Tackling Anxiety in Times of Social Distancing

Anxiety has been my basic ‘mode of existence’ for years. As long as I can remember, one of my main motto’s in life has always been ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’. I have chosen to acknowledge the paralyzing fear inside, and after considering the pros and cons I usually choose action and prepare to let anxiety wash over me.

There are many benefits to inaction, mainly to protect yourself from the potentially harmful effects of exposing yourself to failure and ridicule from others (I would however argue, as an introvert, that the harshest punishment is still the internal, ever present voice shouting ‘I told you you would fail’). But, as I found over the years, and more and more as time goes by, the sad sight of the inner parent, slowly shaking their head in disappointment at yet another missed opportunity, an experience that is now never to be had, has been overwhelmingly the one which leaves the sourest taste in the mouth. And so I have always chosen to live with my fears, embrace them like good old friends and allow them in my life, usually at some discrete distance where I can safely keep an eye on them.

Recently, my anxiety has found a new ally. It is an invisible one. You can not see it, smell it or touch it, but it’s wreaking havoc in the world around us, and has, in a short period of time, changed the way we lead our lives. It is threatening our livelihoods, our previous ways of existence and our mental health. It’s called Covid-19.

I’m sure many of you will agree that we do live in unprecedented times. Sure, there was the SARS epidemic many years ago. But compared to the effects of Covid-19, it nowadays feels like a gentle breeze set against a typhoon. Since the coronavirus epidemic, we have been told to self-isolate and to socially distance ourselves. Social media and TV reports are full of indignant voices, exposing people who are not keeping to the ‘rules’ (which, must be added, have been strongly varying from day to day and from country to country); we see police forces deploying drones to spy on perpetrators who go out for a walk or a drive. We hear of people getting fined for driving without a good reason, or going to the shops with more than one member of the same household at the same time. And, at the furthest extremes of the spectrum, regimes which already didn’t think too highly of human rights or press scrutiny, are now using the opportunity to curb freedoms, limit press expressions of disagreement and impose draconian measures for indefinite periods of time.

It is no wonder that in these times where we feel our freedom of movement, sense of control and opportunity to earn livelihoods are strongly restricted or even depleted, people’s natural feelings of anxiety and fear are particularly heightened and amplified. Most of us do understand of course the necessity of most measures imposed in order to limit the spread of the virus and save human lives. But at the same time, living in a seemingly indefinite period of restrictions, loss of control and finger pointing at every attempt at human activity outside of our homes, does little to help people’s fragile mental health states.

No one really knows at the moment how long this situation is going to last, and whether the epidemic will completely go away. But most experts agree we could be in it for a long period of time, a period in which we will have to settle for lifestyles and activities which are strongly restricted compared to our usual routines. There are of course opportunities within this global crisis, some of which I will touch upon later in this article. But the first question arising for many of us dealing with the current uncertainty, is ‘what now?’ How can I manage my anxiety, get a sense of control again in my life, and start creating a renewed sense of normalcy?

Isolation can easily breed anxiety. Human beings are social animals and typically, our anxiety levels rise when we spend long times restricted from our usual social activities. Notice that I highlighted the terms ‘our usual’, as normality is something typically defined individually, based on what we consider sufficient or enough social contact. The key is however in the restrictions we feel when it comes to relating to others. It doesn’t matter whether we socialize every day, or once a year. Anxiety comes when we feel we have lost control of our levels of socialization, and aren’t in charge of how often we interact with others any more. So rule number one for coping with anxiety in an era of social distancing, is: Communicate with others, and don’t isolate yourself mentally. Share how you feel about this new situation, whether it’s face-to-face, over the telephone or on social media. No communication method is more ‘valid’ than any other; just use the communication channels you would typically use, and if these typically take the shape of Facebook rants and Twitter updates, so be it. It’s ok to feel frustrated and inadequate in periods of global stress and uncertainty. It’s also ok to let others know that this is the case. More often than not, you will find that talking about how you feel about your isolation will encourage others to do the same, and you will find that people are generally more vulnerable and worried than they would like to admit. For that reason they will seek connections too, hoping for answers at a time where so many questions are being asked of the things we normally take for granted.

What else triggers anxiety? When we are anxious we can’t see clearly ahead of us. There is a giant monolith erected obscuring our vision ahead, and it seems so big that it deflects all light and hides the way out of the room. Typically, anxiety makes our problems seem big. So rule number two becomes break down big problems into their smaller components. This is a technique I often use with my coaching clients in order to help them break down what appear like massive, impossible goals into smaller actionable steps. This often leads to goals being achieved quicker and more effectively, because the client can see the value of taking these smaller steps separately, which will in turn lead to the big issue being tackled with more confidence and with a proper plan in place.

Imagine that you main anxiety stems from the uncertainty around the length of time in which government restrictions will affect your lifestyle and day-to-day life. It feels like your isolation and social distancing will last forever. The night is long and the dawn seems far away. What if you break this big, rather vague fear into its smaller components? It could then be broken down into:

  • I fear that the government will use the crisis to impose restrictions on whenever I choose to go out of my house
  • I fear that my intentions will be questioned every time I leave my home
  • I fear that neighbours will ‘spy’ on me and judge me based on my activities outdoors
  • I fear that I won’t be able to remain in charge of my feelings under the pressure, and that I will have a public meltdown which will create more fear and shame

By breaking down the big, ‘vague’ anxiety into more specific fears, you are now more in control. You can decide which of the above you can tackle, and which not. Even knowing that there will be things you won’t be able to tackle right now, will help you take decisions on which things you should concentrate on, because you can actually do something about them. What is the chance you might have a public meltdown? What little steps can you take to ensure the pressure doesn’t get on you, and that you remain firmly in charge of your emotions? Are there any breathing and meditation techniques you can use to create inner peace and take control of your internal emotions?

As it can be seen above, a lot of this breaking down into smaller chunks leads to a sense of greater control. And taking control of your life is rule number three for overcoming anxiety in times of social distancing. Here it needs to be stressed that it’s not possible to take control of every single aspect of your life. However, it is possible to regain some sense of control in most of these areas. As a small business owner myself, and having been interacting with other business owners throughout the crisis, I noticed that taking control of finances, to the extend that this is possible, is the number one mitigating factor for tackling anxiety. Notice that taking control doesn’t necessarily mean ‘solving’ your financial issues. These could be there for a long time to come, and there will be inevitably elements about the world we live in, including the collapse of some financial markets and a new era of recession we will be most probably entering, which can’t be fully controlled. What you can control however, is your reaction to all this. Will you act angrily, resigned, confused and panic-driven, or will you decide to take things as they come, prioritize direct debits and standing orders which you can defer and delay, and cut unnecessary costs? Your reaction now will determine to a large degree how you will cope in the months to come. Take a long view of things and decide now what you can afford to pay, and what will have to wait. Remember that there will be a time when things return to normal, and ensure that you won’t be one of the many who will go bust then. By managing the bills you can pay now and avoiding to cut essential services and standing orders which will be difficult to restore afterwards, you are already taking the steps you need to be ahead of the pack. You will retain control not only throughout the period of the crisis, but also afterwards, when the true aftermath will hit those who have been cutting unwisely and racking up debts which will now need to be repaid.

This brings me to the last point to tackle anxiety, which is to see the big picture. I truly believe that this challenging time can be a great opportunity for us to reconnect with the things we truly love. Things we do because we love doing them, not because they bring money or are somehow expected by the society we live in. This is a good time to create your ideal environment, your ‘centre’ which brings you inner peace, tranquility and happiness. This can be a place within your house, or somewhere near your home. Even better, it can be a place in your mind, a place to which you can always return for inspiration, rest and perfect alignment with your values. The ‘big picture’ is your ‘why’, the reason you want to return to your centre over and over again. It is the place where all creative activity starts, the place where you connect with your inner voice, and allow it to be amplified. It is where your vision for tomorrow starts. There are a number of visioning exercises you can do to get to that point. One of my favourite ones is called the rocking chair exercise. It asks you to imagine being a 90-year old sitting in your rocking chair. The exercise helps you see the vision you already have within you for your life. As you sit in your rocking chair, a blissfully healthy and happy 90-year-old, you are looking back over your ideal life. Take some time to write a story and paint a picture of your life with words. Who are you as a person, and what is it about you that people value? What have you achieved in your life, and what are you proud of? What is giving you a sense of fulfillment? Consider how your life unfolded over a number of key areas, such as family, health, friends, significant other, career, fun/leisure and personal development. What did you do in service, leadership or in your community? Finally look around you. What do you see? What can you hear? What shows you are truly happy?

Writing down the answers to the questions above and perhaps drawing a picture involving them (if you are a visual person), will create alignment with your ‘why’ and the values which are driving you right now, perhaps without you even noticing. You will be in tune with your big picture again. Times of big change such as the one we currently live in, will give you a great opportunity to embrace these somewhat neglected values, and align yourself again with what truly matters in your life.

Kostas The Coach is a Psychologist, Life and Small Business Coach and NLP Practitioner based in Llantwit Major, Wales. I help people of various backgrounds find the ideal intersection between profit, joy and values in their lives, and I assist businesses to grow sustainably while remaining aligned to their why.

If any of the topics discussed here has intrigued you, I would love to hear your thoughts. You can email me on Kostasthecoach@gmail.com or contact me via telephone or SMS or 07725653870.

No to Advice, Yes to Feedback

I want to make a bet with you. I bet that you have probably never met a person who thinks that they are a bad person. And if you have met someone who says so, you know they probably don’t mean it. Most people think of themselves as good, ethical and part of the ‘correct’ in-group. It should therefore come as no surprise that they want to share their values and beliefs with others, and expect others to act and behave as they do. So far so good, you say.

It is a natural consequence of the above that people like giving advice to others. Giving advice has a psychological function: as we want other people to be, do and have what we are, do and have, we advice them to do what we do (or rather, what we think we do). Why is it then that most counselling, coaching and support services, teach people not to give advice? Why do they teach their staff and volunteers to instead listen and try to understand?

They do this because they have seen the evidence of encouraging their people to listen and understand, rather than talk and advice. And they have seen that the evidence is good. Skilled support workers who listen without judgement, who try to understand rather than be understood, create a sense of empowerment and control in others. They establish rapport and make the recipient of their support feel validated, listened to and strong. On the contrary, this rapport is lost when advice is given which doesn’t lead to positive results; people who are given advice, are not given the opportunity to develop their sense of control over their own lives and what happens in them. They will often come back to the ‘expert’ for more advice, rather than developing the skills to tackle challenges by themselves.

In a previous post, I have discussed the benefits of listening to your own inner voice, your own instinct, rather than seeking advice. At this point I need to make a disclaimer: there are a lot of very competent professionals out there that give very helpful expert advice, whether it’s legal advice, business related advice, or consultancy. We are not talking about this type of professional (and usually paid for) service here. We are talking about personal, non-qualified advice which people freely give to others in order to feel better about themselves.

We all find sometimes ourselves in a period of our lives where we feel lost, directionless and unsure about the next step. When you are in a dip, it’s hard to resist temptation to listen to those around you that are available to give you a sympathetic nudge in the right direction, by telling you what you should do. Unfortunately, advice based on others’ personal experience is seldom going to help you improve yourself and reach your personal goals. Furthermore, asking advice from the wrong people might put you off from doing what your instinct says you should do. This can have dire consequences in your life, as you will miss out on potential opportunities to get what you really want. You already know that deep within yourself, lays the answer about what is the right thing to do. Listen to your inner voice, and avoid taking non-qualified advice from someone who means well. While they think they are helping you, they only validate their own values and beliefs. They may think they do this for you, but in their unconscious reality, they mostly help themselves.

Feedback is different from advice. Constructive feedback is not coloured by personal experience, but built around objective behavioural observations. It will involve phrases such as ‘I noticed that you did this’ rather than ‘you should do this’.  Good feedback helps you improve and you can choose to either accept or reject it.  It helps you identify your blind spots, and look at your own behaviour from a more detached point of view, one you are not that familiar with. Learning to accept constructive feedback graciously, helps you become a more complete and confident person and allows you to blossom as an individual and become the best you you can be. Start surrounding yourself today with people who are able to give you good feedback, and say a polite ‘no’ to those who want to give you ‘good’ advice!

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

My Journey as a Pro Bono Coach for The Coaching Academy

Most of us, the people who have gone on a learning journey in order to be able to provide a service that improves people’s lives, are faced with the prospect of doing pro bono work at some stage in the early stages of our practice. Whether you are an aspiring therapist, counsellor, mentor or coach, chances are that at some point you will have had the opportunity (usually a requirement) to hone your skills by practising on a number of clients for free.

Besides the usual number of pro bono practice clients I was required to find in order to qualify for my Personal Performance Coaching diploma (The Coaching Academy strongly discourages , for deontological reasons, asking for payment before you qualify for your diploma) I was privileged to also be offered the opportunity to provide 26 hours of pro bono coaching to a range of clients otherwise unable to afford coaching services. This is not a requirement of the course, but an opportunity given by invitation only, to some of the students who already have some experience or contacts in the charity sector, or aspire to work with some of the less privileged people of our society.

Other than the satisfaction I already know I gain from helping people to cope and recover from life’s difficulties, this pro bono work was a great opportunity for me to gain a significant number of hours of experience coaching people in order to build my confidence.  Even though I was already familiar with the GROW model and was coaching staff in-house for my work as senior manager of a charity, I didn’t have much systematic one-to-one coaching experience and I approached this as a prime chance to gain additional skills before setting myself up as a professional coach.

I have always approached doing good in a practical way, by trying to follow the Buddha’s  Noble Eightfold Path in the way I approach life. This includes choosing the right livelihood (I am quite confident that working for a charity that helps people in need and coaching people fall within that category) as well as adopting the right view, which for me relates to being aware of and improving on the impact my actions have on the people around me. Doing pro bono work for The Coaching Academy helped me practice the second, while preparing for the first.

The obvious starting point for me was the charity I work for. However it soon transpired that I was facing the same difficulties I faced years ago when I conducted research using some of our service users. There were obvious data protection issues, in the sense that I couldn’t use data meant for another purpose (offering emotional support, information and practical help) for coaching clients, and recruiting people for my purpose would prove to be laborious and counter productive. I then turned my attention to other local charities and put forth a number of coaching offers to coach overworked (and dare I say, underpaid) staff facing the stress of working with clients in distress on a daily basis.

This appeal was heard, and my first client was a charity service delivery worker who faced symptoms of burnout. My work with her helped her develop her reflective skills and gain insight into the causes of the burnout she was experiencing. At the end of the coaching sessions, she was able to take drastic decisions in her life which led to its immediate improvement and change of work and life environment, leaving the main causes of stress and unhappiness behind her.

While the first client satisfied my need to help people who are doing good, I also started to look into another area of personal interest: working with artists and creative people, people who are consumed by the need to create, sometimes at the expense of their own financial security and life balance. I soon realised that my own circle of artists (I am also a musician) was too close involved to be coached. Therefore, my next step was to advertise through a recording studio owned by a contact of mine.

That’s how I received a phone call enquiry from my second client: a musician struggling to find time for creative work due to her difficulty to free up time as she needed to run her own micro business in order to survive financially. Our work together (which still continues to this day, beyond the pro bono requirements) helped her focus on freeing up the time she required, by working on her business and getting to the stage where she was able to delegate some of the work to a staff she recruited for this purpose. Currently she continues working on developing her artistic identity (or amplifying her inner voice, as I like to describe this process).

As word got out that I was receptive to clients needing pro bono work, my ever expanding network brought me a third client through a mentor/therapist I am doing reciprocal work with. This client was a charismatic filmmaker struggling to find creative space due to financial pressures (can you spot the theme?). He was consuming too much of his time doing good (including making charity documentaries that were financially or artistically not rewarding) and had somewhat neglected his financial security and overarching creative aspirations. Our work centred on helping him to double the revenue in his film teaching business. He is now at the point where he doesn’t need my coaching any more as he has developed the confidence to concentrate on his creative work without worrying about the finances.

Without a doubt I learned a plethora of skills through my 26 hours pro bono coaching. I earned valuable coaching experience with a number of people presenting a wide range of topics and challenges. It helped me to define my niche (working with ethical businesses and creative people). I didsome good with people who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford the services of a professional coach. Furthermore, I learned to search for clients more effectively by using my own network, work contacts, friends, referrals from other clients etc. I learned to ‘sell’ my services more effectively by preparing a range of coaching program offers and discussing with a wide range of people the benefits of coaching. As a side effect of my pro bono work, I got a paying client as well; one of my clients continues to work with me after finishing our pro bono sessions as she is now able to afford payment through the work we did!

In summary, working as a pro bono coach has helped me to gain confidence, expand my network of clients who are now spreading the word on my behalf and define my client base. It helped me discover what I love doing most, gave me the opportunity to become more professional and to acquire non-coaching skills that are essential for coaches who want to start their own business (such as marketing, promotion and being able to do an effective ‘elevator pitch’ on the services I offer). It has been a pleasure and an invaluable experience, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants to practice honing a range of skills, while doing good.

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

#Inspiringstories II: Interview with Creative Artist Daniel Neagoe

One of the challenges I face as a coach, is many people’s limiting beliefs that they are not creative. I often come across such beliefs when I ask my clients to think out of the box and come up with creative solutions to change what needs to be changed in order to start achieving the results they desire. For, as a wise man once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”.

Their response is quite often “I don’t know how to do this, as I am not a creative person”. This explicit belief is in part fed by a tradition and reporting in the media that creativity is a gift for the few, which is inaccessible to most of us. Hence we worship artists such as writers, painters, musicians and (especially) pop singers as some kind of demigods blessed with a rare ability to give shape to a vision which leads to our entertainment and moves our emotions. They are able to tune in to that most elusive of all frequencies, the one where Divine Inspiration resides, and return back to the world of mere mortals with gifts of creativity and inspiration (interestingly, some creative people actually encourage the belief in divine inspiration, but this is for reasons not relevant to this blog).

This point of view can be more easily challenged if we start seeing creativity under a different light; our skills to think differently in order to tackle the challenges of day-to-day life are often of a remarkably creative nature; they give an individual touch in such trivial things such as how we motivate our co-workers to do things for us they don’t really want to do, how we make a better than average cup of tea, how we avoid potholes on the road without damaging the car or swerving dangerously or -as Dan himself points out during the interview- how we negotiate traffic lights. The creative skills used by artists and musicians are not that different in that respect; as my vocal coach used to tell me, the difference between an ‘ok’ singer and an exceptional singer is merely in the details. The exceptional singer is able to add nuance, intonation and vary the tempo subtly in a way that the average singer hasn’t (yet) learned to do. And this is a skill that takes 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration, to reference the famous quote.

Regardless of whether you believe in divine inspiration or not, few people who know Daniel Neagoe will argue against the fact that he is one of these people who seems to have tuned in successfully to that place where inspiration turns into creation. As a composer, songwriter, musician and sound engineer, he has been involved in countless bands and projects over the years, creating his own music or helping others to create theirs. He has recently expanded his activities to include woodcarving (to create a special edition box set for one of his bands) and video recording and editing. His energy and drive seem unstoppable and as someone who has collaborated with him musically over the years, I thought these are good enough reasons to hold the conversation which follows below. Find out what drives a person with endless creative urges, how he manages this unstoppable force and how he incorporates his creative activities in a life which involves family duties and a day job!

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

Interview with Ethical Business Owner Jaya Patel

As a life coach, a significant part of my work centres around helping people to fulfil their potential. Once in a while, we all meet a person in our lives who seems to live and breathe for their unique talent to inspire and bring other people together. Those people are not necessarily what the -rather materialistic- western worldview would consider to be ‘successful’. Their ‘success’ doesn’t necessarily translate into material wealth; this doesn’t mean that they can’t achieve wealth, and indeed they often do as a side effect of their strong work ethic based on the deeper values that lead them to positive action. However, their gains are first and foremost internal, and their influence upon others cannot be measured solely by quantitative figures. It is rather akin to a slow burning flame, which is passed on in an almost unnoticeable and inconspicuous manner to the people around them.   Their leadership is powerful and infectious, and yet they don’t shout, demand or intimidate.

I believe that Jaya is such a person, and in the 30 minute interview below I speak to her about her life and food philosophy, what motivates and drives her forward and how her customers react to her work. You will hear about her holistic views and how the ancient Ayurvedic philosophy influences her cooking methods. Her approach has a strong effect on her customers, whose loyalty and enthusiasm are visible to anyone who has ever set foot in T Caddy- Jaya’s Veggie Haven.

This is the first conversation is a series of interviews I plan with inspiring people who I feel can act as an example to others who also search to tune in to their inner drive and amplify that tiny little voice inside in order to roar like a lion.   I hope you find this conversation as inspiring as I did.

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

You Are Doing It Wrong: Why I won’t ‘check out’ your band and what you need to do

As a recognisable individual within a number of subgenres in the world of amateur music, I often receive messages on social media from unknown bands and artists asking me to ‘check them out’. A typical message from such an artist is formulated like this:

Thanks for the add! I am a member of band x.  If you have some time check out our music here (insert link); If you liked our music, you can support us by purchasing one of our albums in CD or digital format.
Once again my apologies for disturbing you. Thank you for the support.

At first sight, it’s hard to fault this carefully crafted message. The author is aware of the fact that their message can be perceived as spam, and has taken the time and effort to ensure they don’t come across as intrusive and inappropriate. He/she clearly directs you to the link where you can listen to, and if you like, purchase their music. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Nothing, except of the fact that I can’t remember ever following any of these links, and ‘checking out’ the music. This is not at all reflecting on my perception of the music itself and its potential. For all I know, this could be the ‘next big thing’. It could be exactly what I have been looking for to quench my appetite for new and original music, after years of fruitlessly searching at the outposts of creative endeavour. And yet, I don’t even give it a chance, and I am pretty sure that hardly anyone does. Why?

Creative people usually shy away from business terms, but there are some similarities between bands/artists on the one side, and (small) businesses on the other. Both of them need to define themselves one way or another, and both need to connect to their potential clients or audience. A successful business often has an effective positioning statement at its heart. This answers, in a few sentences, what the business does for whom, how it does it and ideally (and in my view most importantly) why it does what it does. This is not different for artists who want to develop their own creative identity. Unless you have invented a new, completely unheard of musical genre (in which case congratulations, but also good luck with finding an audience for it), the questions you need to ask yourself are:

  1. What is different and unique about my artistic identity compared to other artists in the same genre?
  2. What is my ideal audience? 
  3. How do I want to come across to my ideal audience? what do I need to do in order to connect with them? 

As it becomes evident from the above, the artists asking me to ‘check them out’ are skipping a number of steps in the process:

  • Other than the name of the band and the genre they (say they) play, I have no idea about what makes them individual and unique (often called a USP, Unique Selling Point, in business)
  • They make the assumption that I will be interested to listen to, and potentially buy their music, without knowing much about me other than the fact I play (and hopefully listen to) music in the same genre they do. In short, they assume my commitment to their sound and musical identity because we share a number of characteristics.

Unfortunately, the three questions above cannot be ignored and sidelined. It takes time and effort to connect to an audience. The good news is, that if you are aware of the steps you need to take, you can be ahead of the competition in how you go about developing rapport with your ideal audience. The following tips might help:

-> Be natural: in a previous blog I wrote about the importance of finding your inner voice in order to amplify it for all to hear. Listen to your instincts and experiment. Use your senses. How do you like to sound? What is your visual identity? How do you behave and move about on stage? How do you want your physical output (cds, vinyl, t-shirts, other merch) to feel? If you don’t have any physical output or merch yet, visualise how you would like it to look. Imagine how it would feel to hold that CD or shirt in your hands and commit to making it happen.

-> Define your audience: it is very tempting to believe that everyone should listen to your music and could potentially like it. After all you are passionate about it and strongly believe in it, right? Why wouldn’t everyone else feel the same? However, as we have seen above, just because other people are passionate about music too, it doesn’t mean that they will be naturally tempted to ‘check out’ your band. Unless you are able to connect to them first, you will be just a drop in the vast ocean of music, giving them no incentive to find out more about you. So concentrate on those most likely to connect with your artistic identity (they might not be who you think they are!). Perform live in a number of various settings, and observe reactions to find out who are the people most likely to be interested in what you do, as well as what is the ideal setting in which your musical identity best comes to its own.

-> Get to know your audience: you may have an idea of who your potential fans are, but unless you show genuine interest in them, you won’t get them to be interested in you either. Talk to them before and after your gigs.  Frequent the places they go to, whether it’s online forums and social media, bars, live venues etc and engage in conversation with them. Who are they, and what do they look like? What are they interested in? What is it about today’s musical scene they like, and equally what do they feel is lacking, and what frustrates them? You may be able to fill the gap!

Once you get to know your audience and you show genuine interest in them, you have started to create rapport with them. It may take time, but remember that once people are committed to what you do, they are likely to follow your activities for a long time to come. Furthermore, the more they get involved in what you do, the more they will become a living advertisement for your work. Even in this day and age of social media and technological advancement, word of mouth still remains the most effective method to spread the word and get others interested in your artistic identity too. When a friend or someone you know well sends you a link asking you to ‘check out this band’, chances are you will actually follow through this time and listen to the music. Because you are already connected to them,  you are more likely to commit to sharing and enjoying the same interests, and there aren’t many things people will want to share more than music!

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

Why Taking Control of your Life Matters

One of the main reasons people seek the help of a professional coach, is because they feel they need change in their lives or careers, or feel some dissatisfaction about their lives. Often, they might not know exactly what needs to change. They might not even feel a sense of dissatisfaction per se; they just have the feeling that things could be better or that somehow they lack complete fulfilment: something is holding them back from getting the most out of their lives.

A recent UK survey has found that the factors most strongly associated with personal well-being are health, employment status, relationship status and people’s sense of choice and contentment with their situation. With other words, having the sense of being able to make choices and take control of our lives, makes us happier and increases our sense of well-being.

It is clear from the above that wanting to change and take control of your life, is a good thing; getting to a place where we feel fulfilment, satisfaction and that things in our lives are perfectly balanced, is a cause more than worth striving for.  However, people often don’t know how to initiate that change process. Furthermore, whenever they get to the point where they start making changes in their lives, people often start feeling that the change they hoped for is beyond their control, and they start seeking excuses and finding obstacles. This self-sabotage is an unconscious process, often referred to as the inner Gremlin as stated in a previous blog* . This often means that they revert to their old habits, and they don’t experience the fulfilment and satisfaction they had hoped for.

It is worth noting here that this fear of change is not just a fear of failure, but often also a fear of success. Commitment to change is commitment to do things differently; this often means hard work and potentially learning from your mistakes over a period of time, until results become apparent. There is also a cultural element often at work. Here in the United Kingdom for instance, where British people value a certain element of formality and predictability in their day-to-day interactions, change can often  be seen as ‘hassle’, even when we can clearly see its long-term benefits!

A life coach helps to challenge your self-sabotage and focuses the mind on positive results rather than obstacles and excuses. Whitworth, Kimsey-House& Sandahl (1998), address this self-sabotage in their outstanding book ‘Co-Active Coaching’. In their own words about this self-sabotaging Gremlin: “It’s important that the coach and the client become skilled at noticing the Gremlin…one of the best strategies is to notice it, recognise it, name it. By bringing it out of the shadows, it begins to lose its power. It can’t stand up to too much scrutiny” (p.26).

Clients value the coach’s full commitment to their journey towards change. The life coach shows unconditional belief that the client will eventually get the results they want, moving to a place of more control, fulfilment and happiness. Working with a life coach is an excellent way to create a shortcut to this place of more control within your life.

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

*the term ‘Gremlin’ was coined by Richard Carson in his book ‘Taming Your Gremlin’


Being an Ethical Company

Recently, I was involved in a long discussion with a gentleman who claimed that companies only exist to make a profit. His stance was that since any company’s single aim is to make as much profit as possible, they can’t therefore be ethical. In fact, they must be ethics free.

This gentleman was wrong.

Before we examine why, let us first define what is means to be ethical. According to the Oxford Advance Learner’s Dictionary, being ethical is to be connected with beliefs and principles about what is right and what is wrong. An implication of this definition, is that being ethical is a subjective choice.  This means that what is ethical for me, might not be the case for you or the other way round.

It’s true that companies don’t need to be ethical. Their main goal is, as the gentleman above pointed out, to make profit. However, this makes them far from ethics free. Any decisions about how to make this profit, are per definition ethical choices. Will you use ingredients that are sustainable and ethically sourced for your manufacturing process? Do your products pollute the environment, or contribute to climate change? Are they tested on animals, or otherwise impact on animal rights? Do your products or services directly or indirectly involve people whose worker’s and human rights are suppressed?

There are various dimensions in which a company can define its ethical stance, and people tend to give more or less emphasis on some of them depending on their values and beliefs. The magazine Ethical Consumer provides guidance that some people might find helpful. Based on its research, it lists four main categories in their ethical ratings: environment, animals, people and politics. In addition, they have a fifth positive ratings dimension which includes company ethos and product sustainability.

As the owner of a small company, it’s important that you not only establish your own identity, but also communicate it clearly and effectively to the outside world. It’s not enough to know that your values and beliefs reflect your ethical stance; you need to be perceived doing what you preach. Your mission statement and positioning should reflect that identity, as well as make clear what is important for you. You should use words that you would like people to associate with your business, and your statement should contain information about what makes you different than other companies out there which operate in the same field. Furthermore, it’s crucial that not only you, but also all staff associated with your business consistently bring across the same message. If you are doing all of the above right, chances are that your transparency and authenticity are seen by your customers as great virtues, leading them to rate your company highly and spread the word, increasing your client base.

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com


The Mouse that Roared*

“Be yourself no matter what they say”
Sting, Englishman in New York

As a creative individual or aspiring business person, chances are you will have received at some point The Advice. It usually takes the form of: “In order to be successful in your field, you need to do X or Y; if you haven’t been successful, it’s because you either haven’t read The Advice, or you haven’t followed it through correctly”. Every year there are literally hundreds of articles, books and blogs containing The Advice. It doesn’t restrict itself to one field; you can find it in the creative enterprises, in businesses and in all forms of human endeavour where there is room for growth, success and self-improvement.

But do you really need The Advice? Would you be unable to cope and be successful unless you follow a certain formula, usually given by self-proclaimed experts in their respective fields?   

You don’t. No matter what they tell you, not many of the experts who give advice know whether the advice they give is directly related to their success. Just because people are good at something, it doesn’t mean that they know what makes them successful.

In his excellent book The Inner Game of Tennis”Timothy Gallwey points out that any performance occupies aspects in two different parts of our minds, both underpinned by different neural circuitry; the conscious mind is preoccupied with the technical aspects of performance. As these aspects are easier to perceive and measure, most of The Advice is concentrating on such aspects. If you play in a band, chances are you will hear advice about how to network, how to talk to labels, how to create and sell your merch etc. As a business, you will hear things about making a SWOT analysis, identifying your ideal customers, conducting market research etc. Gallway points out that while the aspects related to the conscious mind are important, what truly enhances performance is the way their conscious mind interacts with the unconscious mind. He calls this the inner game, a game which takes place in the mind of the player, and is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation.

The idea of the Inner Game is that the unconscious mind knows what needs to be done to achieve success and enhance performance, but it’s usually sabotaged by the conscious mind which likes to be in control. His solution is to be consciously unconscious: to create a state where the mind is so concentrated, so focused that it is still.

This state of being consciously unconscious requires you to amplify your inner voice in order for it to be heard above your conscious mind, and above that of The Advice that tells you what to do and how to do it, often against your inner instincts. That unconscious voice is faint and weak, as it is often suppressed by the constant humming of your conscious mind. You need to listen carefully to your inner mouse, and understand what it is telling you. You need to amplify that inner voice, in order to hear its roaring.

The conscious mind is your critical voice and as it has helped you navigate the perils of life, it feels entitled to be there at all times as a background commentary to everything you do. For that reason, it is often referred to as your Gremlin. The problem with the Gremlin is that, blinded by its success in negotiating your survival, it feels it needs to be constantly in control of the proceedings, even when it’s not appropriate to do so.

The Advice can only take you so far. Chances are that, unless you are an absolute beginner in your field, you would have read it and followed it through at some point. However, to be truly successful in what you want to achieve, you need to do more than enhance the technical aspects of your skill and follow through the ‘formula of success’. Because as you are doing so, hundreds of other competitors in your field will be doing exactly the same. To make the difference, you need to understand what makes you unique, different and what makes you tick. You need to conquer your fears, acknowledge and understand how the Gremlin is holding you back and create your own path to fulfilment, success and ultimately inner and outer wellbeing.               

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

*The Mouse that Roared is an excellent Cold War satirical novel by Leonard Wibberley which has also been adapted to a film starring Peter Sellers. This blog is not related to either the film or the novel, but focuses on how to unleash your inner voice and make your inner mouse roar like a lion!