Monthly Archives: August 2016

Can’t Take Criticism? Good For You!

What’s the point of saying to someone “Your problem is you can’t take criticism”?

  • If this is true, how do you expect them to take the comment on board?
  • The statement itself falls under the bracket of plain ol’ criticism, not constructive criticism.
  • Most often this comment is levelled by someone who wants carte-blanche be insulting.

It’s not a useful phrase in my book.

I personally am proud to say “I can’t take criticism” – if it’s not constructive. Yet, truly constructive criticism is rare.

As an Undergraduate Mentor , I criticise for a living. Whilst I don’t always get it perfect, I’m dedicated to giving good quality criticism. I want my students to feel positive after our feedback sessions – champing at the bit to go back to their work with a new game-plan. They should walk out feeling un-stuck where they were stuck, and keen where they may have felt disheartened. If my criticism doesn’t make the receiver feel great, I need to re-think my approach.

I’ve been on the receiving end of incredibly helpful feedback both personally and professionally – its pure gold. But careless criticism, or tactless, incorrect remarks, claiming to be constructive, I have no time for. They infuriate me, and why shouldn’t they? After all, these remarks are essentially negativite whilst professing to be on your side.

There’s no place in my personal and professional relationships for criticism which is not fit for purpose. I’d go so far as to say that ideal feedback contains no criticism and no negative statements. In my book, it should be called “constructive commenting” – with no “criticism” in sight.

“Constructive criticism” is simply a contradiction in terms.

Which of these approaches would you rather be on the receiving end of?

“I’m on your side so I’m gonna be blunt and tell you what’s shit so you can improve it. You’ll be grateful because if no-one ever tells you, you’ll just keep being shit!”


“I’m on your side, and this means I’m excited about everything you’re doing so well, and even more excited about the potential you have to improve even more. Let’s identify the areas with the most potential for growth and create a plan together!”

There are big differences between the two. Even though the tough-love approach could be helpful, it’s inherently negative. It’s based on the idea that people get better when they focus on how badly things are going. In reality, the opposite is true. I believe people improve when they are charged with self-belief and totally focused on a positive goal. In that state of mind they will tear through anything in their path to get to it.

Ironically, to demonstrate what I mean, I’m going to criticise an example of what I think of as “bad” criticism, from an article about people who “can’t take criticism”. This is one example of what the author calls “constructive”:

 Boring is death. Never be boring. Be provocative, be entertaining, be enlightening, be educational. Never boring. Unfortunately, right now, you’re boring.”

There are SO many discouraging factors I don’t know where to start. The overall message – “your writing has some good ideas but would be more engaging if…” – is in there somewhere, but is couched in such a way that it comes across as an insult. This is partly because it confuses the subject’s work, with the subject, by saying “you’re boring” instead of “your writing is boring”.

The advice too is impossible to follow, because if someone’s writes “boring” stuff, a logical conclusion that they don’t know how to “be entertaining”. Simply telling them to do it won’t help. The result – the message sent is “you’re rubbish and should get better”. Not very useful, but unfortunately I can’t provide any suggestions for more useful feedback in this context, because I didn’t see the original work.

I can however, suggest a different approach. I’m not talking about pussy-footing around weak spots, or being afraid to mention them – I’m talking about an overall positive attitude. The above excerpt is like advising someone on how to sculpt an elephant by saying Chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.” True, but unhelpful. Really good feedback however, says “That bit over there doesn’t look like an elephant. I have some suggestions on how you could chip it away.”

This approach requires a lot of attention. For a start, you’ll need to know which elephant the artist is aiming for. No use giving feedback on how to sculpt an Indian elephant if it was meant to be an African one all along. Also, avoid confusing the artist’s desired elephant with your desired elephant (by the way, the elephant is a representation of someone’s desired goals, be they personal/skill development, or completing a project).

Next, be specific and accurate. Avoid personal likes and dislikes such as “I don’t like the tusks”. If the tusks need more detail, say “tusks” not “head”. If you’re not sure what would improve said tusks, don’t try and say more than you know. Try “I think the tusks needs something. If you agree, can we explore what that might be?”

Here are some helpful phrases to deal with areas that need improvement:

“I know you really want this result and I have an idea that might help you achieve it…”

“This aspect of the work has improved so much you should be really proud! It throws this other aspect into sharp focus, which could be brought up to the same standard to make the over all product water-tight.”

“I’d like to explore whether it would take you closer to your goal if this aspect was changed or omitted.”

“Since you’ve told me you’re aiming for X, my reflection is that the biggest obstacle to achieving X is Y. How does that sit with you?”

But more than phrasing, the key is attitude. Even clumsy comments can go down well with the right intentions, whilst (as seen above), cutting accuracy can be ineffective depending on how its offered.

Check with yourself – why are you giving feedback? The most genuine reason to do so is a real commitment to helping someone achieve their goals. As the critic, you are the space holder.

Common misaligned reasons people criticise include wanting to look like an expert, wanting to take someone down a peg, or wanting someone to behave more like them. There’s nothing quite like the person who tells you you’ve offended them by saying “Can I give you some constructive criticism? You offend people.” No doubt that they’ll soon be saying “some people can’t take criticism”, to which you can respond “No, I can’t take criticism and I won’t.”

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How To Get More Motivated!

A friend asked me how I stay so disciplined and productive in my work. When I told her I have no work ethic, no discipline and no schedule, she wanted to know more.

My strategy is this: Remove everything that gets in the way of my natural sense of motivation. 

Then I want to do stuff. I never force myself to do anything.

(as shown below)



Sound too good to be true? In a way, it IS. Whilst the principles of this process are simple, it’s taken me years to put it into practice (still ongoing). Turns out, blocks to my natural sense of motivation were present in every aspect of my life from housework to study to art!

Overview – the main blockers I’ve been working with:

  1. Filling up life with tasks I don’t like.
  2. Self doubt based inertia (mountain molehill stuff)
  3. A habit of not enjoying tasks (even those I like!)
  4. Working against my natural work rhythms.
  5. Emotional blocks.

Here’s what I’m learning to do instead:

  1. Fill my life with tasks I love
  2. Overcome inertia and nurture enthusiam
  3. Enjoy what I do.
  4. Understand my natural work rhythms and relationship with distraction
  5. Work through emotional blocks

The results are simply amazing! I get up in the morning, decide which project I want to do most and get on with it. Although I’m not working many hours p/w, feeling motivated means being focused, so I’m getting loads done!

Here’s more detail (also see my vlog on procrastination).

  1. A life full of tasks I love!

Let’s get this straight – There are very few tasks I love everything about, but for me to take something on…

…I have to be excited about doing it and about its (non-monetary) outcomes.

Going through this process can be terrifying!  When I first started I discovered that all my paid work fitted was “stuff I didn’t like”! I couldn’t just chuck it all and start again… could I? In fact I didn’t need to. I only dreaded aspects of each job and loved the rest. So now I still gig, but only take gigs I’ll love. I relaunched my recording studio to be even more holistic, creative and artist centred. I realised I didn’t want to teach unless 100% of my students were keen and self-motivated (thought impossible at the time but now a reality!). I still write and record music… ok that one was ticking over fine in the first place.

But what about stuff that you have to do that you don’t want to, like the washing up? This is a weird one, which needs strategising and rationalising. Tim Ferris has a good explanation of “batching” in his book The 4-Hour Work Week, which involves identifying tasks that can be done in bigger hits, less frequently, diminishing the overall life-hours they occupy. As well as batching, delegating or giving up where possible, could you change how you do these tasks so that you enjoy them more (see point 3)?

2. Overcoming inertia and nurturing enthusiam

When I get a sense of intertia surrounding a task, it might be that I have doubts about being able to do it. This isn’t necessarily under-confidence. If point 1 is in place, each task should be something I’m excited about and that’s important to me, therefore it’s likely also to be difficult in places. Given that it’s important to me, the flip-side is, I’ll be disappointed if I don’t do it well, so there’s naturally some trepidation. You can spot a task like this if you always enjoy it, feel great afterwards, yet always feel reluctant beforehand.

Rather than forcing yourself to get started (which just results in associating the task with unpleasant feelings), a good strategy is to distract or encourage yourself.

Distracting: Listening to happy music whilst I set up my recording kit to help avoid self doubting thoughts about recording.

Encouraging: Keeping a guitar/vocals practice diary and reading back how great I felt after my last practice just before the next one (the same could work for exercise?).

3. Enjoying what I do

Being used to forcing myself to do stuff I didn’t like, I was shocked to discover I was also doing tasks I like in the least enjoyable way possible! Seriously!

You might be doing the same if you have the following thoughts: “Ok, if I can get this done in the next 30mins I can go to lunch early. If not, I’ll have to skip lunch.” or “I’ll just get my head down and blitz it all day!”

What are we thinking when we tell ourselves this stuff?! Do we think we’re going to have a nice day working super intensively and get frazzled? Or the other trick – giving ourselves an unrealistic time-slot to get it done, resulting in a rush and panic? If we go through life thinking “I’ll just do this, get it over as quickly as possible and then get on to something I like”, it’s much more likely that our lives will just be full of tasks that we’re trying to get over and done with! Worse still, we’re training ourselves to feel stressed about all our tasks, causing huge demotivation!

If everything on your to-do list is exciting and important to you, it should be enjoyable too. So set yourself up to enjoy it! Let projects fill the space they need to. Work at your own pace – if the project holds your interest, you’ll be naturally productive. When we enjoy what we’re doing we become focused and absorbed. The psychological term for this state is “flow” or “in the zone”.

4. Understanding Ones Natural Work Rhythms / Distraction

“I’m turning over a new leaf” you might say to yourself, “I’ll start first thing tomorrow morning, break for lunch at 12.30pm, then crack on till 5pm.” But what if that’s not your natural rhythm? If you work in an office and can’t choose your hours, you might be able to choose the order of your day to an extent. Are you creative in the morning, but slump mid afternoon? Do you need a half hour’s “play” time surfing online before getting started? Find out about yourself.

I remember first understanding this concept as a kid. Fortunately my parents never made me do homework. Other kids would be forced to get started straight after tea, to be done by 6pm and “have the whole evening free”. Well, I never felt like coming home from school and getting straight back to the grind after marmalade on toast! My brain was tired from a whole day’s study. Often I’d nap, waking up at 6pm to actually find homework appealing and less grind-like.

Finally, be aware of your body’s natural rhythms. Whilst you may feel more productive working through lunch, or staying up late, you’re probably not. Breaks, and keeping your body happy facilitates motivation too. However, bear in mind that despite the modern obsession with the matter, increasing productivity has a ceiling. If your work is very intense, your natural ceiling may be far less than 40hrs per week.

A note on distraction: It’s well known that distraction is a huge enemy to the “flow” state. When someone is interrupted, it can take up to 10mins for them to get back on task, which is why setting up a distraction free work environment is important – quiet working space, clear desk, full screen mode, notifications off.

But what about one’s distractibility? Once getting in “the zone” becomes a habit, it’s suddenly easier to work in distracting environments (trains, cafes etc). Conversely when we become drained, we find we’ve clicked onto social media without even knowing. Rather than chiding myself, I’ve had much better results aknowledging that such behaviour is a sign I need a break.

5. Emotional blocks

One of the trickiest reasons for task avoidance is an emotional block. Each block is unique, and must be worked through rather than pushed through. An holistic accountant (who addresses money relationships as well as tax returns) once told me that many mathematically capable people completely fail to do their accounts because their financial fears stop them even opening a spreadsheet. Showing them a user-friendly systems for recording expenses has no effect unless the emotional blocks are addressed.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this overview! I could definetely expand on each of the 5 points, giving each a full post of their own and walking through processes for addressing each one.


Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

Music @:


Filed under Digital Nomad, life coaching, musicians, self employed

New Solo Guitar Video – Thinking ‘Round Corners

Track 3 from my EP – Sonic Structures For The Streets, as part of my project to create “live” YouTube videos of all six pieces.

(A down-tempo version of ‘Thinking ‘Round Corners’ features in my entry Guitar Masters 2016. Please click through and give it a “thumbs up” to VOTE for me in the competition before 30.08.2016)

I’ve always loved the hypnotic sound of this piece, which doesn’t feel entirely mine. To me, this was the piece the guitar wanted to play, rather than the piece I wanted to write. It was like it was waiting to be found inside the instrument. This acoustic has a signature sweet and mellow tone that the main theme relies on. It was the first piece I wrote on this guitar as I was finding my way around it and responding to its unique tone. The only other time that’s happened for me was writing the shimmering ukulele part for Music For Three Ukulele’s / Standing on The Edge – that was actually composed by accident, recorded as an improvisation intended to go with an eBay listing to SELL the instrument, so the little uke must have been fighting for its life not to be sold!

Do you have any compositions like that?


Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

Music @:

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Practicing The Guitar Without Looking

My reasons for practicing without looking and how it can improve overall technique.

It’s a a good idea to train yourself to relying less on seeing the guitar neck, in case of distractions on stage or bad lighting, to allow better communication with band members and for better focus. However, this video focuses on the technical benefits of “blind” practice.

What threw me was trying a method in which you actually get it wrong a lot – completely counter to my training which says “never allow yourself to practice mistakes”. In this case, it does seem to be fine to make a flying-tap out of nowhere, on to totally the wrong fret, as it appears that the body gathers this as reference material and still continues to learn, telling itself “Ok, you aimed for fret 7 but you hit fret 6. So now we know where fret 6 is. Let’s absorb that knowledge into our map and try again”.

Thanks to sensational composer guitarist Stephen Yates for helpful discussions on the topic.

Don’t forget to click through to the links to my Guitar Masters Competition Video and give it a “thumbs up” to vote for me in the contest. Enough votes could get me to Poland for the live rounds this November!

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 10.30.43.png


Lastly, I’m really pleased because this is the first vlog I’ve shot with a standalone camera, rather than laptop/phone. Let me know what you think of the results. Here’s the comparison with my old way of doing it (left).


Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

Music @:


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Vote for me in Guitar Masters 2016

It only takes 2 clicks and could get me to the live rounds in Poland this November. Vote with a YouTube ‘like’ (click though to YouTube and then click ‘thumbs up’)! It would also be fantastic if you would share the video on social media and encourage others to vote too.


After Guitar Star  last year (click here to view my appearance in Series 1, 2015 in which I got down to the top 4 in the acoustic category) I’ve decided it’s probably good to enter a competition every year. Guitar Masters 2016 is judged by an esteemed panel including Tommy Emmanual and Martin Taylor so wish me luck!

Am proud to say this is my first 10min video shot in a continuous take (as stipulated by the competition rules) and although I was disappointed that the main camera came out s little fuzzy I think the dual-camera effect has worked well. Looking forward to doing more in this way, but with a better main camera. Hope you enjoy the pieces and please do press “like” (on youtube), share it with your friends and encourage them to press like too as it could make all the difference for me.



Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

Music @:


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Filed under Guitar (Acoustic/Percussive/Fingerstyle), music

Making Everything You Own Sacred

IMG_0691I am a minimalist because I LOVE stuff. This is the clash I seem to have with the minimalists I read about who don’t care about stuff. However after 5 years of reducing I’ve finally understood WHY I’m a minimalist who loves stuff, and what it is I’ve been trying to achieve.

My aim is to only own and use things packed with dense positive energy. In other words – I want all my possessions to be sacred objects

Those of you who don’t like the word energy might turn off at this point, but hear me out. If you don’t like that word, try sentimental value, or Marie Kondo’s “Spark joy” concept*. When I use and wear things on a daily basis which have this quality, I literally feel like they are transmitting healing me.

Sound crazy? Let me explain more.

I generally experience the following to have high positive energy:

  • Something I’ve had for a long time
  • Something a friend has given to me or made for me, or made by me
  • Something old that’s been used and loved by many people
  • Something made from natural materials (which I believe take energy well), such as wood, wool, cotton, metal.
  • Found objects.

I generally experience these things have low/neutral energy:

  • Something mass produced (in other words, something made without love, and likely during the trauma of poor working conditions)
  • Something brand new (in other words, something that’s never been loved)
  • Something made from plastic/synthetic materials.

Making my watch strap took 1hr and produced a much warmer result than buying factory-made.

Even if you’re not familiar with the concept of energy, can you relate this to your own life? Look around your home. Do you have more positive thoughts and feelings about by a handmade gift from a friend than you do for, say, an empty juice bottle? If nothing else, the gift at least holds warm associations. To be surrounded by these things is to be surrounded by our warmest memories, thoughts and feelings. Everyone has a “special” or “favourite” something. What if everything you owned had that quality to it?


If you habitually experience energy, these ideas might immediately resonate with you. Or if you’re simply curious, try picking up a pebble and carrying it in your pocket all week. Each night, take it out and hold it in your hand as you think of a happy memory from your day. At the end of the week, can you perceive a denser positive energy in that stone?


I use this knife for all cooking even if it’s ‘the wrong tool for the job’, such as for grating cheese or cutting bread. I’d rather give my knife more use and therefore more energy.

My perception is that natural materials take on energy better, but even something synthetic, with the right intention can become a “healing” possession or sacred object. For example, I have one gaudy polyester shirt which I bought 2nd hand as a joke. Strangely it suited me, and I ended up wearing it at my wedding, so now it’s one of my most energised possessions.

For me, one of the biggest things that gets energy into an object is use. To use stuff more often I have to have less of it – the result is minimalism. This is why I only cook and eat with one knife, and have done for 5 years.

Up until very recently I was doing this instinctively without understanding it. I’d upgrade something, like my rucksack, only to find myself taking the upgrade back to the shop and keeping the old one. I’d shy away from high tech traveller’s clothes, even if they’d make life easier, and stick to bulky cotton.


My rucksack, originally bought by my mother for our only walking holiday when I was 7. The trip was formative for me, so I wanted to use the bag as an adult, but also strangely wanted rid of it. Finally I remembered that my mother hated the trip herself! Once I addressed the imprint her experience still had on the rucksack, I stopped wanting to replace it and started using it.

Since I’ve fully understood that I’m creating a healing energy environment through “stuff”, I’ve changed tack and gone for it completely. I’ve got rid of stuff that I actually was using, because it wasn’t (and couldn’t be made) energy dense. Once rid of it, I could feel that even the energy between my possessions flowed much better. I’d no longer consider giving away highly charged items just because they are bulky (like hand knitted jumpers) but am cutting down on electronics.

If I need to acquire something I’ll make sure it’s energy dense, by perhaps making it from found materials, or asking a friend to do it with me, or buying 2nd hand. If I have to buy something new, I might decorate it. I’ll also look out for long lasting things, giving me years to put energy into them.

The result is amazing! I feel totally aligned and am truly supported by my possessions. This is not about loving stuff more than people. My stuff keep itself in check now, and I have more time for the people in my life.


*A note on Marie Kondo: When I first read about Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” concept I was thrilled. With slightly different framing our ideas were similar, and she even writes about imbuing everyday boring functional objects with positive energy by complimenting them. What I’d add to it is that some possessions do not “spark joy” or are not positively charged objects because they either will not take energy or they have negative energy in them which needs addressing (cleansing). For example, if a loved one had a traumatic experience whilst wearing a piece of jewellery, then gave it to you, you may feel a heaviness, sadness or tiredness when touching it. However, the heaviness can be freed from the object, leaving only the warm intentions and generosity of your friend. Someone attuned will be able to tell if an object does not spark-joy because it needs discarding or because it needs attention.

Also, whilst Marie Kondo relates that most people naturally end up with less stuff after her process, I would argue that in the case of making objects sacred, it’s vital to have few possessions and the fewer the better. As long as the functionality of your life is not compromised, interacting with a smaller number of objects more often ups the energy in each one.

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