books-that-motivated-me-through-lockdown

Books that Have Motivated and Inspired Me to Keep Going Through Lockdown

productivity, self-love

Before 2020, I never read anything that could be classed as ‘self-help’. I’m not sure why exactly, but I didn’t consider self-development books to be literature, at least not the Susan Sontag/Joan Didion type. I thought some people spent more time reading books about how to improve something than actually improving it. And I’m still weary of self-help books as a form of procrastination – none of this advice matters unless you practice it.

But in March 2020, when shit officially hit the fan, I found myself listless and disappointed, spending most days in bed in my childhood bedroom, messaging friends and curling up at night with memories of a life that had crumbled when I left London. London was life in fifth gear, and I had been going pretty hard for two years, without stopping to see where I was going. Somehow, I always found the motivation to get up in the morning and go to work, go to uni, go to gigs in the evening, and do it all over again the day after. I rarely crashed. But in March in Belgium, I couldn’t even get myself to go for a run. There didn’t seem to be much to work for.

I’ve always been an avid reader, though. So, while I wasn’t doing anything overly productive, I was still reading a lot. And one day, I stumbled upon Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’, and this beautiful passage:


“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life”

While everything in the world was a big unknown, and everybody felt a little lost, this quote reminded me that all we need to do is take it day by day. And that gave me motivation to start a new project and another one, and to keep going. This was one of the books that gave me a nudge during lockdown and inspired me to keep creating and working towards something. But there were a few of them. Here are some other ones, in case you’re feeling stuck and need a little pick-me-up.


‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth

This book is all about how perseverance and hard work matter more than talent. Angela Duckworth was researching success, and what made people get up after they fell down, when she stumbled upon the concept of grit. The premise of the book is that it’s not the people that are the most talented or have the most potential that turn out to be the most successful. It’s the ones that keep going despite all odds. It was an encouraging read because it makes you believe that if you work hard enough, success will follow sooner or later. Through the book, she emphasises the importance of deliberate practice and honing your craft even when you don’t want to. She also talks about the importance of having a calling and how that affects your motivation and grittiness. Duckworth also does a great TED-talk about her research.


“Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. “I have a feeling tomorrow will be better” is different from “I resolve to make tomorrow better.”

Angela Duckworth, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”

‘Linchpin’ by Seth Godin

This is not the best-written book I’ve ever read by far. In fact, it has so much repetition sometimes it’s painful to read. But Seth Godin makes some valid points in his book, points that got me into gear during a week when I was feeling particularly low and highly unproductive. Godin talks about ‘the resistance’, how we’ve been taught to tow the line and follow rules that don’t make sense in today’s economy. The dream of clocking in and out and getting paid for simply being in a certain place at a certain time is dead.

Instead, Seth Godin urges us to become indispensable by throwing out the map, by carving out our own way of life. He stresses the importance of emotional labour – being there for other people, giving without any expectations, creating positive change – and being an artist who delivers. A big chunk of the book talks about our lizard brain, too, and how fear of failure and the unknown can hold us back. It’s a good read because it exposes the ways in which we rationalise our unhappiness and takes away the excuses we’ve been making for ourselves.


“When you set down the path to create art, whatever sort of art it is, understand that the path is neither short not easy. That means you must determine if the route is worth the effort. If it’s not, dream bigger.”

Seth Godin, “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?”

‘Business for Bohemians’ by Tom Hodgkinson

Tom Hodgkinson is cool. He’s who I want to be when I grow up. He writes, runs The Idler, a magazine about how to be free in today’s society, and is the founder of an online school that teaches philosophy, calligraphy, ukulele, and a lot of other skills that no one would consider essential. As is to be expected, his book won’t teach you how to make money or run a business, not really. But by letting a reader into his life – in a farmhouse in Devon, or struggling to keep open a bookshop/coffeehouse in London, he shows that other ways of living are possible and we’re not confined to the lifepath we’ve been presented with since birth. And he doesn’t do that in a naive, idealistic way. He hit me with a couple of hard truths a few times. Like this one:


“If you’re not very careful, your creative business, the very thing which you hoped would lead to liberty and riches, will instead trap you in a hell of hard-working poverty.”

Tom Hodgkinson, “Business for Bohemians: Live Well, Make Money”

‘Authentic Happiness’ by Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman is the founding father of positive psychology, and this book encompasses most of his findings. It talks about simple lifestyle changes which will make you live a more fulfilling life, such as gratitude practice, meditation, and more time with loved ones. But what interested me more was the part where he talked about what doesn’t lead to more happiness, such as money (once you have enough, you really don’t need more) and professional success. Those make you feel happy only for a brief period of time, but are not enough to give you lasting happiness. Purpose is. Love is. Family and friends. The book is also chockfull with tests about your key strengths, your loving pattern, how optimistic you are, etc. It’s like Buzzfeed quizzes on steroids.


“Authentic happiness derives from raising the bar for yourself, not rating yourself against others.”

Martin Seligman, “Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment”

‘When’ by Daniel H. Pink

This book is interesting because it focuses solely on timing. When is the best time to exercise, the best timeslot for an audition, the best time for a break? The most important insight for me was that everyone, no matter if you’re a night owl or an early bird, suffers a dip in productivity about eight hours after they wake up, and it’s more productive to take a one-hour break than to power through it. Pink also suggests to structure your day around your productivity, and – unsurprisingly – your most productive moment is in the morning if you’re an early bird, and in the afternoon/evening if you’re a night owl. That’s the time for analytical tasks.

This book is more than a time management manual, though. It also has some insights about life – about why we remember an event based on the ending (which is why beautiful endings matter!), why poignancy makes happiness more authentic, why synchronicity boosts happiness (hence why we should all join a choir). This is also the reason I’m mentioning this book instead of ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen, another classic that I read this year. It’s worth a read, too, but really does mainly talk about time management and organisation hacks.


“The best endings don’t leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer—a rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we’ve gotten what we need.”

Daniel H. Pink, “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing”

For those of you who are interested – I’m releasing a new song on 5 March. You can pre-save it here. I appreciate it so, so, so, so much.

growth-self-doubt-artist-musician

5 Habits that Helped Me Overcome Self-Doubt

artist, productivity, self-love

For a long time, I didn’t think I was a professional musician. I still scroll through my friends’ Instagram accounts, decide I’ve had a good run, and consider quitting music for about two minutes every morning. As a creative, there are no objective criteria to check yourself against, and it inevitably seems like everyone you know is going at 100 mph, while you are driving around the same roundabout with a flat tire.

At first, that feeling was eating away at everything I did, and whenever I came up with a project, I heard a voice in my head saying things like “not good enough”, “you’re an amateur”, “nobody cares about what you have to say”. But throughout the years, I’ve learned to cope with that voice, to hear it mumble something hurtful and recognise it for what it is – fear.

But a year ago, I had put away my guitar after crying myself to sleep for months, and decided I would never be a musician. I went to the library, got out some books on politics and economics, and spent my summer reading, trying to imagine what it would feel like to study something ‘normal’. Studying music in university had proved harder than I had anticipated. It was the first time I was confronted with real criticism, with other musicians who were better and more motivated than me, and I felt like an impostor, as if I’d blagged my way in and didn’t belong.

June went by, then July, and then August came around. I hadn’t touched my guitar and hadn’t written a single song. I wrote a travel article thinking that being a journalist sounded less crazy than being a musician, but then realised it was probably still too much of a stretch. Then in August, I got an idea.

My Songwriting tutor, Lisbee Stainton, says that when you’re not writing, you’re “planting seeds”. I think all through June and July I had been planting seeds, and in August, I woke up in the middle of the night in a garden. I had an idea for an EP, fully developed – I could picture the artwork, hear the arrangement, see the press release. I started recording a week later. I realised that despite my anxiety, the panic attacks, the tears, quitting music was not a solution. Figuring out how to deal with my self-doubt was.

I spent a year trying to work through my fears. I can’t say I never wake up and question myself anymore. I do. But I don’t doubt myself the way I used to, I question myself because that’s what good artists do to get better. But I also believe I am enough now. I believe I am already a professional musician. I believe that I have my own path and I don’t have to be at the same level some of my friends are. And these habits helped me to get to where I am:



1. I Changed the Way I Talk to Myself


We’ve all been told this before. Don’t talk down to yourself, how you see yourself is how others see you, etc. But I never realised how true this was until I started practising it. Overly positive self-talk is exhausting, and I couldn’t get behind it at the best of times, but you can make small changes in what you say that will make a massive difference.

For example: instead of talking about your goals, talk about your challenges. Goals are stressful, and if you don’t achieve them, you feel like a loser. Challenges, however, are exciting and playful, and a challenge is not something you need to achieve, it’s something you want to have a go at. For me, this meant that I stopped beating myself up when I didn’t reach a goal and that I felt extra proud when I tackled a challenge. It also meant that I stopped putting so much pressure on myself and started enjoying myself more. Think about what you say that stresses you out and how you could rephrase it to make it sound exciting.


2. I Took up Running


I’ve always hated sports. At the same time, I’ve always been jealous of people who were good at them because they seemed so damn perfect. So, after another low point of watching Netflix and stuffing myself with Walkers Max, I decided I could either start running every morning or keep wallowing. I chose running.

I didn’t think it would have any effects on anything other than my health. And for the first two weeks, it didn’t. But the longer I kept doing it, even when it was hard and I wanted to quit, the more I started to enjoy it. And I started to get better at it.

Running taught me two things. Firstly, that I am not a quitter, which I had always thought I was. And secondly, that tough stretches result in growth. Those lessons changed the way I saw myself and made me confident enough to take on new projects.


3. I Started a Gratitude Journal


I have always found it hard to get behind the spiritual stuff. I have tried meditation (and I keep trying!), but I find it hard to sit still for more than five minutes. I do yoga, but mostly because it makes my body feel good, I don’t particularly care about my third eye. So, I was also skeptical about gratitude practice, but I thought I’d give it a go.

For months, I sat down before bed every night and wrote down five things I was grateful for. And after a couple weeks, I started noticing how, during the day, I would make music or sit down for lunch or talk to a friend, and make a mental note to be grateful. That warm feeling of content started expanding from my diary pages into my life, and instead of beating myself up for things I didn’t have or hadn’t accomplished, I started thanking the universe for giving me so much. It’s easy to doubt and even hate yourself for what your life lacks, but it is even easier to love the abundance in it.


4. I Took Time to Remember What Mattered


In December last year, I organised an EP release show. I didn’t have any particular reason to do so, other than because everyone else was doing it. It was an extremely stressful process, and in three months time, I had barely got any sleep. The show went well, and I was ecstatic and proud for about two hours, and then it was over and everyone went home. After the release show, I asked myself why I had even bothered putting it on. I got into music so that I could live passionately, doing something I loved. And here I was, doing something I had never planned to do, mindlessly following in other people’s footsteps, so I could tell myself I was doing just as well as my friends.

Over Christmas, I made a list of things that mattered to me – what brought me joy, why I was making music, what life I wanted to live. Sometimes, life goes so fast that, without noticing, we adopt other people’s dreams as our own and try to achieve milestones we don’t care about and then beat ourselves up about failing at something we never wanted in the first place.

When I wrote out my list, I noticed that I was doing much better at what I wanted to do than I had thought while comparing myself to others. At the same time, I noticed that I could cut out a lot of miscellaneous stuff I was doing that was not serving me (like obsessing over my Instagram account) and use that time for things I enjoy (like writing spoken word). Now, I make lists like that every once in a while to check in with myself.


5. I Redefined What Success Meant to Me


When I first started studying music, I didn’t have many expectations – I wanted to write songs, have a good time, maybe learn something. But being surrounded by so many talented people made me want more. I started craving recognition, bigger venues to play in, more followers, and streams on Spotify. Whenever my expectations were left unfulfilled, I felt like a failure.

Over the last year, I started unearthing that person I was before I went to a music university (here’s a blog post on what helped me to figure out what mattered to me) – the one who thought that being able to make music was in itself successful, who believed that success didn’t lie in money, fame, or Instagram. The one who believed that success was doing whatever makes you happy.

After I made my list with priorities over Christmas, I decided I needed to allow myself more time to do the things I loved. And if I managed to get through the day with a smile on my face, I would think myself successful. After that, I did my first spoken word open mic, travelled to Budapest, and dyed my hair pink. Doing those things made me feel alive, present, and, ultimately, confident. Being successful is not about material things, it’s about living your best life. So, live a little.