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Feeling like a FRAUD?

Imposter Syndrome is the crushing feeling that you are somehow fraudulent in your identity as an expert or leader in your field/ genre; an imposter. Under-qualified to comment, act or be regarded as credible despite a wealth of insight and experience – despite your expertise.  You feel overwhelmed by the feeling that you just do not know enough and will of course, be exposed as a fraud. There is a kind of ironic truism in here that I believe is experienced:  the more you know about something, the more you realise that you know almost nothing!  This to me, is a mark of respect for your subject – and your potential to go beyond what is ‘known’.

As 19th century computer pioneer Ada Lovelace said: 

“I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connections and relations which occur to me, how the matter in question was first thought of or arrived at…”

In this often crippling application of self-doubt, there is often a further miscalculation occurring. That you also over-estimate the knowledge and expertise that others possess too. A de-valuing of the self and simultaneously, an over-valuing of others creates a wide chasm of self-doubt that is very hard to bridge. 

Imposter Syndrome leads to suffering in the individual but on the wider scale it is a collective problem as it leads to great ideas being kept in the dark, potentially brilliant innovation, exploration and adaption curtailed. What if someone right now is holding in their hands an immediate cure for Covid-19, but they will not release it from their grip because of Anxiety? What if it’s not the cure itself but it’s a crucial step that must be made on the journey to it’s discovery? What if we are in a culture that elevates the hum-drum and shames bold attempts? What if..?

😱  Now to complicate matters… but this needs to be discussed…

Imposter Syndrome isn’t the only concern. In contrast to Imposter Syndrome there is the Dunning-Kruger effect (named after two psychologists, Dunning and Kruger whose work on cognitive bias and the role of self-awareness in incompetence goes back to the 90s). The DKE is where a person with a little knowledge, insight or ability in something vastly over-estimates their expertise or abilities. This is not just about how they ‘sell’ their identity to others – it’s a genuine belief about themselves. Even more alarming is that it’s quite possible for Dunning Kruger Effect to be a collaborative delusion.  False expertise can be manifested from a self-supporting social circle – a collective of self-approving experts all lending each other the validation they seek in a loop of imaginary leadership. I’ve seen how damaging this is in three industries: competition over collaboration in performing arts, ‘grey’ academia (maintaining the status quo rather than seeking knowledge) and the confusion of the coaching industry.

🎭 E.g. in burlesque theatre, the scene largely prevented itself from emerging as a successful industry because so many ‘experts’ appeared in such a short space of time. It became the norm for complete newcomers to become ‘professionals’ in a matter of weeks – advertising themselves as teachers, producers, and ‘international’ performers of many years experience. Others simply rebranded from a different genre to burlesque. With so many grandstanding on a platform that was yet to stabilise, the proverbial gusset was ripped out of the burly knickers before it had a chance of standing ovation on the bigger showbiz stage. It has taken years for the industry to recover from this. I estimate that the genre is about ten years behind where it could have been today in terms of it’s economy and social influence, at least here in the UK.

I talk about the Dunning Kruger effect often because it scares the crap out of me. I often think that if I looked it up in the dictionary, I’d see my own face looking back at me. I’m no ‘expert’ on anything in particular and I often wonder if I am a DK doofus leading not only myself but other people astray, with my over-inflated sense of self and imaginary insight. I then think perhaps I have no business in helping others work through Anxiety and ascend in their personal development. But then I also wonder… what if this all means it’s actually Imposter Syndrome? And that I might be holding back on something that really could help others? 

👀 What if..?

I have pondered this a lot. The result is that I have enough gumption to share what I think are insights because there is nothing to lose for anyone, by me taking a risk on my own self-esteem. Either I find out that my writing this has been helpful or, I don’t. Either way, I learn something. No biggie. 

So I wanted to share my thoughts with you – in spite of (and because of) the many doubts I’m experiencing right now as a write this. Because maybe… if I’m not a complete 💯 DK dunce then there is a chance that my tips will actually help someone going through this too – and who knows, maybe that someone might release, share or devise the cure for Covid-19 or end the plastic solution problem or… [insert your dream contribution to the world right here].

Here are my thoughts:

📣  I have noticed a growing propensity for social media proclamations of individuals having (and even ‘suffering’) Imposter Syndrome – as though it is some kind of validation of expert position.  I find this strange. I wonder just how much of it is ironic wishful thinking inspired by a trend – but furthermore, what if it is actually the Dunning-Kruger effect in disguise? “Oh you know, I’m just such an expert that I doubt myself all the time”.

DON’T PANIC! I have got this figured out. I think…

Now, the DKE is all about a LACK of self-awareness so someone exhibiting this is unlikely to be genuinely doubting themselves in the first place – and would not suspect an over-estimation in themselves. However, what if they should have an unexpected, real and singular moment of doubt? Perhaps in meeting a very real ‘expert’, bumping in to a career ceiling or professional barrier in their work? Are they likely to perhaps assume Imposter Syndrome is present? 

So, the point here is to recognise that this is occurring and not be overwhelmed by the (false) appearance of so many ‘experts’ online. Over-valuing others’ expertise (and down-grading your own) is very easy when they are telling you to do exactly so.

So…. How to spot the difference?

🥺 To me, Imposter Syndrome is more likely to be quietly, even secretly, demonstrable as Anxiety – not as an advert of expertise. It would be largely unseen in a person unless you know them well or, in confidence they discuss their feelings, maybe sharing in a private peer group. It would be evidenced in their behaviours and thoughts such as hesitation to engage with others or take opportunities, procrastination around their work, critical tone of self-talk language and avoidance of criticism (like compulsive editing and re-editing and re-re-editing…).

Yet many who publicly announce or discuss their Imposter Syndrome, show no signs of hesitation or self-doubt, quite the opposite. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they definitely aren’t experiencing it, sure, because people deal with Anxiety and self-doubt in different ways but it really makes me wonder if (and why) it is being used a label of credibility – rather than a period of extremely personal and professional difficulty that tends to come with other complex feelings of shame and fear of rejection. Feelings that experiencers would likely hide from public consumption, not draw attention to. 

I also find it interesting that no-one pipes publicly up and says: ‘I suspect I’m maybe a fraud, so I think I have been operating under the Dunning-Kruger effect’. I wonder… Is this because DKS is maybe actually the real and very uncomfortable issue that is far more common than anyone cares to admit?

🤦🏻‍♀️ There is an undeniable tendency for people to seek reassurance through social media but no-one wants to take the real risk of saying ‘I’m not as awesome at this as I assumed’ or ‘I’m an intellectual oaf’ or ‘I’ve been way over-charging for my actual level of expertise’…. and maybe have it confirmed. 

Furthermore, in making such statements it creates doubt in the reader or listener (potential customer) – it’s directly damaging to identity and professional image. Whereas declaring ‘I’m a self-doubting expert’ reinforces the idea of ‘expert’ in that identity. So, could that be a motivating factor? Sales? 

💰 Ask yourself, does this person appear to be selling something? For many business people their sales pitch   – and ticket price – is based upon their appearance as the expert in their field. 

⭐️ 🌟 ⭐️   How to manage your experience ⭐️ 🌟 ⭐️ 

  1. Firstly, accept that your self-doubt is a wayward (and unhelpful) sign of your ever-growing insight and integrity. It is Anxiety reminding you of your vast insight and deep core values.
  1. Secondly, let go of any need to hold on to the word ‘expert’ (or similar), in your self-image. You don’t need it. No-one actually does.

What is an expert anyway? There is way too much false importance placed on the word ‘expert’. What does ‘expert’ even mean? Academic? Field experience? Customer success? Money earned? Press interest? Peer approval? (Which can often be about collaborative delusion of shared expertise and when someone breaks the status quo they are stripped of their approval), Number of certificates? Number of accolades? And who accredits these bodies to give such awards anyway? There are ideas like Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice (see his excellent book ‘Outliers’) but there is no precise meaningful definition that can uniformly applied across industries and genres. On asking many different experts, there doesn’t appear to be any one shared vision of the expert. It’s personal. It’s a subjective term. 

Being an expert and having expertise aren’t necessarily the same thing – for example, my expertise spans many genres and fields. I am not expert in any one thing, just like most people aren’t either. I like that I have a ‘portfolio career’ and am an unusual (hard to imitate) figure in the world of psychology, arts and coaching. In fact, I think this is preferable to me as I like variety and value comparative and multi-perspective thinking.

I’ve said before and I will say it again: I’m no expert in anything – and that’s actually the way I like it. I have learned to let go of the ‘need’ for ten million qualifications and absolute peer approval – because I’m done asking permission to work and try and do things. I still have self-doubt but I see this as a good thing, because it reminds me to keep working and trying and doing things – and the self-doubt reassures me that I’m not the DK asshat I worry about. It also reminds me of my core values (integrity, honesty, growth, inclusion, non-judgement, perspective, kindness) and helps me re-centre on those each time. 

Besides, I have plenty of expertise – and this is demonstrated in the facts of my history and ability to work and try and do things. 

The point here is that in this uncertainty and ambiguity of what it means to be an expert,  we have fertile ground for Impostor Syndrome to take hold and choke progress and, simultaneously more room for the Dunning Kruger Effect to grow. This is why that feeling of being ‘enough’ is so damn elusive – at least it is to those who care about it.

  1. Remind yourself to check in with your feelings and emotions, not just the thoughts. 

    Feelings and emotions inform us of our personal values. If you are feeling worried, fearful or even sick at the thought of your work being reviewed, then perhaps it shows how much you value your contribution, your relationships to others, your impact. I have a collaborator who frequently ponders this about themselves too – and despite all their knowledge, success, experience and a unique PhD, she too regularly suspects herself of being a DK dunce. There are others too, quietly biting their nails and frazzling themselves out instead of releasing their beautiful work. I’m often gently nudging them on with ‘come on lovelies, time to take a little risk on yourself’… just as they are with me too.

Interestingly, in all our cases, this experience rears its head most acutely right when we are in the middle of creating – and then again when about to release – something new and potentially impactful, born from a desire to contribute to progress. For me, this timing is an ironic ‘proof’ of Imposter Syndrome, or as close to proof it as we can get. It is in caring about the integrity of impact that suggests we can simply acknowledge the feeling of doubt, and proceed anyway. Positive risk-taking. If your values are being challenged, it is evidence that you CARE.

Just as there are people who never ever doubt their opinion nor question their sanity at times, the non self-aware people are the ones who alarm me. Not the people how doubt themselves. I have deep respect for those who acknowledge that they feel vulnerable at times, lost or in need of more learning. Again, as I see it, this is a congruent sentiment of integrity being held in the highest esteem.

  1. Check the facts too. 

Look to how people around you respond to your work. Who is ringing bells for you? No-one you genuinely respect and look-up to would be supporting you in your gene nor others trying to join you where you are right now, if you were indeed an imposter or fraud or doofus. If you respect these people, then trust that they would spot a true imposter. Uphold your respect for them by accepting their respect for you. The comes down not so much to how good you are rating yourself, but rating your peers and contemporaries as people you aspire to belong with. The people around you, reflect you.

Remember too that after all is said and done, it’s the innovators and adapters who make progress – after the repeaters are worn out and redundant. It is in being bold and daring that growth occurs. Being an expert on the status quo is only useful if you plan to break it.

  1. So here is the hack – there is no need to claim to be an expert.

    Other people will do that. Cite your own expertise and experience of course because that’s your personal history and if your work is good then your results speak for you. Let go of the attachment, move forward and upwards as you embrace the wealth of learning – and a life of experience – that’s always before you, as well as behind you.

Your self-doubt is the jagged thorns on the vine of self-awareness. True imposters will come and go and they will be identified by their transience, their inability to grow and nurture others as they do – not by their self-doubt. Hold your values close and observe how they inform you, not hinder you. Nourish yourself with time away from social media, but with good aspirational peers, not ambitious ones.   Attribute the respect you have for those, also unto yourself. Hold space for those who acknowledge that they feel vulnerable at times, lost or in need of more learning and offer them the gentle loving encouragement to try and to do. Because self-doubting people are the ones who have the most capacity to grow toward the light – and simultaneously grow the garden for others to share in. 

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Dimensions of development – Loop or Spiral?

For as long as I can remember in my coaching role, I’ve been using a blinding insight I had one day, about loops and spirals as metaphors for personal development. Including when in an official NHS therapeutic role, I would erm… go ‘off script’ to bring these slick little chums in to session. I did so because they worked curvy wonders.

I want to share the insights with you now and for the record, each time I think on them their meaningfulness and power grows and expands… that’s just what they do.

Here is an extract from my book, Ironic Fundamentalism:

Break out of the loopy loop of a frustrating life.

Think about all the times you have said to yourself “here I go again”, or you’ve felt that your career, relationships, decisions and life in general is going around in circles? That life is on a loop? Often one that feels exhausting and frustrating. Well, maybe it is. Maybe it’s a feedback loop of what you are thinking and doing resulting in the same things over and over and over… leading to the same experiences, over and over.

But what IF…? 

That loop is not what it seems and that by perceiving it differently, you can immediately and massively upscale your career, relationships, decisions and life in general? 

It’s just a matter of choice.

Each time we come around in the loop, we actually do so at a different point in time, as different people (we are older and have different experiences since the last time). What if we could super-charge that route so that the height and breadth of the spiral was expanding and growing us with each cycle round?

We can. We choose to do so by embracing the perspective and asking ourselves what do we learn each time and, what will we do more of and less of next? We can leave the old pattern behind – and not return to the same piss-poor frustrations because instead of looping around, we are going up, up, up and expanding out, out, out.

  • What do you need to make this simple yet fundamental change? 
    Answer: Insight and action. 
  • What insight does Anxiety tell you about your values, your beliefs, your behaviour?  
  • What needs to change? 
    Be that change through action. Positive risk-taking.

Now of course, with risk comes well… risk. We often fear change and loss. Everything and everyone we love changes or leaves at some point or at many points, and so do we from the lives of others. Loss is difficult, but also a necessary part of growth beyond those comfort zones. We are all travelling intertwined  spirals that see each of us arriving at or leaving a job, town or relationship to changes of career, lifestyle or mindset. 

So, think of your loop as your restricting limiting comfort zone – and your spiral as your way up and out. Staying in a loop that doesn’t serve you is well… loopy.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Attributed to Albert Einstein 
(although authorship is debated, it’s a great quote so here it is!)

Oh, and that hole on the middle of the spiral, that ‘gap’ that also expands and grows up and out? Well… the gap is not empty. The gap is the expansive potential you are creating and drawing on simultaneously. You see? The ‘stuff’ in the middle of the spiral that looks like empty space is actually all the learning, all the choices, all the energy, all the connections… it is the ALL the everything you have created and will create. 

As you expand and grow, so does it. Awesome, right? So, as along as you have momentum to keep moving in alignment with your chosen positive direction, your potential also grows with you, fuelling your growth. Forever.

Why stay ‘stuck’ expecting things to remain comfortably familiar? Surely this only can lead to Anxiety and resentment? Even the littlest positive changes will result in change for the better.

With this in mind…. What’s it going to be? Loop or Spiral?

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Science and Spirituality – Singing from the same Hymn sheet

What IF… you don’t have to choose between science and spirituality?

There has long been assumed to be a gap between spiritual and scientific thinking – and belief. It’s as though to hold one means you must exclusively deny the other, like a shitty relationship where you are made to choose between your other half and your best friend. Now why would anyone think this was healthy, loving or even reasonable? Unsurprisingly, such relationships are at the root of so much pain and anxiety. Quit now, give up the addiction to exclusive ideological subscription – it does not work.

The Gap is closing. The theoretical, ideological and social gap between science and spirituality is closing. It is closing because of the BIG questions. Namely, the age-old conundrum of consciousness, and out of this paradigmatic shift, comes a new blend of thinking.

The hidden or mystical side of religion and spirituality is no longer for the few ‘initiated’ or privileged devotees.  It is open to all. The modern approach for social inclusion (over privilege, gender, age, class and race) also make the inner mysteries accessible like never before. For example, no longer will a person’s perceived gender exclude them.

There is always a simultaneous trend both for and against for the status quo. If you want to be a rebel in 2020, go to church. The trend for Atheism is no longer the rebellion it was ten years ago with people tending to choose personal development over aggressive debate. With the rise in interest of philosophy and how to think, rather than what to think, those people drawn to such big questions are rewriting the gospels to be more inclusive. 

Science is also starting to converge toward the mystical – from neuroscience to cosmology (as above, so below*) and quantum mechanics, it’s all getting rather metaphysical with the quest for understanding human consciousness growing steadily in the laboratories of medicine, technology, psychology and disciplines that deal with quantum physics. The materialist paradigm is shifting to explore the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ and non-duality. Science is becoming ever more spiritually relevant and exciting with amazing new disciplines like ‘neurotheology’ at the forefront of modern thinking.

Spirituality is good for your mental health. Research is showing that during religious or spiritual activities like prayer and meditation certain areas are turned on and others shut down with changes in the balance of neurotransmitters. For example, during prayer, serotonin, dopamine and gabba all increase, while stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine (adrenaline) decrease. The temporal lobes and limbic structures are shown to be involved in religious experience with the basal ganglia involved in states of euphoria. In those persons who have strong senses of religious faith, their brains look different to scientists from those who do not have such faith. This is throwing out many questions on the direction of cause and effect, e.g. is a person religious because their brain was predisposed to it? or has the brain developed because they of their faith?

*The Hermetic principle of correspondence “as above so below” relates to the microcosm and macrocosm of reality, just as both science and philosophy examine the same questions from neutron to nebula.  The inner and outer mysteries, from Pythagoras to Eckhart Tolle, and from hieroglyphs to emojis, it’s all the same age-old wisdom re-emerging under the shifting paradigms of cultural lenses. 

The social gaps and the method-of-enquiry gaps are closing, and we no longer must pick a proverbial side.

In the beginning there was the word, and the word was “Go…”

‘Creation’ is a much argued about and highly emotionally charged subject. In the West it is curiously based around whether we subscribe to one theory or another… e.g. the ‘big bang’ or the 7 days of biblical Genesis, but the problem here lies in assuming that creation itself was a singular event that happened, that it is somehow confined to one moment in the past – that it was a single completed event. 

No matter how far back in time we go to try and explain how something ‘began’, there is always something even earlier to explain. It is truly the biggest ‘whodunit’ mystery ever written.

For example, if god ‘did it’ just before having a Sunday rest, where did He/She/They get their supplies and slippers from? If the big bang is responsible, then how did it come about? In what state, place, or dimension were those chemical elements suspended on the run up to the noisy start of our Universe? Neither of these lines of historical enquiry are particularly helpful as they lead to more questions, anchored in the concept of historic time.

If we consider instead that creation is in the NOW that it is ongoing, that we ARE it happening back then, now and tomorrow, then these arguments become redundant (although they remain fascinating). 

We are constantly creating ourselves, literally. From general procreation and birth of our own species (directly from our own cells, our energy or life force and our mind-boggling DNA blueprints) to the day to day, minute to minute personal interactions we have with each other and the world we inhabit. We are constantly thinking and doing, acting and reacting. We are in a process of creation with each other and all that our universe holds, including the perceived empty space (which I think of as holding ‘potential’). 

From looking at the trees and hearing the birds sing and chatter, to smelling the salt in sea air and tasting our coffee in the morning as the sun glimmers upon the surface of our worldly surroundings and illuminates our senses. As we interact with each other we motivate, challenge (and even create blocks or difficulties as well as opportunities). In all of this we are in the act of creating.

As we breathe, we literally create, destroy, and create anew, in an eternal cycle. When we breathe in, we ‘in-spire’ (draw new) and when we then breathe out, we ‘ex-pire’ (transform). Just by waking and breathing each day, we are creating our own existence, together. Feeling inspired yet?

Where we begin to (or increasingly) apply our conscious self-awareness of this act of collaborative creation and all that follows, we can begin to appreciate the sheer magnitude of our minds’ capabilities (even in the smallest tasks), we also begin to see the ‘divine spark’ that is in each of us.

(As a side note, this is why I am always happy to see and accept a dishevelled and unpreened self, to not spend all of my time seeking physical acceptance or ‘perfection’. I will never be perfectly presented because I am not a finished product. I am still in the act of creation.)

So in summary, when creation begun, (assuming there was a beginning) and however you ‘storyboard’ the event that essentially brought ‘nothingness in to somethingness’ whether from unconscious cosmic disruption or from some intelligent source, the only thing that was needed was inertia – some kind of intention to create. I believe that this is where it all began – with the word ‘Go’. 

What is ‘go’? Well, put simply ‘go’ is what happens when intention meets action, giving rise to what we experience as Conscious Awareness.

Science and spirituality are singing from the same hymn sheet, albeit in different languages. If both are determined to uphold mystique with Latin phraseology, then they are singing the same song but to different backing tracks. Both religious and scientific outlooks are lenses, through which people choose to address the big questions. They are methods of perception. They are not mutually exclusive nor are they even contradictory. In fact, they inform one another to the extent that there are ‘trends’ in ‘what to assume’. These trends are generally known as paradigms. 

A paradigm is where there is a kind of unofficial collective agreement that certain underpinning fundamentals are ‘true’, and these paradigms shift across time and space. Examples of paradigm shifts are when collectively, the thinkers, teachers and investigators of a particular culture agree (or perhaps unconsciously collude) and go from one set of underpinning principles to another. E.g. where the Earth went from being the stoic centre of the cosmos to its rightful place chugging its way around the Sun. Similarly, despite the ancient Greeks already figuring it out, for eons it was held that the Earth was flat until observations of ships ‘sinking’ into the horizon suggested a rather more spherical countenance. On the religious side of life, in the West we have shifted from dark concepts of inherent sin, hell and damnation to rather brighter outlooks of spirituality, love and acceptance. Not because there has been a shift from any particular religion being wrong to right per se, but because so many have taken off old ill-fitting, broken specs held together with a finger-plaster and instead tried on a healthier new prescription of multi-perspective vary-focal, reaction lenses that also include scientific ideas as well as spiritual ones. 

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

 Max Planck

In more modern science, there is also a gradual shift away from the Newtonian ‘materialist’ model (a universe of ‘us people who experience the world and the stuff out there in the world’) to one of non-duality (we are all ‘one’) or, the medical model of human experience where for example it was assumed that ‘consciousness is an accidental by-product of the biological brain’ but now the evidence for an untethered consciousness is persuading change of heart (and mind, boom-boom).

What all this means is that freethinking relies on learning HOW to think and not WHAT to think.

Sceptics are secret believers and true believers are sceptical

Two ends of the same spectrum. The irony of “skepticism” and “atheism” as generally fashionably purported… is that they are both erroneously used to make belief statements.

To be atheist is to say, ‘no belief in god’ – NOT ‘there is no god’. A nuanced but important difference. The latter is a statement of belief, while the former is undecided and open to being convinced.

The sceptic who says there is ‘no such thing as UFOS/ghosts/extended consciousness etc.’ is making a belief statement which is actually the opposite of being sceptical. Similarly, as above, it means ‘no belief in UFOs/Ghost/extended consciousness etc.’. 

There may not be evidence to sway some to believe in a thing – e.g. the existence of a god or the efficacy of crystal healing – but this is not the same saying that God and Crystal Healing do not exist.

Serious scientists without the bias of their cultural paradigm tend toward mystical or spiritual outlooks – because ideas of nonduality become needed and arguments about semantics and ‘rightness’ become redundant.

Beware of the Dog(ma)

From my own encounters of anomalous or ‘paranormal’ phenomena, what I or anyone else might have experienced is relative, personal and entirely subjective. So, who in the hell is anyone whose brain was not processing the experience to declare it irrelevant, mistaken or even fictitious? On what authority? Surely, not one of an assumed personal correctness of certainty? That would sound suspiciously un-sceptical. It would sound a lot like assumption, belief and closed-mindedness.

Besides, people report phenomena as it is – their own personal experience in real time influenced by all sorts of infinite things and relayed in our limited language. They are not stating newly decreed existential facts about the nature of universe. 

“I saw a ghost!” 

…is likely to be equivalent to 

“I’ve just had an experience that can be best described in the words ‘I saw a ghost!’ but I’m shocked as I don’t know what to think about the nature of reality now and I need to express this conundrum as my brain might explode)”

….and there is always someone who says “well, as a sceptic…. You are clearly mistaken/ill/lying” feeling the need to defend the position despite not being involved nor asked. In claiming not only to have a superior and correct opinion about the existence (or non-existence) of ghosts they also appear to ironically assume they have magical psychic insight in to what was really going on in someone else’s brain, mind and body despite not being involved.

What often happens in fact is that when someone is keen to dismiss and discard something which they were not involved in as being untrue or even impossible, they mistake their emotional position for intellectual rigour. The ego can help us do that when we feel challenged. When someone claims scepticism from a fast-held belief position, we call this dogma, and it is rife in academia, research and scientific media.  Ironic, considering the millennia of persecution, frustration and sabotage experienced by scientists at the hands of the church.  Fools are innocent in their ignorance, fool-hardy and open, paving the way for a journey of learning but dogmatists are ironic fools that won’t budge, they can’t learn – because they are closed, blindly stuck in their awkward positions always wondering why other people’s experiences upset them so. 

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Lenses and the Cultural influences on Anxiety.

We all experience Anxiety idiosyncratically. It’s personal.

Although we share common thoughts, feelings, symptoms and behaviours, the personal manifestation of the anxious experience is born out of our many cultural biases – those ‘lenses’ through which we have viewed and continue to view Life, The Universe and Everything. 

Thinking of our life journeys as little seeds planted in the soil then seeking nourishment and light to grow and bloom, let’s explore the greenhouse effect of intense lens wearing. 

So many lenses are granted at birth as either predispositions of our DNA and the womb environment in which we form. We then consider the circumstances that we are born in to.  Then we look at those influences over time that we grow .

Granted by Nature at Birth
For example, at birth we generally find ourselves granted a set of lenses according to the following: gender (an iffy subject in itself), ethnicity, our genetically determined traits and quirks. We may be born differently abled or transgender, neurologically diverse or so many other interesting things but it’s very likely that such diversity goes unrecognised… until we start to struggle in a world designed for typicality and/or perhaps we dare to stand out as a spokesperson for change in a “normal” society.

Granted by Circumstance at Birth
Then we consider what we are born in to and the lenses we are immediately given: the era of birth, geography, social status and wealth of your family and community, popular trends at the time. These are great examples of factors that determine wildly varying social norms (can you imagine how different life would be if you were born in the 1700s?).

Acquired on our Journeys
Thirdly, there are those biases acquired as we grow and learn how to interact with (and how to react to) the world: health, education, social circles, romance, careers, politics, chance events, finances and media course the many multi-faceted layers of parental influence and their inherited experiential legacies. 

Whatever earworm was playing at No 1 in the charts may have a lot to answer for, but more seriously, trends on public health, politics, education, domestic cleaning, diets, fashion, medical and psychological theories are all HUGE influences – even where you might never have directly interact with them because they are the cultural weather outside. They are the basic ‘stock’ that all your nourishment is cooked in.

Lenses may in some cases enhance our viewing like a telescope, a microscope, a pair of spectacles for our myopia, a magnifying glass to go with our deerstalkers when there is a mystery afoot or of course, who doesn’t  enjoy a lovely monacle for inspecting vintage Sherry bottles in the 1920s, what what. But these are lenses we purposefully acquire because of an identified need. Where lenses generate difficulty is in the very obvious challenge of sharing perspective or outlook with others. Furthermore that we don’t tend to notice that we are even wearing them.

Consider: How easy is it for two people from the same neighbourhood see eye to eye, compared with two people with very different sets of lenses see eye to eye? What about a mixed group of 20 children in a classroom? How about 50,000 people in a city? How about the population of the world?

On a personal level, the inability to see anything clearly leads to two main problems:

1 – lack pf personal clarity about what we see and believe.

2 – assumptions about what others see and believe.

This two-factor combination often leads to discord, argument, suspicion, mistrust, prejudice. Between individuals, communities, countries and cultures.

Closer to home and the heart, romance and relationships are also subject to this issue. Often in a topsy turvy way. Have you ever lusted after some absolute god or goddess of a human being only to be heartbroken when they were not as kind or as smart or as loving as you expected? We are often attracted to our biased ideals of others – not the reality. Expectations are the root cause of disappointment and it’s not just ‘beer goggles’ at play, it’s a heady cocktail of desire, need, fantasy and self-esteem goggles.

Where couples row, there is often a similar ‘lens bias’ issue. Sometimes one partner cannot see where a certain ‘line’ is over a sensitive topic (you ever had that other-half who just didn’t know when to stop making jokes and you just can’t see what’s so damn funny?). Sometimes it’s a gender-role clash of expectations of duty and no-one can see that boundaries need to be established – or worse, one party refuses to see them or smashes right through them.

Personal boundaries and fantasy viewing are also absolutely key in other relationship dynamics – including friendships, relationships with parents or siblings, colleagues and your boss. This why so many of us animal companions! Animal companions don’t bother with any of that lens stuff, they don’t judge. And that’s what this is all about – JUDGEMENT. Despite their frequent facial expressions of minor incredulity cat’s don’t actually criticise, budgies don’t judge us despite their cages and dogs don’t damn anyone (except maybe the postman).

So what do we all do about these chuffin lenses?

Well the IFFY approach is to say “hey, I see you (but I don’t). You see me too (but you actually don’t)”.

Where those tell-tale emotions start to occur (yep, those anxiety feelings of racing heart, sick stomach, anger, tension and so on) you can be alerted to that inner guru telling you to stop and think. Drop the vision you are holding because it’s total BS.

Instead, to achieve a practical moment of peaceful communication over pointless contest, we need to simply accept the biases of others as OK and also your own biases as OK but something you can at least to some degree, DROP. This is not a point of weakness or submission to the view of another, it’s a position of power and clarity because you are no longer being controlled by ego or motivated by the bloody fight or flight response. You are dropping lenses that narrow and obscure thus creating a greater perceptual field for you to stand string in. You are also creating and holding space for the other person to grow too.

Instead of battle lines, it results in the opportunity for negotiation of common ground.

Humanity holds so many lenses of judgement that it’s amazing we haven’t caught fire. On the other hand, if we were to lose the judginess and become aware of their influence – that is – what it looks like to have and not have them, to hold BOTH versions in our understanding, then instead of fire we could create eternal rainbows in an infinity of prisms. 

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How Others See You is None of Your Business

Launching soon…

This article as an extract from the forthcoming title ‘IF: Ironic Fundamentalism’.

IF is an upbeat, alternative perspective on how anxiety can lead to personal enlightenment and be the force that pushes you forwards – rather than a great weight or chain that binds you.

Worrying about how others see you? There isn’t anything wrong with that feeling, it’s perfectly normal to wonder what other people might think of us.  But you should not actually spend a lot of time on these thoughts – it really isn’t any of your business. Honestly, this is not a telling off statement, but instead is one that should free you from feeling any kind of responsibility to finding out. 

Understand, first, the reason why other people’s thoughts or opinions of you are none of your concern. It’s important to remember that just as you have your own personal outlook and experience, so does each other person you meet. Next time you are tempted to eavesdrop, just don’t. You will not learn anything except that you are overly concerned about judging others for possibly judging you, in a situation where you don’t have all the pieces of the jigsaw and it’s guesswork at best. Many famous literary stories including Shakespeare’s Othello warn us of eavesdropping because half-hard, half-understood comments can lead to fully realised tragedy. 

Furthermore, what they think of you is not you anyway – it’s that individual’s impression of you. Their impression is comprised of their own unique biases – formed from their own circumstance, their direct experience with you, and their previous experience with other comparative people. And those people are also just a bunch of biases pulled together to paint an impressionist’s portrait. It’s all rather 2 dimensional!

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us! ”

Robert Burns, To A Louse

My favourite line from my homeland’s national bard. It is part of Scottish schooling to learn and recite Burns from a very young age, where we would win certificates (and the teary-eyed pride of tartan grandparents). In particular, this line struck me like no other, nor any ever since. For as long as I can remember, it has inspired me to think about the concept of ‘self’ and all those other ‘selves’ that engage in a collaborative perceptual illusion of perceiving one another. The notion that there is any ‘self’ to perceive is a seriously iffy concept, as there is really very little consistency to go on beyond memories that link our experiences together across time. But this is a huge topic, so here I’m focussing in on the idea of how we think of ourselves, according to reflections around us – what we see and what we think others see.

Self as a reference

When we look in a mirror or other reflective surface, we see a reverse of that which is arguably ‘real’ and what others see when looking straight at us. Our left becomes our right and vice versa, so right away, we have this entire concept of self – through the filter of our looks – literally quite backwards .

Perhaps this why so many of us find it uncomfortable looking at photos of ourselves – we are the ‘wrong’ way around. Of course, looking in the mirror is always subject to light and how shadows are cast, making dramatic differences in our bone structure and fullness of face – try it yourself, taking a torch and experimenting with different angles in the mirror.

Paranormal enthusiasts often engage in psychomanteum (‘mirror gazing’) where they simply gaze at their reflection to watch their own features morph seemingly in to the faces of departed others, looking back at us through the mirror from some other dimension. Psychology speculates that the perception of our faces morphing is perhaps less to do with ghosts or spirits and instead is due to the Troxler Effect (where our attention starts to fade or blur information surrounding our point of focus) coupled with our evolved sense of facial detection – an innate, unconscious threat finding ability – where possible faces and especially unfamiliar ones, can be seen hiding in any surface.  Better to mistakenly see the face of a lion hiding in a bush and run, than to simply see a quirky arrangement of leaves and get eaten. Mirror Gazing is quite a remarkable phenomenon, and whether you believe in ghosts or not, the morphing will still likely work for you. I have engaged in it and also guided ‘ghost hunters’ in this with interesting results. Give it a go and ‘see’ who you become, and try to determine the exact point at which you are no longer ‘you’…that is the ‘you’ you recognise and assume is correct.

So, who we are is not a constant, and is as changing as the sky upon the surface of water. As Narcissus would testify, gazing too closely and too long can be fatal, yet perhaps the deeper wisdom is that self-reflection ultimately leads to the complete dissolution or ‘death’ of self. Rather than being a cautionary tale or Vanity issue, the story of Narcissus is one of enlightenment – there is no ‘you’. Afterall,  we are all ‘you’ to someone else and there is a point in time and space where any part of you starts to become something else – for example, when we absorb medication or when stroking a cat, which spaces between the atoms and which are the cat? What is giving rise to the shared experience? 

Others as a reference

Our relationships also act as mirrors and when our relationships change for whatever reason, we can feel hurt or compromised. We were seeing ourselves based on how those others treated us – Not how they actually saw or regarded us. This way, self-image is built on assumptions about the behaviour of others and their motivations toward us. Therefore, when people leave you, you hurt and feel you must have done something ‘wrong’ to bring about the change – perhaps you are no longer attractive/ useful to them. When they seem not to care, it’s really about them – not you. The chances are it is their reflection of themselves that has inspired the change, not you.

This can be extremely challenging as our sense of self according to others is what often provides our self-confidence. Like two mirrors eternally reflecting each other, trying to establish any truth to reality, is an impossible task. So often as reflections of ourselves change we and to focus on questioning who we are – and often overlook the changes occurring in the perspective holder. Change is reflected, and so we may in fact have an altered perspective of them as well. 

If friends or lovers or relations should ever leave us, it is time for multi-source ‘reflection’. We can reflect on who we are and build a more positive image than ever before by looking at and examining several reflective sources from the past, present, and even our intended future:

  • history of projects/ career (what was the motivation/result)
  • History of friendships (how the begun/ended)
  • What/who is important to us now? (What/who do we think of first In the morning and last at night)
  • What do we aspire to? (Not ambition as this relies on reflection on /and comparison with others… see blog on aspiration V ambition here) and what holds us back or pushes us forward? 

It all leads me to think again that there is little point in worrying about what others think of us – and that anything other than self-acceptance is a reflection of egoic concern and pulling in the opposite direction of growth.

Average is a Mean Illusion! (stats joke!!)

Every body and every mind is beautiful. Fact.

Beauty norms are an illusion. Mental or physical. Every cell that makes up every single body is a unique expression of the universe, creating itself. Regardless of height, weight and other measurable things, immeasurable beauty lives in the whole-ness and joy of every living being. Love your body and know that it is astonishingly exquisite – as this is exactly how it has been made.

What does an average mind or body look like? Where would we find one?

All our notions of ‘normal’ and ideal are illusions – in many cases these are illusions on which we all collaborate! Averages are concepts that only exist because of human VARIETY – how ironic!

Statistics are a great tool for understanding populations or groups – but they do not define any one person in any way! This is where we often get ourselves all wound up. Thinking we should tend toward any ‘average’ or ‘mean’ leads us in fear and to think unkindly about ourselves (and sometimes others too). The ‘mean’ or ‘average’ of any set is more like a numerically derived guesstimate of what’s there – and actually is less likely to apply to anyone involved!

When we ‘deviate’ or differ in some way from the average, we are simply demonstrating that we are all individuals that cannot be accurately charted. So, celebrate being a deviant! It’s natural and ideal!

Sexual Attraction… 

There is a LOT of shame surrounding being sexy and sexual that has led us to live with a cultural mindset of judgement. Sexiness is often considered to be somehow ‘desperate’, deviant or indicating disease or damage.

It’s really odd that celebrities such as pop stars and actors are perceived as being positively sexy – in a kind of permitted sexuality (we might call them ‘professionally sexy’). Yet non-famous people identifying with sexuality are often considered to be unwell or socially unsuitable, even dangerous, and this is especially true for women. Ironic considering that all our mums had enough sex that we can all be here and be ashamed. Women’s sexuality has been denied, suppressed and vilified through the ages leading to persecution and execution.

But here’s the rub, ahem.

Men aren’t perverts and women aren’t shallow. Evolutionary psychology of physical attractiveness shows us that it’s ok and actually totally correct that men should be spellbound by cleavage and thoroughly enchanted by jiggly bottoms.  They also are drawn to youthful faces, long hair and manicured nails. They aren’t ‘perverts’ or shallow or ‘driven by their knobs’ – they are instead driven by an unconscious evolutionary drive to seek women who display certain fertility characteristics that are a physical display of oestrogen.

Similarly, it is totally expected that women would be impressed by a fancy car, nice suit and big bank balance over any other measurement. This is because in our evolution, women relied on attracting a mate who would be able to feed, defend and care for her when pregnant and once their child was born. Put simply, it’s peacock over the other kind of cock… it’s the man with the money that is attractive because he is displaying characteristics of social dominance. Ever wondered why the ‘unattractive’ but funny guys get dates? They have an ability to influence a room – their comedy provides them with social dominance. 

There is even more good news for the ladies here! As well as being perfectly entitled to admire a man’s bank balance, your figure figures far more than you realise. You see, it’s not the magnitude of your boobs or bum that matters (nor is being thin remotely relevant) – the trick here is in mother nature’s ample wisdom. It’s the geometry of your body that counts as sexy – it’s the ratio of bust, waist and hips that determined attractiveness and that this ‘fat distribution’ across those assets, is most desirable as it tends toward Greek number ‘phi’ aka ‘the golden ratio’ – a ratio that appears to be nature blueprint for creation – we see it clearly in spiral sea-shells, the centres of flowers, the distribution of a galaxy.


Why do we all worry about perfection and presentation? Because we think everyone else is achieving it? Or that despite not being perfect themselves, they will judge imperfection?

Well… if they do, let them. If they are seeking perfection in you… it’s because they lack so much more in themselves.

Focus on being REAL. On being exactly who you really ARE. This is TRUTH. Being your own authentic self does not require competition or validation! I for one am excited to be a continual work in progress and would shudder at being considered ‘finished’ – and up for consumption like a Barbie doll! Real women aren’t immaculately presented in boxes, tied in place by the shackles of consumer demand and waiting on the shelf for false liberation.

Seeking Love

In love, never seek someone to be your ‘better half’ or to ‘complete’ you – be the whole person you already are. YOU are ‘The One’. Only when two whole people come together can lives be truly shared. You both need to have an existing life to share in – not be out to share in someone else’s out of personal lack.

We tend to seek out others romantically with notions of their ‘completing us’ or being the ‘better half…. wholeness/individuality… Ironically, we think we love them but actually it’s how they influence how we feel about ourselves that counts. Finding someone with whom we appreciate ourselves better is the aim – not someone with whom we will always feel inadequacy or anxiety. Or be in search of the ‘one’ based on criteria that can never be fulfilled.

In order to share a life with another we first need to have one to offer – not assume we will share in theirs and become ‘fulfilled’. Two halves don’t make a whole. They remain two individual halves forever bargaining and compromising for their own half to be ‘completed’. Instead, be the whole person you already are, and accept that only a complete other is going to be suitable. Otherwise, what is there to share? How can you ever grow?

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Mind: The Resident Physician?

The Placebo Effect and how we might heal ourselves.

First written as an under-graduate psychology student on 12/02/2003. Blogged here without correction or updates.

Abstract: The nature of the Placebo effect and its plausible explanations are examined – specifically the classical conditioning and endorphin based theories. The methods and administration of placebos is considered along with the contexts in which placebo effects occur. The roles of the patient and doctors are assessed with particular reference to the influence of expectancy. The implications of an internal mind-based healing system and its potential applications are discussed.

Continue reading Mind: The Resident Physician?
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Religion 4.0


Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows I have a knack for prediction. I am a trend spotter and occasionally even a trend starter – a sort of unintentional social influencer, before the days of Facebook and Instagram.

For example:

  • Paranormal Investigation as leisure activities 
  • Burlesque as mainstream entertainment – and wellbeing classes
  • Fetish wear as pop fashion 
  • The personal coaching boom
  • Arts and craft renaissance

I generally spot things 5-10 years before they become established. How did I spot these? Because they all have the following traits in common:

  • Personal development, mental health and well-being (there is an increasing need and awareness of need)
  • Previously exclusive,  unfashionable or taboo (it can’t emerge as a trend if it is already trendy!)
  • Communities and personal journeys (they grow in trend because people share their stories and involvement).

So what is the next BIG trend?

Religion but not as we currently know it. All three criteria are met – (dogma free) religion or spirituality are proven boosts to wellbeing. If you want to be a social rebel, go to church – being an internet atheist is so 2010. Religion is inherently community focussed on shared values and offers limitless personal development.

Religion is essentially organised spirituality where there are defined parameters of shared belief, typically with certain officially recognised texts and practices. Out of which unfortunately, dogma has often emerged and ‘shared’ and ‘accepted’ morphed into dictated and exclusive. Here is where ‘traditional’ religions have often failed and lost their flock. But God is about to get a digital rebrand.

Just as Industry and Education have a 4.0, I believe there is a Religion (or Spirituality) 4.0 on the current horizon.

But firstly… what is this ‘4.0’ stuff all about?

4.0 is an emerging parlance that comes from the term ‘industry 4.0 which refers to the perceived series of industrial revolutions. 

Industry 1.0 was when we went from hand tooling to using machines powered from water and steam.  2.0 was the next phase that saw growing use of mechanisation, electricity, the beginning of electronic communication and railways. 3.0 was the ‘digital revolution’ of the 20th century where the rapid advancement of computer systems and communications technology became  4.0 is the current streamlining of automation. Note, the pace at which these changes have occurred is astonishing. Like a snow ball becoming an avalanche.

Key features of industry 4.0 tend to demonstrate the following:

  1. optimal interconnectedness of technologies (device to device) and, people and technology,
  2. the flow and transparency of information and data exchange, 
  3. technical support for the human element,
  4. decentralised decision making where the systems themselves can make decisions tot maintain the optimum of 1,  and 3.

For example, the interconnectedness of things is easily shown in the ‘internet of things’ in a factory where robots not only do the heavy lifting but also monitor and measure stock levels, productivity and wellbeing of the human workforce. The flow of the data will lead to an automated decision to order supplies to support the staff.

There is also now ‘education 4.0’ that sits alongside it and is academically integrated to not only utilise tech for learning but also to cope content-wise with the pace of technological change. So it’s not only ‘how’ they teach but ‘what’ they teach. Similarly in education the application of technology leads a rapidly changing learning environment and the pace of technological change ensure a rolling landscape for innovation.

So where 4.0 kinda means that there is an underpinning by technological and digital interconnectedness, I perceive the necessary emergence of Religion 4.0.  for two reasons:

1 – because the way we as a social species rely on interconnectedness is evolving – with social media as the most obvious aspect of cohesion and community.

2 – because the human experience tends toward personal development 

So… What is Religion 4.0?  

It will be both ancient and brand new. It is mysticism and wisdom, no longer hermetically sealed for the few.  (There is a big mystical pun in here for the well read!). It is good for your wellbeing and offers interconnectedness like never before.

It will be religion that is not based on literalism or even standardise liturgy. Instead it will be interpreted poetically, metaphorically and so on using apocryphal texts such as Dead Sea scrolls, gnostic gospels and other hitherto ‘forbidden’ or discredited materials. As the world evolves with technology, our interconnectedness with all things – people, information, ideas, our planet and ourselves – is more inclusive than ever with the once arcane or hidden ?mysteries? of old increasingly available and accessible across devices, platforms and bio-feedback. Psycho-spiritual feedback and data sharing will form the basis of personal development and social sharing.

The way in which we interact with scriptures and rituals such as prayer or meditation has changed from holy book to handy app and from sermon to podcast.   Essentially, Religion 4.0 is spirituality on the go and at the very individual level and the pace of it is also snowballing humanity toward enormous cultural, psychological and spiritual change. Because it is in many senses ?virtual?, it can also echo the intangible nature of god figures, mythologies and historical lines of saints and inspiration figures. 

The Gap is closing

The hidden or mystical side is no longer for the few ‘initiated’ or privileged devotees.  It is open to all. The modern approach for social inclusion (over privilege, gender, age, class  and race) also make the inner mysteries accessible like never before. For example, no longer will a persons perceived gender exclude them from a 4.0 priest(ess)hood.

There is always a simultaneous trend for the status quo and for rebellion against it. The trend for Atheism is no longer the rebellion it was ten years ago with people tending to choose personal development over aggressive debate. Wth the rise in interest of philosophy and how to think, rather than what to think, those people drawn to such big questions are rewriting the gospels to include, not exclude.

Science is also starting to converge toward the mystical – from neuroscience to cosmology (as above, so below*) and quantum mechanics, it’s all getting rather metaphysical with the quest for understanding human consciousness growing steadily in the laboratories of medicine, technology, psychology and disciplines that deal with quantum physics. The materialist paradigm is shifting to explore the ?hard problem of consciousness? and non-duality. Science is becoming ever more spiritually relevant and exciting with amazing new disciplines like ‘neurotheology’ at the forefront of modern thinking.

Religion is good for your health

Research is showing that during religious or spiritual activities like prayer and meditation certain areas are turned on and others shut down with changes in the balance of neurotransmitters. For example, during prayer, serotonin, dopamine and gabba all increase and the stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine (adrenaline) decrease. The temporal lobes and limbic structures are shown to be involved in religious experience with the basal ganglia involved in states of euphoria. In those persons who have strong senses of religious faith, their brains look different to scientists from those who do not have such faith. This is throwing out many questions on the direction of cause and effect, e.g. is a person religious because their brain was predisposed to it? or has the brain developed because they of their faith?

*The Hermetic principle of correspondence “as above so below” relates to the microcosm and macrocosm of reality, just as both science and philosophy examine the same questions from neutron to nebula.  Furthermore, ‘science’ was originally known as ‘natural phuisophy’ until a Victorian rebrand. The inner and outer mysterious, from Pythagoras to Eckhart Tolle and from heiroglyphs to emojis, it’s all the same age old wisdom re-emerging under the shifting paradigms of cultural lenses. 

The social gaps and the method-of-enquiry gaps are closing and we no longer have to pick a proverbial side.

The Devil in Disguise

Where there is need their is greed. The disingenuous monetisation and branding of wisdom and the emergence of so many online ‘gurus’ is a concerning aspect that runs parallel to the trend. See my blog on the problem of the  personal coaching industry.

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Got Coaching Confusion?

It’s time to get some perspective and see clearly why coaching without niche focus is in need of close examining. With an increasing trend for getting a coach / becoming a coach, it?’s hard to cut the wheat from the chaff. It’s not surprising as ambiguity plays a growing role in what is increasingly a sales business (and not a coaching business).

Genuine Coaching

Genuine coaches have niche skills, expertise and real experience to share. Such individuals can be a one-time boon, an ongoing asset, or even a life changer to the corresponding individuals who seek/require it. Broadly speaking, there are two directions of coaching: skills and mindset (and some coaches can offer a personal blend of the two). For example, some will coach a specific skillset e.g. product photography, bookkeeping for small businesses, vocal performance, personal styling, better gym technique, weight loss, financial planning, nutrition or how to un-bugger-up your Macbook. Others will offer mindset coaching, e.g. making and managing money, communing with nature, expanding creativity, improving business motivation, focus in athletic performance,  heightening self-worth in relationships, enhancing mind-body wellbeing, how to not bugger-up your Macbook in the first place. It is often a balance of guiding ‘how to be’ and ‘what to do’.

Coaches also typically focus their services to particular industries (or interest communities) like sports, business, theatre arts, publishing, wellbeing and so on. Some are very niche (I know someone who coaches on multiple orgasm and another who specifically coaches couples on ‘surviving their business and marriage’ – and maybe these two should hold a retreat together 😛 ). Some veteran coaches will have a variety of niches they can cover – usually with a congruent message across them all and only after tremendous demonstrable experience.

Some coaches will blend their skills and mindset together and, really great coaches will take their clients on full journeys of personal development with measurable goals. Such coaches are definitely worthy of investing in if/when right for you – and you have a specific project in mind like getting in to sports competitions, writing that book, getting on stage, finding appropriate romance, starting or growing a business. Coaches also invest in themselves too – often collaborating with other coaches on complementary niches. This means that a good coach is always offering the best and the most they can to their clients. Self-esteem and client-esteem must be on a parity of esteem. Good coaches also invest their own money in good personal coaching – as continued professional development to improve their service (not just their sales!).  

Now, crucially, these coaches are a million miles away from the sales of what I’m calling ‘conceptual coaching’.

What’s the Problem?

Every day on social media I see pushy ads for a plethora of personal coaching services that look and sound curiously like carbon copies of each other. Many of them actually suggest “become a coach to become rich/ solve all your problems in 90 days!”. They appear to be merging as though spaghettifying in a black hole toward a singular point of sales – where the advert is selling the nebulous concept of coaching itself as a business or lifestyle opportunity.

Furthermore, some (not all of course!) of the ads are looking a lot like multi-level marketing (MLM), showing excited people posing poolside, loudly quoting massive figure incomes, working from home as their own boss, urging us all to urgently sign up for a free something-or-other to kick start our dream careers. They remind me of the 1990s Herbalife promotions of a smug guy leaning on a sports car, who apparently sold milkshakes to his neighbours (something the teenage me dabbled in for about 5 minutes and thankfully, got bored).

Caveat Emptor! The Problems of Conceptual Coaching

What this means is that there is an increasing trend for people to ‘buy coaching to become coaches’ – and thus offer a rather opaque or confused service. What are they then going to coach? Coaching! of course… and so on…

Lack of Niche Experience: The result is that there are business coaches who sell their coaching based on their current experience of running their business coaching business (they do not have a prior history of business success). There are life coaches who sell their coaching based on their recent experience of quitting the 9-5 and becoming a life coach because they were unhappy, believing this new role will make them happy.

Because there is often a lack of specific skills or knowledge, there is a real danger of a coach being a bit of absolutely everything. I’ve heard of life coaches giving unsound advice on serious issues that require specialist training such as mental health disorders, family law and bankruptcy. Here lies the inherent problem where coaches sell their personal experiences and opinion*  as adequate and sufficient service. It is important to acknowledge that coaches are not therapists nor financial advisors although they may be able to discuss such matters, spot a need and recommend appropriately.

*(I?d also hate to see a world where no one had any friends anymore and instead we paid strangers to talk to us and share their stories, life experience and opinions.)  

Life Coaching is definitely on the rise and in particular, leaves me with questions. I have read a few books to try to figure out what it is exactly and one thing that is consistently stated is that Life Coaching ‘is not therapy because, therapists deal with past trauma or experiences and by contrast, Life Coaching deals with the present  – in identifying and clearing obstacles  for future goals’. Great! That’s a really great service. Unfortunately this description is essentially what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy does. CBT identifies and breaks cycles and bad habits in the present and encourages good ones to facilitate future goals. It specifically focusses on the present and future and not the past. It is also the most commonly prescribed therapy on the NHS. Furthermore, from what I’ve read (quite a lot), the basic starting point of a Life Coaching session is to discuss the ‘origins of beliefs about the self’ looking back in our pasts as early as infancy. So I’m still confused as to what specifies Life Coaching from guided self-help therapies.

So… anyway… The ‘conceptual coaching’ service itself (coaching content, method and material) is ambiguous and often seems confused, increasingly so with each sales iteration down the line. Furthermore, if it is also MLM, then instead of physically selling diet shakes, essential oils or a wrinkle cream, it’s almost completely intangible. Because it is conceptual it is increasingly easy for anyone to get on board without the need to buy and hold stock, provide clear services nor, appear to have/ need any credentials or experience in any particular field.

The encouragement for personal branding also adds to the confusion because each may look ‘unique’ – and I’m sure the coaches believe it is too (after all everyone’s life story is unique) – but the iterative re-branding is possibly part of the clever sales process. A bit like buying bottled water, putting a new label on it then selling it on for the next person not to drink (because the bottle is actually empty, as it’s conceptual water) but to put another new label on it and sell it on. Ironically, no one is really drinking any metaphorical water and its  solution will be diluted each time. Similarly, no-one is really gaining any personal coaching and is instead selling on a sales technique.

I have also noticed that Life Coaching and the newly emerging alternative, ‘Success Coaching’ is often presented like a watered-down version of (or mash up of) other disciplines such as the aforementioned Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

Because I like metaphors, here is another: Many coaching businesses are like a row of quirky shops that turn out to be multiple doors to one big wall hosting a gallery of pictures of successful people from up the chain. Here is where the depth of the problem becomes very clear – that it is also a two-way financial funnel and is an increasing problem for those who have their backs to the wall, thinking their shopfront is special.

Vulnerable People are Targeted: Whilst the shopfronts of my previous metaphor are trying to engage new buyers (Business to Customer, ‘B2C’), there is another level of sales also going on behind these quirky doors (Business to Business, ‘B2B’). Real people are being persuaded to part with real money and real hope, in becoming coaches. Here, target audiences are those who are vulnerable from personal crisis such as redundancy, single parenting, mid-life ennui, heartbreak, illness, injury and other forms of loss. This is ground zero of the sales/recruitment. Ironically, hardship stories are often used as ?rags to riches? sales tactics suggesting overnight success is just a download away. Caveat Emptor.

Those who have earnestly invested in their shopfront (their ?unique coaching business?) are increasingly paying for more bricks to hide the real business behind it all. When their businesses don?t attract the 5+ figure incomes nor queues of rich exciting clients (many are at a loss without hope of any return on investment) and so they are persuaded to invest in? you guessed it! More Coaching! If your own coaching business isn?t ?attracting? paying clients, you need to be coached on ?how to attract paying clients?? and so on. Sales of B2C and BTB simultaneously.

In this case, the real money is being made from selling business coaching as a business; and life coaching as a lifestyle. There is some deep irony here. Once you have invested several thousands to ?become a coach?, you are more likely to keep spending than cut your losses. This is the classic cognitive bias for ?loss aversion? that marketers have used since wo/man could shop. This is why coupons and ?limited time offers? work so well ? you get FOMO. This ambiguity of promised potential gains hides the reality of actual loss and encourages this aversive behaviour. This is also why there is always an urgency to signing up for a free seminar or download.

Why is this trend emerging?

I think that people are genuinely seeking revenue and/or meaningful work through enhanced personal identity. In an increasingly impersonal world of ?celebrity salespeople? (social media influencers, reality stars – those who are generally famous for being paid to endorse big brands), it is easy to be become seduced by social media as a platform for personal income, psychological and emotional validation. Unlike investment eras of the past, online personal coaching disbands with the need for an office, social permission, academic credibility, experience or stock.

About 10 years ago I noticed the rising trend for everyone to have a personal trainer or ?PT? and be showing off their results and lifestyle changes online (including the need to post photos of angled or mood-related salad portraits) and I predicted that the next thing would be for that same proverbial ?everyone? to want a business/life coach so that they felt they were investing in their own psychology and wellbeing beyond tighter butt-cheeks. Furthermore, that a large proportion of this ?everyone? would come to see themselves as being ?qualified? to be those very coaches. Why not? With the increasing flexibility for working at home, on the go, in the car/caf?/gym, via ready-made platforms of social media and without the need to carry any product or stock and without the hours of academic training or hard physical graft of becoming a PT in a gym (which had probably crossed their mind at one point), it?s easy to see why ?becoming a coach? is very appealing. There is no personal investment needed – just all your available money.

Outlaw of Attraction – My Own Experience

Forever the professional ‘maverick’ or so I’m told, I celebrate the diversity and atypical of body and mind. From burlesque bodies to paranormal minds, my specialism is probably best summed up in the field of transpersonal psychology (where we holistically explore human experience and development through mind-body connections and consciousness work). I work mostly with people who find themselves to be ‘atypical’ in some way.

As someone who has been involved with psychology, the arts and wellbeing for 20 years it has been interesting although frustrating to watch this sales trend emerge. In the past year or so, I have also been approached by a few life coaches (one still in ?training?). They asked me to explain:

  • ?how? I come up with my material,
  • ?how? I get my experiences
  • and ?how? I attract clients.

Truth is… that there is no ?how?, I just ?do?.

I?m curious by nature and I take positive risks in life, then reflect and take insight from the experiences. I then have the compulsion to share. Some people love the atypical (and even potentially trend-setting) work that I have done (including being a leader of the burlesque movement, creating a kind of ?cat yoga?, presenting snakes in schools as social learning guides, investigating alleged paranormal activity and developing techniques for increased sensory perception? and so on), and as a result, want me to be involved personally with their own creative development. They pay me for my time and insight and thus I am a ?coach?.

However, I didn’t became a coach by design nor even desire. Instead I began coaching 10 years ago because someone requested that I be their mentor in burlesque. The thought of being a coach at that time was very daunting to me as I never felt ‘qualified’ – until it became apparent that I was wanted because I had a lot to share.

I still experience self-doubt like everyone else but I am eternally grateful to that first coachee for having faith in me, as I found my ‘calling’. I am someone who creates and delivers new unorthodox materials to support personal development. To also work one to one with others is so special, sacred even.

I also didn?t choose or ‘find a niche’, I have sort of defined my own niche: ‘creative personal development’  and this has been achieved through subverting the mind-body norms of our culture over the course of my life. I believe that new work needs to be created by each individual in order for transpersonal progress to occur.  

On a one to one coaching level, I therefore help others express themselves authentically from a holistic conscious perspective. We explore and present their ideas and identities in new ways. From stage performers, coaches, speakers and content creators to people transitioning in their private life e.g. gender, spirituality or career. I help my clients ?find their light?. (This reference to ‘light’ is key as it brings us back to the idea of trans-cendence and trans-personal work.)

For me, the success of this concept is highlighted in nurturing self-expression of personal ideas, values and identity. This has occurred gradually over years, through experimenting on myself, being radically honest in reflection and the act of creating of the aforementioned materials, that people want and are willing to buy.  I still deliver my ?branded? material myself and have taught others to deliver it in their studios, schools etc too. I intend to make these courses available online soon too.

>>Pitch Alert!<<

Perhaps you have something to say but can?t find the words, or it?s your time to shine but feel stuck in the dark, or maybe? you too want to be a coach and lead others in your unique way but can?t find your direction. I call this Creative Personal Development and it?s a process of self-discovery, creative output and self-determination.

There is no template or formula for this that can bought and sold – because it is genuinely individual. You can read more here about one to one personal coaching with me.

My Totally Free Coaching Advice! LOL

Finding a coach: Look at old school coaches and think… would I pay for my child to have a football coach who hasn?t played football? Would I see a therapeutic coach who downloaded their (very interesting I?m sure) course but has zero hours of supervised practice? Would I take business advice from someone who spends their time touting for business?

Don?t fall for it – look for credibility not the long emotional sales pitch about overcoming hardship to Ferraris and dream homes, perfect lifestyles and ?abundance?. Beware of anyone who calls them self a legend or guru – these are terms other people apply to their mentors. They are by definition earned over time and not an egoic # for sales effect.

Becoming a coach: It may seem like a lucrative opportunity but ultimately, the conceptual coaching bubble will burst. It will burst because quite simply those involved in this iterative coaching sales business, are creating their own competitors, with nowhere to climb. Furthermore, because the sales are based on outlandish claims of wealth, status and success that very few actually enjoy, a sense of ennui and failure will take over and lead the backlash just as it has done many times over for MLM.

Remember whilst there are huge amounts of money being made through the selling of coaching, this is where the trap is.  It is easy to be seduced thinking you can be one of the makers. The reality is that you are very likely the buyer. You only make money if you make something that people want to buy. No one buys a theatre ticket and expects a role in the show or a cut of the box office. No casino has ever gone bankrupt because the gamblers were too good at gambling.

OK… now moving on to the exciting bit.

Doing it for real is so rewarding. I know loads of people who would make exceptional coaches in their niche areas of expertise and interest. So if the idea of sharing and helping others excites you then I think that coaching probably is a realistic option for you too.  I’d be excited to hear all about it.

So let?s have a think? here are some things to ponder and ask for help on.

Do you have a niche? Do you have direction? Can you communicate your expertise and personal story? Can you create and develop your OWN content? Are you willing to share your true and honest self with others?

If you are thinking of becoming a coach, first of all you need to know why and what it is you are coaching specifically. Otherwise it?s a bit like when a youngling states that they want to grow up to be a celebrity. A celebrity what? Sadly, there is a cross over here too where some become online coaches that simply sell their ?brand? – a personal brand with nothing tangible behind it. It?s another way to validate wanting to be an ?influencer? without having anything to offer other than sales influence.

Content is key and if you don?t have it, you need to create it ? not buy, borrow, or rebrand what you bought from the last guy in the chain. Share good material from others of course, but with appropriate credit given. When you honour the minds of others you honour your own, and those of your audience.

If you can?t (yet!) create any content off your own experience, then train in some niche area of interest and work on yourself from there first. If you need help establishing this, get a bona fide coach to guide you. The primary question anyone should be asking themselves is ?how can I genuinely help others?? rather than ?how can I sell my brand??. Any genuine brand will sell itself, and you have to build it first. Additionally, it is so important to learn how to coach not just what topics and there are endless techniques, theories and methods to explore. It’s a matter of exploring across as many areas of interest as you can and see what you enjoy using and what you find effective. It doesn’t matter what someone else advocates, it is a matter of personal niche, personal service and personality.

I?d further suggest that those interested in coaching examine and enhance their individual creativity so that they might ?come up with? their own adventures then take it from there. The ?secret? to my experiences and material and clients? It?s simple – follow your own nose in life, not a carrot dangled in front of it. If there is one being dangled, notice it and look to see who is dangling it – then avoid those people and return to your own path. Certainly don?t then let them sell you carrots and sticks to dangle in front of others.

Be curious, take risks and try new things beyond your comfort zone. Reflect. Share. Share for free. Share because you can. When someone asks you to share with them, you become a coach or a friend.

Or both.

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Do Not Search for Love…

In love, never seek someone to be your ‘better half’ or to ‘complete’ you – be the whole person you already are. YOU are The One.

Only when two whole people come together can lives be truly shared. You both need to have an existing life to share in – not be out to share in someone else’s out of personal lack.

We tend to seek out others romantically with notions of wholeness yet also individuality at the same time.

Ironically, we think we love them but actually it’s how they influence how we feel about ourselves that counts. Finding someone with whom we appreciate ourselves better is the aim – not someone with whom we will always feel inadequacy or anxiety. Or be in search of the ‘one’ based on criteria that can never be fulfilled.

In order to share a life with another we first need to have one to offer – not assume we will share in theirs and become fulfilled. Two halves don’t make a whole. They remain two individual halves forever bargaining and compromising for their own empty half to be filled and ‘completed’. Instead, be the whole you are and accept that only a whole other is suitable. Otherwise, what is there to share? How can you ever grow?