You Are the Fortune Teller

Earlier this week, I asked my Facebook tribe what a famous fortune teller would predict about their future. Some people took this question literally (“Why should I go to a fortune teller if I knew what they are going to predict?”). Others aligned themselves with the spirit of the question, talking about how their future will look like.

Magical things often happen when you start thinking about the future, and even more so when you start predicting your future. This is the case especially when your daydreams concentrate on what YOU will be doing, rather than on the actions of others, or of external events unfolding.

The stronger your vision of the future, the more likely the prediction will happen. There is transformative energy in purposeful thinking. Spend regularly some time thinking about what you want to achieve in the near and not so near future. Make sure you create a positive, compelling picture with plenty of visual and auditory detail. What do you see, hear and feel in your ideal future?

The more positive and compelling the vision of your future, the more you will want to achieve it. The more desire to achieve it, the more your present actions will align with your wishes and your dreams.

Start now by spending 15-30 minutes visualising your future, and write down what you see, hear, feel. The more detail you put into your future picture, the better. Make sure you concentrate on your own actions, and that the image is positive and desirable. Do this regularly, and soon you will realise that you are your own fortune teller. The future doesn’t yet exist, but purposeful thinking and acting in the present will shape it to your liking.

Compose Your Own Freedom

As a music composer committed to help others (and myself) to find the freedom they desire, I often think about the composition of freedom. Just like a musical composition, where you can in principle write any tune you like in any key you want, we have complete control over our freedom. Just like a musical composition, where the tune or piece can only be expressed in seven notes and twenty-four keys, our freedom is constrained by days limited to twenty-four hours and external events that impact on our lives on a macro and micro level.

But what does freedom mean? This is an age old question, and a whole philosophical school called existentialism has been dedicated to formulate an answer to that question. The famous French philosopher Sartre stated: freedom is what we do with what is done to us. The Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl famously proclaimed: Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

In your day-to-day life as a solopreneur, the concept of freedom can be translated into a practical, actionable way of life. Freedom arises from taking control of your time, your finances and your location (choosing where you want to live and work, with online working become a huge game changer in that respect). While most small business owners focus on the finances, your most precious asset is in fact your time: unlike money, time is finite and can not be recuperated.

With every day constrained to 24 hours, we all have the same amount of time available to succeed in our business. But while you can’t magic up additional hours to your day, you can optimize your time in such a way that it may feel like you are stretching it. Tony Robbins, Elon Musk and Richard Branson all have exactly the same hours in the day you have. However, they compose their days so effectively that they give you the illusion of creating additional hours on top of the same 24 hours ‘common mortals’ have available. The good news is that you can do the same if you wish. Here are various ways in which you can ‘stretch’ your time by optimizing the way you are using it:

  • Find out which are the 2-3 actions that will make all the difference to your vision and goals. Ensure these actions are prioritized and completed consistently every single day. Ditch, or if possible delegate the rest of your ‘to-do-list’ as it will only serve as a distraction to your goals
  • Concentrate on what is ‘important’ rather than what is ‘urgent’.
  • Create clarity in your life through effective habits and systems that help you automatically repeat the actions that will bring you closer to your goals. Spending time procrastinating or thinking about what to do next, is a wasteful use of your resources. Instead, set a specific time slot every week to review your priorities and ensure your day-to-day actions are aligned to them. This will save you a lot of time on the long run

Doing all of the above consistently will ensure that you take control of your time, which in turn will improve your finances and give you more life and business choices. Ultimately, you will be able to compose your own freedom in the way you see fit.

The Business of Making Art

Tomes of books have been written about the Art of Doing Business, but today I want to say a few words about the Business of Making Art.

As a part-time musician and composer, one of my obsessions is helping musicians and artists in general to achieve their goals. These goals vary, and I can confidently say that more often than not, most artists I am talking to are not clear about what they want to achieve, or how to go about achieving it. So part of my task as a coach, is to help them understand in the first place what they actually want.

Being an artist often means that strong emotions are involved when it comes to your art. This makes it sometimes difficult to calmly and objectively evaluate what you need in do in order to be successful. The problem is often related to mindset as can be evidenced by the following symptoms:

  • X-factor mentality: the idea that you have to ‘wait to be discovered’ by a gatekeeper
  • The idea that once a label will sign you, your work as an artist is done, and all you need to do is concentrate on your art. The reality is that you will still have to do the work. Labels much prefer artists who have a proven track record of pulling crowds and selling merch, rather than unknown quantities
  • The illusion that you need thousands or even millions of paying fans in order to make it; I’m sure you heard of Mr Ludwig Van Beethoven or Mr Johann Sebastian Bach. Neither of them had thousands of raving fans!

So why not ditch the misguided thinking above, and embrace the following instead:

  • Apply marketing principles to your artistic career
  • Know your audience
  • Figure out your artistic niche and how to reach and engage your fans effectively
  • Figure out how to consistently attract new fans
  • Always give existing fans a great experience. Create ‘superfans’!
  • Find 1000 fans who are willing to pay you £100 a year
  • Ask for compensation for you efforts. Even as a beginning artist, you can negotiate getting paid for your petrol expenses; by setting clear expectations, you invest in your future career and build on your confidence at the same time
  • Don’t listen to the artist’s myth that good art sells itself; It doesn’t. I know of plenty of talented artists who never reached the success they wanted, and less talented artists who reached success beyond their wildest dreams. They did this by figuring out how to make their offer appealing, so that their fans couldn’t resist!

In order to master the Business of Making Art, you first need to master the Art of Doing Business. This is possibly your most important insight on your way to conquer your fears and insecurities and to find the success you yearn for.

11 Ways to Stop Overthinking

Are you one of these people who think a million thoughts a minute, ruminate about the smallest detail and regularly struggle to find the serenity and peace you crave? Then I really feel for you. The good news is that you are not alone.

As a notorious ruminator myself, I sometimes struggle to keep my thoughts at bay, whether they are positive or negative. Creative, positive impulses such as musical ideas, genius flashes of inspiration for new lyrics or sharp insights about ways to help a client get unstuck, seem to go hand in hand with excessive worrying and overthinking, which includes contemplating worse case scenarios and possibilities of utter failure.

There is a saying going around that overthinking is the art of creating problems that weren’t even there. While there is undoubtedly an element of truth in the statement, most overthinkers will recognize that ruminating is not a conscious process. The issue does not present itself on a rational level, but rather on an emotional, unconscious one. We know that it’s bad for us and that it creates stress and anxiety, but sometimes we can’t help doing it.

Having said that, even the worst overthinker can develop strategies to control and tame their negative train of thoughts. I recently asked my Facebook group tribe about their strategies to stop them from overthinking things. Here are some of these strategies that people in the group, including me, have found helpful:

  1. Aligning self to purpose and values

This is one of the pillars of my Vision to Action group coaching program. When the big picture (your identity, vision and values) are aligned with your day-to-day actions and habits, then you act with purpose and confidence. When you act with purpose and confidence, clarity and freedom are present, while negative stress and overwhelm are far away.

2. Being organized

Having the right systems and/or personnel in place to automate your day-to-day actions, ensures that you don’t waste your precious time with activities that should be automated, or done by someone else. Stress and overthinking are often the result of feeling that you are wasting your time doing urgent yet unimportant things

3. Beverages that help you relax

Of course I am not going to argue here for the benefits of consuming illicit substances and alcohol. Many of us know however that a glass of wine or a gin and tonic can temporarily relax our minds and take the edge of anxiety and overthinking. A cup of coffee can sharpen the brain so that you focus on the task in hand. The key word here is ‘temporarily’. Using alcohol and drugs to tackle long-term problems is not a recommended strategy, as their long-term effects are often more detrimental than the problem they are trying to solve. So proceed with caution in this case, it’s all about the balance.

4. Exercise or Martial Arts training

Any form of exercise such as yoga, jogging or martial arts training, helps to focus our minds on our bodies, regulate our breath and give us a sense of control by creating purposeful movement. When focus and a sense of control are present, anxiety and overthinking are far away.

5. Public speaking

Many of us are familiar with the finding that fear of public speaking is more often present than the fear of death. So this strategy to cope with overthinking is not for everyone. Personally, I love talking to a group of people about topics I am passionate about. It helps me structure my thoughts and formulate my beliefs in a rational and coherent way. Being able to make an argument eloquently and rationally, is a great remedy against anxiety and overthinking, as you are in control of your thoughts, rather than these thoughts controlling you.

6. Walks in nature

If exercise is not your thing, you can still achieve the same effects with regular walks in nature. A walk in nature has many benefits. The natural hues calm the mind, relax the soul and keep negative thoughts at bay, as natural beauty draws you in being present at the moment.

7. Focusing on completing tasks and achieving your goals

Focusing on completing tasks and goals you want to achieve, is another way of creating a sense of control and acting purposefully. By now, it should be clear than a sense of control and purpose is the enemy of stress, overwhelm and overthinking!

8. Distracting yourself and Pattern Interrupt

Some people are good at focusing on a new distraction whenever they feel rumination is around the corner. In Neuro Linguistic Programming, we talk about Pattern Interrupt: an activity which interrupts an existing pattern, replacing it with another one. E.g. putting on your make-up or taking a walk in nature, are both ways of interrupting existing patterns with completely new ones.

9. Changing your environment

Most of us, focus too often on things inside of us (e.g. our motivation and goals) rather than creating the right circumstances outside of us. Changing your environment to make it more compelling and inspiring, goes a long way towards helping you to take control of your actions and create a sense of purpose. E.g. I arranged my musical instruments and recording equipment in such a way that they are always in an inviting position. They are a visible reminder that my personal satisfaction and pleasure are only a click of a button away.

10. Guided meditation or hypnosis

Any form of guided meditation or hypnosis is another effective way to tackle overthinking. It helps us to focus on being present at the moment, and hearing another voice giving us commands mutes that negative inner voice.

11. Accepting the natural flow of things

Ultimately, what will be, will be. We seldom have full control of events unfolding around us, something which has been recently highlighted by the Covid 19 pandemic. All we can do is focus on our response to these events. Focusing on the things we can control and accepting that there are things we can’t, goes a long way towards stopping rumination and overthinking.

If you are a bit of an overthinker, it’s likely that you will have used some of the above strategies at some point. Which ones did you find most useful, and which ones didn’t help? Post your comments below.

Who Do You Want To Be?

In business and in life, we often think that our success is dependent on having the right answers ready to the questions reality asks. A true mark of success, we reason, is being able to know the solution to every challenge and problem in our area of expertise. After all, isn’t this what successful entrepreneurs, leaders and managers do?

I have to admit that I have often fallen into this rabbit hole myself as a manager and team leader. A manager or leader, I was told, is someone who goes around solving problems people and teams within organisations encounter. Like a weathered fireman (or firewoman) a manager extinguishes fires others have started, occasionally shaking their finger at them in disapproval. Like a good father (or mother) figure, the manager then pats the errant employee on the back offering forgiveness and allowing them to play with the matches again, this time with extra supervision. Until the inevitable next fire occurs.

However, life has become unpredictable and our reality is changing at a fast pace. In our modern world, there are not many ‘answers’ that can solve a big range of problems. Especially in areas where we deal with the behaviour of individual people and teams, understanding and leveraging context and dynamics so that your staff are empowered to seek solutions to their own problems, is the key to both your team’s wellbeing and your business’ success.

And this brings us to an important realisation: what makes the difference in this fast-paced environment is not so much the answers we give, but the questions we ask. Asking the right questions whenever a new challenge occurs, goes a long way towards solving this particular issue we are facing rather than seeking the universal formula that will solve this and all similar problems in the future.

So what questions are we typically asking ourselves as business owners and solopreneurs? The most common questions I have heard are what questions, such as:

  • What do I need to do in order to succeed?
  • What are my goals? What is my vision?
  • What separates me from the competition?

Another common type of questions business owners are asking themselves, are how questions:

  • How am I going to do this?
  • How will I tackle this challenge?
  • How will I stay afloat?

Another type of question, less common but crucially more important than the first two (as answering it with honesty is more likely to motivate you to continue doing what you are doing), is a why question. Why do I do what I do? What is my ‘why’, what drives me? Such questions can be answered with the assistance of a range of coaching tools such as the Purpose Venn Diagram (often wrongly referred to as the Ikigai), visioning exercises and value elicitation.

A type of question which is of equal importance, but which I rarely encounter, is a who question. It goes like this: who do I need to be in order to succeed in my goals or to realise my vision? This ‘who’ is often referred to as our self or identity. In order to understand your (desired) identity, ask yourself what you need to be doing regularly and consistently in order to become what you want to be.

If you want to be a writer, then you need to write consistently. So ensure you show up every single day, whether you are motivated or not, and decide how much time you will devote daily into sitting on your desk and writing.

A salesperson needs to close sales. So ensure you make the calls every single day and keep going even when you experience a particularly bad batch of calls. If you decide you want to be an artist or musician, then ensure you devote time every single day to practice, reflect or create, regardless of your muse being available or not.

Doing all of the above consistently, whether you ‘feel like it’ or not, will eventually convince you consciously and unconsciously that you are the person you want to be. ‘Fake it till you make it’ if it helps to beat the imposter syndrome with, as long as you remember that making it is all about repeatedly doing what you need to be doing in order to become who you need to be.

Vision with Action Changes the World

Vision without action is just a dreamaction without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the world.” (Joel A Barker)

I am about to complete the current intake of my Vision to Action program. A small group of dedicated solopreneurs have over the last three months gained in-depth awareness of what drives them and what motivates them. They drew their long-term vision, elicited their values and used them as compass for their marketing and businesses. They created clear and detailed goals, prioritized effective actions and built habits that will create sustainable success.

 Having spent enough time working with self-employed business owners, one recurring issue I noticed is the lack of ‘success formulas’ in the real world, despite what the gurus will try to tell you. The only constant I have observed, is the importance of your ‘why’ and your commitment to bring it into action. It’s about being clear on what drives you to do what you do, as well as using that knowledge to make your actions more purposeful, effective and authentic.

It is simply not enough to know what your vision and values are. You also need to understand how to transform them into purposeful action and sustainable habits. And in order to align the big picture (vision/values) with the small, day-to-day actions, you need two more intermediate chain links: you need to be clear on your goals and plans (what you are going to do and how you are going to plan for it) and crucially, your identity (who you need to be in order to achieve these goals).

Once all these different layers are aligned, you are ready for a business life full of clarity, freedom and purpose. The solopreneur’s elusive dream of ‘working smart, not hard’ will be within reach.

Go on and change the world,
PS there are some exciting and interesting discussions in my FREE facebook group right now! Have you checked it out yet? Click here to join the conversations!

Don’t Waste Your Time Constantly Doing Urgent Stuff

Having worked in various positions as Senior Manager and Team Leader for the best part of the last 15 years, I too regularly succumbed to the classic manager’s delusion: that being a good manager is all about keeping constantly busy.

Nothing screams ‘manager’ like working against a tight deadline, dealing with a sudden crisis, attending back-to-back meetings and multitasking between projects. At the end of a hard day having been immersed in a combination of most of the above, you go home with a beautiful glowing feeling in your stomach, feeling that you have once again successfully steered the ship and kept things on track.

Generally, we see most of the above as the ‘good stuff’, the stuff we are being paid for. Whether you are a solopreneur or a manager, keeping busy doing ‘urgent’ stuff and jumping from one task to the other, is seen as an essential, and perhaps even desirable part of the job. I know many small business owners who would probably be alienated and completely out of their comfort zone if they were to be forced to spend half a day a week or longer working on their business, rather than in their business.

But the really important stuff, those whose outcomes and results seem invisible here and now, are the things that can propel your business or make the difference between an ok manager and an exceptional manager. Goal setting, preparation, values clarification and planning may seem fruitless endeavours in the present, where fires need to be extinguished, suppliers need to be chased up and client appointments need to be rescheduled.

However, in the long run, how you do things matters much more than what you do right now. Time pressure is likely to be your biggest source of stress and overwhelm. As a solopreneur, your time is your most valuable asset. You should use it wisely and focus on the things that make the difference to your business.

Former US President Eisenhower used the so-called “Eisenhower Principle” to organize his tasks. He is quoted as saying, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Stephen Covey brought these concepts to the mainstream, calling it “The Urgent/Important Matrix” in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The Urgent/Important Matrix consists of four quadrants. The first quadrant exists of tasks that are urgent and important; the second of important, but non-urgent tasks; quadrant 3 is about urgent, but not important tasks such as dealing with unimportant emails, attending meetings that have no direct impact to your business or objectives and needless interruptions. Quadrant 4 finds you in full procrastination mode, such as ‘escape’ activities which include aimlessly browsing the internet, purposelessly chatting to work colleagues but also being consumed in needlessly self-critical thoughts, or spending your energy worrying and getting angry about things and events you have no control about. Those activities are both non-urgent and non-important.

While most of us would consider this last category as the least desirable one, I would argue that the real danger to the success of our business (or effective management) comes from dwelling too long in quadrant 1. Sure, we all know that browsing the internet and chatting about the weather are non-productive activities. Even while we are engaged with them, we feel guilty about them and realize that what we are doing is not helpful.

However, being preoccupied with quadrant 1 activities is, as described above, often seen as a noble and even desirable thing to do. The problem with this is that without proper planning, alignment to our values or monitoring of the progress towards our objectives, these tend to be lower impact activities for the future of our business. Just like in Groundhog Day, if we end up spending all our time and energy being preoccupied with them, we will never achieve anything different or better than what we are achieving right now. It’s a recipe for stagnation and ultimately, mediocrity.

Take some time this week to reflect on where you are in the Urgent/Important Matrix. How much time do you currently spend in each quadrant? What’s getting in the way of you managing your time better? How do you self-sabotage?

Q1 – Crises – If you’re spending most of your time here, how are you dealing with stress?

Q2 – Goals & Planning – If you are spending a sufficient amount of time here in order to continuously learn and grow, congratulations! How could you make sure you stay in this quadrant?

Q3 – Interruptions – If you’re spending most of your time here, you may need to find ways to say “No” to others.

Q4 – Distractions – If you’re spending most of your time here, you may need to find ways to say “No” to yourself.

Increasing the time you spend in quadrant 2 at the expense of time spent in other quadrants, is a sure way to maximize your freedom and clarity of purpose and ultimately, it is your most reliable path to abundance and work satisfaction.

Cultivating a Champion’s Mindset

Last week, I had a fascinating chat with Kickboxing Champion Jessica Fleischer. In this fascinating conversation, which can be viewed above, we learn about what it takes in order to develop the mindset of a champion. What can we learn and apply in our day-to-day business as solopreneurs? Some highlights:

  • Know your mission: Jess didn’t have self confidence as a kid, and had to fight limiting beliefs, such as “I’m too big” and “I can’t do it”. Her boyfriend encouraged her to get into kickboxing, she became a champion and then devoted her energy to helping others to build their own confidence through it
  • Jessica is now teaching others to find their inner champion. It’s never too late to start; it depends on your goals how far you are prepared to go
  • Personal development is another crucial component alongside physical exercise, in order to cultivate a champion’s mindset. Jessica also runs a weekly book club as part of her I Am Fighting Fit kickboxing club, where relevant non-fiction books are discussed.
  • Becoming a champion created the confidence in her to believe in herself to go self-employed. NLP and hypnosis helped her to make the mindset shift
  • Everyone wants the glory of being a champion, black belt or master, but do they want to turn up at every training session, even after they had a long day at work and didn’t have a good nights sleep? Consistently repeating what you need to be doing in order to succeed, is key to success
  • You need to have the discipline because the motivation will not always be there. Dedication, determination and discipline are key to success.
  • Identify the gaps and find your niche. Jessica is currently using her experience of kickboxing and hypnotherapy to help martial arts instructors.
  • Know your mission and understand what drives you. Jessica has completed a vision board with her Ikigai as a constant visual reminder of the common area between what she loves doing, what she is good at, what she can earn money from and what the world needs.

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How comfortable are you talking about yourself?

I’ll be the first to admit that I have always been jealous of people who are comfortable discussing their life experiences and telling their life stories. Sadly I’m not one of these people. I always struggled to talk about myself. Deeply hidden somewhere inside me, there seems to be an unconscious assumption that no one would be really interested to hear what I have to say about myself. Hence I resorted to telling my stories and experiences through abstractions.

I started to write music to express my feelings in a more abstract way, while I injected some autobiographical elements into my lyrics. As an artist, this gave me the opportunity to avoid talking directly about me and somehow still be able to express how I feel through my art. 

But people love stories. Storytelling is central to everything we do; people relate to other people through the sharing of stories and past experiences. That’s how we get to know, like and trust each other.

As a solopreneur, storytelling is an important part of your professional activities, including your marketing. Things used to be different. It wasn’t too long ago, when I started my first social media marketing job for a beauty clinic, that Instagram images had to look neat, professional, glossy and detached. The vibe was all about being an expert and emanating an air of superior skill and knowledge.

 Nowadays, things have completely changed. Marketing is now more effective when it involves authenticity and ‘behind the screen’ peeks. Just like in other aspects of life, potential buyers want to get to know, like and trust you before they buy from you. To quote Seth Godin: “People do not buy goods & services. They buy relations, stories & magic”

Who am I then? What is my story? Our memories are subjective, so there are endless permutations involving the stories we tell about ourselves. But today, I want to tell you the following things about myself:

  • I was born in the north of Greece
  • I lived there until the age of 11 when I moved to Belgium. Moving to a country I was not familiar with and having to learn a new language and culture from scratch, had a big impact on my life. I was quite a shy introvert at the time and that’s when my love for writing music and lyrics started, as it was the only way for me to directly express how I feel, while avoiding the embarrassment of having to approach others and talk about myself  
  • I studied psychology as I was always interested in human behaviour and wanted to be a therapist. Instead, I went on to do research at the University as I got disillusioned in therapy based on what I had learned about the mainstream therapy approaches
  • But the impulse to work directly with people and solve their (mental) problems was strong, so after volunteering for the Samaritans in Brussels, I continued working for a charity helping victims of crime when I moved to England (the reason I moved will be a story for another time, but let’s say that love was involved).
  • Working for that charity, I discovered the power of coaching. Put quite simply, I always believed in working smart rather than hard (call me lazy…) and the use of coaching techniques allowed me to get my team to take ownership of their tasks, perform better and as a consequence, I was spending less time micromanaging them and doing their job when they got stuck. Talking about a win win situation!
  • This got me thinking that I could probably do coaching as a ‘job’ in itself! I therefore decided to become a professional coach. I was particularly interested in working with small and ethical businesses, as they make the world such a better place with their vibrant individuality. Sadly, I lacked a crucial ingredient: I didn’t have any experience as a business owner myself!
  • This soon changed when I moved yet again, this time from England to Wales. I bought a beauty business and managed it (including a number of staff) over a period of time, until the familiar pandemic put a spanner in the works and I decided not to renew the lease. From a financial perspective, this business was a total disaster. It did however teach me a number of valuable lessons about running a small business and gave me what I was lacking: experience as a business owner!
  • I am now using my experience to help others build and grow their business while taking care of their mental wellbeing. I ensure that in the meanwhile, they don’t neglect their vision and values. When your vision and values are aligned with your habits and day to day actions, that’s when magic happens and true freedom emerges!
  • I am still seeking for a ‘grand unification’ of my musical and coaching activities. So don’t be surprised if one day you hear of some crazy idea, such as me delivering hypnotherapy sessions while at the same time composing individualized soundtracks for the audio recordings of the same sessions!

How about you? What’s your story that helps your clients to know, like and trust you? Getting comfortable at telling (and repeating) that story might be one of your greatest assets as a solopreneur. It will help you better connect with your clients and that’s when relations, stories and magic happen.