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.

On Freedom and Gratitude

Freedom and gratitude are two of the most widely used words in the modern coaching world. Tons of books have been written about them, and about their importance in our lives.

Just like with any widely used terms however, their omnipresence means that they sometimes lose their meaning and significance. It’s important to understand the context in which such terms are used, as it’s exactly what will help us to create meaning rather than getting lost in the semantics.

When I talk about ‘freedom’, I usually use the word in the context of helping solopreneurs such as small business owners, therapists and artists to compose their own freedom in order to live their life they want. When I discuss the concept of ‘gratitude’, I encourage you to think of the little positive things in your daily life which give you a sense of achievement and wellbeing and help you appreciate the progress you are making towards your goals.

But times like this, after the recent Ukrainian invasion, remind you of the universal dimension of such terms. Freedom also means to live in a sovereign state and enjoy the benefits of a welfare system. It means to be able to enjoy a peaceful existence with your loved ones without the fear that one sudden blow or air raid can cease that existence within a moment. It also means being able to express your views publicly without fear of being prosecuted and imprisoned.

Likewise, gratitude also means waking up realizing you have survived yet another night. It means realizing you still have the privilege of seeing your child smile and play worry free; of being able to take your dog for a walk in the park, of attending a family BBQ, exercising your hobbies and spare time activities and working on your personal development.

And while freedom can fuel your daily gratitude, it’s not an absolute requirement. By adopting a mindset of gratitude in our lives, we can start composing the terms of our own freedom rather than having them dictated by external sources.

Let us not forget this.

What Are You Running Away From?

In a podcast interview I did last year, I shared my opinion that motivation is overrated. In the modern western world we live in, we overemphasize the importance of willpower and feeling ‘motivated’ in order to achieve our goals.

In truth, as I wrote in a recent blog, we constantly do things without feeling motivated to do them. We get up to go to work, we fill out quarterly accounts, we meet with friends without feeling like it (regardless of whether we start enjoying ourselves once we are in their company). We get up early to take our children to school, cook food even if we are tired after work, attend work events in the evenings while we would rather be at home and so on.

We often get angry with ourselves when we are not able to motivate ourselves to do the things that are good for us:

“Why I am not going to the gym, even though I am paying membership?”

“I know that eating healthy will make me fitter, happier and healthier. Why then do I continue eating junk food?’

I know what I need to do in order to succeed financially in my business. Why then am I not doing it?”

The answer to these questions, often lies in the fact that we lack awareness of the things we are running away from. Human motivation is slightly more complex than the popular idea that either we are motivated or not, and that when we are not we just have to make up for that lack of motivation with a strong dose of willpower.

When we have clarity about what we want and how to go about getting it, and we still don’t take action to achieve our goals, this often points to a ‘disagreement’ on an unconscious level. Somehow we haven’t convinced our unconscious mind yet that achieving this goal will solve our problems. There is still a part of us which lives in doubt.

Contrary to common belief, motivation is not always a magnetic force. We are not just motivated to achieve the things we really want. We are also motivated to run away from the things we don’t want. And these two forces often clash.

Money is a good example of an emotive topic which evokes strong emotions, whether they are towards attracting it, or away from its lack. If you find yourself not able to do the things you need to do in order to achieve your financial goals, ask yourself whether you are running away from poverty and lack instead of being motivated to achieve wealth.

If the avoidance of anything that can vaguely be related to an experience of poverty drives you forward, then you might self-sabotage when you will be called to do the very things you will have to do in order to succeed. You will avoid taking any risks, even those risks every business owner will need to take at some point; your mind will be set on protecting and preserving the status quo of your current life, rather than looking for opportunities for growth.

Such ‘away from’ emotions are often related to past experiences which are colouring and influencing our lives on an unconscious level. Like a sponge, they have absorbed experiences of a similar emotional content which confirm our early adopted bias. While this is largely unhelpful on the longer term, they have served a purpose in helping us, like an internal compass, navigate a complex and often confusing word.

So next time you feel you should be motivated to achieve something, but don’t seem to put the effort in order to do it, ask yourself what it is you are running away from. Becoming aware of the things we are often running away from, is key to our self-sabotaging behaviour, imposter syndrome and ultimately, our success.

Who Do You Need to Be in Order to Be Happy?

There is perhaps no other topic in the world about which more volumes have been written than the pursuit of happiness. In a world where it becomes increasingly clear that we need to create our own purpose and destiny rather than relying on some metaphysical system to introduce meaning to our lives, shaping our own happiness becomes our duty and responsibility.

I have advocated through my weekly blogs my belief that this happiness, at least in the 21st century western world, is often the result of a number of focused activities:

  • pursuing our passions
  • aligning our purpose and vision with our identity, goals, actions and habits
  • creating a sense of freedom by painting our ideal balance between personal and professional life.

Another useful way to track whether our daily actions to pursue happiness are aligned to the outcomes we expect, is the Be-Do-Have model. Steven Covey introduced this model in his seminal book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The model is based on the idea that after establishing a desired goal, we successfully achieve it by asking three questions in a specific sequence:

  • Who do I need to be in order to accomplish this goal?
  • What do I need to do in order to accomplish this goal?
  • What do I need to have in order to accomplish this goal?

According to the sequence used in this model, the Be question must be asked first because it determines your state of being.  It is who you are, not what you have or what you do, that drives influence; it is your identity.

Many people quietly assume that happiness will be the result of pursuing certain activities (‘doing’), or acquiring material wealth (‘having’). However, your answer to the first question of the Be-Do-Have model is the key to your happiness. Who do you need to be to accomplish the goals that will enhance your wellbeing and bring you happiness?

Will you be the hardworking entrepreneur who leaves nothing to chance and takes massive action to accomplish her goals? Would you rather be the solopreneur who works smart to avoid long working hours and spend more time pursuing the lifestyle she wants? Maybe you will be the artist who finds a creative solution to every aspect of his life to tailor it to his satisfaction? Or would you rather be the specialist go-to therapist solving problems for other people you have struggled with before yourself?

Whatever your answer is to that first ‘Be-Do-Have’ question, it should give you a clue about who you need to be in order to ‘be’ happy. Reminding yourself on a daily basis of who you are, will ensure that your daily actions will be based on habits that lead you to exercising your passion and fulfilling your values and purpose in life.

Why You Need a Bucket List

One of the most important insights on my journey towards becoming an NLP Master Coach, was the concept of Motivation Direction. We live in a society where the idea of being motivated by things pulling us towards them is not only encouraged, but anticipated. We are expected to be motivated toward health, wealth, happiness and everything positive and meaningful in our lives.

There is so much emphasis given on these scenarios by our media that we make the quiet assumption that everything people do, is aimed at achieving goods and rewards. Hereby we conveniently overlook the fact that many people around us act in ways that are difficult to explain within this paradigm. If everyone in our world is motivated to get rich, healthy and successful then why are there so many people around us that are neither and yet somehow at peace with their condition?

The answer is given by the aforementioned concept of motivation direction. Many people are not motivated towards things that are pulling them in their direction. They are motivated away from things that are pushing them in the opposite direction. As you can guess, these things are the opposite of the positive things that are pulling people toward them; people are pushed away from poverty, illness, unhappiness etc. They only get truly motivated to take action when one or more of these things appears in their lives.

I am one of these motivated away people. I have difficulty to step into gear when a carrot is dangled in front of me promising riches, success and a long, happy life. What helps me to get motivated toward things, is when I make a conscious effort to connect these things to a higher purpose. When I establish a connection between e.g. wealth and my own purpose and values, then I can motivate myself to pursue wealth. However, I need to keep reminding myself of this connection so that my daily actions and habits become aligned with creating purpose through those goals that will increase my wealth.

Recently, I found another useful tool I can add to my arsenal of things that change my motivation direction: the creation of a bucket list. Simply put, a bucket list is a compilation of the things you want to have experienced and completed before you die. Imagine yourself sitting on a comfortable rocking chair at a very advanced age. You are looking back with contentment and satisfaction on all the wonderful things you have experienced and achieved. What are these things?

Grab pen and paper and write them down. Remember, this is your list. So don’t be limited by lack of money, what other people will say or the impracticalities of the endeavor. The only question you need to ask yourself is when I will be looking back upon my life at an advanced age, is this something I would regret not having done?

Give yourself at least 20 minutes to write down all the things that come to mind. Once you finished, read through your list. Does everything in there fire you up, fill you with passion and enthusiasm? Remember, these are all specific experiences and achievements, so it’s important to be clear on what it is you want to have completed. It could be things like getting a degree in philosophy, travelling to Japan and getting accustomed with local traditions, having a memorable meal with friends or relatives at The Shard in London, attending Glastonbury festival with friends, attending a concert of Metallica or Ed Sheeran, learning to speak Spanish at proficiency level so that you can have a basic conversation with locals in Mallorca, backpacking through South East Asia etc.

I find that writing down my bucket list items fills me with enthusiasm and reminds me of the things in my life that are worth pursuing. It’s certainly exciting to remind myself that I want to record an album with choir and orchestra, organize a gig in a castle, attend a rave in Samothraki (Greece) with my spouse, take a month’s break to tour the Greek islands etc. Once I put a date to them, they become real and my unconscious starts working overtime devising strategies to achieve them.

Once you have written your list (and remember, if it’s not on paper, then it doesn’t exist!) then keep it at an easy to find location, or stick it on your wall. You can even incorporate your bucket list in a vision board. Revisiting your bucket list at regular intervals, will remind you of the ‘highlights’ you want to create in your life for that time in a remote future when you will be sitting on your rocking chair, reminiscing about all the lovely memories you are now creating.

Build Your System on Evidence, Not on Dogma 

How can we know what’s true? This is one of the big philosophical questions of our era. Philosopher Ken Wilber states that we currently live in a postmodern era conscious of the failure of the rational insights of modernism to solve the world’s problems. As a result of this, we have come to give an emphasis on feelings and things that come ‘from the heart’ rather than those coming ‘from the head’.

Science merely gives us a method of knowing and questioning, but no final judgement on what is true, good or right. Knowledge and expertise are perpetual work in progress and unable to reassure those seeking universal truths and straightforward solutions to complex problems.

This uncertainty is not comfortable and therefore the reason that many of us are turning to irrational, yet sure-of-themselves gurus who claim to have access to the ultimate truth. With unwavering confidence they will tell you what is true and what is good. This confidence is partly the result of the Dunning-Kruger effect: people with limited knowledge or competence in a given topic overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain, because they don’t know what they don’t know.

If questioned, such gurus will claim that science hasn’t caught up with them yet. They might state that scientists are merely mouthpieces for establishment interests and therefore not to be trusted. Either way, their message is that they are partial to some universal truths, and that you’d better join them if you don’t want to remain ignorant and unenlightened. And when this message is repeated consistently and unrelentingly over a long period of time, people start buying into it and these gurus are building their own tribe of fanatic followers.

How can you ensure that you -an evidence-based practitioner as well as marketing savvy person- beat the gurus at their own game? To start with, you need to discover your irresistible marketing message, the line which you will be repeating to your ideal audience until they turn into ‘followers’. People are looking to turn to someone who is confident and knowledgeable about their subject matter. As an ethical professional, it is your responsibility to seek an evidence-based approach in your area of expertise and to be honest and open about both the benefits and limitations of your offer:

  • Your system is not ‘bulletproof’ with ‘guaranteed results’ if your client is not encouraged to take responsibility and shown the right strategies to get results
  • Be clear about the particular problem you are solving and concentrate on helping those who suffer from it, rather than claiming to solve everyone’s problems
  • Explain your solution in simple layman’s terms rather than using jargon which repeals and alienates your audience

If your method is beyond rational questioning because it was conceived ‘in a dream’ or ‘through a spirit’, or when you shrug off any criticism as ‘jealously of the establishment’ then you don’t have a system to help people, but a dogma. Be honest to yourself and gracious about your system’s limitations. If you do this with confidence and openness, people will appreciate you all the more for it.