How to get more referrals

Without a doubt, attracting clients through referrals is the most powerful and enjoyable way to build your business. By the time you engage in a conversation with your prospect, they are already warm and ready, the trust threshold has been met, and chances are they are somehow qualified to engage with you. All of it, without moving a finger.

How do you increase your referability?

Relationship-Based Marketing is at the core of getting referrals. It's all about building and nurturing genuine connections.

Referrals are not predictable—they don’t really depend on us. However, there are definitely things you can do to boost your chances of being referred. Think of it as setting the stage for magic to happen. By focusing on the right strategies, you make it easier for your clients and colleagues to sing your praises.

I’ve identified 5 key lessons to increase referrals in professional services. Let's dive in and explore how you can become a referral magnet.

Think win-win-win

First, we need to understand that being referred is our client’s way of saying “thank you.” The key to becoming referable is to be of great service, consistently. I’m not talking about being good; it’s about being great. Imagine your clients so thrilled with your service that they can’t help but share their experience. That’s the magic we’re aiming for.

Going the unexpected extra mile builds reciprocity. Your clients feel so thankful that they feel compelled to tell the world about you. Every time you exceed expectations, you’re planting the seeds for future referrals.

Furthermore, by referring a trusted partner (you), clients aren’t just saying thanks —they’re also helping their friends and colleagues by connecting them with someone they trust. This kind act of exceptional service results in a win-win-win relationship.

Asking for referrals

Asking for referrals seems obvious, but it’s often overlooked. Many think referrals just happen naturally or that asking for them feels awkward. However, there’s a way to ask with finesse.

Start by planting the seed early. In your first conversations with a new client, say something like, “My business works on referrals, so we really focus on creating outstanding relationships.” This sets the stage for future referrals.

After delivering great value, gently remind your clients that your business grows through referrals. You might say, “I’d appreciate it if you don’t keep me a secret.” It’s a subtle nudge that gets them thinking.

For long-term clients, consider taking them out for lunch once a year. Discuss their business, life, or goals. At the end, it’s perfectly fine to ask for referrals. It’s a natural part of a meaningful conversation.

Niching down helps a lot

I own a Marketing Agency, but not just any kind of marketing agency. We specialize in helping established consulting and coaching firms. Because we are very clear about who we serve, we are much more likely to get referred to a consulting firm. Our niche makes us memorable and specific.

It’s critical that within 3 seconds of interacting with your brand, people can tell who you serve, what you do, and how you are different from everyone else. This clarity not only attracts the right clients but also makes it easier for others to refer you. When your niche is well-defined, clients and colleagues immediately know if you’re the right fit for someone they know.

For example, instead of saying, “I’m a business coach,” say, “I help female entrepreneurs in the tech industry scale their startups.” This specificity makes it crystal clear who you help and what you do, making it easier for others to think of you when they come across someone who fits your niche.

Moreover, a clear niche builds your authority and reputation in that area. When you’re known for being the go-to expert in a specific field, referrals become a natural by product. People trust specialists more than generalists because they perceive specialists as having deeper knowledge and expertise.

Manage expectations and deliver quick wins

The first few months of your relationship set the foundation and define the nature of your relationship with your clients. This is the phase where they are evaluating if they made the right decision by hiring you.

You want to exceed their expectations. But to exceed them, you first need to know them. It’s essential to define success early in the relationship. Ask your clients, “What does success look like for you?” This simple question helps you understand How to get more referrals 4 their goals and sets clear expectations. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to plant the seed that you’ll ask for referrals at some point.

Once you know their expectations, focus on delivering quick wins. Quick wins are small but impactful deliverables that reassure your clients they made the right choice in hiring you. These wins make them feel good and show that things are on track. Quick wins build trust and confidence, reinforcing their decision to work with you.

For instance, if you’re a marketing consultant, a quick win could be identifying and fixing a glaring issue on their website that immediately boosts their traffic. It’s a tangible result that makes your value clear from the start.

Stay in contact

Regular contact shows that you value the relationship beyond business. It is critical to stay in contact with the folks in your network to increase your referability. A yearly lunch or sending a weekly newsletter are great ways to stay connected and top of mind. The bottom line is that there needs to be a genuine
connection where you stay in touch to see how life is going for them, so they know that you truly care.

Staying in contact isn’t about being pushy or always talking business. It’s about genuine, ongoing engagement that shows you care about them as individuals.

In addition, referrals are a two-way street. Consider referring people to your clients when it makes sense to do so. When you actively refer others to your clients, it demonstrates your belief in their services and creates a reciprocal dynamic. They’re more likely to think of you when someone needs your expertise.

Get referred now

I invite you to implement these strategies and become a referral engine. Referrals are the lifeblood of a thriving business. If you’re not getting referred, it’s a sign that something requires attention. Reflect on the areas we’ve discussed and identify where you can improve. Remember, it’s not just about being good; it’s about being great and unforgettable.

Think win-win-win, ask for referrals with confidence, niche down to stand out, manage expectations and deliver quick wins, and stay in contact to show you care. These principles will set you on the path to becoming highly referable.

STOP dehumanizing your audience

It sounds rough, but it is an undeniable reality: dehumanizing our audience in marketing is both widespread and often unrecognized.

We dehumanize our audience when they become a means to our goals. It happens subtly, almost imperceptibly, as we shift our focus from people to metrics, from dreams to data points. When, instead of serving, we anxiously try to manipulate to feel in control.

It never works. Why?

In the must-read "To Sell Is Human," Daniel H. Pink explains that one of the most critical skill in sales is the ability to attune to other people. "Attunement," Pink explains, "is the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and with the context you’re in." When we abstract the people in our audience, we inevitably lose attunement with the ones we aim to serve.

But why do we fall into this trap?

Often, there is an underlying anxiety to perform, to "be successful." If you are as goal-oriented as I am, the goals you set and the metrics you look at will impact the way you engage with the world and what you pay attention to.

In many organizations, the emphasis is on measurable outcomes—clicks, conversions, sales figures. This pressure pushes us to focus narrowly on numbers, often at the expense of the less quantifiable aspects of human connection and brand loyalty.

How do we fix this?

This is precisely why I am a big advocate of Relationship-based Marketing. Not only is it extremely enjoyable to do business at this level, but it also cures us from the lures of the dehumanization trap.

Here are 5 tactics that will serve you in staying attuned to your audience:

  1. Redefine Success: What Matters Most to You?
    Increasing revenue is great, but I urge you to evaluate what really matters to you. What kind of impact are you looking to create in the world? By redefining success from financial gains to impact, we embody a much more powerful self.
  2. Include Human-Centered Metrics
    Make sure to add human-centered metrics that reflect the quality of customer interactions, such as customer happiness indices, engagement depth, and feedback quality. How can you measure the impact you aim to create?
  3. Savor the Sweet Taste of Relationships: Talk to Your Audience
    Invest time in having great conversations with your audience. Yearly appreciation lunches, check-in conversations, focus groups, or randomized one-on-one conversations with your list. Your goal is to understand how to best serve your audience, and get attuned to the market.
  4. Empower Customer Advocacy
    Turn loyal customers into advocates. How? Go the extra mile, and excel at providing value even after your engagement has ended. Get creative here. It can be a simple gesture that shows you care for them, such as giving them a call to check in a few months after your engagement.
  5. Personalize Communications
    Use data intelligently to tailor messages that resonate on an individual level. Personalization goes beyond using a customer's name; it’s about crafting messages that acknowledge their unique preferences and past interactions with your brand.

It’s crucial to remember the profound importance of treating our audience as people, not numbers. By redefining success, embracing human-centered metrics, and fostering direct, meaningful interactions, we can transform our marketing strategies into nurturing relationships that resonate deeply with our audience. This shift not only rehumanizes our approach but also builds a stronger, more loyal community around our brand. Let's commit to making marketing a heartfelt exchange, one that honors and uplifts everyone involved.

Why Newsletters Are My Favorite Marketing Strategy

Last Saturday, I woke up to an email that brightened my day.

“Dear Hugo,

Nice to ‘meet’ you. Juergen has had great things to say about you and, just this morning, he sent me your newsletter below. Could we please have a chat?”

Receiving messages like this is always a thrill, but it’s also a powerful reminder of the effectiveness of newsletters as a marketing tool. Newsletters are not only the most cost-effective channel for reaching your audience, but they also help you:

Unlike social media platforms, where you risk losing visibility due to algorithm changes or account issues, you own your email list. This ownership allows for direct and consistent communication with your audience.

People have a very personal relationship with their inbox; being allowed into someone's email is a privilege that should not be taken lightly. I have been doing email marketing for 6 years and have learned a few key lessons. Here are my key takeaways.

Lesson #1: It's all about the relationship.

Newsletters allow for a direct, personal connection with your audience. You don't need thousands of contacts in your CRM to benefit from a newsletter. What truly matters is the relationship you cultivate with your list. Aim to be warm and approachable in your content. Yes, provide value and insights—but don't just hide behind the data. Instead, reveal yourself: tell a story, and express your point of view.

Here are some additional tips:

Lesson #2: Frequency matters.

Consistency is crucial, especially when it comes to newsletters. Regular communication with your audience not only builds trust but also ensures your brand remains top-of-mind.

My friend, Max, drove this point home when I missed sending out my usual Friday newsletter a couple of weeks ago. He sent me this candid message:

“Hugo: I wanted to let you know I love your newsletter. Very inspiring. You said it would be every Friday, but I can't find the one from last week. I checked spam and it didn’t go there. Not sure if it’s something on my end. Not a code red—just really look forward to reading it weekly! Thanks. Max”

Max’s message was a touching reminder of the importance of showing up consistently.

Lesson #3: Segment.

Effective communication requires understanding that you don’t speak to everyone in the same way. This principle is crucial when it comes to your email list. Segmenting your audience allows you to tailor your messages to meet the specific needs and interests of different groups within your audience, enhancing
engagement and response rates.

Sometimes you’ll have very clear segmentation from serving different markets. But what I typically find is that everyone on your list can benefit from the content in your newsletter. In this case, what I like to do is a segment to deliver relevant content that resonates with where each subscriber is in their journey with your brand. Consider the framework in the table below.

Email Marketing Done Right - What your audience needs to receive based on their customer journey

Lesson #4: Have a differentiated approach.

I owe this lesson to Rosemary. During our strategy session, I asked Rosemary, a renowned public speaking coach based in Miami, "What do you find the most valuable about our work together right now? What is working the best?" She immediately responded, "the newsletter." I asked Rosemary to share a word of wisdom with my audience; her response was spot on:

"Email newsletters are immensely useful ways to build, grow, and serve your audience directly. But you must have a clear purpose, a differentiated approach, and a consistent framework. Ask yourself:

  1. What are you providing that your readers can't get elsewhere?
  2. Are you offering pure value or selling a product or service?
  3. What is the frequency and cadence that will keep your readers engaged?
  4. How much free content is enough, and how much do you keep behind a paywall?

Leverage your content for social media, blogs, and articles on LinkedIn, Medium, Substack, or wherever your audience goes for a deeper dive into your topic."

Rosemary Ravinal, Public Speaking Coach.

Newsletters are the ultimate Digital Marketing Strategy for Coaches and Consultants.

Newsletters encapsulate the three essential R's of selling professional services: Relationships, Referrals, and Reputation. By regularly engaging with your audience through thoughtful, personalized content, newsletters help nurture and deepen existing relationships. They are powerful tools for keeping your services top of mind, encouraging satisfied clients to refer others to you. Furthermore, they serve as a platform to showcase your expertise and thought leadership, significantly enhancing your professional reputation.

How to Build Your Network Without Cold Calling

While cold calling seems handy in the lead generation toolbox, I despise it. Most of the time I find cold calling to be annoying; it lowers my brand’s perceived value and it is extremely ineffective. I seldom do it.

Think of your most profound and impactful business relationships. How did they start? Chances are the vast majority of them didn’t start with a cold call. As a professional service provider, you will get clients through one of the 3 R’s: Relationships, Referrals and Reputation. (McMakin & Fletcher, 2018).

I am a firm believer and practitioner of Relationship-Based Marketing (RBM), where we create and maintain high-value relationships rooted in mutual respect and admiration. The very first interaction you have with a new prospect shapes the rest of the stories they make about you. Do it wrong and you’ll be forever ignored or commoditized; do it right and you’ll start a lifelong relationship.

What if you could contact prospects and have them feel honored by your outreach? And they immediately find in you, a valuable connection? Here are 3 strategies to expand your network in a sophisticated and elevated way. These are not theoretical ideas, but proven strategies that I’ve implemented effectively in my firm and with my clients.

Innovative Strategies for Relationship Building

What all of the strategies below have in common is that they focus on initiating a relationship of mutual respect and admiration, and not on selling your services.

Strategy #1: Invite them to your platform

We wanted to get Debra, a career coach, as a speaker at universities. Debra was polished and highly accomplished from her last business, but she didn’t have many contacts in academia yet. We needed to expand her network first.

We compiled and prioritized a list of Directors at Career Development Centers at universities. Instead of cold calling and pitching them the topics Debra could cover as a speaker, we created a platform: A talk show called The Passionate Professional. We developed a sophisticated sub-brand and leveraged Debra’s contacts from her last business to get some great names in the first episodes.

After a few episodes we went back to our target list and invited some of these folks, not to hire Debra as a speaker, but to share their word of advice with our audience at The Passionate Professional Talk Show. The results were far more effective than those from regular cold calls. While some folks never replied, many did – after all, who doesn’t want to be a 'passionate professional'? Debra recorded an amazing episode with them, and a few months later, she was speaking in front of their alumni.

When you opt for this strategy, the platform is flexible. It can be a podcast, a talk show, a written interview, a blog post, etc. However, some things are critical to make this strategy work:

  1. Your platform’s branding needs to be sophisticated and high-quality. People you invite to join need to be honored and proud that you have invited them.
  2. The social proof that you get from having other “big names” in the platform makes a huge difference.
  3. If you don’t have a distribution list, for people to engage with the content, consider buying ads to drive traffic.

Strategy #2: Host a collaborative event

Paolo, the co-founder of Azul, is one of the most brilliant minds I have ever had the pleasure to work with. He is also a highly collaborative visionary. One sunny afternoon during a lovely lunch in Miami Beach, Paolo shared how, when he wanted to put Azul on the radar, he envisioned hosting a series of events to gain authority by association. This also happened to be Paolo’s superpower: to bring people together and create something the world hasn’t seen before.

Azul organizes in-person events that people from all over the world attend. They are also pioneers in their field hosting online conferences with more than 50 teachers and thousands of registrations.

Hosting an event is a powerful strategy because there it clusters lots of energy into a few hours or days. The magnitude of the event can vary and be equally effective. Some of my favorite type of events are:

  1. Conferences and Summits. 20 to 50 guests.
  2. Mini-Summits. 5 to 10 guests.
  3. Round Tables. 3 to 5 guests.
  4. Webinars. 1 to 2 guests.

If you implement this strategy, it is critical that you ensure registrations to your event. I always suggest running ad campaigns to ensure butts-in-seats.

Strategy #3: Collaborate on a White Paper or Research Study

Writing a white paper or conducting a research study isn't just about putting out great content—it's also a fantastic way to pull in opinions from key players in your industry. Think of it as a networking event on paper (or screen). This approach not only boosts your visibility but also positions you as a hub for industry collaboration.

When you're planning to create a white paper or research study, here’s how to make it a networking goldmine:

  1. Choosing the Right Topic: Pick a topic that’s both pressing and relevant to your industry. It should be something that sparks interest and invites debate, making it perfect for collaboration.
  2. Inviting Contributions: Reach out to potential leads or industry experts to contribute their insights on the topic. This isn't just about getting quotes—it's about inviting them to co-author sections or provide case studies. It shows you value their expertise and strengthens the bond.
  3. Easy and Engaging Format: Keep the tone professional yet approachable. You want your contributors and readers to feel like they’re part of a meaningful conversation, not just digesting a dry academic paper.
  4. Promotion and Distribution: Share your collaborative white paper across your networks and encourage your co-authors to do the same. This can significantly extend your reach and attract a wider audience. Consider leveraging platforms like LinkedIn, industry forums, and newsletters.
  5. Ongoing Engagement: After publishing, keep the dialogue going. Host a webinar or a roundtable discussion about the white paper’s findings. Invite contributors and readers to discuss the implications or next steps. This keeps everyone engaged and deepens professional relationships.

Conclusion: 200 people can change your life

As a professional service provider, you don’t need thousands of clients. You need a few GREAT clients. The insightful book "How Clients Buy: A Practical Guide to Business Development for Consulting and Professional Services" by McMakin and Fletcher drives home the idea that just 200 people can change your life.

Identify these key connections, and strategically cultivate your relationships with them. Remember, the goal isn't merely to increase your contact list—it's to build a community of colleagues, mentors, and clients who trust and value what you bring to the table. Start small, think big, and watch as your network grows organically, powered by genuine connections and shared success.

The Art of Relationship-Based Marketing: Winning Clients for Life in Professional Services

Satisfied clients are good, but raving fans are GREAT. What if your network could become your most effective marketing tool? The answer is Relationship-Based Marketing (RBM), done right it can catapult your practice with minimum effort.

Understanding Relationship-Based Marketing (RBM)

RBM is a strategy that emphasizes customer retention, satisfaction, lifetime customer value and referrals. It is an extremely enjoyable practice, because it allows us to go deep into generating value, creating solid human-centered relationships, and it is a great strategy to generate cash flow from repeated business.

To fully appreciate the effectiveness of Relationship-Based Marketing, it's helpful to compare it directly with traditional transactional marketing approaches. The table below outlines key distinctions between the two.

Relationship-Based Marketing vs. Traditional Marketing Approaches.
Relationship-Based Marketing vs. Traditional Marketing Approaches.

The psychological basis of RBM

There are three fundamental psychological principles at the core of RBM: trust, reciprocity, and lifelong mindset.

Trust is the foundation of any meaningful relationship. In the context of professional services, I always refer to the classic Trust Equation from the classic literature: The Trusted Advisor.

Trustworthiness = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy/Self − Orientation

Credibility, relates to words. Reliability, relates to actions. Intimacy, relates to vulnerability and emotions. Self-orientation, relates to service.

Reciprocity is your clientʼs way of saying Thank You. When you go above and beyond for clients, they are often compelled to respond in kind. This might manifest as referrals, continued business, or even public endorsements. Reciprocity is about giving value first—without an immediate expectation of return—creating a positive cycle of mutual benefit that strengthens the bond over time.

Adopting a Lifelong Mindset is the secret sauce of Relationship-Based Marketing. When I founded MoonDesk Media, I accepted numerous projects that others might deem 'low-value' because they offered an opportunity to forge connections. For me, these weren't mere projects; they were the beginning of a lifelong business relationship. Such relationships can only exist if there is mutual respect and admiration between you and your clients.

Implementing Relationship-Based Marketing

Implementing Relationship-Based Marketing is a complete cultural and structural change in the way we do business. It’s about seeing every client as a partner in progress rather than just a transaction. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how you can weave this strategy into your professional service.

Part 1: Mindset — Serve, Don't Sell

At the heart of Relationship-Based Marketing is a shift in mindset from selling to serving. This means genuinely caring about the success of others and continuously exploring what they need as they evolve. By aligning your business to the evolving needs of your clients, you create an environment where both you and your clients can grow together. This mindset encourages looking beyond immediate transactions and focusing on how you can support your clients’ long-term success, which in turn, nurtures loyalty and trust.

Part 2: Start with You — Personal Engagement and Warmth

The implementation begins with you. Incorporate warmth and a personal touch in every interaction, including your internal team. Kindness and approachability are key; they make clients feel valued and respected. Strive to be easy to work with and consistently deliver value in all dealings. Going the extra mile should be a standard practice, not an exception. Achieve an early win for your clients to build confidence in your services, and celebrate these victories together.

Part 3: Culture — Fostering a Relationship-Driven Environment

Cultivating a relationship-driven culture within your organization is critical, and perhaps the biggest challenge for larger firms. This involves training and encouraging your team to prioritize client relationships in all their actions. At MoonDesk Media, for example, we have embodied the following cultural norms:

Part 4: System — Ensuring Consistency and Connection

Finally, develop systems that support the adoption of an RBM strategy and the culture. Implement processes that help maintain connections with clients over the long term. Typically these processes include:

Conclusion: Marketing From The Heart <3

In an era where digital communication and instant gratification are so prominent, adopting a Relationship-Based Marketing strategy can significantly differentiate your professional services firm. By prioritizing long-term relationships you build a strong, resilient business foundation.

Implementing RBM isn't just about adopting new tools or processes—it's about fostering a culture that values and nurtures genuine human connections. The benefits of RBM extend beyond client satisfaction, they translate into tangible business outcomes such as referrals, increased Life-Time Value, and consistency in cash flow.

Let this guide serve as a roadmap to transforming your client interactions and propelling your business forward with a strategy that’s as rewarding as it is effective.

The 3 R's of Selling Professional Services

"Launch your 6-figure coaching practice in 6 months or less." 

That was the headline of an ad I saw on my social media. So compelling, so attractive, and yet so shallow. 

These programs usually give some good advice, and some of them have had some great success stories, however, this is not the norm. I find them to be extremely tactical: do a webinar, launch your list, and run ads using this formula. 

These tactical approaches can be very attractive when you are starting. They are easy to do and they get you busy quickly, so you feel like you are doing something. There is nothing wrong with these tactics, but you need to understand that as a consultant or professional service provider, you will ONLY get clients in three ways: Relationships, Referrals and Reputation. Tactics can only help you reinforce the 3 golden R's (I first read of this concept in the book, How Clients Buy).

How to sell coaching services. The 3 R’s of selling coaching and consulting services.

It is all about TRUST

When you are the expert and you are selling professional services, your clients simply need to trust you. They need to trust that you will execute a good diagnostic process and provide a good solution that is in their best interest. You need to earn this trust.

Furthermore, there is information asymmetry - you simply know more about the work in hand than your clients do. Let's say you need a babysitter, how do you go about finding a good one? Do you ask a friend? Do you think of who you already know? Do you Google 'Best baby sitters in town' and read reviews?

Relationships, Referrals, and Reputation are just ways in which trust grows.

REMEMBER: If there is NO Trust, there is NO Transaction.

What you can do with this information

Here are some immediate actions that can help set your marketing in the right direction:

  1. The most successful coaches and consultants get their clients from sustained, lifelong professional relationships. 
  2. Activate your relationship network. It is best if you do this when you don't need anything from them. It only works when there is genuine and mutual professional respect for each other. Avoid salesy language; instead, ask questions or seek advice. "Hugo, I'm following my passion to help coaches do better marketing and wanted your advice on what really helped you get started." is a lot more compelling than "Hugo, I am opening my marketing practice for coaches. And would love to tell you more about it. Do you have 15 minutes to jump on a call?" See the difference? People like relationships, helping, and connection; they hate feeling transactionalized. 
  3. Master the art of building and maintaining relationships. This is an intentional act. One of my favorite tactics is to map my champions: people who just love working with me, refer me, and support me. 
  4. Craft an elevator pitch that clearly describes what you do, who you serve, and what sets you apart, so you always know what to say when asked.
  5. Getting referrals comes organically, but every now and then, you can ask for referrals. Most people don't. 
  6. Consider what elements of your customer journey are deterring your reputation. For example, a poorly designed website. 
  7. Evaluate things that build your reputation, such as speaking engagements, publications, mentions, articles, testimonials, portfolio, etc."

In conclusion, while flashy marketing tactics might grab attention, the cornerstone of a successful coaching or consulting practice lies in the depth of your relationships, the strength of your referrals, and the solidity of your reputation. These elements are the bedrock of trust.

Why I Quit on Self-improvement Projects.

A little better every day. A little more efficient, more profitable, a little smarter? I’ve accepted the “Better Every Day” dogma - it is just obvious, because, what is the alternative? A little worse?

Unapologetic motivational speakers can energize a room with thousands of people with words of self-improvement. And gosh, they are good. I get out of there with an inflated sense of being better, of doing the right thing. What’s is wrong — you may ask — with harvesting from this energy to improve myself?

Here is where self-improvement goes wrong

Self-improvement in our western culture, is heavily influenced with this industrialized notion of continuous improvement. As an Industrial Engineer, I deeply respect the work of the XIX century thinkers like Goldratt, Deming, Taylor. While these currents of knowledge work splendidly well in lean manufacturing environments, they don’t work in our spiritual journey of being fully (not better) humans. I am NOT a factory.

More so, self-improvement is sold as a shortcut from suffering. “You feel bad? There is something wrong with you that needs to be improved.” And we immediately take action at the slightest glimpse of discomfort. We rush out of unpleasant feelings trying to put ourselves together and get some solid ground on where to resume the construction of the “Me Project." I am NOT a project.

Self-improvement is tainted with blame. The sense that there is something about me that needs to be fixed, that needs to be corrected, is extremely critical. In other words, self-improvement is married to self-critic. The inner-critic is the one dictating what to improve. And while this internal judge has fair intentions — it wants us to be accepted member of our society — its tools are not nearly as fair. The judge blames and the judge rejects the parts it doesn’t like. The judge’s handbook of law was written during our socialization years. I now wonder, how much of my self-improvement projects are coming from fear? I am NOT my inner-critic.

What I’ve chosen instead of self-improvement

“Yeah.. I hear you, but without self-improvement. We will just be stagnant in our habitual patterns. I want to overcome the things holding me back from my full potential.”

Here is what I’ve come to realize. I’m done making a project out of myself. Instead, I want to befriend myself. To get to know me without judgement. To become aware of my ways of being, my habitual patterns, defaults and reactions. Here is the main difference: I will not make a project to get rid of the things I don’t like.

I’ll simply observe them. And if possible, offer my kindness to my demons. I’ll sit in peace with discomfort without trying to get solid ground under me. And then, with an open heart, I’ll have the courage to listen and honor my shadow.

During my first therapy session, I told my therapist, “I am here because I am done with the way I’ve been doing things. I am ready to bury the parts of me that no longer serve me.” Her response was, “Hugo, we don’t bury them. We integrate them.”

This compassionate approach is gentle and subtle but is the most powerful and courageous thing I’ve done. Blame is an invitation to pause and relax with discomfort.

In her book, Radical Compassion, Tara Brach, a beloved Psychologist and Buddhist Teacher, introduced a very practical technique to befriend strong emotions called RAIN. In a nutshell:

My invitation is to avoid making a project out of yourself, catch your self-improvement being rooted in fear as opposed to love, relax into the wisdom of your heart and your inherent goodness. Befriend your demons. I leave you with a poem I wrote titled “To my demons.”

Running in the wilderness as fast as I can.
Not looking back. I’m being chased.
The branches are thick, I can’t see the light.
It’s cold in here but I know the sun shines.

You run next to me, pointing mirrors to my face.
This feels familiar, you are still yet to learn.
I grasp the illusion of redemption In your arms
But I pass through you and hit my head to the ground.

The sky opens up and the light burns my skin.
I see my flesh bleeding, brutally raw and thin.
It hurts like never before. Oh boy, it hurts so much.
“I surrender.” I scream “Fill up with my flesh”

In a cathartic encounter, my demons arrive.
With fierce devotion, they rip me apart.
Without any resistance they eat me alive.
I scream, I cry, I laugh as I look in their eyes.

They love me so much. Can I love them back?

You Will Die. So Will Your Imposter Syndrome.

You will die. You dwell in between states of cognitively knowing this and dissociating from the fact. Both psychologists and Buddhists agree that all fears ultimately root in the fear of annihilation; by this, I mean ego death.

When you keep present that you will die, some things lose their importance, or their urgency. It makes you wonder, what really matters? You’ll find what really matters is being of service. Being of service can look as simple as being kind to others while working, or taking a leading role in a cause that is important to you.

“Since death is certain and the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?”

Pema Chodrön

Increasingly, as I become more aware of this realization, I feel more and more empowered. As the stories I’ve built around myself start to dissolve I am realizing that I don’t have anything to defend. That the only thing keeping me from being of service to the world is me! Fear of being looked some way, fear of not being enough, fear of the world challenging the stories I’ve so carefully crafted to get a sense of value.

I will die, and the stories my ego created will dissolve, but the love I’ve spread will forever circulate.

When you watch your imposter syndrome emerge, the invitation is to accept it, and be curious about it. What can I learn from it? What story about myself am I protecting?

The gift of these questions is that they open the door for a more fluid identity, a malleable sense of self that needs no defending, no validation, and no walls. You are just doing to best to selflessly be of service, to make the world a better place. Whoever judges your efforts, is ultimately judging themselves.