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After a summer of a little work and virtually no social media, I have come back to work with a renewed sense of purpose and a new attitude to how I manage my schedule, the “life/work balance”. It’s really made me appreciate how important it is for business owners to take a break and find a new perspective.How we manage our time in life and in business is something that is debated the world over, but especially in the west where, thanks to technology and the way we work, time always seems to be in short supply. So when we all perceive ourselves to be time poor how do we find the time to take a break? And why is it so important?

You won’t be surprised to hear that around 90% of the business owners I work with either haven’t had a proper holiday in several years, or routinely take their work on holiday with them. And what I hear all the time is the same; “I can’t afford to take a holiday”, to which I say, “actually, you can’t afford not to”.

Our working landscape is changing all the time and more people are starting new businesses. According to research from the accounting software company Xero, 20 is the age that young business owners (18-34) decided they would like to set up shop compared to those aged over 45 who had the same lightbulb moment at 35. In fact, almost seven in 10 (69%) new businesses set up in the past five years have been started by those aged between 18-34.

It starts with a plan

When we start a new business, it is easy to be inspired and passionate as you turn a vision in to reality. However, passion will only get you so far, and those businesses with sound plans, good processes and a clear strategy, have a far better chance of survival than those who don’t put these systems in place.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to work with a group of storytellers on bringing their projects to fruition. We were talking about content strategy and blogging. I told them that one of the things I do is to sit down every quarter (or thereabouts) to plan my blog content and plan my weekly schedule up to six months in advance. I have to tell you, they were horrified! At first… But when I explained how this liberated me mentally, and that the plan gave me a sense of security, and allowed me to factor in downtime, it started to make sense to them.

Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that you plan each day to the last detail, only that you have set days for set tasks. But likewise it is important to plan when you are going to take downtime.

Of course when you start an enterprise, you can expect to be working longer hours as you get everything up and running, but if you don’t have a plan in place to take time off from your business, you may come unstuck further down the line as you get burnt out and exhausted. Not only that, but in order to be inspiring and creative, you need to feel inspired, and it’s hard to generate new ideas when you have nothing left to give. Holidays and downtime are vital to the lifeblood of our businesses, as they allow new ideas to bubble to the surface, and keep us in a creative mindset.

So how can you run a business and still take time off?

Now we have established the importance of taking time out, let’s look at the practicalities

Plan for downtime in your quiet times

If you know Christmas is a busy time for your business, then you will probably not be looking to take time off between September and December. But you could plan to take time off in January.

For my business, I know that January and September are really busy times for me, but August and December, not so much, so that means I nearly always take time off around May and in August as that works for the flow of my business.

Think carefully about this one. I have had some business owners who will swear that they are 100% busy literally all year, but when we have analyzed the figures, we have been able to find much quieter times and look at when would be good to take a break.

To check, or not to check, that is the question….

Let me share some more stats with you; research by the Institute of Leadership and Management shows that over 65% of employees check their emails while they are on holiday. This rises to over 80% for senior managers, so it’s not hard to imagine that for business owners that is nearer to 100%!

We are all so connected nowadays that it can be tempting to keep working through holidays and downtime, which may defeat the purpose, and make you unpopular with family and friends!

Again, you have to do what works for you. Some people need to switch off completely so do not want to check emails and notifications while they are away. For other people, they are happy to have a set day to respond to emails because they find that less stressful than coming home to a full in-tray.

And some people, like me, are somewhere in the middle. So for example during August, I did check my emails from time to time, and I let my clients know that with my handy out of office message:

“Hi there,

Thanks for getting in touch. I’m taking some much-needed downtime during August so I’ll only be checking my emails on Mondays, but I will ensure that I get back to you.

In the mean time find out why I was voted one of the Top 100 Business Coach Bloggers in the world and sign up to my blog here

You can also find me on Facebook:

And Twitter:

I also run a Twitter chat for Micro Business owners chat every Tuesday from 7-8pm. Go to:
https://twitter.com/MicroBiz_Hour and use #MicroBiz_Hour to join the conversation

For further information on business coaching, please go to businesscoachingsussex.co.uk

This message also has the advantage of letting people know about all the other things I do, like my blog and twitter chat, as well as reassuring them that their message has been received, so win-win!

Remember the big vision

When I work with clients who have lost their purpose or are confused about which direction to take with their business I often ask them “What is your higher purpose?” It may sound corny, but remembering what motivated you to start your business in the first place really connects you to what you are trying to achieve.

You might say that you started your business as a vehicle to earn money, but still, you chose this way, this business, when you could have chosen another one, so what was behind your decision?

Part of your responsibility as a business owner is to serve the community you have identified as needing your help. Remembering why you chose this way to help them, reminds you that part of your responsibility to them is to take time out. 

“Sustainability” is a word I use a lot to remind business owners that they their business needs to be sustainable not only financially, but also physically and emotionally. If you become burnt out due to overwork, you cannot be there for your clients.

To explain what I mean, I like to use the story Stephen Covey tells in his book, ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’. The story is about a woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt, but he still keeps cutting down trees. If he were to stop sawing, sharpen the blade and go back to his tree cutting with a sharper saw, he would save himself time and effort.

So remember that time out sharpens your saw when it stops being so effective. If you just keep going until you collapse that tree won’t get cut down any quicker and no one will thank you for it.

 And finally…. If you need some help figuring out how to take time out get in touch here, and find out exactly how business coaching can benefit you and your business.
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Inspiration for my blogs can come from anywhere. This time, inspiration came unexpectedly from my eight-year old daughter. A few weeks ago we had been discussing a situation in the playground that had not gone so well for her and I said that it was really important to be assertive; to ask for what you want with respect for the other person and for yourself, or words to that effect; so when I asked my family what I should write my next blog about, my daughter instantly said “Why don’t you write about being assertive?” So here we are!Assertiveness is the cornerstone of positive, healthy communication, where everyone gets to state their needs, have positive self-esteem, and have respect for themselves and for other people. Sounds good doesn’t it? The problem is, for various reasons we don’t always find it that easy to ask for what we want and so may be defensive, passive-aggressive (more on this later) or just plain aggressive, paving the way for resentment and negative confrontation.So in this blog we are going to:
  • Define what assertiveness means,
  • Explore why passive-aggressive behaviour holds us back from being assertive,
  • Look at ways to develop your own assertiveness and foster a culture of assertiveness at work
I’m also going to share my own journey to assertiveness.


“I’m OK, You’re OK”

In order to define what assertiveness is, let’s first look at what it isn’t. Have you ever noticed how some people seem to find it easy to ask for things and state their needs in a way that nobody loses face? Whereas other people might get what they want, but in a way where they seem to be imposing their will on others? That is the difference between assertiveness and non-assertiveness.

Like Emotional Intelligence (see my previous blog here), assertiveness starts with self-awareness of who one is and how our behavior impacts on others (self-responsibility). While aggression leads to either defensiveness or more aggression, assertiveness leads to clear communication and often, resolution. Assertive people possess good self-awareness, good self-respect and respect for others. They also take responsibility for their actions.

At the heart of assertiveness lies the theory of transactional analysis (TA), developed by Psychiatrist Eric Berne, and in particular the concept of “life positions”.  Berne’s philosophy of TA and life positions posits that all people are born “OK” and that in childhood people make decisions based about themselves based on how they are regarded and treated by significant others such a parents, family, teachers and so on. For many, they make a decision that they are “not OK” and therefore this becomes their “life position”.

Transactional Analysis 1: ego states & basic transactions - YouTube

Fortunately, Berne believed that whatever our life position, given time and with the right support we might choose to make new decisions about our self-beliefs, and therefore our beliefs about others. We can choose to adopt an assertive life position where we can be our authentic assertive selves, and allow others to do the same. I am not suggesting it is easy to develop this approach to assertiveness and it won’t happen overnight, but I know from personal experience that it is possible.


My journey to assertiveness

I didn’t always feel so great about myself. From a young age, I learned that other people’s needs often came before mine. Because I didn’t see other people being assertive around me, I didn’t know any different so I learned either that I wouldn’t get what I needed (I wouldn’t be heard), or I learned to manipulate, be aggressive or adopt ‘passive/aggressive’ behavior to “get my way”. The turning point came much later in life after a failed relationship when someone suggested I read Nathaniel Branden’s wonderful book “The Seven Pillars of Self-Esteem”.

Assertiveness is naturally tied up with self-esteem, so once I had figured out what negative thoughts behaviours were holding me back, I realized that in order for people to treat me how I wanted to be treated, I had to treat them well in turn, and I had to state my needs, without aggression.

I have been on that journey ever since. I don’t always find it easy to be assertive, and sometimes I find it downright near impossible, but now I know how much better or honest I feel when I communicate in that way, I can’t really consider any other option, or modus operandi for behaving, not just professionally, but on a personal level too.

So let’s look at what holds us back from being our authentic, assertive selves


Why passive-aggressive behavior kills assertiveness

Just like aggressive communication, passive-aggressive communication is apposite to assertiveness. When someone is passive-aggressive they avoid being directly aggressive and instead engage in indirect, or passive aggression. Typically people who operate from a passive-aggressive place may deliberately procrastinate, avoid certain people or situations that they do not like, say they are ok, when actually they are seething with anger. [Dr Scott Wetzler calls it “Sugar-coated hostility.”] They may also shutdown and refuse to discuss the issue at hand, making progress of any kind impossible.

At work this kind of behaviour may exhibit itself as not doing a task they have been charged with, putting something off until the very last minute, or completing it late in order to punish the person who asked them to do it.

If it is so negative and potentially destructive, then why is this kind of behavior so common?Early life experiences: As Berne says our upbringing has a powerful effect on how we see ourselves in relation to the world and others. For many people direct expressions of emotion were discouraged or not allowed. Therefore many people learn that it is too scary to express their real feelings openly so they find passive ways to process their anger and frustration instead.Fear: Being assertive takes courage and is not always easy, so sometimes we all find it easier to deal with anger and frustration in covert ways, and this is fine. None of will manage to be assertive all of the time.Settings and situations: Even if you did grow up in a household where you could freely express emotion, you might have found that at school, and later at work, that this was frowned upon so you adapted your behavior accordingly depending on the situation and the setting. 

While I would love to see assertiveness adopted as the norm for how human beings treat each other, realistically it is unlikely to happen. However, there is much we can do to change our own behaviour to positively influence those around us, particularly at work.


So how do we develop a culture of assertiveness in ourselves and at work?
“The fastest and most effective way of developing and maintaining an I’m OK: You’re OK life position is through giving, receiving, and asking for positive recognition. People who feel positive about themselves appreciate and value others; they are able to give and receive positive recognition. Positive recognition inspires and motivates people”
— Assertiveness and Diversity by Anni Townend: Palgrave Macmillan 2007

It is easy to assume that if people think well of us and treat us accordingly then we will naturally feel good about ourselves. However, the truth is that, like any shift in consciousness, the change has to come from us. This is where self-esteem comes in. The reason Dr Branden’s book was so revelatory for me, is that it was the first time I had made the connection with treating myself well and having good self-esteem. For all this time I had been waiting to find people who treated me with respect when in actual fact I didn’t value myself, or feel comfortable with positive feedback and recognition.

It might sound simple, but I really hadn’t made that connection before, so I was always in a passive or victim position, rather than in an assertive, creative position.


3 steps to adopting an “I’m OK, You’re OK” life position1. Develop emotional intelligence through self-awareness:

Always, always acknowledge people’s feelings, and don’t belittle or talk down to them. If they sound angry, then acknowledge their anger or frustration for what it is. Equally acknowledge your own feelings and emotions, and be aware of how they impact on others.

2. Accept praise and positive feedback

Here’s an exercise to try out the next time someone gives you some positive feedback or praises you for something; instead of dismissing it or diminishing it, just thank them and tell them you appreciate their feedback. If you already find this easy and like receiving praise then you are probably already using assertive communication in your life. But if you find it difficult to hear or are quick to say something like, “it was no big deal”, or “oh you don’t need to say that”, then just check in with yourself and see how it feels when you do something different. Simply say “thank you” and smile!

3. Listen to some negative feedback without taking it personally:

Equally, try and hear some difficult feedback and see how that feels. This of course might be much harder but as assertiveness is also wrapped up with emotional intelligence and taking responsibility for your actions, you also need to learn to hear negative feedback from a position of assertiveness.

Remember, people rarely criticize us for who we inherently are. They criticize us for how we acted and how our behavior affected them. Once you can listen to some feedback about how your behavior affected someone else, without taking it personally, then you are on the road to using assertive communication.

If you would like to find out how business coaching and mentoring can help you be more assertive, then book a 30-minute phone call here. Let’s talk![For further reading on the subject of assertiveness go to Anni Townend, Scott Wetzler, Eric Berne]
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“Marshaling emotions in the service of a goal is essential for paying attention, for self-motivation and mastery, and for creativity. Emotional self-control – delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness – underlies accomplishment of every sort”
— Daniel Goleman In the depths of winter when daylight is in short supply, and the weather is less than clement, I sometimes find it hard to keep going. I’m sure everybody has felt this at some point, when all you would rather do, or have the energy to do, is curl up on the sofa and watch TV, or sit in front of the fire with a good book. And there is nothing wrong with that. As humans we are deeply affected by our environment, so it is natural to have more energy and bounce when there is more daylight.But it got me thinking about how we motivate ourselves when we have a big project to execute, or when we are working towards a long-term goal. What enables one person to stay very motivated, where another loses momentum and seems to run out of steam? And what does emotional intelligence have to do with motivation?

As a business coach, I spend a fair amount of time asking people what motivates them. In fact before the first session with a client I ask them to fill in a questionnaire that asks, “What motivates you and what are you passionate about?” Understanding someone’s motivation tells you a lot about who they are and what they fall back on when the going gets tough.

So we’re going to explore:

  • What motivation is

  • What motivates you

  • How developing your emotional intelligence can increase your motivation

  • And, what to do if you find yourself losing motivation


What is motivation?

Let’s start by defining what motivation really is. According to the dictionary motivation is defined as:

“A reason or reasons for acting in a particular way; desire or willingness to do something.”

 Motivation is what drives us to achieve our goals; the internal, or external factors that stimulate our desire to stay committed to a task or project in order to achieve a particular goal.

Daniel Goleman, father of Emotional Intelligence and best-selling author of several books on the subject, identified four elements that make up motivation:

  1. Personal drive to achieve, the desire to improve or meet certain standards;
  2. Commitment to personal or organizational goals;
  3. Initiative, defined as ‘readiness to act on opportunities’;
  4. Optimism, the ability to keep going and pursue goals in the face of setbacks.

 A lot of Goleman’s work on motivation is around leadership, how leaders motivate themselves and, crucially, inspire others to have a high level of self-motivation. In his research, Goleman found that the one trait that that all effective leaders had in common was a high level of motivation. They were able to consistently mobilise their positive emotions to drive them toward their goals. They were driven to achieve beyond their own and everyone else’s expectations.

Not only that, but it seemed that their positivity rubbed off on those around them. They were motivated by a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement, and those around them were inspired to do the same. It was the intrinsic, as opposed to extrinsic motivation, that enabled them to keep going. [I’ll come on to the two types of motivation in a minute…]

And achievement was not the only benefit of self-motivation; Goleman found that people who are self-motivated tend to be more organized, have better time management skills, and more confidence and self-esteem, which sounds pretty good! [For more information on self-esteem, read Nathaniel Branden’s wonderful book “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem”]

What motivates you?

Fundamental to self-motivation is what motivates you to do things, not your parents or siblings, or your partner, or your best friend, you.

Let’s go back to ‘instrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation. Simply put, they can be described as:

Intrinsic = Love, because we want to.Extrinsic = Money, because we have to.

In other words:

Intrinsic motivation involves in engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward; like playing a sport because you enjoy it. Intrinsic motivators include having fun and being interested.

Extrinsic motivation means being motivated to perform a behaviour or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment. The reward could be money, power, or good marks at school.

Most of us are motivated by different things at different times of our lives, and we may switch between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In fact the same task may have a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators at the same time.

Let’s take a simple example:

Holly works to pay off a big mortgage. She gets very little satisfaction from her job, and it is not going to lead to anything else, like a promotion. Holly’s motivators are purely extrinsic.

Samuel loves his job and gets a huge amount of job satisfaction and self-fulfillment. He could do something that earns him more money, but he is happy with his choices. Samuel’s motivators are purely intrinsic.

Holly and Samuel are clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to motivation, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We have to work to earn money, but we value getting satisfaction and fulfillment from our jobs.

How to find out what motivates you

Take a moment to think about what is important to you right now in this moment, and whether your main motivators in life are extrinsic, or intrinsic.

Here are a few more suggestions to help you work out what is motivating you:


  • Think about what you are passionate about and work back from that – or another way of putting it is “What do you want your legacy to be?”
  • Seek out creative challenges – How do you express yourself creatively? How much of your work life is creative?
  • Keep learning and improving – look for ways to learn new things or enhance your skills
  • Surround yourself with enthusiastic people – their positivity will rub off on you and help you think about your own motivation
  • Let procrastination be your enemy! Putting off difficult tasks is a form of self-sabotage (See below) so if you are struggling with something difficult either break it down in to smaller, more manageable tasks, OR…..
  • ….ask for help/help others – knowing when you need help is a sign of high emotional intelligence, not (as we are sometimes told) a sign of weakness. Once you have asked, and received help, you will naturally want to help others and inspire then to find their own motivation, and the whole happy circle continues!
Emotional Intelligence and motivation

 So now we have explored what motivation is, let’s find out how it is linked to emotional intelligence. Having followed Daniel Goleman’s work for many years, it seems to me that motivation and emotional intelligence go hand in hand. Simply put, emotional intelligence is about recognizing and managing your emotions and the emotions of other people, both individually and in groups. It is about being self-aware of your own emotional responses. This in turn leads to a greater understanding of other people’s emotions, and how to respond to them.

Daniel Goleman Introduces Emotional Intelligence - YouTube

For me emotional intelligence is linked to self-responsibility as the healthiest, most dynamic relationships with one’s self and with others relies on being able to take responsibility for our own emotions.

So when you have a high level of self-awareness, it is easier to be honest with yourself about what really motivates you. As I alluded to at the beginning of this article, we can often take on someone else’s definition of what is important in life. I have worked with countless entrepreneurs who were unconsciously working to someone else’s definition of success (most commonly a parent, sibling, or partner) and so had no idea what was important to them. This made it hard for them to stay motivated as their heart literally wasn’t in it.

So before you commit to your project or start your business, get honest with yourself and ensure that this is your passion, your goal, not someone else’s

[For more on EI click here and here]


What to do if you find yourself losing motivation

 Once you have gotten clear about what is really important to you and how you are going to achieve your goals you will probably find it much easier to stay motivated, but if you do find yourself flagging, follow these 6 steps:

Take a break – It’s hard to be creative or learn something new when you are exhausted, so taking time out to replenish your energy levels is essential to staying motivated.

Check in with your goals – are they still real for you? It is fine for goals to change so don’t feel you have to stick rigidly to a goal just for the sake of it. As your emotional intelligence increases you will discover more quickly what is really important to you. So if a goal that was once important to you no longer is, then modify or change it, and move on, BUT……

……be aware of self-sabotage.  In my previous blog, ‘Six ways to beat Imposter Syndrome” I wrote about the pitfalls of self-sabotage

“We don’t often think of it this way, but success comes with responsibility. And sometimes the fear of achieving this success, what it might mean to others around us and therefore the responsibility that goes with success can be overwhelming, so people unconsciously choose the path of least resistance and side-step their goals, meaning that you never actually achieve that success, or step in to who you really want to be.”
— "Six ways to beat Imposter Syndrome" Marisa Guthrie

If your goals change, ensure it is because they don’t fit your big vision any more, not because you are afraid of achieving them. Let emotional intelligence will be your guide.

Get inspired by others – Inspiration and enthusiasm is infectious. Share your journey with others who inspire you and whose values fit with yours. They should be those people who are your biggest advocates, who have got your back every step of the way.  

Celebrate your achievements every step of the way – even the smallest ones before you move on to the next goal. Acknowledging and sharing your achievements with others is great for intrinsic motivation so don’t hold back!

Be your own best friend – we all have a tendency to be harsh self-critics, so remember to have some empathy for yourself and go at the pace that suits you. We all have different energy levels, so if do what works for you, not for someone else, you are more likely to achieve your goals.

And finally, if you do need some help getting and staying motivated then find out how business coaching can help and book a 30 minute phone call here.
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Have you ever woken up in the morning and wondered if today was the day that you would be exposed as a fraud? That everyone would find out that you are not what you appear to be and the ‘real’ you would be exposed?If you have, don’t worry you are in very good company:


"[I would] wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud," Kate Winslet.


‘I think the most creative people veer between ambition and anxiety, self-doubt and confidence. I definitely can relate to that. We all go through that: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Is this what I’m meant to be doing?”‘ Daniel Radcliffe


Liz Bingham, managing partner at accountants Ernst & Young, also remembers thinking to herself: "What are you doing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to be found out."


 The novelist Maya Angelou admitted  "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'"

[Angelou was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and won five Grammys for her spoken recordings, plus a myriad other awards.]


The term “Imposter Syndrome” was first used back in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzannes Imes in their paper The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women. And while it seems to be something that mainly affects women, it is certainly not exclusive to women.

According to a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Science by Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander 70% of people feel this way. Not only is that a huge percentage of the population but the authors go on to say that if Imposter Syndrome is prolonged without intervention it can lead to clinical levels of depression and anxiety.

So what exactly is going on here? Why do so many people feel like a fraud? And what can we do to limit the impact of Imposter Syndrome?

In the last hundred years, and especially the last couple of decades, the world has changed beyond any recognition of what it was before. Our lives and working landscapes have been utterly transformed by technology at a pace that shows no signs of slowing down.

Therefore no matter how skilled we are at our work, technology is growing so fast that most of us are learning something new on almost a daily basis. And that can make you feel like you don’t have the expertise you should.

Meanwhile, other people’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages make it seem like they’ve got it all together, or that they are more successful than you because they have more followers. But there’s a big chance that your perception isn’t in line with reality.

Individuals who experience Imposter Syndrome may be highly successful but unable to internalise their success, or as I describe it, unable to ‘own your achievements”. So sadly for impostors, success does not equal happiness.

As the old Hollywood saying goes, “You’re only as good as your last film” so instead of being able to enjoy their achievements, impostors nervously lurch from one high point to another, constantly looking for reassurance from others. When they don’t get that constant reassurance, which is impossible to maintain in any profession or walk of life, they fall in to despair, anxiety, guilt, shame, burnout and emotional exhaustion.

It is easy to see how all these factors contribute to make the perfect storm for Imposter Syndrome to develop and take over, leading to overwork and exhaustion in what Sakulku and Alexander describe as the Imposter Cycle.

“Overworking is one observed and self-perceived pattern of the Impostor Cycle. Overworking becomes problematic when the amount of effort and energy invested in a task exceeds that for producing work of reasonable quality and interferes with other priorities. Even though individuals with impostor fears recognise this overworking pattern, they often find it difficult to break this cycle. Clance (1985) observed that Impostors often have strong beliefs that they will become a failure if they do not follow the same working style.”
— The Impostor Phenomenon Jaruwan Sakulku , James Alexander

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell

We’ve all met that Uber-confident type of person, the “Don Draper” types who seem to have it all together and do not appear to be phased by anything. But appearances can de deceiving. These might be people who are just as qualified or experienced as us, but are more adept at selling themselves – ‘walking the walk and talking the talk’.

It’s true that some people are more impervious to outside perceptions or criticism, but scratch the surface and you’ll probably discover that even the most confident of individuals are not bulletproof and experience self-doubt and a lack of confidence at least sometimes. [By the way, watch Mad Men, if you haven’t already. It’s a real lesson in how not to do business!]

The Imposter Syndrome and self-sabotage.
“The most terrible obstacles are such as nobody can see except oneself.”
— George Eliot So what can we do to tackle Imposter Syndrome before it takes hold and we get stuck in a cycle of overwork and anxiety?

One of the ways in which you can limit the impact of imposter syndrome is by ensuring that you are setting achievable goals for yourself and your business. Now I’m all for getting people to challenge themselves and getting them of their comfort zones, but coaching is about setting realistic goals and going at a pace that works for you. It is not about setting such huge, unachievable goals that you never reach them and so the carrot of ‘success’ is always just out of reach (More about success later).

If you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you will not be surprised when you don’t achieve them and this in turn will add to your underlying fear of being an imposter. This is otherwise known as self-sabotage, or setting yourself up to fail.

Let me tell you a story to explain what I mean.

I recently met with a coaching colleague who told me about a client of theirs who was a published author. Although the client had had some success, he never quite felt as if he were really writing to his true potential, and felt very dissatisfied with his work. Now to the outside world he probably seemed quite successful and accomplished, but inside he knew he was capable of being more creative, and being the writer he really wanted to be.

After a couple of sessions and exploring this issue further, the coachee realised that he was unconsciously playing out a familiar scenario as his mother had been a journalist, but had never worked with the newspapers she really wanted to, and had ended up being very frustrated and unfulfilled.

He had unconsciously created a scenario where his lack of success enabled him to identify and stay close to his mother, even though it made him unhappy. He had chosen to stay stuck in his frustration, rather than take responsibility for being the creative writer he knew he really could be.

We don’t often think of it this way, but success comes with responsibility. And sometimes the fear of achieving this success, what it might mean to others around us and therefore the responsibility that goes with success can be overwhelming, so people unconsciously choose the path of least resistance and side-step their goals, meaning that you never actually achieve that success, or step in to who you really want to be.

What is ‘success’? And is success just down to luck?

I always ask new clients how they define success. This is partly to help establish the goals they want to achieve, but it is mostly because I want to ensure that person is bringing their authentic self to their business. What do I mean by ‘authentic’? From childhood onwards, our notion of what it means to be successful is driven by many factors; parents and family, how society defines success, peers, teachers and so on.

What our parents did, (or crucially were not able to do in their lives), often sets the tone for our own notions of what it means to be successful, which is then reinforced throughout life by society and so on. So, just like in the story above, sometimes when people try and define success for themselves, they are so mired in their family’s/society’s version of success, that they haven’t even realised who they are and what is important to them.

Society has a lot to answer for when it comes to universally agreed ideas of success because it is such a narrow definition; earn a lot of money; buy a big expensive house and a fancy car; find the man/woman of your dreams; have a family; retire at 45 etc.

In fact increasingly, the people I see in my coaching practice are mostly aiming to simplify their lives and the phrase I hear almost on a daily basis is to ‘get back a work/life balance’. Yes they want to be comfortable and have a business that is financially sustainable, but they also want to spend time with partners or family, and be able to take a nice holiday once in a while.

So be sure that you get some clarity about what success means to you. It may take some time, but once you know what success means to you, you are much more likely to achieve it and be able to bring that sense of authenticity to everything you do.

The more intense your sense of Imposter Syndrome is, the more likely you are to attribute your success to luck, rather than your own merit. Certainly in my coaching work I have witnessed many people who never take credit for what they have achieved and always attribute their success to external rather than internal factors.

This compounds their sense of certainty that they are a fraud, and often drives them to overworking.

So how can you break the negative cycle of Imposter Syndrome?

Self-awareness and acceptance is key. Once you fully accept that you sometimes feel like a fraud, and feel out of your depth, you are well on your way to breaking patterns of thought that might be holding you back.

Six ways to deal with imposter Syndrome so you can be your authentic self and get back to enjoying what you do.


1.     Share experiences with others. If 70% of the population have experienced Imposter Syndrome then you are bound to know someone who feels like you. Finding soul mates and allies, discovering that you’re not alone can be very reassuring.

2.     Celebrate your achievements and who you are. Equally, learn to take praise and internalise it – don’t discount it. If someone praises your work, just smile and say “thank you”!

3.     And it should be remembered that everyone’s entitled to make mistakes from time to time – so instead of beating yourself up, decide to learn from them and move on.

4.     The same goes for failure. If you don’t fail then you cannot learn.

5.     Learn to take criticism seriously, not personally.

6.     And finally let go of perfectionism! If you attempt perfection you are going to fall short, which in turn leads to self-sabotage. Remember, Being ‘good enough’ is good enough!

And finally if you feel like you need more support in breaking the pattern of Imposter Syndrome then find out more about how business coaching can help. Click here to book a phone call.






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[I would like to dedicate this blog to Anni Townend with whose help I learned to be my best self and to Horace and Purdy, my four legged teachers.]It’s funny how two seemingly unrelated aspects of our lives can sometimes converge in the most unexpected of ways. I have been a business leader in one way or another for the best part of twenty years, either running businesses for other people or for myself.I have also been fascinated by horses since I can remember, but have only been able to explore this passion in recent years. I am now seeing how these two separate but related parts of my life are finally coming together.I talk to business owners and CEOs about leadership all the time; what kinds of leaders they want to be, who their leadership role models are, how they can increase their self-awareness and therefore emotional intelligence. And time and again I find my thoughts drifting back to horses.Let me explain.


Why horses?

As many people know, horses are incredibly intuitive animals. As a predated animal horses are typified as a ‘flight’ as opposed to a ‘fight’ animal. They do have a fight reflex which is why they will bite, kick or buck, but this really only happens once they have explored all their other ‘flight’ options, in other words, when they feel they have no other recourse. It will also happen if they have been badly treated.

The reason why their relationship with humans is so intriguing and so special is because to a horse, we are the ultimate predator. Lions kill horses by leaping on to their backs, so when we put a saddle on a horse and ride it we are tapping in to a very primal sensation for them. The horse has to put his/her total trust in us.

Their flight response also means that they are highly attuned to small physical and emotional cues from humans. If we are scared, sad, anxious they will know, often before we do.

This is why horses are used increasingly in leadership coaching and for team building. If you try to lead a horse from a place of fear or anger, it simply will not follow you. In order for the horse you trust you, you have to be calm and assertive.

Someone who does a lot of work with horses in this way said:

"Horses don’t care who you are, what your title is, how much money you make. They give you honest feedback"

Just like the shift that took place in the business community several years ago, the equestrian community is shifting from fear-based leadership (as in “breaking” a horse) to respect-based leadership. This is because horses react the same as humans do to intimidating leaders, which is to detach and disengage.

In order to lead a horse, you have to listen to the horse: be consistent and clear, and mean it. If you do not provide the leadership, the horse will, and it is likely to resent you for it.


So what can horses teach us about how to be better leaders?

Even if you run a business where you work on your own, you are a leader of your own business and you set the tone for how people interact with your business.

Many people I have worked with don’t set out to be a leader, but somehow end up in a leadership position by default. This can happen when you need a team of people to help you realize your vision but you have no idea how to manage them.

So whether you are leading your business as a sole trader, or whether you have a big team of people to manage, identifying what kind of leader you are or want to be can be really helpful.


Introvert Vs. Extrovert

Spending time with horses, and particularly observing herd behavior, has brought me to the natural horsemanship approach championed by Pat Parelli among others, known as the ‘horse whisperers’. The Parelli approach looks at horse ‘types’, and just like us, horses have a predisposition to be either more introvert or extrovert, or a right brain or left brain dominant type; so more emotionally driven, or more linear in their approach to the world and the problems it presents.

Here is a recent interview with another one of my horse whispering heroes, Buck Brannaman:

Buck Brannaman on BBC Breakfast - YouTube

Knowing how we function, or what makes us tick, helps increase our self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and when that increases not only are we more aware of our own responses, but we are more highly attuned to the people around us and this helps us to be better leaders, as well as team players.

So I would like to share with you what horses have taught me about leadership, and how you can use these ideas when thinking about how you lead your business.


1. Trust

You don’t need me to tell you that the best relationships in life are built on trust. In both our personal and professional lives, we cannot grow positive relationships without mutual trust.

When we are in a relationship with someone we trust then we are able to be ourselves, which in turn engenders personal growth. So just like a lack of trust causes us to shut down and turn in on ourselves, a trusting relationship allows us to expand who are and feel safe and supported. We can build self-confidence and self-esteem from a place of trust and we can help others to do the same.

So ask yourself; do I trust the people I work with? Can they trust me?  How am I a trustworthy colleague/partner? How do I demonstrate trust to my clients? How do they trust my business?


2. Partnership

How are you in partnership with your colleagues? I have worked with many business partnerships that on the surface seemed to be working together but were actually working on their own. The left hand literally didn’t know what the right one was doing. They were not attuned to each other or their teams, leading to disengagement and resentment building up on both sides.

Not only does this often mean wasting huge amounts of resources over issues related to miscommunication, but in some cases I have seen perfectly good businesses folding due to an inability to be in partnership with others.

So think about how you partner with others in your business. You might not have a business partner or employees, but think about how you work along side others, not just your clients, but people in your general network, the people that help you move forward in your business. They might be your web designer, bookkeeper, a supplier, anyone that is somehow invested in your business. Is your communication with each other based on assertiveness? Is there room for feedback? How can you deepen your partnership?


3. Be assertive

You are the only person that knows what is right for you so knowing your boundaries is the first step to being assertive in your communication with others. Assertiveness is a big topic but essentially it is about being able to state your boundaries in a calm but firm way. Assertiveness is often misunderstood as aggression but it is in fact the antithesis of aggression.

If you are on the receiving end of someone being aggressive it is likely to make you feel defensive, as though you are being attacked, but truly assertive behaviour can never be misinterpreted. Assertiveness is stating your needs quietly but confidently. Like trust, assertiveness on both sides of a relationship makes for the best, most effective kind of communication.

So aim to be assertive in your communication and ensure that others know that you expect the same from them. Take responsibility for your actions and the way you communicate and others will follow your lead.

[For more on assertiveness, and Transactional Analysis click here]


And finally, stay positive and always end on a good note!

When Pat Parelli or Buck Brannaman are working with horses that has issues around trust, they always makes a point to keep on working until they have seen a positive change, regardless of how small.

Staying positive in your communication and acknowledging that sometimes we agree to disagree is a good place to end when there has been conflict. When you respect another person’s viewpoint, even if you don’t agree with it, it leaves the door open for further thinking and discussion. It’s another way of saying, “I might not agree with what you say, but I respect your right to say it.”

Being a leader in your business takes time and commitment but the rewards are huge. If you can stay positive and assertive in your communication, you will build trust in your team/colleagues and create strong and lasting partnerships.

Let me leave you with a quote from Pat Parelli:

“If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question, or asked the question wrong.”
If you want to find out more about leadership in your business, contact me for a 30 minute phone chat here

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