Part III What being an entrepreneur REALLY means.

Between passion, pride, stubbornness, what keeps YOU going? Valuable lessons learnt from successful entrepreneurs.

A couple of months ago, one of our readers told us they would love to hear stories of different entrepreneurs’ journeys. Being located in iCentrum, Innovation Campus, we’re surrounded every day by so many entrepreneurs. So, we found the perfect opportunity to start our own qualitative research experiment on the definition of successful entrepreneurs. 

Today we’re sharing with you the story of Elliott Wingfield, the founder of AirtightVR. -Architectural Visualisation and Animation

Elliott founded the company 3 years and 8 months ago and has now two more partners. 

E: “Since then, we are proud to have served dozens of clients on hundreds of projects, with fantastic results every time. We focus on delivering engaging imagery of all types, animated and still, on time, beyond the requirements of the brief and at excellent value.

Run by award-winning RIBA Part II qualified graduates (with over 10 years practice experience as designers and image-makers within leading practices), at AirtightVR, we know the architectural project process inside-out, allowing us to be flexible, efficient and insightful with every commission.

AirtightVR delivers dynamic and engaging 3D imagery for architectural projects of every type and scale.

We pride ourselves on creating impact, communicating your proposals perfectly, delivering on time, every time, at fantastic value. 

It’s been very up and down for a couple of years. It was really, really good for the first year or so, and then one of my original clients went a bit quiet, so we had a very interesting 6 months but now is really busy again.”

“As a start-up CEO, I slept like a baby. I woke up every 2 hours and cried” -Ben Horowitz

Q.1.     Was there a time where you wanted to give up?

E: “There are not times when you want to give up, there are times when you worry. For me, it was yesterday, this afternoon and probably tomorrow. I think the minute you want to give up, you will. But I never wanted to actually stop doing what I’m doing.

What keeps me motivated is not having an option B. I don’t give myself a plan B, which is what keeps me focused on plan A, which is what I am doing right now. I’d rather spend all of my time and energy doing this, and not on planning what I would do if this does not work.

Also, I have also worked in practice for 8-9-years in a big company and taught alongside that, which made me realise I want to work for myself, desperately. That’s other thing that keeps me going, understanding the alternative is having to answer to someone else all the time and compromise on the way you do things, and I’m not particularly good at doing that. I can be a team player when I need to be, but there are certain things I like to do in a particular way.”

Q. 2.     What would you say to yourself before starting your business, or to someone else who wants to start their own business?

E: “The most difficult thing is when you’re doing really well you have to do two things that contradict each other: enjoy the fact that you’re doing really well, and pat yourself on the back, use that as more motivation, and at the same time you have to realise you have to think ahead a lot, you have to think 6 months ahead, “how am I going to get more work?” If you’re busy that doesn’t stop you trying to find work.

My mistake 18 months ago was I sat back too long and stopped looking for new work. 6 months down the line, I’m not very busy at all. You have to be present in the work that you’re doing, but also proactive for the future at the same time. Doing those two things is quite difficult.

That’s why it helps to grow the company and have people doing things for you, so you can focus on where the work is coming from. That is something I haven’t anticipated before.”

Q. 3.     Did you experience self-doubt regarding you and your business?

E: “That’s another contradictory thing. If you don’t have a bit of self-doubt, you will do a lot of stupid things. If you doubt yourself all the time, you will never get anywhere either. You need to modulate this, be realistic and self-critical, but at the same time switch it off sometimes and have faith in yourself.”

Elon Musk, when being asked what are the traits that propels you to be a successful entrepreneur, “self-analysis; critical thinking.

Q. 4.     How important is networking?

E: “Networking events can sometimes be terrible, so you have to be picky. However, I met my business partner in the pub, where I was working on my laptop. He noticed what I was working on, and we started chatting. I think it is very important to always be open about your work, you never know who you are going to run into.

If you restrict your networking to just networking events, you will never get anywhere. Networking events can be really good, and I get a lot out of them, but there is a lot of networking that you do outside of that. I did not meet my business partner at a networking event, but I am sure I met him because I was in the right state of mind, open to new possibilities, and ready to meet someone. I think it is important to encourage people to do this as well.”

(Side note- I also met Victoria, the founder of Behaviour Hackers, at a social event, at a football match, to be more specific. We were talking about our work, and we noticed that my MSc Dissertation Project was related to her work. A month later, I applied for an internship at BH, and now me, Victoria and Ionela are partners! 🙂 )

Thank you, Elliott, for the interview!

And to you, our readers, we hope you enjoyed reading this story and hopefully you took valuable lessons from it:)

We’re looking forward to sharing with you the next story in a couple of weeks!

With so much <3,

Behaviour Hackers Team

Author: Ingrid Constantin


Part I What being an entrepreneur REALLY means.

Between passion, pride, stubbornness, what keeps YOU going? Valuable lessons learnt from successful entrepreneurs.

Tip! Rule no. 1 learn when, what to, and especially to who to say NO to.

A few weeks ago, one of our readers said they would love to hear stories of other entrepreneurs and what keeps them going. Working among so many entrepreneurs, we decided to take interviews of them and share with you their success stories.

The first story we’re sharing with you belongs to Darren Guest. Darren is the CEO of Vivi Media, a Digital Agency and Media Company which specialises in services for small to medium size businesses. They have their own lifestyle app, they do websites, apps, and social media. Darren had the company since 2014, and today he’s taking us on his journey.

We hope you enjoy it and you’ll find it inspiring. We sure did:) 

Q.1. What would you say to someone who is at the start of their career as an entrepreneur?

D: “Go for it and make the most of the opportunities. At different stages in my career I had lots and lots of money, and lots of success, and I just spent it on villas abroad, flashy cars, a big house. And then what happens is, something that you weren’t expecting like crashing stock market, and all of a sudden it goes the other way and all of that money goes. 

I’m not trying to say be sensible and JUST save it, but you have to take advantage of all the opportunities: 

  • learn what you can learn
  • speak to as many people as you can speak to
  • mentors are good. I didn’t even thought about mentors originally, you just think you know best, but it’s not always true.”

Q.2. Was there a time when you felt you want to give up? What did you do? What kept you going?

D: “Lots of times! But being an entrepreneur is like a snowball, it keeps rolling and at some point, you’re in it too deep. So, either you cut all your losses, have a lot of debt and find a job that pays that, or you try to overcome it. I have a problem where I can’t really work for people.

I don’t think having your own business is for everyone, lots of people like the structure of a job. 

I went into business because I thought I would be a millionaire and have yachts and a plane. But I don’t think that’s what it is. I think people go into business because they have ideas. You gotta be a bit creative, so you sort of think you can do something better than it’s already there. That’s the reason that keeps you going!”

Q.3. Have you ever experienced self-doubt regarding your business and yourself?  

D: “Lots of times! Even yesterday… You just do, don’t you…?! Because you just wake up one day and you say I can’t believe I gotta go in today…where’s my chauffeur, how these other people making lots of money?!”

Q.4. Does the passion play a big part in overcoming the self-doubts thoughts and keeps you going?

D: “It’s not in my instance. I know some people are passionate, but even the people that I know of and have successful businesses, I don’t think it’s the passion that drives them. 

I think it comes down to that creativity, you think that you’ve got an idea and then you’re too stubborn to admit it’s not gonna work, and so therefore you’re trying to prove everyone wrong!

One thing that doesn’t work is people that tell you “You got this!” and “I got faith in you!”. I don’t think that works. You gotta feel it! 

As a rule, the difference between an entrepreneur and the other people: it’s the spark and the faith that what you’re doing is a gap in the market, or you can do better than what is already there. Think about football: natural ability is important, but the real key is what drives a person to do something, for example, staying from 6 am to 2am working, but of course, you can only do it for so long. It’s extremely important to find the balance, and to take care of yourself. 

Tip!: taking breaks is crucial!

D: “Do you ever envy people who have a light heart? The ones that can just relax, even if they have their own business which are passionate about, or they have a job and they don’t want a bigger house, they just feel comfortable. Their life is quite enjoyable. Whereas mine, it doesn’t matter the occasion, is a constant stress and thinking about things. You do have to work a lot.

I think women in top positions are more powerful than men: they’re much more ruthless and strong.

Tip! That’s why it’s important to live in the present, don’t stress about things that may not even happen.

Tip! Do you ever find yourself talking about something amazing that you’ve done and then coming up with an “excuse” of “how easy it was to do”, or “how is not a big deal”?

If your answer is yes, let us assure you you’re not the only one! It’s quite a common thing to do. 

Next time you find yourself in this situation, try to do this:

list your achievements without them being followed by qualifiers i.e. “buts”. 

Don’t compare yourself to others. Be inspired by them, but follow YOUR journey and YOUR timescale. There are no rules on when you are “supposed” to do anything in life.

“A big cog in my anxiety generator has been the habit of comparing myself with others perceived as more successful, creative, happier, productive, famous. Try not to do this.

Everyone’s success is unique. You never know the full story of their struggles, mistakes, and strokes of luck. Believe me it is always a lot messier and contingent than it looks!”- Liam Black

“Insist on yourself,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Never imitate.”

Enjoy the journey and be grateful every day for what you’re doing!

Thank you, Darren, for taking us on your journey today! And to our amazing readers, thank you for your time and please share your thoughts with us!

Author: Ingrid Constantin

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash


3 Science-backed tips to help you with decision making

We’re constantly bombarded with choice or shall I say overwhelmed by it – be it deciding what to eat, what to wear, reading endless Amazon reviews before deciding what product to buy or my top favourite watching 1 hour of trailers before deciding what movie to watch next – I actually almost burned the flat down once when I forgot I had dinner in the oven, I was too busy flicking through trailers! 

On a serious note, these actions deplete our energy and they are not even the hard choices…imagine what happens then! To make good decisions you need both good prediction and good judgement. The process of decision-making is involved in several parts of the brain, one of them being the frontal lobe which is involved in planning, reasoning, and judgement- in short, weighing the pros and cons. When it comes to hard decisions, most people tend to be risk averse and avoid conflict for as long as possible.

So why is this happening?

According to an article from Harvard Business School: “…20 years of research conducted by Columbia University’s Tory Higgins, it might be more accurate to say that some of us are particularly risk-averse, not because we are neurotic, paranoid, or even lacking in self-confidence, but because we tend to see our goals as opportunities to maintain the status quo and keep things running smoothly.” 

The rest of us, who decide to deal with conflict, see our goals as opportunities to make progress. As such, you end up better off, because you’re not particularly averse to risky choices when you hold the potential for rich gains.

Furthermore, according to Leon Festinger’s (1957), we have an inner drive to maintain balance between our attitudes and behaviour and this phenomena is called “Cognitive Dissonance”. During the decision-making process, we often feel the balance is broken, and we may experience a feeling of psychological discomfort which implies we must either alter something in order to provide harmony again, or avoid dealing with certain situations, which may lead to Cognitive Dissonance.

If you’re someone who struggles with decision making or you generally want to become better at managing the hard choices in your life, here are a few tips that can help you become better at decision making and reduce the discrepancy between actions and emotions.

1. Beware of cognitive biases

In other words, be less certain. More often than not, we base our decisions, at least partly, on emotion; the process of decision-making involves the amygdala which deals with emotions, and the hippocampus that deals with memory. Decision-making is seen as a link between memory of the past and future actions and it is closely linked with learning and memory. (Fellows, L. K. (2016). The Neuroscience of Human Decision-Making Through the Lens of Learning and Memory. In Behavioral Neuroscience of Learning and Memory (pp. 231-251). Springer, Cham.)

Generally speaking it is a lot harder to look at your particular issue through a rational filter so we unknowingly use irrational lines of thinking—also known as heuristics—to justify our decisions; which prevents us from investigating our options as fully. These mental shortcuts not only short circuit our objective thinking, but give us false confidence in our bad choices, as Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.

We are often confident even when we are wrong, and an objective observer is more likely to detect our errors than we are

According to Kahneman, overconfidence hinders our ability to make better decisions and based on my own experience, I know this to be very true.

So next time you’re faced with having to make a hard decision and you’re confident you know the answer, a good practice would be to go through various outcomes and perhaps come up with different solutions aka contingency plan in case your desired outcome might not come to fruition.

Talking about cognitive biases, I absolutely love the guys from My Cognitive Bias. They’ve created a Chrome extension that once added to your browser will give you different biases explained and with a source to either of the scientific explanation, which is really cool. To give you an example, Zero-sum thinking is:

a cognitive bias that describes when an individual thinks that one situation is like a zero-sum game, where one person’s gain would be another’s loss.

My favourite bias has to be the “Spotlight effect“ – I am sure you’ll relate to it – is the phenomenon in which people tend to believe they are being noticed more than they really are. Being that one is constantly in the centre of one’s own world, an accurate evaluation of how much one is noticed by others is uncommon.

2. Put options on par 

According to Ruth Chang, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, when we commit to two good options, every possible decision will likely result in a satisfying outcome. 

In her TED Talk, Chang encourages people to “put their choices on a par,” meaning that in the presence of good options, we should weigh each outcome equally and focus on what we’ll gain instead of what we could lose.

When we face hard choices, we shouldn’t beat our head against a wall trying to figure out which alternative is better. There is no best alternative. Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here: Who am I to be? You might decide to be a pink sock-wearing, cereal-loving, country-living banker, and I might decide to be a black sock-wearing, urban, donut-loving artist. What we do in hard choices is very much up to each of us

Most often than not we tend to over-analyse the pros and cons and as a result we’re left paralysed by indecision. It’s sometimes easy to forget that these difficult choices can provide us the exact opportunities we might crave. 

Easy choices, hard life; hard choices, easy life – Jerzy Gregorek

I came across this quote in a Tim Ferriss podcast and it really resonated with me. Based on my own life, I knew that when I was forced to make a hard choice, although in the moment it felt horrible, and you go through a thought process where you weigh the pros and cons, not to mention the emotional rollercoaster, what usually follows next is a great sense of relief. And the exact opposite is true for when we take the easy route and avoid dealing with conflict or we avoid taking responsibility for certain aspects in our lives. When you choose to hide from conflict, be it at work or in your personal life or choose the easy option you will end up being dissatisfied.

Chang goes on saying if there’s always a best alternative, “then that’s the one you should choose, because part of being rational is doing the better thing rather than the worse thing, choosing what you have most reason to choose.”

When you’re implementing these tips and making choices, take a second to embrace the uncertainty, too. That’s the beauty of life. Plus, consider for a second that most times we kid ourselves into thinking that we have certainty in our current situation. In reality, that’s a false certainty created by us being in our comfort zone.

3. Eliminate as many choices as possible

As Jeff Haden puts it The motivation myth, the fewer choices you’re forced to make the smarter the choice you make when you need to make a decision. This is because your brain will be free from the minutiae of hundreds of decision and you’ll free-up space for the ones that really matter. Researchers from Cornell University estimate the average adult makes around 35,000 conscious decisions each day, more than 221 on food alone! (Wansink and Sobal, 2007)

Based on this information, it’s no surprise that by the time it gets to making hard decisions we can become impulsive, even reckless as we’ve wasted most of our energy on unimportant decisions. Typically the fewer choices we are forced to make, the smarter the choices we can make when it comes to something important.

It’s also a good idea to use the first part of your day to make important decisions and tackle the hardest issue first. By doing that, chances are, you’ll approach your most consequential decisions with all the your cognitive resources that they deserve.

Remember the choice is yours

We often get sucked into a whirlwind of emotions when it comes to hard decision but ultimately what you need to remember is that the choice is yours and there’s a lot of freedom in that. We often might forget how lucky we are to be able to choose, a lot of people might not have this privilege.

Owning your choices and the outcomes they generate is one of the ways we can have some type of control in our lives.

So next time you’re faced with a decision that might seem hard, remember to be brave enough to own that decision rather than shying away from it in the hope the outside world will make it for you 😉

Author: ionela spinu

Photo credit: Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash


The new secret of success: balancing positive and negative thinking

For the past few months I’ve been contemplating the implications of internal conflict and the toll it can take on one’s life. It occurred to me that most times it’s easier to focus on the negatives instead of focusing on the positives or at least try to filter everything through logic. Of course, the latter is easier said than done. At the end of the day, we’re humans and that’s what humans do, right? Well…not necessarily. There are pros and cons for both negative and positive thinking and the good news is that with some simple but effective techniques we can train our brain to look at situations from a different perspective. 

So why is it easier to think negatively?

For the same reason we’re more likely to remember insults rather than compliments, and why most of us are drawn to read murder news rather than sports news, for example. During my undergrad, my Criminology modules’ lecturer always used to say: “If it bleeds, it leads” – meaning that the more horrendous a story is, the more interested people will be in reading it. For all of these, there’s a simple biological explanation: our brains’ negative bias towards directing our attention to emotional stimuli. Our brain is not designed to make us happy, but to make sure we are safe, by easily detecting threat, and responding to it. That is why we’re wired to be more sensitive to negative information. John Cacioppo conducted a study back in 2005 and found that people’s electrical activity was much greater when participants were presented pictures that are linked with negative feelings (a mutilated face or a dead cat, not to sound too morbid), compared to when they were presented with positive feelings pictures (pizza, Ferrari), or neutral feelings (plate).

What happens in our brain and which processes control emotional attention?

The control of our attention to emotional information is influenced by biasing signals that shift our attention from one stimulus to another which is controlled by the amygdala-based system. Furthermore, the anterior cingulate cortex and the lateral prefrontal cortex controls whether the attention is maintained or not on a particular stimulus, subsequently detecting and resolving processing conflict. (Bishop, Duncan, Brett, & Lawrence, 2004; MacDonald, Cohen, Stenger, & Carter, 2000)

So, what does this mean for us and how will it affect our day to day lives? Many of us are probably familiar with the saying “Is the glass half empty or half full?”, and depending on how you see the glass, you are either a pessimist or an optimist. But actually there’s a good and bad side to both of them! Therefore, the key is to find the right balance for you and take action. 

In my research, I have identified three key steps that can enable you to find the balance between the two. Before I do this, it is important to understand that changing our brain patterns always takes time. Luckily, using psychology research-based techniques in a persistent manner, you can modify your negative bias. 

1.     Identify and recognise your negative thinking patterns.

Us humans, tend to take our own thoughts extremely serious and believe them. For example, we can take a problem and convince ourselves it’s the worst thing that could ever happen to us, and we tend to believe it so strongly that it affects our mood and behaviour; it can turn into stress, fear, shame, unworthiness, anxiety, etc. In reality, our “big” problem could have an easy fix, and all the energy and time spent on it was not worth it. As Tony Robbins explains, a problem always seems big until you compare it to something even worse i.e. losing your job seems the worst thing ever, until you compare it to losing your 10-year savings; losing a leg seems tragic, until you compare it with having a terminal disease – you get my point. It’s all about perspective. 

Tip: Step back from the negative thoughts: Try this the next time you have a chore to do, instead of saying “I have to do this”, say “I get to do this”. See how your energy and mood changes! Most times, we tend to ask the wrong question: “Why is this happening to me?“ instead of asking “What can I learn from this?“

2.     Name it to tame it

This is a simple, extremely effective, tested technique proposed by Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and director of the Mindsight institute. Often people may seem in a continuous wrestle with pushing away the negative thoughts. A quick and easy method is to name the emotion you’re experiencing when you have negative thoughts. 

For example, from time to time I would get these negative thoughts that I am not good enough at my job, soon they will realise this, I will get fired and so on. When this happens, I realise it is the Impostor Syndrome  episode kicking in, and I would say to myself “Ahh, the Impostor Syndrome again” or “Self-doubt kicked in” and I try to let go-I remind myself it is simply a thought, not a reality, insecurity is a waste of time, and that me giving energy to it is a waste of time, worrying about it won’t change anything! 

Tip: Try to do this in a kind, peaceful voice tone. This will allow a stream of soothing neurotransmitters in the brain and will train your mind into new neural pathways of ease.

3.     Stay in the present

Our negative thoughts arise either from thinking about the past or the future, rarely about the present moment. Gestalt therapy explains how important this actually is. Instead of focusing on past experiences, focus on the way it makes you feel in the present moment, bring your past experiences to the present.  

Mark Williams from Oxford University explained that the key is not to stop your thoughts, but to shift your attention to your sensory experience-this is similar to mindfulness practice-be aware of your surroundings (the sounds, the smells), your skin contact to objects or the air. Of course this is not something you can constantly do, but it can be a quick and easy fix whenever you find yourself in negative thoughts. 

Tip: The simplest thing you can do to anchor yourself in the present moment is to take deep breaths and focus on the sensations in your body. You will notice that it has a calming effect so we can say it has a double purpose as it comes in very handy in stressful situations. It usually helps if you count to 4 on both inhale and exhale. Try it out! 

Psychology textbooks teach us two individual advantages of over confident people: it feels great even if you are delusional, and that delusion can help “trick other people”. BUT, there is a catch! Some scientists argue that there is a negative side to the positive thinking. Psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic found only 10% correlation between competence and confidence. This explains why overconfident people have more car accidents, suffer from compulsive psychological gambling disorder, and are engaged in activities that cause major health threats: smoking, drug use, compulsive eating- people who are in denial of their addiction and believe the harmful effects will happen to others but not to themselves. Also, overconfidence will develop a narcissistic society where we mistake confidence with competence. This is one of the reasons why many teenagers are so obsessed with being famous.

On top of this, arrogant and overconfident employees are commonly promoted to managerial levels and this is one of the reasons why there are not enough women in leadership roles: women tend to be more modest and under confident. 

So, maybe it’s better to see the glass half empty?

There are certain key adaptational benefits to having low confidence. Low  confidence can be explained as a threat detection signal that tells you not do a certain thing.

A lot of people suffer from low confidence because of the discrepancy of the person you want to be and the person you think you are. So, what is the solution? Try reducing the discrepancy by working on becoming better, not by reading quotes or self-help books that tell you: you shouldn’t be worrying about your self esteem, that you’re great, that you should not care what other people are thinking. Of course, there’s a time and place for that too, but we have to recognise that growth and self development is continuous and we should always acknowledge that we don’t know everything – in other words – there’s always room for improvement! 

More importantly, low confidence keeps us modest and humble. What’s so great about being modest and humble? Well for one it keeps us attentive to negative feedback: makes us more coachable and also more likeable.  

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the key is to find the right balance for you. As you’re probably aware by now, there is always a good and bad side to everything. Prepare for the worst, but never forget to live in the moment and enjoy things as they come.  

And remember, it’s all about perspective and how we choose to see things. As Charles Swindoll puts it

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it

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Would love to hear YOUR thoughts! What do you tend to do when you negativity takes over? Leave a comment below

Author: Ingrid Constantin


Lessons learned on the other side of fear

Did you know that 85% of the things we worry about never happen?

University of Cincinnati researchers found that even out of the 15% of the things that do happen, 79% of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or they’ve learned a particular lesson that needed to be taught (Goewey & Jampolsky (2014) in “Four Steps to rewire your brain”)

Despite this, fear has to be the number one thing that is stopping most of us from unlocking our true potential and push past our self imposed limitation. Yet, as Jack Carnfield puts it:

Everything we want is on the other side of fear.  

So where does this whole fear thing come from? According to Smithsonianmag.com, “Fear starts in the brain and spreads through the body to make adjustments for the best defence, or flight reaction. The fear response starts in a region of the brain called the amygdala. This almond-shaped set of nuclei in the temporal lobe of the brain is dedicated to detecting the emotional salience of the stimuli – how much something stands out to us”. However, in our modern world, most times our fears are not related to us running away from danger and yet, the same stress signals are sent to our body. And if we don’t internalise this emotionally and become aware of it, it can be really hard to react in a calm manner during those moments of fear.

It is said that human beings are born with 2 fears: the fear of falling forward and the fear of loud noises. Somehow, throughout life, we acquire so many underlying fears that we’re not even able to clearly identify where exactly they come from. Most of them are being passed on from generation to generation like a family tradition and some are cultivated over time either due to our environment or our own self limiting beliefs.

The list of fears is so long but I’ll attempt to mention a few that I find are most common: fear of public speaking, fear of failure, rejection, not being good enough, loneliness, death, being ridiculed, sickness, flying, and as strange as it might sound, we even fear success.

Fear and I have had a long-lasting relationship and not the great kind, more like an affliction, for lack of a better word. Needless to say, it has stopped me from pursuing a lot of things sooner. Combine that with perfectionism and boom, you have the perfect perfect combo for procrastination! However, as a recovering perfectionist, I discovered that done is better than perfect and that progression beats perfection every day of the week. The fear of not being good enough or feeling like an impostor might creep back from time to time and that’s perfectly normal. But my fear of regretting not having taken opportunities and living my best life, is greater than any other fears and it’s what pushes me forward – go figure the irony!

As a result, overcoming my fears, is what got me to where I am today and will, undoubtedly, be what will propel things further. My hope is that by sharing my experience, some things will resonate with you and will, hopefully, inspire you to take action, particularly if you want to change things in your life right now and not quite sure where to start. 

For as long as I remember I wanted to start my own business but couldn’t define exactly what I wanted to do. If you’d asked me when I was 14: What do you want to be when you grow up? (a better question might be “who do you want to be?“ – but that’s another topic for another day), I’d tell you I want to travel and run my own business. My spiel would sound like this: I’ll study in Bucharest (I am originally from a small town in the south of Romania), go for a study exchange in the UK for 6 months, finish my degree and return to the UK for a Masters degree and carry on living there. Needless to say, most people would smile politely once they’ve heard my well rehearsed spiel and I am pretty sure some of them thought I was delusional. Yet, this is exactly what I did. I didn’t know how that was going to happen but I knew it was what I wanted.

But for some reason, we go through life losing this child-like naivety. I know I did once I reached this milestone and started a new life in the UK. Fast forward to the last few years, though I had a great job, plenty of freedom and autonomy, something was missing. And especially last year this nagging feeling that I could do so much more and that I am not actually living my most authentic life (I know, could it get more corny than this?) was becoming stronger and stronger.

The natural next step was, of course, to quit work so I can finally get started on this journey of entrepreneurship (typing this makes me cringe a little as I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur, or at least not yet!). Spoiler alert: it is not as glamorous as people make it sound. It’s more like a rollercoaster of emotions: some days you might be super hyped whereas others you feel like you’re plodding along trying to take at least one productive action step so you can cross off your endless to do list at least one thing. And other days you might go back into what I call “procastilearning” (you research and read and read some more as you go down the rabbit hole of reading just one more article) – I’d have to tell you I am a master at that!

In the course of preparing for this journey, my long lasting lover, fear, was saying: Who do you think you are? You need to learn more, you need some certificates to qualify you, you might read a lot and you’ve grown a lot but maybe you’re not enough right now? What are people who know you going to say? Everyone is going to look at you and think you’re mad etc. And after a few dialogues, it dawned on me that the key is to start before you’re ready, as so many people who have attempted and succeeded at great things have done. Action is motivating; small successes are encouraging and usually bring new opportunities. 

If you find yourself at this crossroad, whatever is that you want to achieve is important to ask these simple questions:

If I don’t take action now will I regret it? And if I don’t take action now will I be happy doing what I do for another year? If you answer no to the latter, then it’s time you come up with a contingency plan (I will explain below)

And perhaps some follow up questions can be:

Why not you and why not now? And what if this is the greatest opportunity you will get?

These questions as simple as they might sound as are the some of the most powerful ones we can ask in moments like this.

But before you do anything and take any decisions, you have to take a super important first step:

Define your values

What I mean by that is take some time to consider: What’s important to you? Do you value family time, time with friends, travelling, how do you think about money? Being super clear on your values will come in particularly helpful especially during times of struggle. As soon as you do that, it will be so much easier to block the outside noise and focus on what’s really important to you. Don’t let other people’s values dictate yours too, because yours might be completely different than theirs. 

And yes, we all want material things so, no you can’t choose money as your value.

Once you’ve done that, you might find helpful to do the following:

Create a fear list

The concept of “fear setting“ which I’ve learned from Tim Ferriss is a lot better than any goal setting exercise you might go through. In his Ted talk , Tim shares how thinking of worst case scenarios and coming up with a contingency plan has been one of the exercises that has helped him overcome some of the hardest challenges he’s faced in business and life. And it has been by far one of the best lessons for me. I tend to use “What’s the worst case scenario?“ as one of my mantras now whenever fear creeps in.

Finances are super important

You need to know what’s the minimum you can live off so you know what you’re cutting out – Give yourself a cushion of at least 5 months – so if you’re unable to find work for 5 months you still have money to pay bills etc because nothing good comes out when you’re stressing about the essentials.

Do the regret test

As I mentioned earlier to me regret is a killer. The fear of not living my best life and missing out on opportunities is greater than all other fears together. A few years ago, I discovered a woman called Bronnie Ware who worked with people in palliative care and had a access first hand to the regrets of the dying. I find it powerful and a real eye opener!

Realise everyone has fears & take action anyway 

As Jeff Haden puts it in the “Motivation myth”

Anyone hoping to achieve great things gets nervous. Anyone trying to achieve great things gets scared. To succeed, you don’t have to be braver than other people; you just need to find the strength to keep moving forward. Fear is paralysing, but action creates confidence and self-assurance.”

And finally I want to share my most important learnings from these last few months. 

It’s all about mindset and perspective

It sounds simple but I have a theory that we overlook the simple things because we expect a magic pill, we want someone to tell us how to do it, to give us all the tricks and hacks but in reality it’s just a lot of hard work, trying things out, failing, failing some more, getting back up, iterating your ideas and being resilient. And the hardest thing is to believe that things will work out, especially when it seems unlikely…. I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with this quote by Henry Ford “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.“

It all comes down to the way you choose to see life. Every morning we wake up we have two options: 1) You wake up with a grateful heart, put a smile on your face and spread out positive vibes or 2) You are negative and choose to see the wrong in the world and act like life owes you something. In both cases, you influence yourself and those around you with your energy. Last time I checked, no one wants to be around someone negative for a long time. It is as simple as that!

Focus on giving rather than receiving

If you focus on how you can help other people everyone else will want to help you, opportunities come your way as reciprocity law applies. Too many times we’re so focused on our own agendas but when you switch your focus to helping others, opportunities will follow suit. Don’t take my word for it as I realise it sounds like a fluffy concept. Test it for yourself!

Learn to say no

Oh the joys of shinny new object syndrome! Saying NO to opportunities that are not aligned with your goals and values it’s one of the best things you can do. This will allow space and energy for the opportunities and things that really matter to you – yes you might lose people along the way and that’s absolutely fine. At the same time, it will also save you a lot of energy for the projects that are important and relevant to you. 

Block the noise and do you

As Nike famously says: Just do it! There’s no magic pixie fairy dust you need to sprinkle on, you just need to have a killer work ethic and be prepared to work with no complaints. At the same time, realise people will always have opinions but in this case is particularly good if you don’t listen to what everyone says – especially if they have values that are completely different than yours.

I absolutely love constructive criticism – I mean no one likes to be criticised – but if you don’t get that you don’t progress. So, as a general rule of thumb, listen to the people who have also gone through the same process or are going through the same process or achieving big things, people who are also in the arena because it’s easy to give advice when you sit on the other side of the fence whereas it’s a completely different game when you’re in the arena. 

I want to end this by leaving you with one of my favourite paragraphs of all times. I came across it by listening to Brene Brown but it’s actually from a Theodore Roosevelt speech “Man in the arena” 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Would love to hear from YOU! leave a comment below

What’s one action step you can start taking today to help you move forward? Small steps forward are better than no steps forward 😉

Author: Ionela Spinu


Why motivation is fickle and what to do instead?

Do you ever say to yourself: “I am waiting to get motivated before I do x“

If you’ve ever thought that or are thinking it right now, I hate to break it to you but motivation is not going to strike anytime soon.

Whenever I hear people say I need to get motivated, before I do x or y, the first thing that comes in my head is “Motivation is so fickle, you’ll end up not achieving your goals”. (Ask me how I know?)

In reality, motivation never strikes as such. I mean you might experience a motivation burst for a few minutes, hours, sometimes days but that’s about it. When we think about the things we want to do, most times is even hard having to think about them. I am sure you felt inspired, even motivated seeing an inspirational quote, hearing a motivational talk or seeing Tony Robbins but if you’re honest with yourself you know that a few hours after or the next day, you completely forgot about it. As a matter of fact, nothing happens without taking action….action towards achieving small successes will keep the momentum going. Because you will get motivated when seeing the results after a few weeks, months, years…that’s a fact. Take for example exercising and healthy eating – you feel good when you notice the results or feel more energised or learning a new language and get excited you can string a sentence together.

Most people hope they will be handed the magic pill that will keep them motivated. Ultimately, it comes down to these two words: Hard work and a lot of commitment towards achieving your goals.

Any person who has achieved success in her or his life, hasn’t done so without a strong work ethic, tonnes of resilience and of course failing big at one thing (or a lot of things) until they became an overnight success. You’ve probably noticed most people who we’d consider a huge success and who look like they are always motivated have had to overcome some type of struggle.

To this extent, the perfect recipe for motivation looks as following:

  • Overcome a challenge
  • Work hard so you can achieve small successes
  • One success leads to another…
  • ….But sometimes you fail/learn
  • And in the process you become more resilient and…you guessed it… more motivated!

As Jeff Haden puts it in “The motivation myth”:

The key (to motivation) is to enjoy small, seemingly minor successes—but on a regular basis”

And if you’re wondering How to have the most productive mindset ever here are some of my favourite tips from the Motivation myth:

  1. Stop making excuses for doing less“If you want to succeed, you can’t make excuses. Forge ahead. Establishing great habits takes considerable time and effort. Success and achievement are habits, and it’s incredibly easy to instantly create a bad habit by giving in, even just once.Plus, the moment you make an excuse for doing less is the moment you stop the virtuous cycle of motivation in its tracks. Without achievement, there is no motivation. There are just excuses.”
  2. Stop letting disapproval, or even scorn, stand in your way Every successful person has faced tremendous criticism and rejection. When you’re doing things differently, you will stand out from the crowd and you will be criticised and even judged. Everyone will have an opinion about how you should do things. Pleasing everyone around you won’t bring you the success and happiness you seek, so if you want to succeed just do you, play by your own rules and work hard to build those habits that will make you stand out from the crowd.
  3. Stop letting fear hold you back I believe everyone can relate to this and understand it very well. We’re all afraid of so many things, we’re probably even unaware of how many fears we have deep down. The truth is fear might never completely go away but I would much rather try and fail than live with the regret of not trying. As Jeff Haden puts it, “Anyone hoping to achieve great things gets nervous. Anyone trying to achieve great things gets scared.To succeed, you don’t have to be braver than other people; you just need to find the strength to keep moving forward. Fear is paralysing, but action creates confidence and self-assurance.”
  4. Stop waiting for inspiration Inspiration (same as motivation) never actually strikes. Most people wait for the perfect idea, they believe there’s a certain inspiration muse that will descend upon them and show them a new way or concept. And they wait and wait and wait…and nothing happens. Occasionally great ideas might come to you but most times creativity is just the result of effort, hard work, trying out an idea and failing and then failing some more, experimenting, iteration of a certain concept etc. If you keep waiting for inspiration you will be left hanging. Instead try doing, taking action, trying out different ideas, until it evolves to an idea is a lot better than the initial one.
  5. Stop turning down the help you need “No one knows everything. No one is great at everything. Yet most people soldier on and hope effort will overcome a lack of knowledge or skill. And it does, but only to a point.” (The Motivation Myth)Asking for help is a sign of great strength and it’s definitely key to achieving a lot more and learning so much more. The key is to detach from your ego and become extremely coachable. As soon as you’re able to do that, you become pretty unstoppable as you’re willing to find the best answer no matter where it comes from and that in itself it’s pretty powerful.
  6. Stop stopping – This point has to be my favourite, pretty simple and straight forward and yet so powerful

Successful people finish—unless there’s a very, very good reason not to finish, which, of course, there almost never is.

Author: Ionela Spinu


4 unexpected ways to manage stress which You can apply today

“How we spend our days,” Annie Dillard memorably wrote in her soul-stretching meditation on the life of presence“is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And yet most of us spend our days in what Kierkegaard believed to be our greatest source of unhappiness — a refusal to recognise that “busy is a decision” and that presence is infinitely more rewarding than productivity. I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being.

I figured this powerful reminder from Maria Popova would be the best starting point when it comes to reflecting on what’s really important.

The truth is we, mistakenly, reward the busy culture. I don’t know about you, but reframing things this way makes me feel anxious, my brain immediately thinks busy” equals unfocused and therefore, I won’t get much done and I am somehow falling behind. And this goes for both my personal or business life.

As Derek Sivers, nicely puts it: “To me, ‘busy’ implies that the person is out of control of their life.”

To top it up, this leads to an elevation in our cortisol levels which in turn leads to stress. And though some form of stress is actually good for you, constantly experiencing acute or chronic stress has a negative impact in our lives, especially if left unaddressed.

So how can you make stress your friend and reframe your situation?

I now base my life on this quote “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% the way you react to it”  (Charles R. Swindoll) – I love this so much that I had it printed and it sits on my fridge as a daily reminder.

And this brings me to my core idea – It’s all about mindset & perspective.


I am the first one to admit that when you’re in a stressful situation it’s really hard to stop and ponder, our reptilian brain takes control and …we all know how that goes. But I can also tell you that in time and with practice you can become better at managing stressful situations and even manage to keep your cool (Yes, really!)

In order to understand our stressors and how to effectively manage them, we’d also need to understand there are a few different types of stress and they are not all bad.

Good Stress

So-called “good stress,” or what psychologists refer to as “eustress,” is the type of stress we feel when we are excited. Our pulse quickens, our hormones change, but there is no threat or fear. We feel this type of stress when we ride a roller coaster, about to get a promotion, build a business, or go on a first date. There are many triggers for this good stress, and it keeps us feeling alive and excited about life. For example, research shows that when an event is perceived as a “threat,” we respond to it differently than if it’s seen as a “challenge.” Threats tend to elicit a greater stress response from us and create greater levels of anxiety. Challenges, on the other hand, can be exciting, and even enjoyable to overcome. Threats are scary, while challenges are opportunities to prove ourselves and learn how much we’re capable of accomplishing when we really try.

Acute Stress

Another type of stress is acute stress. It comes from quick surprises that need a response. Acute stress triggers the body’s stress response as well, but the triggers aren’t always happy and exciting. This is what we normally think of as “stress.” Acute stress in itself doesn’t take a heavy toll if we find ways to relax quickly. Once the stressor has been dealt with, we need to return our body to homeostasis, or its pre-stress state, to be healthy and happy.

Chronic Stress

The type of stress we really have to worry about is chronic stress. This type of stress comes when we repeatedly face stressors that take a heavy toll and feel inescapable. A stressful job or an unhappy life can bring chronic stress. This is what we normally think of as serious stress. Because our bodies aren’t designed for chronic stress, we can face negative health effects (both physical and emotional) if we deal with chronic stress for an extended period of time.

How understanding eustress can help

Understanding eustress can help us to more easily manage other types of stress as well. This understanding reminds us that we can view many of the stressors in our lives as challenges rather than threats merely by changing how we talk to ourselves about the challenges and by focusing on the resources we have to handle these challenges rather than focusing on what may go wrong and how damaging that would be. When we work on shifting our perspective and approaching stress as a challenge, whenever possible, we can manage the situation more easily and handle these stressors without a feeling of complete overwhelm.

Trying to approach various stressors in life as we’d approach eustress enables us to manage that stress more easily.

That said, while eustress doesn’t generally carry the same type of damage as chronic stress, too much eustress can still be taxing on your system. So even when you have a schedule filled with “fun” activities, you can feel overloaded and stressed by too much eustress if you’re not allowing yourself to relax and give yourself a well deserved restorative downtime. A balance between work activities and fun activities is important, but a balance of eustress and leisure is also an important focus. Changing one’s perspective can certainly help with stress management, but it’s not the only way to manage stress, and it’s not the only strategy that should be used. If you have too many challenges in your life, even eustress can become chronic stress and lead to burnout or worse. That’s why it’s important to be mindful of where your limitations are and workout where you can cut down. It might mean that you need to say No more often to things that don’t particularly bring joy or you don’t enjoy doing.

This takes practice but it can make all the difference in your stress levels.

What’s important to acknowledge is this: You will inevitably get stressed, especially when it comes to the things that you care about. Maybe you’re presenting in front of people (this is literally me right now!) or you’re building a new product, managing a huge project, managing a big team or have an important deadline etc. One question that I always tend to ask in any situation and particularly in a stressful one is: What can I learn from this? I believe most time we tend to ask the wrong question: Why is this happening to me? – which can bring further stress or is not particularly helpful in this scenario.

So with this question in mind, here are a few things you can consider today do better manage stress

  1. Reframe the situation, shift your perspective Next time a stressful situation arises ask yourself: What I can I learn from this? Put those answers on paper (iPhone/Macbook notes for my techie people out there). I prefer to write it down and then structure my ideas in Notes – you get the point, whatever floats your boat. Once your reframe the situation by asking this question, it will actually help you see the opportunities a stressful situation might present.
  2. Focus on what you can control The main stressor is usually the fact that more often than not we focus on things that we cannot control and play those scenarios on repeat in our head. All we actually achieve by doing that is causing more stress and anxiety and most times blowing the situation out of proportion. So I will say it again focus on the things you can change (hint: you can’t change outcomes, people, especially what other people say or do). It might be your own attitude and behaviour – especially if you’re a leader – the way you respond will influence the rest of your team. And remember when you stress out you also impact those around you. As Daniel Goleman – Emotional intelligence puts it, we always influence those around us with our own emotions. So be the leader who chooses to focus on the things you can control.As an exercise try thisThink of a stressful situation you’re dealing with right now and write down a list of things you can control and a list of things that are out of your control – you will instantly feel a bit more in control of the situation.
  3. Action trumps perfection and fear Take action to stop the paralysing fear. We are all too familiar with the way our reptilian brain will react in situations that are very stressful and most times that fear can leave us paralysed, I know for a fact as I have been in that situation many time before. So take action, take one small step in the direction that scares you. What’s one small action step you can take today towards achieving your bigger goal?Take 5 minutes and write down 3 action steps you can take this week/month in order to help you move forward
  4. Surround yourself with positive people I can’t stress enough the importance of having around you or in your team people that are positive, resilient and can keep their cool in stressful situations. I don’t know about you but I absolutely dislike being in a stressful situation when on top of having to deal with my own emotions, asses and manage the situation, I need to also calm down everyone around me. I am big on creating a culture that rewards and promotes positivity. So choose your people wisely. When you build such a positive environment it’s actually hard to get dragged into a pity party because you’re working alongside individuals who have a positive outlook on life, hence they will have a much healthier approach to a stressful situation. And of course, the same goes for your personal life.

For those of you who want to dive deeper in other practices, here are some things that have helped me massively:

Exercising –  Not only it releases endorphins and dopamine but it’s also good for boosting your immunity system and will help you feel more energised.

I swear by yoga and meditation – they go hand in hand for me but you can pick one to get started – there’s a misunderstanding that meditating means keeping your mind completely empty of thoughts which is not accurate; you can always start with 2 minutes a day. It’s been scientifically proven that meditation boosts your brain’s neuroplasticity – a process that helps our brain create new neural connections throughout life – I totally recommend reading Rewire your brain for love by Marsha Lucas

Journaling can also be a powerful tool especially when going through stressful situations as it allows you to empty your mind.

Keeping a personal journal a daily in-depth analysis and evaluation of your experiences is a high-leverage activity that increases self-awareness and enhances all the endowments and the synergy among them. Stephen R. Covey

What’s one action step you can take today to resolve a stressful situation? Pop your answer in the comments below 😊

Author: Ionela Spinu


3 reasons why you shouldn’t want to be the smartest person in the room, especially when you’re a leader


Whether it means having the answer to all questions so you can impress others, being the best at the work you do or learning new facts, I guarantee it gives your ego a sense of accomplishment. To a certain extent, it’s validation – it shows you and others that you’re someone impressive. Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re constantly signalling in some form or another. I know…it’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes.

As Robin Hanson puts it in his book “The elephant in the brain”, we all have our hidden motives when it comes to achieving certain things. (If you want to delve into it further checkout this podcast with Sam Harris)

He argues that everything we do has a hidden motive, but of course, that in itself is hard to admit. One of the examples he provides is obtaining a degree, especially nowadays in this digital era. He argues academic credentials are usually the hidden motive rather than being excited about the learning process itself. As such, having a PhD, MBA or another type of degree becomes validation you’re smart.

Let’s put it this way: if you’re always the smartest person in the room, chances are you’re not being challenged enough and potentially missing out on learning opportunities. Moreover, when it comes to building and leading a team, always expecting to be the smartest person in the room can hinder your performance and your team’s for that matter.

Most people feel the need to be right all the time but what they fail to realise is that they’re probably wrong most of the time. As Ray Dalio puts in his book Principles “If you don’t look back on yourself and think – Wow how stupid I was a year ago – then you must not have learned much in the last year”. In truth, we are very biased to our own, opinions, beliefs, our surrounding environment etc. and as such become blindsided by them.

As a leader, one of the most crucial skills is having the ability to admit you might not know the answer to every question (you’re not even expected to!) and also recognise that it’s important not to be the smartest person in the room. What I mean by that is, you’d still want to learn and be an expert in your field but the best leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than them and have complementary skills to theirs. According to Jim Collins, Good to great, Level 5 leaders “Build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”. Ideally in your leadership ladder, your ultimate goal is aiming to reach a Level 5 in the Leadership Hierarchy. There’s a huge correlation between great companies and Level 5 leaders but as Jim Collins argues, to get to that level involves a great deal of factors and it usually takes someone who can put their ego aside and focus on the greater good of an organisation.

Jim Collins - Good to Great - Level 5 Hierarchy

Jim Collins – Good to Great – Level 5 Hierarchy


You’ll be a more charismatic leader

As much as people love smart people and someone they can rely on for guidance, vision and inspiration no one likes a know it all person. Furthermore, as a leader with great influence you want to encourage your team to have opinions, speak up and not be afraid of sharing their own thoughts. The ultimate goal is to get everyone engaged so people feel like their opinions matter. And who doesn’t want to have an engaged team that is productive whilst at the same time feels valued and appreciated? Us human beings, in general, are appreciation junkies. You probably can relate to this either in professional or personal life we need to feel appreciated and it’s nice to hear that from time to time but even better if our manager or significant other/friend/parent acts in a way that shows us we’re being appreciated.

You’re building an environment that is transparent and encouraging people to speak up.

No one knows everything and no one is great at everything. Having the humility to admit when we’re wrong is not only a sign of strength but it’s a trait of a great leader. By being vulnerable and open, you’re teaching your team that it’s okay not to have all the answers and that is the best way of learning. Not only are you building a safe environment but you’re also creating a space based on trust where people feel like they can be themselves and not being judged for it. This might sound obvious but by being open to learning and training yourself to be in a mindset of constant curiosity you simply learn more. And not only that, but you’ll be an inspiration to your team. Don’t you just get inspired by individuals around you who seem to be able to have an impressive skill-set and yet they seem so unaware of it and just focus on the actions that take them one step closer to their goal day in and day out? This is exactly how your team will perceive you.

You will drive growth and innovation

Perhaps the most important element of surrounding yourself with individuals that are smarter than you and having diversity in your team – and by that I mean ideally having a 50/50 mix of men and women from diverse cultural backgrounds – is the fact that it’s a sure way to innovation. Having a homogeneous team doesn’t really leave too much room for innovation because everyone tends to be quite similar in values and opinions and as a result you might not find an “Ideal point of conflict” as Patrick Leoncini puts it in his book “The five dysfunctions of a team”

Patrick Leoncini - 5 Dysfunctions of a team

Patrick Leoncini – 5 Dysfunctions of a team

Ultimately, your aim as an influential leader is to drive growth and innovation through a display of compelling modesty, relentless pursuit of great results whilst detaching from your ego and surrounding yourself with a diverse team who is both smart and has complimentary skills to yours.

Author: Ionela Spinu

If you want further tips on how to be a better leader join our webinar – ‘Managing with greater influence’


Women in Tech: Is the UK Tech Community Inclusive?

The short answer: Yes and No. 

There are no job applications in the UK that will say ‘women cannot apply for x and y job in tech’ nor ‘women cannot speak at tech events nor be coders’. Today more than ever we see initiatives to encourage women to join the tech community. Women in tech events like the ones done in Birmingham by Silicon Canal and to a larger scale, even in this year’s Web Summit (one of the worlds largest and leading technology conference) we had a whole “Women in Tech Lounge” offering mentorship for women that signed up and subsidising 14,000 tickets for women to attend to even out the men to women ratio. (Picture Left to right: Data protection specialist Anna Walter, Chair of West Midlands Mayor Leadership Commission Anita Bhalla OBE, Mayor of the West Midlands Andrew Street, Community Manager of Silicon Canal Molly Thompson, Tech journalist Pauline Roche, and Behaviour Hackers Director Victoria Masso)

It was wonderful to see so many intelligent women gathered in a single space interacting and sharing their knowledge. However, even with the efforts made to encourage women to come to the WebSummit, you could still notice that there were fewer women than men in the event. This is the same for the tech industry in the UK.

Reality is that, there are not as many women in tech as men, and the percentage gets even lower the more senior the position is and across specific roles such as software developers. When I graduated from Sound Engineering in Liverpool, I was the only women in that class, and each year had roughly 3 women in them.

There are still barriers, and I believe these are the 2 main ones:

1) Lack of equal pay

Women in tech earn 9% less than men. The larger the company the worse it is, where it can be 17% less. This clearly demotivates women to go into tech. Only 43% of girls in the UK consider choosing a career in STEM, and 70% indicated they would consider it if they had equal employment opportunities. This issue was the third most prevalent in the poll at this year’s Web Summit. If women are not paid equally, how do we expect them to go into Tech, regardless of all the new initiatives to engage them into this world? Mr Men is releasing Little Miss Inventor next year on International Women’s Day to encourage women to go into STEM-related careers.

2) Perceptions

There was a poll done in the women in tech lounge where they were asking: what will empower women in tech? The most voted answer was ‘Changing the perceptions’. I believe this is very important in 2 main areas:

  •     Skills and Leadership Roles:

I have heard firsthand from developers and tech company business owners that are millennials my age or younger ( I am not even talking about older generation men) Saying: ‘Women are terrible coders’. I find this generalisation outrageous. How can you state that more than half of the population in the UK are not able to code? This is a conscious bias, for some people part of their unconscious bias. This unconscious bias falls in the tech skills and leadership capacity. 

On the other hand, women tend to be less vocal about their expertise. In fact, research shows that more women suffer from ‘impostor syndrome’ than men. This means that women are less likely to put themselves forward for leadership roles. This doesn’t mean they cannot do it, but the dynamic of hiring should change to more headhunting instead of just considering applications to be able to tap into that diverse pool of talent that it’s out there. Proactively improving and widening the pools were we choose our talent from is a key action to lower the barriers. Another key solution is to deal with it at the root by training women in leadership and to have the confidence to overcome these biases.

  •     Without Funding, Startups Might Not Make It:

There is something called the Similarity-Attraction Effect. We tend to be attracted to people that are similar to us, and having these biases doesn’t help. I think Christine Herron, Director of Intel Capital, put it very well in this year’s Websummit: “Investors will give money to people that they like, that are similar to them, that they can hang out with… This means that to be able to tackle diversity they need to be comfortable with differences”.

The VC world dominated by men, if they invest in people similar to them female tech companies stand less of a chance. In fact, on average female let tech companies raise less funding than male lead tech companies. John Doerr who backed companies like Google summed up his philosophy as “invest in white male nerds dropouts of Harvard and Stanford”. 

Women are expected to pitch and act like men, what they are familiar with. In reality, they need to embrace and learn we do things differently. I have a fellow female colleague that was raising investment. At some point, she was so uncomfortable with this issue that once had to stop a pitch and say “look, I am not a startup guy” to which the investor replied, “you need to become one”.

As the world digitalises, there comes an increased demand for more digitally skilled people. This demands inclusion and diversity to fill that gap. According to Fujitsu’s PACT report, 70% of companies find a noticeable gap of digital skills. Companies acknowledge is hard to find people with the necessary technical skills, as well with the soft skills such as communication. This means that companies end up hiring the same people over and over again and not covering the demand for the projects. This is costing companies a fortune and a deceleration of innovation.

Without that diversity in tech, we are missing out on innovation and making a digital world designed only for men. It’s a vicious cycle. 

We are entering the world of AI. An AI learns like a baby, taking data and knowledge from the world around it. If we don’t have women as part of the equation, it will learn from a male world making its knowledge very limited.

So, are we inclusive? Not yet, but things are getting better. It is not about having diversity as a buzzword or a tick box, which can have some adverse reactions. It is about recognising diversity as a key tool for innovation to drive real change.  We are in the ‘digital revolution’ and if we keep thinking and acting the same way as we have before, no innovation will be made. Einstein’s definition of Madness is doing things the same way and expecting different results. Changing the perceptions and embracing differences is key to this much-needed diversity and innovation to happen.

Author: Victoria Masso

How do crises affect behaviour-from the Black Death to Covid-19

Hello, our lovely readers, 

As you’re reading this, we hope you are well, safe, calm, and last but not least, you washed your hands super recently!

With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, we couldn’t help but wonder…how does a crisis affect human behaviour and how can we rationalise it? Let’s have a look at it together, shall we?

Covid-19 has been often referred to as a “modern plague”. Although is completely different from the Black Death, taking a historical approach, it turns out that humans haven’t learnt much in terms of social consequences in times of a crisis, when compared to then and now. 

The first similarity we see is that a certain ethnic group was blamed for the outbreak and racism and xenophobia levels went up. It is said that the Black Death originated from China and spread to the Middle East, then to Europe via Italy, carried by rats on trading ships sailing from the Black Sea. Today, the news reported several physical and verbal attacks towards people with East Asian heritage, a drop in East Asian food sales, and people with East Asian-heritage being quarantined in hospitals, although they did not travel to any Asian countries in months. 

While we can’t blame racism on COVID-19, it seems like it acted as a catalyst for racism and xenophobia. 

The second similarity of human behaviour between the Black Death and the COVID-19 is the rise of misleading information, or “fake news”. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is pressing tech companies to take serious actions to take down fake news. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and TikTok claim to have taken steps to direct their users to look for coronavirus information to the WHO or local health organisations. 

In the 14th century, popular belief was that the bubonic plague spread (cause of the Black Death) was a result of divine punishment for committing sins. They, later on, found the real cause and a scientific explanation. Interestingly, many people this day believe that COVID-19 is also a divine punishment for our collective sins.

You must have heard by now that the sales for toilet paper went extremely high, up to a point where many stores are out of stock. Are you baffled by this behaviour and are you wondering WHY toilet paper in particular? Well, you thought you might do, so we prepared a perfectly reasonable explanation for you, from a psychological point of view. 

The first thing you have to understand is that crisis or no crisis, humans are overbuying in general. Second, as a result of losing control of the situation, combined with having no clear directions from the authorities and government, people may act irrationally.

But let’s try to rationalise it: you go to a store and see 10 people with their carts full of toilet paper. Especially because it is a product that you would buy anyway, you will most likely think that it is better to do it, now than later. 

Have a look at this video that explains social conformity. It is in our nature to tend to follow other people’s behaviour and actions without having a motive. As you can see in the video, people didn’t know why they were standing up, but they were copying each others’ behaviour without questioning it too much.

Right, so what do we do now? We strongly suggest to stay calm and decide: what are facts and what are fears? Please remember, you are stronger than your fears. Have empathy, help how you can, don’t overbuy, follow specialists’ orders, stay inside as much as possible, phone your loved ones 

We understand that not knowing what will happen is extremely frustrating, but this is one of the lessons we need to take from this situation: life is unpredictable. 

This is one of the things we stress at Behaviour Hackers: the invaluable importance of being flexible and be able to adapt to any situation. 

We will soon introduce to you our online courses and videos on how to interact in times of crisiswhy do we touch our face and tips on how to do it less, and so many more! 

Stay tuned!

Until next time! Stay safe and calm!

With so much 💗,

Behaviour Hackers Team


What happens when you lose the “Victim Mentality”

Welcome back to our blog!

Continuing our -love yourself first- topic, today I want to approach a subject that I come across quite a lot these days. The constant feeling of being a victim, no matter the circumstances, and you almost always have someone else to blame for what happens to you- being other people, the universe or anything else. Does this sound familiar or does anyone who you know comes to your mind when you read this? It means that you’re looking at something called “Victim Mentality”.

Although we’re all “victims” of past trauma in our lives, whether physical or emotional, it’s healthy to admit pain and not feeling strong. Most of us are scared of being vulnerable, but you have to realise and remember that being vulnerable is actually a sign of strength.

However, it becomes a problem if one would constantly not take responsibility for our decisions or actions that might hurt others. Also, these people tend to be the ones who will find a problem for every 5 solutions and a complaint for almost anything. Many of us may have been there at some point, but the trick is not to make a habit out of it!

If you’re one of these people, one healthy way to deal with a difficult situation is to try to turn and view it in a positive light, i.e. something better is out there for you, or you gain valuable experience and learn something from it!

Most of our feelings of hopelessness have a similar ground: regrets about the past and worries about the future, and nothing productive could come out of that. Ever.

Learn from the past, focus, enjoy the present moment, and be excited about what the future will bring!

So, why are we tempted to do this? Well, I mentioned to you before that our brain is like velcro for negative thoughts and like Teflon for positive ones- but there is more than that.

You see, when someone is portraying themselves as a victim and thinking they are right and everyone else is wrong, it gives them a pleasurable feeling. Of course, is way easier to blame someone else than to take responsibility!

Why? Well, where there is less responsibility, there are fewer risks. This comes down to being in a comfortable zone, and although it’s a dangerous game, the comfort zone gives a certain pleasure knowing there are fewer risks for rejection or failure!

Of course, in the long run, high risk-takers have more benefits and coming out of your comfort zone is probably the best thing that can happen to your life, but this is a topic for another time.

I want to show you the Milgram experiment (1963). In short, they looked at how people obey authority figures even if it was against their morals. But what I want you to notice is at minute 7:20, the participant who was very close to giving up, suddenly becomes willing to continue the experiment when they are told that they will not have to take responsibility for what happens.

Let me now give you a more practical example: let’s say one is on a new job hunt: it can be extremely tempting to sit at home and complain about it while doing NOTHING, than to take chances, face rejection if needed, and keep trying.

I know it sounds simpler than it is, but the more you practice, your brain will rewire and make it easier for you to think like this.

Ok, now let’s practice!

Next time when you have thoughts like the whole universe is against you, tell yourself: “That's ridiculous. Why would the universe be against one person?”
Let's do it again. 

"That's ridiculous. Why would the universe be against one person?"

"That's ridiculous. Why would the universe be against one person?"

Next week try to catch yourself how many times you feel like a victim and how many times you do the exercise!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read it. I hope to see you back here next week when we will share with you another interview with an amazing entrepreneur!

With so much 💗,

Behaviour Hackers Team

Author: Ingrid Constantin

Photo by JoelValve on Unsplash

How self-love improves your relationships.

Welcome back to our blog, we are so happy to have you here! 

This Valentine’s we want to send you a kind reminder -love yourself first-. Always and Forever. 

Why and what does it mean? Is it selfish? Absolutely not.

Before you start working on any kind of relationship in your life i.e. work, romantic, friendship, etc. it is an absolute must to work on the relationship you have with yourself first. 

This will allow you to know who you are and what do you aspire to, which ultimately leads to knowing what you are comfortable with, what do you accept from other people, and what are your boundaries. This will assure you that any relationship in your life is a healthy one.

What do I mean by that? Well, the minute you start to love yourself, you can love someone else. You can choose someone not because you need them, but because you want them. You can live without them; you just don’t want to. 

The minute you start to love yourself, you assure that your friendships are based on honesty, support, and love. There is no room for judgment. Do yourself a favour, take a step back and re-evaluate. Again, it comes down to being comfortable enough in your skin that you do not need approval from your friends. You can live without them; you just don’t want to.

The minute you start to love yourself, you respect yourself enough to love what you do. I do not particularly agree with the saying “Find what you love, and you don’t have to work a day in your life.” I think that you do have to work no matter what, I believe in strong work ethic, passion, and going the extra mile. It comes down to knowing yourself enough to realise that what you do is worth the hustle. You could live without doing this; you just don’t want to. 

The perception of ourselves is based on our childhood experiences and continues to be influenced in our adulthood by implicit and explicit cues received from everything and everyone around us. The good thing is, that we, humans, are in complete control of changing this. Every single day. Across the years, I came across a few self-love practices that I found quite helpful. Today, I am sharing them with you. I hope you’ll find them at least as helpful as I did. 😊

  1. Be kind to yourself. Forgive, forget and move on when needed.
  2. Accept yourself. If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. If you can’t change it, accept it. The most beautiful things in life are not perfect. The most interesting and beautiful people are the confident ones.
  3. Be kind to other people. As often as you can, wherever you can, for as long as you can.
  4. Practice gratitude. As often as you can, wherever you can, for as long as you can.
  5. Embrace and recognise your qualities and your wins.
  6. Always strive for something more. Continuously look for something new you can learn, something better you can do.

We’re well aware that self-love is not an easy journey, but, oh, boy, it is so worth it! Remember, our incredible brain is malleable, able to change and adapt according to our experiences and practices. So, give it a go, implement it as a way of living, and see how every relationship in your life will change.

We hope you enjoyed today’s article!

What does self-love mean to you? Drop a comment and tell us what you think!

Next week on the same topic, we’re talking about “Victim Mentality”. Keep posted!

We wish you an amazing Valentine’s Day. Don’t forget to celebrate love every single day!

With so much 💗,

Behaviour Hackers Team

Author: Ingrid Constantin.

A new approach to goal setting

I must admit I love love love taking some time in December to assess how the year went, what were the highlights, what was it that I could have done better, what have I achieved from my list of priorities and so on. I also get excited about the year ahead and what can I do to improve, which areas of my life I need to focus on etc. If you’ve just read this and you’ve never done that exercise before, fear not! You can start from this year. Also if you’re someone who sets goals but doesn’t really stick to them, then read on – this might actually help 😉

You don’t need me to tell you that every year, towards the end of the year or in January, there’s a lot of chatter about “New Years Resolutions”. Full disclosure: I dislike that with passion! (part of the reason is that I believe you don’t have to wait for the a new year to tweak something or for Monday to start your diet). To add to my dislike, I also notice how the gym I frequent, becomes a pretty busy place. Everyone starts in January because the New Year is synonymous with new beginnings, right? 

But we all know how the story goes (I’ll keep using the exercise example) – You’re excited the first week, by the second week some of that motivation fades but you’re still pushing through, third week you’re skipping a few workouts cos you’ve earned it – after all you worked so hard the first 2 weeks, right? And then, the 4th week comes and you just don’t feel like sticking to it anymore. Sounds familiar? If you’re wondering where I am going with this, the answer is a pretty obvious one: committing to something is damn hard

Let me give you an example. I love reading (a bit of a bookworm) but I just didn’t get the chance to read as much as I wanted. For many years I kept saying I want to read more but the thing is I was a bit flaky – you know the usual excuse – time. A couple of years ago, I made a list with all the books I’ve read during that year and to be honest, I wasn’t really impressed with that number (13 to be precise for 2017). So for 2018 I decided to set intentional goals (emphasis on intentional) that had a specific outcome and came up with a system that would help me achieve that particular outcome. So I said to myself: “I want to read 2 books a week”. And every day no matter how busy I was, I’d read – it didn’t matter if it was just a page. To my surprise, I’ve read 46 books that year. I am not saying this to boast or to trigger you – though that might happen! – but just to make you understand this: When it comes to setting goals we fail not because we don’t want to change but because we don’t have the right system in place. We don’t set intentional goals that we can measure.

As James Clear puts it in his book Atomic Habits

..a slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination. Making a choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse seems insignificant in the moment, but over the span of moments that make up a lifetime these choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be. Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.

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James Clear – Atomic Habits

It took me a few good years to get to a point where I understood the gains of incremental change over time!

So how can you set goals that you actually stick to in 2020? 

Decide what’s important to you 

You want to do everything, right? Exercise, eat healthy, sleep better, learn more, find the love of your life, progress in your career, travel the world, make tonnes of money, go on more adventures…But realistically can you do all of that in a single year? 

Reminds me of this quote by Bill Gates: 

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.

Something that I found helpful was to split things in different areas of life (personal, business, financial, social), reflect over them and ask questions that help me understand where I am and what I can add/remove to help me feel better. 

It’s always a good idea to go through an exercise that gives you a bit of structure so you can focus on what’s important. For the past few years I looked at different ways of doing this and I’ve created a PDF to help you do the same this year.

It’s worth mentioning that if you pick a few things and execute those well, chances are it will have a positive ripple effect in other areas of your life – i.e. If you choose to exercise, chances are you’ll eat healthier, sleep better and drink less. As a side effect, you’ll feel more energised and focused which in turn positively affects your mental health and of course the way you show up in your personal and professional life. 

Create a system that helps you achieve your goals 

Have you heard this saying before? How you do anything is how you do everything (I actually don’t know who said it first and the internet is filled with memes of the same quote but attributed to different people)

I must admit, until I read Atomic Habits, I didn’t realise that what enabled me to stick to my good habits was that I had a system in place that allowed me to be consistent. I was totally oblivious to that. I recall every time someone would ask: “How do you manage to exercise and eat healthy on a regular basis?” I’d say: “I just do it, it’s simple” – in retrospect, that must have been a pretty cocky answer!

Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems – James Clear 

Goals focus on achieving specific results, whereas systems focus on outcomes — a way of being, thinking and feeling that you strive to cultivate in your life. A system is something you do on a regular basis that pays off in the long run, regardless of immediate results or not. 

Choose what’s meaningful to you. Why do you want to feel energised? How would that impact your life. What purpose do you want to serve? 

And remember…..falling off the wagon is totally normal, life happens, you won’t feel 100% every single day of the year and that’s okay. Being consistent in your approach is what will impact your results.

Change your identity

Another aspect that comes into play when we’re trying to change our habits is the fact that our old self will still get sucked into the old mentality. Changing your identity is an approach that is quite impactful. 

According to James Clear, there are 3 significant layers when it comes to changing your habits, as following: 

The first layer is changing your outcomes. This level is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship. Most of the goals you set are associated with this level of change.

The second layer is changing your process. This level is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build are associated with this level.

The third and deepest layer is changing your identity. This level is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self-image, your judgments about yourself and others. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level. 

Something that I found particularly interesting was this study conducted by Boston College and the University of Houston who found that volunteers who said “I don’t skip exercise” instead of “I can’t skip exercise” worked out more often.

The researchers write that “using the word ‘don’t’ serves as a self-affirmation of one’s personal willpower and control in the relevant self-regulatory goal pursuit, leading to a favourable influence on feelings of empowerment, as well as on actual behaviour. On the other hand, saying ‘I can’t do X’ connotes an external focus on impediments.

Remember…the words we use matter and they are very impactful, they can alter the chemistry in our brain.

So if your goal is to become a healthier version of yourself, be careful of the words you use. Do you say I “can’t” have the cake or I “don’t” want the cake. Like everything we do in life, it boils down to mindset and perspective.


If you want 2020 to be the year you stick to healthy habits the main takeaway points are: 

  1. Set intentional goals that have specific outcomes
  2. Focus on becoming 1% better at something – you’ll be 37x better at that particular thing by the end of the year
  3. Implement a system that allows you to stick to your new habits 
  4. Change your identity 

And remember:

New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do.

And a lifestyle is not an outcome, it is a process. For this reason, all of your energy should go into building better habits, not chasing better results – Atomic Habits

If you haven’t already, head at the top and grab your PDF. Start planning your best year yet!

Would love to hear from you! What’s one thing you’re really keen to focus on in the next year?

Author: Ionela Spinu

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

3 ways to become more resilient

I am always fascinated by what keeps people going during tough times, what’s their inner monologue like, where do they find the power and will to keep going. To me, resilience is one of the great puzzles of human nature and I always ask myself how is it that some people break after every small setback whereas others seem to thrive despite traumatising events in their lives. Of course, you and I both know it’s easy to let anger, frustration and angst dictate your actions. It’s easy to throw the towel in and shout: “ENOUGH, I QUIT!” You throw a self-pity party and wallow in sorrow whilst feeling powerless asking throughout it all “Why is this happening to me?”

If you were able to see the situation with your rational mind, you will start realising that, however hard this seems, it has a resolution. At the end of the day, you’re still alive and you can figure it out, one step at a time. You will perhaps reframe this and ask: “What can I learn from this?” But we both know it’s not that easy to do in the moment, is it? 

This is why cultivating resilience can play a crucial role in how you deal with setbacks. It’s important to acknowledge from the get go that life will be filled with all sorts of obstacles among, of course, great moments of joy and happiness. And truth be told, if you pause and reflect for a moment, you realise that actually most great accomplishments require sacrifices, you’ll stumble a few times, you will experience frustration, angst, despair, anger but that’s the beauty of it. Those are the moments that build you as a person and allow you to grow and evolve – though I am the first one to admit that it doesn’t feel that great in the moment. 

Diane Coutu, Harvard Business Review, has narrowed down resilient people to these 3 defining characteristics: 

  • they cooly accept harsh realities by facing them
  • they find meaning in terrible times
  • they have an uncanny ability to improvise making due with whatever’s at hand 

So how can you cultivate resilience so that, overtime, you become a resilient badass? 

Name it to tame it 

Most times we don’t even stop and reflect to notice how we feel. Do we feel sad, angry, do we feel hurt, upset or anxious? Notice I said “feel” sad. It’s important to acknowledge the difference in order to understand it’s a feeling, a sensation that will go away. Feeling sad or anxious for a particular amount of time doesn’t define who you are as a person at any given time. So if you’re feeling anxious about something, how does it feel in your body? Is your breathing shallow? Is your heart racing? Are you still able to move? Is your mouth dry? What sensations are you experiencing? For me anger is almost like a ball of thorns that sit in the pit of my stomach and the higher the levels of anger go, the more I tense, I start to experience pain in my stomach and most times I can’t eat. The idea is that you try your best to notice how it feels and really embrace that feeling so you can then let it go. 

We’re so used to being on autopilot that we can’t clearly identify our own emotions. Just the other day I was telling a friend “You should start listening to your body and notice how you feel when situation x arises” to which I got a look that pretty much said “Are you on something right now?” I have a theory that we dismiss simple things just because we think we “know” them. Just because something is simple, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. I mean who the hell wants to stop and analyse their own feelings, allow fear, angst, anxiety in and notice how it feels in the body? Naturally, we want to suppress these feelings and take control of the situation. In reality, as research shows, when we’re trying to suppress negative emotions, we’re actually suppressing positive emotions too. 

So what to do? 

Notice how you’re feeling. Don’t judge it. It’s not good or bad. It’s just a sensation, a feeling that will go away. 

Acknowledge. How does it make me feel? Once you’ve given it a name, you’ve reduced its power and you might notice that you’ll actually start to feel more calm – your amygdala will start sending a signal to your prefrontal cortex that it’s safe and you’re out of danger.

Reframe your situation – everything has a resolution 

Most times when we are stuck in our own head, we seem to only have one version of the story. It’s very easy to get sucked up and go so far down the rabbit hole, that it might take you a while to come back out to light so to speak. and in fairness once you do that if can become quite difficult to come back from that. 

In our head, everything is far worse than what it actually is in reality but if we were able to pause for a moment and detach from our particular predicament, we’d realise that our situation might have one or two solutions. As Marie Forleo puts it: Everything is figureoutable. 

Everything we do in life is about mindset and perspective meaning that we are the ones who can reframe a particular situation and the meaning we give to it. 

Therefore, it’s important to notice what do you tend to do mostly when faced with harsh realities. Are you “the glass is half full” kind of person or more “the glass is half empty” kind of person? 

You have no control over highly stressful events that may happen, but you can change how you react in these circumstances – Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I reach to it, as Charles Swindoll puts it.

Instead of asking why is this happening to me, ask what can I learn from it? Seeing things from this perspective will force you out of your negative bubble. 

When you start to understand both at a cognitive and emotional level that you can choose the perspective, you become more powerful and you will start feeling you have a bit more control over the situation.

Make meaningful connections 

I can’t stress enough the importance of cultivating meaningful relationships that act as a support system especially when difficult situations arise. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are positive, who want to see you win and who would genuinely do everything to help you get there. At the same time, it’s important to cultivate connections that are honest, empathetic, where you feel loved and accepted for who you are. Moreover, having people in your circle who are willing to give you constructive criticism and keep you grounded is what’s going to contribute to your growth massively. Although, in times of crises we need to feel supported, loved and understood we might also need a kick in the backside and a different perspective. Make sure you have those people in your circle too and that when your turn comes you do the same for others, you offer your full support and encourage them.

The best way to cultivate meaningful relationships? 

Listen to people, connect at a deeper level, show empathy, be less judgemental and show up for people, especially in hard times. Be kind with no hidden agenda – that’s actually one thing that will make you feel better about yourself. And in a world where everyone seems to have a hidden agenda, you can stand out from the crowd by being someone who is generous with their time, words and connections.

Ultimately, resilience building, boils down to having the ability to manage your emotions so you can turn changes, stresses and challenges into opportunities. In return, the skills you will develop include “adaptability, a healthy relationship to control, continual learning, having a sense of purpose, and knowing how to leverage support and appropriate resources.”  – Harvard Business Review

Author: Ionela Spinu

Photo credit: https://positivepsychology.com/resilience-quotes/

Leadership and the power of smiles in non-verbal communication

Did you know that face perception is one of the most evolved visual competence in individuals?

According to research (Researchers Crivelli and Fridlung, 2018), the human face is not only crucial for human identity, but also serves as a great tool for social behaviour, influence, and interactions. Our facial displays can influence the behaviour of the people around us, and as such,  face perception is thought to be an advanced cognitive ability. 

As you’ve probably noticed, nowadays we’re surrounded by facial displays of leaders, be it on TV, Newspapers or Social Media. Therefore, it’s helpful to try and understand how facial displays communicate leadership abilities. To this extent, I figured we get started with smiles and asses how much influence these have in leadership abilities. Let’s dive in!

As human beings, we are innately capable to perceive leadership effectiveness via facial cues. Previous studies showed that children were able to correctly identify successful political leaders, thus confirming that this ability is not trained or learned (Antonakis & Dalgas, 2009). Pretty cool, right? However, before we make a link between leadership perception and human face, it is important to consider whether these are universally recognised or bound to culture. Furthermore, if we have an innate leadership recognition, could this be universally applied to displays of leaders?

According to Darwin’s evolutionary theory, universal facial expressions are thought to be based solely on emotions. Although cultural differences play a great deal in facial behaviours, Ekman and Friesen (1967, 1969, 1971) found 7 universal facial expressions that are linked with distinctive emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt.

 Although facial expressions are thought to be linked with internal emotions, researchers conclude that these are used as a means to effectively communicate with others. If we look at smiles, for example, they were believed to express happiness, whereas other researchers (Crivelli & Fridlung, 2018) believe that they are actually used to influence affiliation in the interactant.

Think about this for a second: how often do you smile as a means to interact and affiliate with each other, regardless if you feel happy or not? And then, of course, we don’t only smile in social interactions, we also smile when we are alone, right? 🙂

We grew up as children learning that a smile equals happiness. We then learn, as adults, that this is not always true. A smile can mean many things. For example, we smile when we’re happy but also when we’re sad, we smile when we’re uncomfortable or when we’re embarrassed!

Researchers Rychlowska et al. (2017) found that there are three types of smiles and they act as basic social function (rewards smiles operate as reward behaviour, affiliation smiles as social bonding, and dominance as hierarchy of negotiation). Also, every one of these smiles are found to be linked with other muscle movement in the face! For example, reward smiles are associated with eyebrow raising, affiliative smiles with upper-lip pressing, and dominant smiles involve nose wrinkling and upper-lip raising. 

 In case you’re wondering right now why are all these important, here’s a few reasons to consider:)

A couple of years ago researchers used employees of a large company to take part in professional development sessions and were presented with either a static or a dynamic video of a professional actor that either smiled or frowned while interacting with another person. 

What they found was that that higher leadership attribution was assigned to the individual who exhibited a smile. On the contrary, frown displays were associated with tyranny. Thus, based on this research, we can conclude that smile displays play a great role in positive leadership judgements (Trichas et al., 2017). 

Also, as we stressed at the beginning of this article, human-facial displays of leadership have a ubiquitous role in our lives, so it is important to understand how these communicate leadership abilities for various reasons. Firstly, political campaigns, such as the US presidential debates, contribute greatly to the global level (Ordway & Wihbey, 2016). Secondly, the status of candidates tends to be dependent on the degree and type of televised coverage (Stewart et al., 2018). Lastly, they are a great source of information to analyse different facial expressions and their influence on behaviours in an 1-1 format (Bucy & Bradley, 2004; Stewart et al., 2009).  

The non-verbal communication of politicians is believed to convey only in gestures of signal reassurance, evasion or threat (Bucy, 2018) and based on the research conducted by Senior et al. 1999, smiles, in particular, offer information on the type of leader one is. We found that quite intriguing. 

Facial expressions are explained as the greatest nonverbal communicator, since us, humans, are pretty good at simulating a facial display linked with an emotion that is not actually experienced by us (Ekman & Keltner, 1997). However, facial displays are also a great source of studying nonverbal leakage! Nonverbal leakage are quick (0-200ms) and uncontrollable facial displays called micro expression, that convey secret information about how a person truly feels!

In case you’re wondering, the most common tool for facial displays analysis is FaceReader – an automatic facial expression recognition software with advanced analysis and reporting function, being able to detect micro-expressions. FaceReader is used by over 600 universities, research institutions, companies around the globe in research areas including psychology (Fanti et al., 2015), education (Harley et al., 2015), and marketing (Chan et al., 2014; Jiang et al., 2019). The programme labels face expressions based on the seven basic or universal emotional categories described by Ekman including: Happy, Sad, Angry, Surprised, Scared, Disgusted, and Neutral (Ekman & Rosenberg, 1997) (See Figure 1).

Figure 1  FaceReader analysis on HRC facial displays

Figure 1 FaceReader analysis on HRC facial displays

Gender differences

More and more women are taking part in politics, hence, we thought it would be interesting to assess it from a gender difference perspective too. 

According to evolutionary theory, during social interactions, males will typically display more behavioural dominance, whereas females are expected to display more behavioural affiliation (Hess et al., 2005). Dominant gestures often involve head shaking, sitting in a closed posture, and using closed questions and directive remarks. On the opposite end, affiliative gestures involve laughter, sitting in an open position and posing open questions among others (Luxen, 2005). 

 The term affiliation refers to the psychological need to associate with other people. High need of affiliation involves building and maintaining strong inter-relationships by making other people content. During a demanding interaction, women were found to manifest more affiliative gestures. 

These assumptions could alter the perception of emotions in others. For example, children as young as five consider a baby who is crying being angry, only if it is a boy! (Haugh et al., 1980). Moreover, individuals tend to be more acceptable of men’s anger than women’s (Brody & Hall, 2000). In addition, women are also expected to smile more than males, and they may be perceived in a negative manner if they smile less (Halberstadt & Saitta, 1987).

Also, we found quite interesting that based on the status cue theory, one would expect an appropriate response to the perceived display. So, displays reassurance (happiness) are expected to evoke in the observes affiliative bonding and thus reducing the chance of responding with anger; aggression (anger) to provoke defensive displays (smiles, raising brows); and lastly, communicating threat/dominance displays (lowered brows) would signal submissive displays in an observer (raised brows, smiles). And guess what? If a social exchange differs from this expected pattern of results could arise negative judgements from a group of observers i.e., the voting public! (Keating, 2018)

Body language and smiles, in particular, as we’ve seen, are pretty powerful aspects that we should consider in our daily interactions, more so when non-verbal communication makes up for  over 60% of our communication, depending on context (Mehrabian and Ferris, 1967). Next time you’re interacting, either at networking events, with friends, your team or even total strangers on the street, it’s worth taking a few moments to analyse your reactions, smiles and body language overall. At the end of the day, they say smiles are universal 🙂 

How to manage your Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever heard of the term “imposter syndrome” before? If this would be a face to face conversation, I’d be curious to see your reaction. I find that whenever I ask this question, most people look a bit puzzled to begin with, some are even intrigued but when I start explaining what it is, the majority start nodding approvingly giving me a sense of “I’ve been there before.”

If I were to give you an academic definition of this term, it would sound a bit like this:

Imposter Syndrome is the experience of intense feelings that achievements are underserved and concern to exposed as a fraud.

[Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes – “The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention]

In other words, we feel like imposters when we fail to internalise success. 

According to research (Gravois, 2007), 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this Imposter Phenomenon in their lives. And as it happens, this is more prevalent in women than men. In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg argues that the prevalence in women for imposter syndrome is largely due to their lower self confidence. She also describes her own battle with it by admitting to the fact that every time she succeeded at something be it at Harvards or in her career she would think she “fooled everyone yet again” and that “one day soon, the jig would be up.”

As a recovering perfectionist, I know all about this. This feeling of “who I am to share my opinion on x or to claim I know better than y” has kept me stuck in the same place for years. It was a situation where whatever I created wasn’t perfect, therefore it couldn’t be shown to the world. But that fear (many of you reading this might relate to it), leaves you paralysed, you keep procrastinating and as a result you never progress. Overtime, I’ve learned that done is better than perfect and progression over perfection has become my new mantra. There’s always someone who’s going to be 10 steps behind you like there’s always going to be someone 10 steps ahead of you. When you understand that, you realise that without the person who’s ahead of you, you wouldn’t have a role model. You understand that in your small way, you can impact the person who’s 10 steps behind you. Reframing it this way was a very powerful realisation for me and I hope as you read these lines it resonates with you too. 

As Brené Brown puts it:

Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.

If you ever experienced these feelings, you’ll probably familiar with this infinite loop:

Before a big project/presentation you experience anxiety and self doubt and start worrying about it. You have two options: your either over-prepare or you procrastinate. Whichever boat you’re in, you feel relieved once you achieve that particular task but you discount positive feedback and don’t give yourself credit for your work and keep thinking it’s only a matter of time until you’ll be “found out”.

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The great news is, Imposter Syndrome is 100% manageable and today I wanted to share with you a few tips on how you can overcome this too. 

Talk about your achievements without using qualifiers 

When you refer to your achievements stop using things like “I was offered this job because I was lucky/they liked me”. The moment you use a qualifier you’re decreasing your own value. And you might not even realise it because it’s an old mechanism your brain is using and you’re on auto-pilot. Start giving yourself credit for your achievements rather than brushing them off. This can be difficult to do, because, most of us, often hesitate to talk about ourselves in the fear of sounding arrogant.

Top tip – Recognise your innate qualities – Start creating a list with feedback you get from peers in your circles: at work, friends, family. What are you being praised for the most? What are you really good at? When talking about your success, imagine you are talking about someone you really admire. We tend to give praise to others while being self-deprecating about our own accomplishments. 

This has been an eye opener for me. I used to dismiss every good feedback I would get (especially from close friends and family) as I would think that they are just trying to be nice but if someone who knew me very little would say the same thing, I would be more likely to accept the compliment – that’s if I didn’t think they were being polite. 

As it turns out during our workshop, this tends to be an exercise that participants love. 

Rachael Ainsworth, Research Associate, who attended our workshop says: 

“This session allowed me to become much more objective about my achievements. Over the years, my imposter syndrome prevented me from celebrating my achievements – I always attached qualifiers to them. The exercise we did in this session, when we were asked to list our achievements WITHOUT those qualifiers – that is, what we accomplished without the “but” – was hugely powerful for me. It forced me to acknowledge and recognise my wins, which had a profound impact on how I view myself. I can also now identify when others use qualifiers, and I am able to empower folks to ditch them! My favourite part of the session was compiling my list of achievements without qualifiers. I now keep a list of everything I do, and reference my “wins” when I need a confidence boost.”

Stop internalising failure 

In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck writes: girls and boys get different patterns of feedback. “Boys’ mistakes are attributed to a lack of effort,” she says, while “girls come to see mistakes as a reflection of their deeper qualities.” Likewise, Sheryl Sandberg, points out that “in situations where a man and a woman each receive negative feedback, the woman’s self-confidence and self-esteem drop to a much greater degree.” (Robb et all, 2014)

We fail to understand that we’re human and from time to time, we’ll get things wrong. When the outcome is not the desired one, we jump into an infinite loop of self-blame and start using adjectives to describe us that are not very nice. Just because something didn’t work out as you would have hoped, doesn’t mean that your self worth is linked to that particular outcome.  

Even experts get it wrong sometimes. I was recently listening to a podcast with Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for this book Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, where he decodes the psychology of judgment and decision-making, and he admitted that some of his theories were proven wrong years after writing his book. Wow!! Game changer! And I have to say, I like him even more for admitting that in public!

Top tip – Pay attention to the language you use towards yourself in situations where things don’t go the way you would have hoped. I never allow my friends or family to say stuff like “I am so stupid, because I did x”. I tend to be the one who draws their attention and forces them to reframe the situation in the moment (I know what you’re thinking now: I wish I was her friend!). You can say “I did this and it made me feel stupid” but that doesn’t mean you are stupid. And FYI: we all do stupid stuff from time to time. 

We’re in a constant learning journey, so next time you “fail” at something, realise this: that particular situation doesn’t define your success or your worth as a person. 

Be aware of your self-limiting beliefs (and come up with an action plan to combat them)

Self-limiting beliefs are assumptions or perceptions that you’ve got about yourself and about the way the world works. These assumptions are “self-limiting” because in some way they’re holding you back from achieving what you are capable of. 

Beliefs are being formed from a very young age and our brains are very good at spotting patterns and making association, as such we use the stream of information that comes our way and we form beliefs to make sense of the world around us. I think of beliefs in the same way I think of family traditions, as we become conditioned by our environment, people we surround ourselves with, our own biases and so on. As we grow older, we start developing new beliefs. It’s interesting to note that our core beliefs, the ones formed during childhood, can be really tough to break and these are the ones you should really pay attention to.

For example if you were never encouraged as a child to try out new things you will internalise this belief that “You don’t have the ability to do certain things” and as an adult you’re more likely to stay in your comfort zone.  

One of the crucial aspects of self limiting beliefs is the fact that these are not real. Let me say that again: BELIEFS ARE NOT REAL 

Beliefs come in different forms and some of the categories are: 

Unhealthy Beliefs About Yourself – Concluding that you are a loser, a failure, unlikable, or incapable will prevent you from doing your best. Even overly optimistic beliefs can be unhealthy. Thinking you’re the best at everything you do or that you are above the rules can be just as dangerous to your well-being as an exaggeratedly negative core belief about yourself.

Unhealthy Beliefs About Others – Believing everyone is against you, untrustworthy, or manipulative will make it impossible to develop healthy relationships. Similarly, believing everyone can be trusted or that everyone is a kind person can cause you to be taken advantage of or to get into relationships that aren’t good for you.

Unhealthy Beliefs About the World – Assuming that you can’t succeed in today’s world or thinking that the world is too dark of a place to ever be happy will take a toll on your life. On the flip side, minimising social problems and looking at the world through rose-colored glasses isn’t helpful either.

So what can you do in order to address your self-limiting beliefs?

The first step, like with anything else, is becoming aware of this; understand that we all guide our lives based on a set of beliefs that might or might not be accurate. As mentioned above, typically, these beliefs are rooted in your own fears, can be commonly held societal views or opinions among your peers. As you’re trying to break them it’s natural to experience fear and certain push back. Take a hard look at where you’re at emotionally in this very moment. How do you feel? Are you feeling stuck, overwhelmed, is everyone against you? A typical example of a self limiting belief would be “I can’t change my career path now because I am too old”. 

Top tip: Think of 3 main self beliefs you have about yourself and write them down. How are these hindering your personal/professional life? What is causing this frustration? Once you pinpoint the exact emotion and its trigger you start becoming more aware of it. As you become more aware, you start noticing the triggers and as you start noticing the triggers, you can start addressing them. It’s also very helpful to reframe the situation. For example, you might hold a belief that you’re a victim and everyone is against you. The moment you start giving yourself more power and reframe the situation in such a way, you take back some control, you realise that certain situations are up to you, that you can create your own rules and your own path. You make the rules and there are no limits. 

To give you an example from my own life, one of my limiting beliefs was: “I cannot share what I know because I am not an expert. Why should people listen to me and so on.” The way I reframed it was by using the example I mentioned at the beginning of the article. There’s always going to be someone who’s a few steps behind and what I share, will help them. By not sharing, I’m depriving other people of that. It helps when you detach yourself from it, it’s not about you, it’s about how you can help others. If you can do that by being yourself and doing what you love, what’s not to like about that? Also, the moment you put your hand up and admit you’re not an expert but someone who’s on a constant learning journey, there’s no pressure to get it right all the time. 

Realise you’re not alone 

I want to end this by reminding you of the importance of realising that you’re not alone in this. As Valerie Young puts it in her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It

First and foremost you are neither broken nor sick. Something is not right about your impostor feelings but there is nothing wrong with you.

We need to have more open conversations about this topic. Countless women and men suffer from imposter syndrome and I don’t get why the heck we don’t address it more often. In fact, it seems like the more successful you are, the more likely you are to have it! 

So as a parting note I want to leave you with this: 

  • You are enough just the way you are right now
  • You can manage your imposter syndrome
  • You can work on your self limiting beliefs 
  • You have to realise that everyone has fears and feeling like an imposter from time to time it’s perfectly normal 
  • Choose progression over perfection 

If you want to dive deeper and spend a day with us where we share more tips and take you through fun and interactive exercises, our Becoming a Leader workshop – Women Series – might be just the thing you need. You will leave the day uncovering your self limiting beliefs, with an action plan that you can start implementing straight away and with an accountability partner.

Author: Ionela Spinu

Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash

Part II What being an entrepreneur REALLY means.

Between passion, pride, stubbornness, what keeps YOU going? Valuable lessons learnt from successful entrepreneurs.

Continuing our research on what makes great entrepreneurs and their work towards facing the challenges involved, our lovely Behaviour Hackers team is sharing with you today the story of Simon Austen. He is the CEO and founder of Zoku which has been running for 4 years now.

“Zoku was founded in 2015 with the intention of creating a new generation of personal technology, in reaction to the crude, inelegant and intrusive standards of the current state of the art. The Zoku mission is to create technology that is intuitive, invisible and constant, to enrich and support lives through technology, and remove the dependency on obstructive smartphones and crude peripherals. Ultimately we aim to facilitate society’s transition into a world where accessing information and entertainment is as natural as a sense.”

Let’s scroll down and find out a bit more about Simon’s journey. Enjoy!:)

Q.1. Was there a time where you felt you want to give up? What did you do? What kept you going?

S: “All the time. I think there’s a certain amount of pride, because I’ve always wanted to achieve something and never really quite achieved my potential. I suppose the flip side of that is the sunk cost fallacy (a continued behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources-time, money, or effort). 3.5 years in…giving up is just a waste of 3.5 years of work. If I can just power through…

Other things that kept me going is, when I got to a really bad place, something came out that suddenly reinvigorated the process (i.e. money, a person or technology, entered into my experience of awareness). I think that is just serendipity – it just happens like that. 

The frequency of that happening requires you to have enough stamina to go from one moment of serendipity to the next!”

Q.2. How often these moments happen?

S: “Not very often…maybe they happen once every 3-6 months. So, you have to be prepared of 5 months of success and then it diminishes, and there is a month of “depression” just praying there is one ray of light that will appear from wherever.”

Tip! When asked what are the traits of a successful entrepreneur, Elon Musk said, 

“This requires a lot of self-analysis, which is very hard to do, being so close by definition. I think people do not think critically enough. People assume too many things to be true without a sufficient basis in that belief. It is very important that people closely analyse what is supposed to be true, analyse things by first principles not by analogy, or not by convention. If you assume things are true by convention, which is actually what most people do, then it’s difficult to gain insight into how things can be bettered. 

Also, people tend to overweight risk on a personal level. People are mostly afraid of failure, but they should be less risk averse, when there is not much at risk. ”- Elon Musk

Q.3. Is it all about the passion for your product?

S: “It is, because I’m driven to invent stuff, it’s in the core of my being. 

If I weren’t to do this, I would be doing EXACTLY the same thing with something else!

 And I’m happy, or at least content, to do that. It can be really hard, and can be miserable sometimes, but I know it’s what I need to do, it’s my calling, my passion

Even if the day/week/month has gone really badly, no progress has been made, there will always be that time where you lay in bed dropping off to sleep, and – because you can see the whole thing in its entirely complete version and you thought about it every day for years and years and years – it’s already (kind of) there! 

So, it’s bridging the gap between that and what reality looks like now, not the fantasy in your head, but the future memory. It’s a reality that it’s GOING to occur. 

You become so familiar and so attached to that idea that it seems like a conclusion. So, any adversity is by definition temporary, because you know it’s going to happen – even with no proof, but it’s so crystallised in your mind.

 I imagine that it could be considered a type of insanity! It could be detrimental simply because you’re making decisions based on a fantasy, something that you don’t know it exists, but you have absolute faith that it does!”

“Every business needs a maniac and a minder” – Stephen Lloyd

Q.4. However, I assume that must be based on something more than just a fantasy in your head, is that right? How do you test your idea?

S: ”Yes, you are testing the idea in various ways, one of them is testing whether people want it- if people keep saying “this is great”, “I want it”, it makes it feel worthwhile. 

It forces you to realise you’re not just doing it selfishly. Although, it is selfish at the end of the day, people keep praising me for my “ingenuity” and my “stamina”, but that’s not true actually. 

I want it to work, I want it to be there and to materialise it!

To go back to the previous question, I think the passion in this context doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. You can be passionately violent, or passionately hateful, but it’s still such an intensity of emotions. There is the other side, being passionately happy or excited, but it is all underpinned by this drive. I can hate how badly something’s gone, and I can love how well something’s gone, but they’re two sides of the same coin. For me, that coin is the driving force

Q.5. What would you say to yourself at the beginning of your journey? Or, to someone who is at the start of their career as an entrepreneur?

S: “I wouldn’t tell anything to myself. I don’t have any belief in destiny, and I think the series of steps that I’ve taken got me here.

I’ve learned many lessons by talking to other people who went through the same thing. Finding mentors is the most valuable thing.”

Q.6. Have you ever experienced self-doubt regarding your business and yourself, or Impostor Syndrome? 

S: “Always. I’m intimately familiar with IS. Right now, talking to you and thinking someone’s gonna read it, and I’m talking as if I’m in a position of authority, it makes me think “What gives me the right?!”. 

I’ve got investors and other stakeholders, and I’m always thinking “One day they will find me out, one day they will say this was all a joke and we wanted to see how far I would go to fulfill my dream, let’s take bets”, sort of thing. 

Sometimes it feels like that…actually it’s all the time!

From talking to other people in similar positions, everybody gets Impostor Syndrome.”

Q.7. That is true, 70% of the population, men and women, experience at least one episode of Impostor Syndrome in their lifetime. This is one of the main reasons we, at Behaviour Hackers, provide training on IS.

Whatdo you do to fight it?

S: “I think without self-doubt, you don’t put in enough checks and balances to be successful.

I’ve known very, very confident people who have been victims of hubris because they thought they could do everything by themselves and never stopped to self-analyse. You have to internalise as many inputs as possible and analyse your own decisions.” 

Thank you, Simon, for the interview!

And to you, our readers, we hope you enjoyed reading this story and hopefully you took valuable lessons from it:)

We’re looking forward to sharing with you the next story in a couple of weeks!

With so much 💗,

Behaviour Hackers Team

Author: Ingrid Constantin

This simple image was created by Derek Halpern (who runs Social Triggers and Zippy Courses) Taken from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/274831