There Is No ‘Real’ You

In the good old pre-modern times, our ideas about human behaviour were quite straightforward. It was believed that what you can observe of one’s behaviour, is the ‘real’ you. If someone behaved in a pro-social, good natured or altruistic way, they were considered a good person. If someone was egotistical, greedy and inconsiderate, this was seen as evidence of their innately corrupt nature.

Our perception of human nature has changed in modern times (and rightfully so). It is now recognized that human behaviour can be complex and unpredictable, and observing a few samples of it, doesn’t necessary reveal the whole of someone’s nature.

Thinkers like Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Michel Foucault have deconstructed human nature, pointing out to biological, social and unconscious forces that, while generally beyond our conscious awareness, shape our behaviour. According to them, the ‘real’ you is hidden behind the evolution, our subconscious desires, the class struggle and the power of social institutions respectively.

While their sharp minds have dramatically improved our insights about human nature, there is still a quiet assumption in our interpretation of their theories, that there is a ‘true’ you hidden behind the complex systems that shape our behaviour. That, perhaps, when you are alone with your thoughts at night under your bed covers; when you wait in your car in front of a red light and there are no traffic cameras or other vehicles around; or when you are letting slip your opinion about someone not present in the room, that you are revealing your true nature.

This assumption stems from the idea that our real identity is revealed when no one is around and that interactions with others somehow make us hide and distort this identity. Hence, we can never be ourselves around others.

However, in truth, our social identity is part of our overall identity. Human beings are social creatures and if anything, our behaviour around others is a good indication of who we are as a person.

Questions about whether we are inherently ‘selfish’ or ‘selfless’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, savvy or naïve etc are philosophical abstractions. At the end of the day, the only judge about who we really are, is the work we leave behind, our legacy and our reputation. And all of the above, are largely determined by habits we adopt, actions we implement and decisions we make on a daily basis.

It is much more helpful to accept your identity as a continuous and flexible construct. You are adjusting your behaviour, habits and actions depending on the context in your life as a business owner, a wife, a friend, a parent or an artist. Despite the variety of behaviours in your arsenal, you are holding the various pieces together through your values, your vision and your attitude.

When these values and attitudes are aligned to your daily actions, then you will feel in the presence of what people sometimes describe as their authentic self. You are not the fragmented pieces of a mosaic of scattered identities; neither are you hiding your ‘true’ self behind the various masks your wear. You are the whole mosaic, all of these masks, and more.

About Switching Yourself Off

One of the most remarkable things I often hear people say in the midst of their stress and overwhelm, is ‘I wish I could switch myself off’. When you prompt someone in that position to explain this further, they will say something along the lines of ‘I wish I could take a holiday from myself for a while.’

Clearly this is not meant literally, as we all know we can’t take time off from being ourselves. It however exposes a common issue in a society where it is often expected that we are constantly at the top of our game. Rather than accepting that we are not able to resolve all our problems at this very moment, we would rather flee to a perfect, worry-free world in which everything is going to plan.

As we are not resembling machines with an on-off button, this will never happen. Away from our ‘holiday from ourselves’ the problems and challenges we are facing are still there and unless we change our mindset or plan to tackle them, we will still find them in our way.

I would suggest that rather than taking a holiday from ourselves, we should take a holiday from worrying about our problems. Take a nice long walk in nature. Spend time with family. Play with the children. Engage with your hobby, with anything that gives you satisfaction and a sense of purpose.

The problem will not disappear when you do so; however, by resting your conscious mind and letting it dwell away from from the ‘problem’, you will allow your unconscious mind to work on a creative solution in the background. It is remarkable how solutions to problems sometimes appear when we least expect them. But in order to do so, we need to give space to our unconscious mind to assess the whole picture, and see ‘the wood for the trees’.

There is no need to ‘switch yourself off’. It is ok to accept that sometimes you will face stress and overwhelm, and some days will look bleak and joyless. There will be days where you wish you could be someone else, rather than being a solopreneur. These days will come and then they will go again. They will pass because you are doing what you love doing, because you are connected to your passion and purpose, and because deep down you know that being a business owner is a marathon, and not a sprint.

PS Ethical business owner Jaya is an example of someone who is truly connected to her big passion and purpose. She speaks about it in the fourth episode of my ‘How Did They Do It’ podcast.

Only You Can Decide Your Worth

In the money-driven society we live in, we attach high importance on the ‘cost’ of things. However, very often our understanding of the true meaning of value is inadequate, and based on habit rather than a deeper insight about how that value is linked to our self-worth.

We have a good idea of the value of commodity items, as we budget for them on a weekly or even daily basis. We know how much bread, wine, vegetables and a full-sized chicken cost and adapt our expectations (and budgets) to those prices.

So far, so good. But what happens when we apply the same principle to the services we offer as solopreneurs? Should we look at what others in our area of expertise are charging, and then apply similar prices in our offering? The answer is a resounding no.

Your work as a solopreneur is inextricably linked to your personality and presence as an individual human being. While there are certain benchmarks and quality standards in your area of expertise, the value of the services you offer is subjective, as it is determined by your client’s perception of transformative promise.

As a consequence of this, different clients will pay different amounts for your services based on their perception. How can one truly measure the benefits of a transformational coaching package, a life-changing therapy programme, an aesthetic intervention which elevates the patient’s self-esteem, an artwork which brings beauty and hope into someone’s life on a daily basis?

Simply put, there is no guide which can tell you how much money your services should be worth, because this value is determined by your relationship with your clients. A client will pay £30 or less an hour to work with a beginning life coach, if that coach fails to convince them of the transformational benefit of their service. On the other side, another client will happily pay the one million dollars Tony Robbins charges to work with him, because they believe that their lives and businesses will be transformed as a result of this.

That’s where the issue of your perception of your self-worth comes in. How much is your service worth? Are you able to help people understand the transformational benefits of working with you? Can your clients quickly like and trust you, after they have got to know you?

No one but you is able to tell you how much your work is worth. But if you believe in and understand the transformation you can bring to their lives of your clients, that worth will almost certainly be more than what you currently think it is.

A Dream Is Not A Goal

Most people you ask, will tell you that they have goals in life. As sentient beings who are able to plan and anticipate the future, we usually have certain aspirations, expectations and desires about things to come. Upon closer inspection however, the goals most people formulate are not great goals. To be more precise, they are not even goals. They are just dreams.

Who doesn’t want to be wealthy, healthy and in a good, nurturing relationship? Those are often the three main areas people seek out to improve in their lives. Whether they succeed or not, depends on their definition of how wealth, good health and good relationships look like.

Often blinded by advice about how to acquire wealth (usually limited to copying the behaviour of billionaire role models, such as getting up at 5am, reading a lot of books or ‘hustling’) you will hear people setting themselves goals such as ‘I will be a millionaire by next year’. There is a whole industry out there encouraging people to make positive affirmations, believe in the ‘law of attraction’ and ‘frequency vibrations’ and wealth will be automatically delivered by the universe.

However, what most people who have actually acquired wealth will tell you (regardless of their belief in the law of attraction or vibrations), is that a belief without a plan or a realistic pathway, is not likely to bring you the wealth you desire. You can of course rely on fortune, as many people indeed do, but luck is a capricious factor outside of your control. No law of attraction or vibrations will lead you to wealth unless that belief if coupled with consistent action and a clear plan broken down in individual steps.

Likewise, you can’t improve your health if you solely rely on your unconscious somehow taking care of it, unless this is coupled with a positive lifestyle that takes physical exercise, self-care and optimal nutrition into consideration. Furthermore, you will not create your ideal relationship if you focus on ‘connecting to your authentic self’ while ignoring the feelings, personalities and behaviour of the people you want to attract.

What are the main differences between a dream and a goal then? To start with, as discussed earlier, a goal consists of a step-by-step plan which will take you from A to B. We often talk about SMART goals in that respect. Goals have to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. If you want to be wealthy, you will need to know specifically how much money you want to earn and when by. You also better define how you are going to earn this money, how you will measure progress towards your goal and whether this is achievable within your means (no matter how well you plan and hustle, starting a small business and expecting a turnover of a million within a year is always going to be an uphill struggle).

Another important element that should be incorporated into a goal, is alignment to your values and identity. Becoming wealthy by setting up a business which pollutes the environment or bankrupts poor people will not bring a sense of accomplishment, if your values are ethical or your mission is to improve the world. Likewise, you might set yourself the goal of writing and publishing a book in a year’s time, but if you don’t self-identify as a ‘writer’, none of this will happen.

Dreams are free, and they help us to explore what is possible, without worrying about whether what we want is also achievable or realistic. They give us license to believe that something which is not there yet, can be made possible in the future. However, without a clear plan which is specific, measurable and which takes our current reality into consideration; without alignment to our values and identity, all will be left down to luck and the dream will just remain a dream.

It’s Personal, Not Business

Recently, I sat on a training course delivered by a business coach. He expressed the interesting (and quite divisive) view that you can only be a proper coach when you work on people’s businesses. He mocked the concept of a ‘life coach’ as someone who isn’t measuring any real goals. They instead waffle on about vague concepts such as ’emotions’ and ‘spirituality’.

Despite of the inelegant way in which this view was delivered, I believe there is something to be said about coaching being most effective when it’s concerned with performance and results. There has to be measurable progress. Yet, I have never really wanted to be a pure ‘business coach’, and this is why.

As a small business owner, freelancer or solopreneur you are investing emotionally in your business. It is the vehicle to your personal freedom and your happiness and it is usually directly linked to your self-esteem and self-confidence. In many ways, it is an inseparable part of your life.

Before even looking at your cashflow forecasts, your accounts, your business plan and even your 1-year or 3-year business goals, you must consider putting your mindset in order. If your emotional ‘head’ stuff is not sorted, it will invariably get in the way of the practical ‘business’ stuff. As soon as stress, fear and insecurity knock on your door (and the nature of running a business is such that they will at some point), your coping mechanisms will be tested. The most likely outcome will be that your conditioned emotional response will kick in action.

If this response is not aligned to the behaviour that is likely to help you achieve your business goals, then you will find it as an obstacle on your way. Self-destructive behaviour and self-sabotage will increase the likelihood that you fail to achieve your goals, even knowing what it is you need to do in order to be successful. Protective mechanisms directed by your unconscious mind will endeavour to maintain the status quo by reintroducing old behavioural patterns which might have served you in the past, but are detrimental in the present.

Unfortunately, starting or growing a business demands the exact opposite; in order to get different results than in the past, you will need to adopt new behavioural and thinking patterns, new habits, possibly a new identity and certainly a new mindset. A good coach understands that doing this, will help you gain much more for the long term than purely focusing on the current business results.

There Is No Work-Life Balance

Multi-entrepreneur Elon Musk has famously claimed to have regularly worked 120+ work weeks. He recommends that business founders work 80+ workweeks in order to achieve success. American lifestyle guru Tim Ferriss on the other side, has advocated the 4-hour work week in order to free yourself from the shackles of corporate work and live the lifestyle of your dreams.

Listening to entrepreneurs and self-development gurus about the ideal work-life balance, it is safe to say that there are as many viewpoints as there are people. From working inhumanly hard to figuring out how to work as few hours as possible, or solely relying on passive income, we have heard it all.

The post pandemic world has created a new hybrid between remote and face-to-face work. The unprecedented lockdowns we have faced, inspired many self-employed professionals to pivot to a remote-only type of work. Many of them have been pushed away by micromanaging bosses who, panicked by the new reality, demanded daily video meetings, handed their employees to-do-lists that have to be ticked-off at the end of the day and installed software on employees’ laptops to monitor the time they spend in front of their computer screens.

This new reality has further complicated the way we blend our work with our personal life balance. This amalgamation of the personal and the professional in our lives has however started way before the Covid 19 pandemic.

Technology has given us the internet and smart phones. Both have changed our relationship with our employers, clients and colleagues. We are more available than ever and we are expected to be more available than ever. We speak with our colleagues and clients on WhatsApp, our personal Facebook profiles, in Facebook groups, on LinkedIn

This has further eroded the ‘work-life’ barrier. It is not unusual to have a work-related conversation with someone in the evenings or on a Sunday. This also raises the question whether the ‘work-life’ distinction is relevant nowadays. If you are easily contactable, are expected to be easily contactable and enjoy what you do, does it really matter any more whether a particular activity belongs to ‘work’ or ‘personal life’?

Particularly as a solopreneur, freelancer or small business owner, there is an expectation that you bring some of your personal life into your work. It is no longer possible to get people to like and trust you, let alone know you, when you are hiding behind a faceless logo or corporate image.

Instead of concentrating on whether your work-life balance is optimal, it is much more helpful to decide what boundaries YOU want to set on your daily activities, whether they are personal or work related. You wouldn’t want your work colleagues to interrupt you when you are sleeping, when you are having a family meal or when you are on a city break with your family. But then again, would you want your friends to interrupt your sleep or sacred family time?

  • When do you decide that it’s time to go to sleep?
  • What is your ideal morning routine?
  • When do you switch off your phone and social media?
  • How do you react when people violate the rules you have set for yourself?
  • How do you recharge your batteries or reclaim some ‘me-time’ after you have decided to devote weeks and months to work on a deadline or an important project?
  • Do others know your boundaries?

These are the type of questions you should be asking yourself, rather than whether you have an optimal ‘work-life’ balance.

Do Your Health Goals Match Your Daily Habits?

Do you remember the Channel 4 programme ‘The Secret Eaters’? The show was focusing on the plight of ordinary people who were secretly overeating.

Secret camera’s were installed in the participant’s homes, and private investigations were held in order to follow their eating habits. Invariably, the participants would claim that they don’t overeat and that they don’t have bad eating habits. They would also express surprise at their declining health and excess weight.

Then they would be invited to the studio to watch footage from the camera’s. What they saw, terrified them. Consuming bags of crisps in front of the TV without even realizing they were doing this; eating sweet snacks while doing household chores; consuming several chocolates while driving their car…the pattern was always similar: these people had much worse eating habits than they were prepared to admit.

Were they lying? Were they playing games in front of the camera’s? I don’t think so. What they lacked, was awareness. They were not conscious of their daily eating habits and how these are shaped by their own cravings, environmental factors and the usual daily stressors. As a result, most of their eating activity took place unconsciously, without any thought given at the quality or quality of their food intake.

Such is the power of daily habits. They can rewire our brains and create new neural pathways. Habits consist of three elements: a cue (trigger), behaviour and reward. The link between these elements in so strong, that given the right cue or reward, you can encourage pretty much any behaviour. What’s more, behaviours such as drinking alcohol in order to relax (reward) can turn into strong habits as our brains create new pathways to ensure continuous reward.

The good news is that the brain can be rewired in similar ways in order to turn a bad habit into a positive one. Both bad and good habits are based on the same principle. All you need to do, is create a positive habit that rewards good behaviour. When e.g. the cue (stress) brings forth the craving, you can choose to have a nice long bath, devote half an hour to playing your favourite video game, meditate or even consume a supplement containing the amino acid GABA in order to evoke the same reward (relaxation).

Choosing a positive habit that works for you above a bad habit which has negative long term consequences, and repeating it consistently over a period of time, will create the desired changes in your neuroplasticity in order to achieve your health goals.

PS Thanks to everyone who came forward and offered to give us feedback on our new programme Your Mind Matters.

We’ve still got space for a few short chats about it with busy female professionals who wish to optimize their mental health through nutrition and develop mental resilience.

If you’re able to help, we’d really appreciate it, so type ‘FEEDBACK’ below and we can schedule a quick call!

The Big Picture Leads to the Root Cause

We live in a highly specialized world. The concept of ‘uomo universalis’, the universal polymath who is an expert in most scientific disciplines, is many centuries behind us. Our knowledge of the world has become so specialized and complex that it is no longer possible to be equally adept in every possible field of scientific relevance.

This has led to the development of a number of highly specialized disciplines and becoming an expert in any of them, requires many years of studying and practice. This is definitely the case in the areas of health psychology and personal development.

Human beings are intricate entities. Our brain is the most complex known organ in the entire universe, and we have only recently started to unveil its intense and complicated communication pathways with other areas of our body, such as our gut (the gut-brain axis). This is further compounded by the fact that we are multi-dimensional beings. Our behaviour and mental processes are influenced by a number of internal and external factors, which often impact on us in an unpredictable interplay of attraction and repulsion:

  • There is a biological dimension involving our brain, neurotransmitters, evolutionary and hereditary factors.
  • There is a social dimension involving our interactions with others, including our family and close friends, our community, our society and expectations of and from other human beings.
  • There is a psychological dimension involving our cognitive faculties, our feelings and emotions, our unconscious minds, our worries and anxieties, our dreams and hopes etc.

Taking all of this into account, it’s no wonder then that even if you dedicate yourself to any discipline tasked with understanding human behaviour and thinking, you are likely to become an expert in one of the above dimensions, but not necessarily in all three of them. Academic knowledge and training are essential in getting you to a place of expertise and skill in your discipline, but sadly they are insufficient if you wish to fully understand the big picture.

How much can your doctor really understand of the cause of your problem during a 5-minute consultation? How much can your counsellor or psychologist help you if they don’t have an idea of any underlying biological conditions that may impact your behaviour and thinking? What is the use of a coach who helps you to set goals, but doesn’t check on the ecology, the environmental, social and relational factors that can get in the way of achieving them?

Granted, it is not realistic to expect the ‘uomo universalis’ to arise again in our 21st century world. However, among the extreme specialization we are currently experiencing, those who can truly make the difference are those who can see the big picture and look across disciplines in order to find the root cause of a presenting issue.

PS Cheryl and I care about the big picture, and we want to reach across disciplines in order to help as many people as possible. We are about to launch a new programme called Your Mind Matters and we need five busy female professionals who wish to optimize their mental health through nutrition to jump on a quick call with us in the next 7 days and give us feedback on the programme before it’s launched. If you’d like to help us, type “FEEDBACK” below and we can schedule the call. Thanks in advance!

Responsibility Versus Blame

For all of us operating in the disciplines of therapy, coaching or mentoring, facilitating change is at the core of what we do. However, every type of change requires an element of responsibility.

Responsibility is about having the choice of responding to what is happening to us. As Sartre eloquently put it: freedom is what you do with what is being done to you. Choice and responsibility are about us being in control of our lives rather than reactive to events.

People often confuse blame and responsibility. This is perhaps further confounded by the medical world regularly taking a stance against responsibility in their noble intentions to remove blame from the individual. Granted, it is completely unhelpful to accuse and blame the sufferer of anxiety or depression for being somehow responsible for their actions. It is perhaps in this context, that shifting the blame from the person to their genes or biology seems helpful.

However, encouraging someone to take responsibility for their actions is not the same as blaming them for their predicament. Gabor Maté puts it like this in his seminal book ‘When the Body Says No’: while all of us dread being blamed, we all wish to be more responsible- that is to have the ability to respond with awareness to the circumstances of our lives rather than just reacting. The key word here, is awareness. Once we become aware of our options, we are able to take an informed decision.

It is entirely possible to reclaim your sense of responsibility even if it appears that the depression or anxiety you are suffering from has biological causes. You might not always be in control of the illness you are suffering from, or of the events that life is throwing your way. However, you still have a sense of control about the way you respond to it. Pointing this out doesn’t mean that you are being blamed for it.

Likewise, while you are largely responsible for your success, this does not imply that you are to blame for your failure. When my business failed, the pandemic was largely responsible for it, which freed me from apportioning blame to myself. However, I did accept responsibility for the way I handled things -including my choice of a type of business which was not aligned to my values and identity, which may have accelerated the demise of the business.

Finding the right balance between taking responsibility for your life and business while avoiding blaming yourself for failure and setbacks, is a crucial life skill. Achieving this balance will give you a sense of wellbeing as a result of being in control of your destiny.

What Mood Are You In This Week?

A few years ago, when I was the owner of a failing business, I recall how I used to wake up in the mornings full of anxiety and stress. I would immediately run to the toilet to empty my bowels as my body was reacting to this anxiety by getting in fight or flight mode.

Mondays were the worst days of the week, as that was when I had to face a new week of barely any bookings. I was facing the uphill task of yet another week of chasing up old clients in the hope that they will come back, or quickly finding new clients, having barely given them the opportunity to get to know, like and trust my business.

Needless to say that unless something extraordinary happened, such as a client unexpectedly booking a course of treatments providing me with some welcome cashflow, this anxious, low mood continued throughout the week. It was slightly improving on Sundays, only to immediately deteriorate the day after.

I eventually turned around the way I feel by getting rid of the business, and investing time in taking control of my mood and developing better habits, but this process took its time. One of the things I learned, is the importance of setting the scene early on in the day. This can only be accomplished when you have spent some time setting compelling goals about what you want to achieve, and when you have taken the time to check that these goals are fully aligned to your values and purpose.

Starting the day with the right intentions helps you to take control of your feelings and steer your mood in the direction you want. People often focus their energy on how particular days of the week make them feel (such as Mondays in my example), anchoring negative feelings and emotions on these days. As a result, their unconscious mind and bodies are anticipating the creation of these negative emotions on these days, perpetuating the negative, low mood that accompanies such feelings.

Julia Ross, a pioneer in the field of nutritional psychology, calls this type of moods false moods in her book ‘The Mood Cure’ and differentiates them from true emotions: True emotions are genuine responses to the real difficulties we encounter in life. They typically pass, or diminish naturally, and even when they get repressed or misdirected, they can usually be relieved through counseling. But when we suffer for no justifiable reason; when the pain of a broken heart doesn’t mend like a broken bone; when rest, psychotherapy, prayer, and meditation can make little impact—then we must suspect the emotional impostor, the meaningless biochemical error—the “false mood.” 

According to the author, the primary cause of these false moods lies in the wiring of our brain, our so-called neurotransmitters: Our brain is responsible for most of our feelings, both true and false. In alignment with some areas of our heart and gut, it transmits our feelings through four highly specialized and potent kinds of mood molecules. If it has plenty of all four, it keeps you as happy as you can possibly be, given your particular life circumstances. But if your brain runs low on these mood transmitters—whether because of a minor genetic miscue, because it’s used them up coping with too much stress, or because you aren’t eating the specific foods it needs—it stops producing normal emotions on a consistent basis. Instead, it starts hitting false emotional notes, like a piano out of tune.

Taking control of your mind and behaviour now will help you eradicate these false moods. A combination of setting purposeful intentions, being clear about your identity (I am not my mood), starting your day by setting goals that are aligned to your values and purpose and enjoying a balanced nutrition, will help you stay on top of your mood.