How to Regain Focus When Things Don’t Go To Plan

As life shifts, so do our goals. This is a natural process, as our daily reality is full of changes and unexpected twists and turns. I don’t recall having ever worked with a client who, by the time we completed our work together, had exactly the same goals they had at the start of our sessions.

Even experienced goal setters often see their plans change. John Lennon’s famous quote “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” perfectly captures our inability to control the whole of life and to fit it into our plans, without being prepared to be flexible when circumstances change.

Further evidence for this statement is provided by the poor ratio of success when it comes to keeping promises to ourselves. According to a recent figure, less than 8% of people stick to their New Year resolutions! This is due to lack of discipline, lack of awareness of how to successfully measure goals and inability to factor in the changing environmental circumstances in one’s daily actions.

But most people don’t fail because they were not able to stick to their original plan; most people fail because they give up at the first hurdle, or failure to achieve a micro goal within their bigger goal. Success requires discipline and long-term commitment, and the ability to avoid distraction by ephemeral obstacles.

When you stay connected to your original focus and purpose, you can always pick up things where you left them off after a temporary setback. The only rule to remember is: don’t let it slide twice in a row. If you planned for something and it didn’t happen when you needed it to happen, then ensure it happens later or tomorrow.

If you got up late and didn’t have time for your morning meditation, plan to do it the evening instead or go to sleep earlier today to ensure you are up and running on time tomorrow. However, do incorporate your purpose and self-identity in your planning.

Why is it important to meditate? Do you want to lead a calmer, less anxious life? Does it help you to sharpen your focus for the day and make the best of it, so that you obtain a sense of fulfilment and happiness? Visualize and evoke that feeling you want to achieve before resetting your intentions. Connect that feeling to your self-identity. Who is likely to be consistently doing their morning meditation? A happy and fulfilled person who wishes to remain happy and fulfilled.

Regularly reminding yourself of your values and purpose, the ‘why’ you are doing what you do, as well as the ‘who’ you want to be, goes a long way towards creating the habits that will set you up for success.

The Fallacy of Perfection

It’s remarkable to see how many talented people are walking around this world with unhelpful ideas of perfection in their heads. Like some sort of abstract Platonic Idea, perfection is an ideal scenario of things we expect or demand to happen in any given situation.

The theory of Ideas, also known as the theory of Forms is a concept outlined by Plato, that the physical world is not as real or true as timeless, absolute, unchangeable ideas. According to this theory, Ideas or Forms contain the perfect essence of all things, of which objects and matter in the physical world are merely imitations. 

This is an interesting and fascinating philosophical concept. However, the idea of the existence of a ‘perfect’ world out there unspoiled by the limitations of our flawed daily routine, is the source of suffering and misery in our day-to-day realities, leading to unrealistic expectations about our performance. It’s also leading to illusions of control in situations and events where we can’t control things.

I recently spoke to a client who had such ideas of perfection in her head. They led to feelings of insecurity, which is turn led to nervousness. Nervousness led to mistakes at work, which gave rise to feelings of guilt, which in turn led to feelings of insecurity. And so the cycle went on.

Perfectionism often leads to a lack of enjoyment; when expectations of an ideal scenario are no met (which is more likely than not) you get frustration, unhappiness and self-criticism. Focusing on finding pleasure and meaning in the things you do rather than doing them perfectly, helps to shift the focus away from your inner critic to things you can adapt in your environment in order to find pleasure and satisfaction.

Like most other things in our lives, problems related to perfectionism can be tackled by changing the way we think. Small changes seem insignificant on short term, but due to the compound effect they give rise to big changes on longer term.

Feelings are often the product of our own thoughts, even if they are first to notice. Observing carefully the feelings that start the process of self-criticism and self-disapproval, can be key in adapting our mindset in such ways that it shifts away from our inner critic to things that give us meaning and pleasure.

Daily affirmations such as “I allow myself to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes” can start a process where the mind gradually shifts away from the idea that your performance in any given situation needs to meet standards of perfection. Breathing techniques can help you focus and reduce negative feelings. Next time you notice the physical sensation that accompanies that unhelpful feeling, such as e.g. a tightness in your stomach or nausea, stop and take deep breaths for a few minutes.

This simple act gives you a sense of control about your physiology and your thinking. It will allow you to change that physiology and look at your state as an outside observer, rather than feeling completely absorbed in your emotional response.

Giving yourself permission to fail and to make mistakes will be your best self-investment in order to silence the inner critic and improve the way you experience and enjoy your life.

Know Your Values- Interview with Dr Bridget NLP

In my most recent podcast conversation with Dr Bridget, my coach and NLP trainer, we discussed Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), curiosity, values, identity, goals and much more! A former GP and medical director, Bridget is now known as the Chief Unsticker: she helps business owners get unstuck from their unhelpful thinking patterns and create clarity and consistent action instead.

The tool she is employing in this, is called NLP. Neuro Linguistic Programming is looking for the patterns and processes people are using in their heads to get the results they do. It’s about modelling successful patterns and getting rid of unhelpful ones in order to get the best possible outcome.

Curiosity and quirkiness have been key in Bridget’s career. As her parents were both scientists, they instilled in her a sense of wonder about the world and people’s thinking process. Add to this her innate rebellion against ‘what she should do’, and this is how Bridget has managed to forge her own path and become -currently- the only NLP Master Trainer in Wales!

“We all tell ourselves stories. By working out what is relevant for you, lightbulb moments are created”. Everything you read, little things you see around you in your day-to-day life, TV programs you watch…it’s all content you can use to create your own metaphors about your life. We are using our memories, values, experiences, language, metaprograms etc to create our stories. But above all, employing metaphors and using stories in your life, should contain an element of fun. If the story you are currently telling yourself doesn’t work, all you have to do is re-write the script.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my forensic psychology studies many years ago, is how unreliable the human memory is. You can ask three eyewitnesses to give you an account of an event and they will all have a different story to tell. Our stories help us to close these gaps and reframe our memories in a more helpful, constructive way.

Gurus will often tell you that as a business owner you should be modelling the behaviour of billionaires. If you adopt their habits, routines and processes, you will become a wealthy person too. However, the crucial element that gurus often omit, is that this will only work if these billionaires share a similar purpose and values with you. If the habits and routines you adopt don’t suit your purpose, they are not likely to be sustained long enough to create consistent results.

People often start their business careers with huge goals, until negative thinking and the imposter syndrome take over, forcing them to adjust and shrink them. Working through past and present negative experiences that affect your perception and the story you tell about yourself, helps to get clearer on your goals, take consistent action, get the right people around you and get unstuck from negative and unhelpful thinking patterns.

Noticing these patterns will be instrumental in aligning your goals with your purpose and values; freed from their constraints, you can connect with what gives you inner pleasure and you can just be.


7 Marketing Tips for Independent Artists to Increase Sales

The latest Bandcamp Friday has given me once again the opportunity to observe the variety of marketing techniques used by independent musicians to promote their work. And I have to say, a lot of what I’ve seen wasn’t pretty.

Bandcamp Fridays are shaping up to be a blessing for independent artists, as they offer a free marketing opportunity to promote their music during the pandemic, where live gigs have been scarce and often cancelled or postponed due to the changing situation across the world.

This situation is likely to continue for a while, because even though gigs are being booked again, several independent venues have closed down due to the effects of the pandemic. Furthermore, many venues have been already pre-booked for future gigs and tours by bigger artists, meaning that smaller artists are likely to continue suffering from a lack of gigs for a while.

How does Bandcamp Friday work? On the first Friday of every month, Bandcamp waives the fees they charge artists for their sales, giving them the opportunity to earn more per individual sale. Typically, artists pitch their music in emails and messages to their followers on that day.

Just like with Black Fridays marketing communications however, the platform is crowded as people are bombarded with messages from literally thousands of artists pitching their music. It is therefore advisable to stick out from the crowds, as well as to ensure that your messaging reaches the right people.

I am listing a few tips below that will ensure you maximize your chances of success. Whether you are a hobby artist or someone who is making a considerable income from your art, the key is to approach this in the same way any successful self-employed small business owner would approach their business: with a sound strategy and understanding for what works in terms of sales and marketing.

  • Accept that you need to market your music. Too many independent artists show a misplaced pride in not engaging with any marketing activities. They reason that people will find their way to it if the music is good enough. I was literally told these words some time ago by a former guitar player! But let us be honest to ourselves, how many artists truly believe that their music is not good enough? We tend to have a positive bias towards what we create, so naturally we will feel that our music is good and that it deserves to be bought. The hard truth however is that no matter how good your music is, no one is going to engage with your music, let alone buy it, if they don’t know it exists in the first place. Music is about connection, so unless you connect with your audience, you will join the ranks of the thousands of unloved and underappreciated artists out there
  • Understand that any activity related to sharing your music, or talking about your music in any shape or form, is a marketing activity. When artists distance themselves from the ‘sellouts’ who are marketing their music, they imply that they don’t do any marketing themselves. However the reality is that they are usually poor at marketing themselves, as they don’t understand its principles. The sooner you accept that marketing is an indispensable activity of your life as an independent artist, the sooner you will realize it isn’t the dirty word you think it is. It’s the tool which will help your ‘tribe’ discover your music. And isn’t this what we all want?
  • Be generous. Too many artists I know guard their music in secrecy as if it’s the precious Ring of Power. New developments such as Non Fungible Tokens further encourage this worrying trend. If you are an unknown artist, increasing your visibility should be your main concern. Give away freebies and bandcamp codes; organize contests to give Cds and other merch away. Music supporters are generous by their own nature and when they get the opportunity, they will reward your generosity in turn. It is not unusual for Bandcamp buyers to pay well over the selling price of a merch item in order to support their favourite artists!
  • Give out a personal message when you promote your music. People love stories. They want to identify with you, their hero, and get in your shoes! ‘Buy my album’ is not a personal story. Give them a reason to buy, by allowing them to get to know you better. Give proceeds to a charity your care about, talk to them about how their support keeps you going and creating awesome music, give them sneak peeks about your equipment and behind the scenes material…however always stay positive! Pity parties about how broke and unappreciated you are will not have the desired effect and are likely to contribute to you remaining a broke and unappreciated artist.
  • Make marketing activities fun. A contest with a free giveaway engages people and helps you to spread the word in a pleasant way, and you can make of ‘spreading the word’ the call-to-action of your giveaway (share my post/like my page etc in order to get the chance to win)
  • Engage people in a Facebook group. Your Facebook/Instagram artist pages are but the store front. Facebook groups help you engage your fans with fun stories, related to your music’s culture. This is where you get to know your fans and identify your superfans. Who are the first ones to respond to your posts, give you feedback, buy your music etc? Once you identified them, engage them in your Facebook group and get them in your email list. Once you have a sufficient number of these superfans, you can send them exclusive emails (most email clients help you segment your email list) to further increase engagement and make them feel special and unique
  • Paid ads are a helpful way to gain new fans and grow your audience. However the word ‘grow’ is key! Facebook has been so effective at promoting its paid ads service, that it has given us the illusion that Facebook ads are the solution to all our marketing woes. In reality, they are only useful in helping grow what is already there. You will need to first plant the seed with your organic marketing. Once this is done, you will have a foundation to build on with paid ads

Doing a combination of the above will ensure that you steadily increase your visibility and with it, your chances to sell your music and your merch. For more detailed tips, download my free Marketing Guide For Solopreneurs , some of which are specifically written for artists!

What other marketing strategies have you found useful as an independent artist? Let me know in the comments below!

The Spooky Truth About Your Anxieties

There are literally thousands of articles about anxiety on the world wide web. In our 21st century Western societies, stress and anxiety are part of our lives, albeit playing a larger part for some than for others.

Unless you live in a Blue Zone (and I congratulate you if you do), chances are that you will have experienced some stress or anxiety at some point. Many of the aforementioned articles focus on strategies to remove that anxiety. In a recent post on my Facebook group I asked what strategies people find effective in dealing with it.

Some people find it useful to focus on physical sensations, giving them a sense of control over their body. Controlling your breath, tensing and releasing muscles, inducing laughter…are all techniques that can be used successfully to release tension and dissipate feelings of fear.

Others are using external strategies, such as consuming alcohol, taking medication or listening to relaxing music. Sometimes professional help can give you the extra assistance you need to overcome your fears. The effectiveness of mindset techniques used by Neuro Linguistic Programming is well documented. They help us raise awareness about the stories and the films we play in our heads, which contribute to anxiety and stress.

The truth is that developing mental toughness and mental resilience is the quickest shortcut to dealing with anxiety. The nature of the solopreneurial existence is such that stress and overwhelm will be here to stay and we need to find ways of protecting us against them.

The most effective way to tackle anxious thoughts, is by staying present in the here and now. Dwelling on the past creates worry, and by being preoccupied with past events we are missing out on present opportunities. Likewise, focusing on trying to predict and anticipate the future creates anxiety of the unknown. Our energy is consumed unnecessarily, instead of using it to focus on the present.

There are various techniques you can learn to help you focus on the present whenever you feel overwhelm welling up. Practicing mindfulness, meditation and journaling are all tried and tested methods that have helped thousands of people across the world. If you don’t know how and where to start to improve your anxiety levels, some professional assistance might help you to find what works best for you.

How Do You Find Your Inner Symphony?

Freedom is a big word nowadays; people refer to it in a number of different contexts, including having the freedom to ‘do what they want’, not to comply with government regulations etc. But according to Mira, freedom is about utilizing your whole being, including your intuition, to take decisions and lead your life.

Applying esoteric tools such as Mongolian stones, Hebrew numerology and Chinese astrology, she helps people to delve within themselves for the answers. We discussed the importance of vibrations, energy and everyone’s quest to find personal harmony, or as Mira likes to put it, their own ‘symphony’.

As a creative musician, I like her use of musical analogy and I agree that being in harmony with our inner energy (whether you call this ‘vibration’ or something else) is crucial in understanding ourselves. But how do we apply this wisdom and knowledge in our day-to-day life as solopreneurs?

While Mira speaks of people finding their symphony, I prefer to use a different musical term to describe the solopreneurial hustle. I often speak of ‘one-man’ or ‘one-woman’ bands in this context. As small business owners, we are often the singer, guitar player, drummer, songwriter and producer in the band. This can be a bit overwhelming at times, and take us away from our sense of inner freedom, which is the very thing we sought out by choosing a self-employed existence!

We often find activities which are crucial for our success, such as showing up regularly online or making sales calls, daunting. While in our heads the issues are related to ‘others’ and how they will react to us, in reality our problem stems from our own ego limitations. Being too self-aware and preoccupied with ‘what others will say’ is a source of stress, anxiety and very often, failure.

By taking the time to regularly re-connect with the things that ‘make us tick’, we remind ourselves of our true purpose and our ego retreats with this insight. When our values and purpose are aligned with our goals, habits and daily actions, then we find out inner freedom again. This is how finding inner balance and harmony looks like. This is where we find our inner ‘symphony’.

About Gratitude

Modern life is quite busy and fast paced. Today we may conceive of a new idea, take an important decision or tell ourselves to adopt a new habit. But tomorrow we may find ourselves forgetting why we decided to do any of this in the first place.

It’s good practice to regularly remind ourselves of why we are doing what we are doing. Exciting goals can become stale and pointless habits unless we maintain the ‘flame’, the connection to our deeper ‘why’. Hence the importance of committing our goals to paper. Many coaches will tell you to ‘write your goal down, or it didn’t happen’, as the mind is quite inventive in shifting and changing anything you haven’t put in writing.

The main reason we set goals is because we expect to derive success, satisfaction and happiness from achieving them. However all too often when a goal is reached, we are not satisfied. We are left longing for more, or wondering if we could have done better. Prof Steve Peters gives a remarkable example of this in his excellent book ‘The Chimp Paradox’. Athletes who set themselves the goal of breaking the world record, sometimes show little satisfaction after achieving it. They will say things like “Well this is not a good world record, this is just a weak world record“!

A bigger goal is usually broken down into smaller goals, so called ‘milestones’ in order to make achieving it more manageable. E.g. if your goal is to make £10000 of sales each month, then it’s useful to know how many sales this corresponds with per working day, or even per working hour.

Once an important milestone has been achieved, it is important to celebrate it. Celebrations are best agreed in advance to ensure they take place. ‘When I lose 2kg, I will treat myself to a cinema visit. When I finish writing the first chapter of my book, I will open this bottle of wine I was gifted. When I will have worked at least two hours non stop, I will allow myself 30 minutes of playing my favourite video game. Etc.

When you celebrate achieving your milestones, two things are happening:

  • you teach your brain to be grateful for these achievements rather than normalizing them and taking them for granted
  • You remind yourself of the value and importance of your overall goal

In order to create a mindset of gratitude for what you are accomplishing, rather than discontent for the things you could have done better, there are a few things that can be of great help. You can start your day with a 5 minute gratitude meditation as soon as you wake up (there are plenty of Youtube videos or scripts you can find online for this). Or you can end the day by writing down three things you were grateful for today.

Remember, gratitude is not a finite resource. If you had a disastrous day and can’t think of anything to be grateful for, then think of your day on a higher, more abstract level. Are you still alive? Are you (relatively) healthy? Are you able to put food on the table? Are you still loved by someone, whether it’s your spouse, children or anyone else? Then you have reasons to be grateful for. 

Are You Functioning, or Languishing?

Until recently, most coaching models have been focusing on creating high individual and team performance and helping people to increase their motivation to take action. Seldom was much consideration given to the effects of that singular focus on our mental health and wellbeing.

The coaching world is now catching up with the reality that focusing on high performance without considering our wellbeing, is looking for trouble. Research suggests that an obsession with performance without taking wellbeing into account, often leads to burnout, stress and low morale. Similarly, people who are stressed out or burned out don’t perform well at work.

It is therefore evident that in order to perform well at work, you need to look after your mental wellbeing. Mental resilience can help you cope with (and recover from) adversity and setbacks. If you are prepared to push yourself one step further, you will be able to develop mental toughness. Developing this skill will equip you to actively seek out challenges and prepare for them, rather than passively coping with them as they come. It will also equip you to actively strive to expand your comfort zone.

Learning to manage your anxiety is a crucial skill in developing resilience and toughness. There is no point sanitizing your environment in order to banish stress and challenges. Stress is an unavoidable ingredient of modern life, where the ancient reflexes of fight, flight or ‘freeze’ are not always doing service to the complexities we are experiencing in our daily existence. They key is in preparing to deal with a healthy amount of stress, rather than completely avoiding it.

Keyes (2007) and Grant (2012) have developed a model which is helpful in assessing where we are on that spectrum of mental wellbeing versus performance (you can read more details in this paper). The figure below gives an outline of their model:

The key to high wellbeing is to be functioning rather than languishing. Functioning can take two forms:

  • coasting, whereby we are not highly engaged or actively striving to achieve goals, yet feel good about ourselves. For example when we are chatting with colleagues, surfing on social media before making a phone call or daydreaming at our desk in between meetings.
  • flourishing, where our goal striving and engagement are high in such a way that we feel positively challenged, focused and in control, e.g. when we are in the flow of a professional conversation, a smooth sales transaction or an artistic creation.

Spending most of our working time coasting or flourishing, will keep your mental wellbeing at high levels. The aforementioned skills of mental resilience and especially mental toughness, will help you tackle challenges and adversity in an appropriate way, while keeping your anxiety levels at bay.

You Don’t Need Motivation, You Need Commitment

I’m willing to place a bet that every single day, you are doing a number of things that don’t particularly fire you up. Consider the following questions:

  • Do you wake up every day motivated to be at work on time?
  • Are you jumping with joy whenever you embark on another trip to the supermarket for your weekly groceries?
  • Does the thought of preparing a meal always fill you with enthusiasm?

Chances are, you do most of these things anyway whether you are ‘in the mood’ or not:

  • You are at work on time, because you need the money, don’t bear the stare of your supervisor or don’t want to lose that client you have worked so hard to get
  • You go to the supermarket regardless of your motivation, because you want to ensure that there is food available in the house whenever you need it
  • You prepare a meal because you don’t like being hungry

Why then do so many people expect to be motivated before they take any action? How may times haven’t you heard someone complaining that they would have gone running if it wasn’t for the rain, they would have worked on their business if they didn’t suddenly feel that tired, they would have made that phone call to the customer, if it weren’t for the fact they were in a bad mood after the previous call…

Maybe you are telling yourself similar things from time to time? In truth, if you want to implement a goal or a plan to create new habits, whether these are to go running every morning, to cook wholesome food or to work every day for 30 minutes on your business, you don’t need motivation, but commitment.

Commitment is the result of higher purpose. If that purpose is clear and you have decided that the planned change will have a significant impact on your life (e.g. I’m running every morning so that I stay in good physical health, which in turn will have a positive impact on my mental health; I cook wholesome food because I want to live longer and maintain good health; I work on my business every day because I want to be able to sell it and retire in five years time…) then you will be more likely to regularly remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing and end up creating habits which incorporate positive, purposeful behaviours in your daily routine.

You don’t need motivation to achieve your objectives. You can still go for a run in the rain, practice that new piece on the piano just before going to sleep, work on your business between clients or cook a meal from scratch even when you are unmotivated. You will find ways of doing all these things regularly as long as you are committed to achieve your goals.

If you don’t manage to take action on your goals today, you know that you will give it another go tomorrow, because a temporary setback doesn’t affect your commitment. When this commitment is the result of an alignment between your vision, purpose, goals and everyday actions, then you will always find ways of renewing it and you will keep showing up.

Freedom Is About Being In Charge Of Your Time

In the coaching and mentoring circles I frequent, I am often told by marketing gurus that being self-employed is the essence of being free. All you need to do is give up your job, start your own business and you will get immediately a taste of personal freedom and unlimited potential for abundance.

As a former small business owner and currently part-time solopreneur, I know that this is not the case (and I’m sure you know that too). As a business start-up, chances are that you will have felt a bit overwhelmed, more busy than you would like, and likely less financially abundant than within your last employment. There is no job security and financial stability to give you an immediate sense of freedom and of being in control of your destiny.

The reason you stick with your business and your passion, despite knowing all of the above, is the potential you see for gradually building your own freedom. You know that persisting with what you love doing will make the sacrifices, stress and sleepless nights worthwhile.

Likewise, the same gurus will also tell you that ’employment is slavery’ and that, if you are employed, your biggest concern right now should be to ditch your job as soon as possible and start your own business. This point of view assumes that everyone hates their job and that employment is a necessary source of oppression, discontent and drudgery.

There are of course employed people who feel exactly this way. Some of them are relatively new in employment and still finding their way. Others are stuck in a rut in dead-end jobs of which they don’t know how to get out. However, this is certainly not the case for everyone in employment. Many people enjoy the stability, the social networks built around work teams, and the flexibility which is often part of certain job roles.

Personally, I work a few days days a week as team leader for an organization which is supporting vulnerable people in need. It’s a rewarding job, where I have control over significant aspects of my role, overtime is not a regular expectation and it helps me use my coaching skills in a structured environment, where I feel I am making the difference.

In the real world, away from the area of interest of gurus obsessed with the minority of us who are prepared to do what it takes to dabble with 7 figures (apparently 6 figure businesses are so 2010…), most of us are likely to strike a balance between some sort of employment or freelancing work and the solopreneurial hustle of a small business. And one of the things we will learn with time is that freedom is not a ‘thing’, but a process of being you create over time through learning from mistakes, trial-and-error and life experience.

Achieving freedom is about doing what you love and being in control of the hours you are working (whether you decided you will work 10, or 60 hours a week). It is about being in control of your time. It is no coincidence that having a sense of freedom about our lives, is usually something that most of us achieve later in life. It is the result of the complete alignment of our vision, our values, our goals and our daily actions and habits. This alignment will shape our identity as a ‘free’ person, which will in turn lead to freedom.