in, in the world so much that it, that it empower, empowers you to, to do much, much bigger things.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So I think even when we're overwhelmed with everything bad that's happening in the world, there's always something, even if it's very small, someone who, who we can help.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Once we do that, we've discovered new ways of how we can help more people.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Maybe that's by building a business that we can scale and we can reach a lot of people With that, we can help a lot of people.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Maybe it's by writing, by starting a block, um, that that will be read by a lot of people.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Can help, can help people.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Or maybe it's something much smaller.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Maybe it's in the local community.

Dominic Zijlstra:

You can, maybe there are, there are refugees in, in, in your area and maybe you can help or find a place for those.

Dominic Zijlstra:

There's always things we can, we can help.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I think, I think helping is the basis for, for most successful and like entrepreneurial endeavors, but it also is what's most empowering in our, the most empowering thing we can do in our daily life.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So I would, I would say always focus on, not on yourself, but on who's out there, whom you can help right now and go from.

Dan Moore:

I love that, Dom.

Dan Moore:

Well, you have got so much to offer, a very young person having a big impact on our world.

Dan Moore:

So I wanna thank you for being a guest with us today.

Dominic Zijlstra:

Thanks, Dan.

Dominic Zijlstra:

It was, it was really great to be here.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And, uh, yeah, I think I've gotten at least as much, uh, as many new insights from you as I've been able to offer here.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So thank you for that.

Dominic Zijlstra:

And I just wanna mention it actually created on action Catalyst traverse.link.

Dominic Zijlstra:

There's a little bonus for listeners that will, um, help you remember better what you'll read.

Dominic Zijlstra:

So there's a little bonus.

Dan Moore:

Okay.

Dan Moore:

That sounds great.

Dan Moore:

Well, thank you so much, Dominic Donkey, BA

Dan Moore:

. Dominic Zijlstra: Thank you.

Dan Moore:

Thank you then.