Is Your Freelancing Psychology Broken?

Is Your Freelancing Psychology Broken?

Many freelancers and solopreneurs think they’re totally motivated to build a rockstar business that wins them wealth, freedom and fame.

It’s a lie.

The truth is that most freelancers only believe they’re driven toward wealth and success. But dig deep down, and you discover that the opposite is the actual reality.

Where does it all go wrong? What makes freelancers say they’re gung-ho about wealth and freedom when they’re actually not?

Read on. You’ll learn the mental makeup of the freelancer that pinpoints the problem.

How Motivated Are You to Gain Wealth?

Imagine you’re lying on the couch. You’re exhausted. You have the flu, your head feels like cotton wool and your body aches from head to toe. You’re having one of those days where you just can’t work – and for freelancers, reaching that point often means being nearly on death’s door.

The next thing you know, I burst into your house. “Hey! Come with me right now! I have a client who wants to hire you. Land this contract and you’ll make $10,000! It’ll be great. You’ll rock, I know it – it’ll be as easy as pie! Now get up and let’s go, he’s waiting!”

What would you do?

Remember, you’re pretty sick – death’s door. You were taking the whole day off to recoup your strength and get over this flu you’ve been fighting.

Freelancers who answer this question honestly usually say they’d actually be skeptical of me and my enthusiasm.

You’d have questions, even if I were a trusted friend with a reputation for clever ideas. You’d want to gauge the opportunity before you dragged yourself out of your flu-induced stupor. Even if I had you utterly convinced, your first question would be, “Can I see him tomorrow? I’m pretty sick.”

How Motivated Are You to Protect Wealth?

I want you to imagine a different scenario. You’re still on the couch, feeling as sick and miserable as before, only this time you have $10,000 hidden away in your underwear drawer. It’s your hard-earned cash, tucked away Mafioso-style for safekeeping.

Suddenly you hear shattering glass from your bedroom. There’s a thump, and you hear your drawer being opened. I’ve broken into your home – and I’m after your money.

What would you do?

No matter how sick or miserable you feel, you’d probably leap up like lightning! Your heart would pound and adrenaline would zing through you, making your mind and body crackle with energy as you grab a baseball bat and come after me.

The Freelancer Feast or Famine (Finally) Explained

Freelancers are notoriously known for yo-yoing bank balances and that oh-so-common feast or famine cycle. You’ll find posts about it all over the internet – but very few tap into the truth about why it exists, and what to do about it.

And most freelancers just accept the poor-to-rich-to-poor cycle as an inescapable reality of the self-employed lifestyle.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, the only thing that causes your freelancer feast or famine is the psychology that drives your motivation.

The good news? Psychology can be changed!

The exercise you completed earlier tells you a lot about your personal motives for action and the psychological forces that drive your behavior. Most people are far more motivated to avoid losing money than to actually pursue riches and success.

They mentally focus on avoiding poverty. Not on creating wealth.

That’s why most freelancers are highly motivated to find ways to bring in money when they’re near disaster but often lack the necessary drive to build a business that takes them to the big times.

3 Quick-fire Yips to Turn Yo-yos into Rockets

Get your bearings. Yo-yo motivation (and feast-or-famine finances) are primarily caused by a lack of direction and vision. Richard Branson doesn’t yo-yo because he always knows there’s another level of success to reach. Now he sends people to the stars. Figure out your long-term direction and business goals. When you’ve done “enough” of them, you’ll be hungry for more.

Raise your standards. Donald Trump won’t buy a suit that costs less than $3,000 – so it makes sense that he doesn’t consider it a good day unless he makes millions. Up the quality of your living and simultaneously up the expectations for your business performance. Did you get into business to struggle month after month or to succeed?

Line up the rewards. Set rewards worth salivating over. Go beyond merely raising your living standards and decide on some captivating rewards for specific business milestones. Grab a mentor or a friend and get some accountability, then set a target and stick to it. When you reach it, celebrate big and then return to work with a fire lit under you.

Of course, none of these tips work unless you deal with the psychological core of the problem, which is…

Overcoming Your Fear of Loss

Even if you’ve been reading about personal development for years and believe that you’re a positively motivated person, it’s time to take an honest look at what drives your behavior.

If the imaginative experiment of earlier had you leaping up to prevent me from stealing your money, you’ve successfully identified some mental conditioning you need to change. Spotting the problem is the first step.

Let’s keep it real, though. Working to avoid financial loss and stay away from poverty is a good motivation. You never want to lose that.

But imagine if you could channel that same lightning-fast, zero-hesitation energy into the pursuit of business growth.

Instead of reaching that point where your unconscious decides you’ve done enough for the month, you’d be furiously working, capitalizing on any success so you could take your business (and your life) to a whole new level.

Twitter, your RSS reader, YouTube, watching TV… None of that would look very tempting. Wild horses couldn’t drag you away from your business.

All this is possible and easily achievable, but you have to overcome your fear of loss. As long as you hold onto that fear, your unconscious keeps the bulk of your motivation juice in reserve to save it for a possible financial apocalypse.

Ironically, the only way to guarantee such an apocalypse never happens is to get motivated enough that you build the kind of kickass business that can survive anything.

Reconnect with what it is you really want – not what you don’t want. Expose your business fears and look at them. Do whatever it takes to remove them from your consciousness.

Forget what you’re driven away from. Set goals that pull you toward what you want.

And when you do? You tap into the same psychological, motivational state that the world’s business rockstars use to win wealth, freedom and game-changing impact.

For business psychology strategies that help you achieve more wealth, freedom, AND sanity (all at the same time!), click here to visit the home base of Peter Shallard, the Shrink for Entrepreneurs, or follow Peter on Twitter for mini Jedi mind tricks that get you ahead in the game.

Fear is the only roadblock standing between you and your business goals – and you can learn how to smash through it with Demystify Your Fear , the business psychology guide written specifically for businesspeople who want to succeed – like you!

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Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. I loved this Peter! I’m fortunate that one of my best friends is also a kick ass personal achievement coach so I get the benefit of his wisdom with stuff like this. The journey I’ve been on these past few months has been incredible and a huge part of that has been to do with changing thought processes and internal stories. I can’t remember the technical name for it but this idea of getting more of what you focus on is a huge deal. Thank you for sharing it in such a compelling way.

  2. Okay, this is a REALLY interesting post and those two examples you gave? Freaking genius, man. My one question: How does this frame of mind fit in with the whole freelancer mistake of accepting more work than you can handle ( I understand the point you were trying to make, but it also sounds like we should have *gotten up* during our hypothetical illness to get that $10,000. Am I making any sense? Basically, the reasons I chose to be a freelancer was so I WOULDN’T feel stressed about working when I’m sick or taking long vacations or cutting off early in the middle of the day. I’m not concerned about wealth because that’s not why I chose to strike off on my own….

    • It all comes down to what your goals are. If you’re shooting for wealth, then figuring out your motivational yo-yo is pretty critical.

      If however, you’re after freedom, then you’ve still got to get “off the couch” to make the dough that buys that freedom. If you’re taking long vacations but feeling the dollar crunch, that’s not exactly freedom either… is it?

      An even better question to ask: Are you more motivated toward freedom or away from being trapped? Many of the same principals apply.

      I hope that answers your question… but I’m not 100% positive I’ve understood it quite right. 🙂

  3. I’m with Marian here about working when you’re sick. I realise you’re exaggerating for effect in the post (nice writing, BTW!) but one thing which concerns me in the freelancing/entrepreneurial world is the constant focus on pushing yourself harder.

    I’m also not actually convinced I *want* a business which absorbs all my energy and attention. I quite like being able to shut down at dinner time, and enjoy a meal and a couple of board games with my fiancé.

    For me, it’s not about working more hours, it’s about working intelligently with the ones I’ve got. And sometimes that voice from my unconscious saying “Hey, you’ve done enough” is worth listening to. In a world of almost limitless possibilities, how else would we know when to stop?

    • Good point. There does seem to be a third scenario. The difference would be if the person was a trusted friend or one of the scamming get rich quick folks who seem to be everywhere these days.

      Just saw a “Tweet” which said, “I have all the money I need for the rest of my life–as long as I die before 4 o’clock this afternoon” I thought that was hysterical.

    • I’m a big advocate for listening to your unconscious, so you’ll hear no argument from me on that.

      The challenge for many is to work intelligently (i.e. not “to the bone”) toward a goal that represents “what you want” … as opposed to merely avoiding a business/financial disaster, then taking a break once you’re “safe” for another few weeks.

      Certainly, have freedom. Make Life the fat kid on your seesaw of Work/Life balance. But, always drive yourself toward your goals…. not away from disaster.

  4. Very thought-provoking Peter.

    I love the analogy, something we can all relate to. Actually, it’s a scary analogy because I recently turned down something similar because I haven’t achieved what I want to achieve in my current business first. Or at least, that’s what I said at the time. Now I’m wondering….

    I think you’ve just ruined my sleep tonight, LOL!

  5. Hi Peter, I am quite lucky, because I’ve always made goals to work towards, as you mentioned. I can understand how freelancers get into a bad situation though. If they’re skint when they start out, they tend to focus on not being poor. And if they don’t set themselves bigger goals, they have no motivation to try harder.

  6. Am definitely behind the moving towards what you want than away from what you don’t Last year rent was pretty reasonable, living costs weren’t too bad, and I was getting in plenty of referrals to keep me ticking over.

    Then things changed, and I realised I’d soon be living on my own, and was petrified of all the comforts I’d lose. I thought I’d be struggling financially and was looking for every way I could cut pennies and decided food probably wasn’t that important anyway…

    After realising I was paralysing myself I decided instead of picking the cheapest options, I’d pick what I wanted, I’d get a flat in the middle of town, I would eat food 😉 and I’d just have to achieve the money goals that went with that. I’m also working in 30-40 day bursts towards a small goal that adds up to a bigger long term goal. Definitely makes you more aware of your time!

    It’s still a lot of work, I still have uncertain days, but I feel a lot more mentally free than I used to.

    • Hey Amy,

      Thanks for sharing this. I think it’s a great example of being very “away from” motivated… then turning it around – which is the best part!

      Good point about mental freedom too… which I consider twice as important as the physical freedom to do anything/be anywhere.

      After all, hobos are “free” … in a way. hmm?

  7. When Peter told me about this issue, I lit up like Christmas, because it’s so RIFE in freelancers that it’s almost a viral disease. I’m glad he finally wrote about it.

    I don’t think what he’s saying is that anyone should push themselves continually to make more money, even while burning out or sick. Peter’s really big on work-life balance.

    But I think he’s suggesting that when you have ENOUGH money and your business is doing well, don’t get comfy and say, “I’m happy just like this. Life’s good.”

    Then work slows and boom. You’re out of money and clients again.

    So you scramble to get them back, bring things up to just enough and… life’s good.

    And you get comfy and… boom. Out of money again.

    (Peter, how about a post on chasing money AND making sure you have free time?)

  8. @Peter –
    Great topic and nicely done “experiment.”
    I have to say that I’m one of the people who would haul her sorry ass off the couch to pursue the new business, but if I heard someone breaking into the bedroom would definitely hightail it outta there. We have a joke in my family whenever we spend money on something that isn’t a necessity. Even though we aren’t (yet) rolling inthe stuff, we laugh and say, “Eh, it’s only money. You can make more.” The line is usually delivered with a cynical tone, but there is some truth to it. One of the things I find most inspiring about people like Richard Branson and other creative entrepreneurs like him is that they aren’t afraid of loss at all. They know that even if they lose everything, they have what it takes – inside them – to build it all back up again … probably bigger and better than last time. In some cases, that’s what they’re actually after – the build, not the result.

    I’m certainly not in their league bank account-wise, but I’m always striving to keep that spirit growing in my own mind and heart.

    Thanks for the reminder to think objectively about what drives us. The gods know we freelancers need a slap upside the head once in a while! 🙂

  9. How about this, Peter? My father once asked me, “Have you proven how awesome you are today?” I didn’t immediately get where he was going with it. He continued with, “I know you’re awesome and talented. You’ve proved it time and again. But, today, this day, if this was the only day of your entire life, have you done anything that people would say is awesome?”

    I’ll never forget this and each day I try to ask myself this question and prove that my answer to the question is yes.

    I believe if freelancers simply ask themselves this question each day, they will avoid the cycle and level out their success. It’s this daily leveling that allows us to continue to keep clients and continue to have a good time.


    • Hm, that’s an interesting one, Shane. I tend to view things differently, so for the sake of conversation…

      Having to prove anything to myself continually, daily, would create a lot of personal pressure to reach a specific standard all the time. Maybe one of those days, I didn’t feel like being awesome – but having a question like that loom over my head would quickly send me into spirals of, “You didn’t make it. You’re not good enough. You’re not awesome.”

      (But again, that’s me.)

      I think I tend to just make sure I live through every day knowing I upheld my values. “Did you do the best you could do?” It’s a better question for me.

      • I can live what that. For me, being awesome could be being awesome with a project, or giving that person in line a dollar when they were short on cash.

        So, yes, “Do the best you can do” fits nicely.

    • I like this. I think it’s like the difference between believing in your potential… And actually realizing your potential in the “making it REAL” sense

  10. The best part about provoking blog posts like this one is that you get double the interesting content with the comment section.

    Personally, I come from a childhood of “just squeezing by” – so in some ways, the very idea of making enough to be comfortable feels like an accomplishment in and of itself, and there are times when it feels like “creating wealth” beyond that is a dream. It probably doesn’t help that my husband and I work in an industry that is almost infamous for how poorly it pays most of its people, so in many ways we’re still in that “just enough to get by” phase.

    A post like this is illuminating, particularly since it took me a moment to actually consider the above paragraph and what kind of effect it was having on me. Thanks for sharing this.

    (I love psychology. Even when it’s my own brain that I get to picking.)

    • Glad you liked the post 🙂

      You’ve raised a whole other psychological issue here: how our beliefs impact our capability to create business success. Having a history of conditioning around “just getting by” can have a huge impact on your income yo yo.

      However, just being aware of it is a huge part oof resolving the problem. That’s why learning about how the mind works is so important. Know more – do better.

  11. What a great post. As entrepreneurs we have to have the mind set that if we don’t work we don’t get paid. In all of the businesses that my husband and I have owned we have worked almost non stop. If we took a vacation we either worked on it or worked up until the plane left and as soon as we were on our way home. Eat, sleep, and live your business and it will be good to you!


  12. A really great article Peter – thanks you for sharing it. I certainly lived the ‘Feast and Famine’ freelancer life when I first started. It was the ‘oh i’m okay i have 2 jobs and they’re good money’. Because I was ‘ok’ i actually worked slower. They took longer to complete than they should have. Then when the money was low I kicked into high gear.

    What is it that makes this sort of behaviour so common?

    In any case – what you describe above is mostly what got me out of operating that way – aside from simply being fed up with it and having to make a change. Instead of ‘relaxing’ being the thing that felt good to me, i switched it to ‘producing/creating’ is what felt good. So I can take a break, I can relax – but both of those things typically stay in the realm of creation even if it’s not for ‘work’ specifically. That feels good.

    However – I tend to end up always thinking about how quickly things change and that I can’t rely on things currently in place to always be providing for me. I’m always thinking of how to ‘stay ahead’.

    • What is it that makes this sort of behaviour so common?

      Complacency and lack of clear goals or a long term vision. When you have a clear sense of where you’re headed and the ambition that goes with that, motivation and energy flow. It actually becomes easier and easier 🙂

  13. Great Article. Love it! Focusing on the pleasure aspect rather than the avoidance of pain is usually a better way to look at anything in your life. Thanks for the post!

  14. Peter, great post. I am now sitting down with an excellent friend this weekend so that I can adopt the accountability that you spoke of in the article. I have the vision and the drive but I couldn’t argue the fact that I have fear of loss. This fear has been holding me back from trying to achieve my personal goals and in a dead end job for long enough. This post was one more affirmation to get off my ass and do something instead of using the old ‘it will come in time’ excuse. I will make it happen, risk be damned. Rewarding myself is something I haven’t done either so that will be an interesting topic to cover as well. Thanks again.

    • Sounds like you’ve got an interesting journey ahead of you John. The thing to remember is that the risks are never as big as they seem. Plus, even the worst case scenario (were it to occur) will fade into the past too. The learning will remain.

      • Yes the journey began about five months ago and with the help of Chris Brogan, Nathan Hangen, and now you I have ventured out today outside my ‘comfort zone’ and actually spent the needed capital on things I needed and it is already working as I write this traffic is increasing on my site. I also owe a thank you to Brittney Gougeon of who will be hosting/designing the newly revamped site for us. Fears are still relevant to me but I am now more confident as ever. I have even reread this post and will probably reread it again many times just to regain confirmation that I am moving forward instead of remaining stagnant. Thanks once again Peter!

  15. Great post Peter. I think it’s important not to underestimate your worth. This might be a mistake to make when you’re starting out and need to build your portfolio but not a great solution for wealth building! I definitely agree that changing your freelancing psychology is the way to move forward.

  16. Peter…

    So true, my friend, so true. In fact one of the OTHER main reasons that people are scared to dream BIG, and actually go after those dreams, is bacause they are terrified of success… yep, success.

    This is not a terror that they have in their conscious mind, but something that they ave been taught from a parent or from their friends- Money is bad. People with money are naughty. If you have money you are dumb etc.

    Sooo, to combat that, we water down our lofty goals to a place that won’t bring Grandma Gertie, who went through the Great Depression, back from the grave.

    Lofty goals unite, I say!

    Dream big and succeed bigger!

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

    • Hey Joshua,

      Spot on man. I’ve worked with a ton of clients with conditioning to believe that success is wrong that goes waaay back. It’s often entirely unconscious and usually has roots back in the “modeling” phase of your youth, when your unconscious minds were sponging up beliefs and values from your parents.

  17. You’re totally right about our fear of loss being far more compelling than reasons to succeed. What crappy about this is that we didn’t ask to be wired this way. The majority of society processes their world this way and makes us feel like shit if we don’t do what they want us to.

    Last night I was watching the kid movie “Happy Feet” with my niece and was absolutely loving the lesson wove into the story. In this show, which takes place on either the Northern or Southern Pole, a baby penguin is born without the ability to sing. This means he’s completely different from everyone else.

    All the other penguins make fun of him and pretty much tell him to “shut up” whenever he tries to sing because his voice is grating their ear nubs. However he is born with a different gift; a gift that allows him to hear music in his mind and tap it out with his feet amazingly well.

    Well, this is different. So of course penguin society frowns on his “ridiculous dancing”. He doesn’t listen. He LOVES what he calls his “Happy Feet”.

    Making this long story, shorter, he finds a way to put his love of dancing to a higher purpose that not only lets him indulge in his passion, but also allows him to serve his tribe.

    Having a compelling purpose is what I believe to be the driver of sustainable and personally fulfilling action.

    At this moment I’ve listening to a great program titled “The Power of Synchronicity” by Robert Ringer. Just in case you don’t know who Robert is, he’s the famous author who self-published the NY Best Seller “Winning Through Intimidation”.

    If you’re a freelancer and you haven’t read this book, I highly suggest you do so. The title is almost always misunderstood. Rightfully so. The meaning meant to be conveyed by the title is that there is a way to win in business despite the many different personalities out there who try to intimidate you into doing things you don’t want to.

    Robert Ringer is one of my favorite personal development authors and in POS, he lays out his 5 Life Purpose questions and I’ll share them with you in hopes that you can use them to battle the desire to have a yo-yo income because there isn’t a deep compelling desire driven by a compelling purpose pushing you forward…

    Question 1: What do I enjoy?

    Question 2: What am I good at?

    Question 3: What do I want out of life?

    Question 4: What’s the price (time, effort, commitment)?

    Question 5: Am I willing to pay the price?

    As a freelancer, you’ve probably heard before that having a specialization is far more profitable than being a generalist. These questions help you drive in the direction which leads to your personal genius and talents and self satisfaction which can, at least in my eyes, can only lead to you having “Happy Fingers” while at the keyboard.

    If the idea of purpose is intriguing to you and you want to lean into this subject even further, I’ve summarized a brilliant process put together by the internet marketing wizard, Rich Schefren, for finding your business’s purpose here…

    Thank you Peter for making me think today. You’ve made one helluva impression on this nerd.

  18. Wow, just what I needed today. I’ve been kind of down about a setback getting my blog off the ground. Thanks for this swift kick in the rear. I want this to happen (my blog, that is), so gosh darn it I shouldn’t let a little setback get in my way.

  19. Very motivating post. I have a constant problem with motivation. Laziness almost always wins the battle in the long run. I’ve tried multiple times to change how I think and find that motivational drive to pick me back up and get to work again. This article might be the ticket.

    I like the idea of setting rewards aside in order to achieve motivation. I haven’t thought about that before. I’m going to try that.

    All in all, awesome article!

  20. Well this is weird. I hardly ever come across the post that motivates me. Usually, ‘I’m’ the one getting emails saying that I lit a fire under someone’s ass and now they’ll change their life around…

    But today, the tables have turned. And I’m loving it!

    I don’t get sick very often, but flu or no flu, ain’t no one touching my 10grand without a few slobbery punches to the face.

    People are always trying to move away from pain and towards what’s comfortable and pleasureable, and that’s why you’re bang on with “Can I see him tomorrow? I’m pretty sick”.

  21. Great Post!
    This puts my mind right back to when I sat at my lake house reading my Real Goods catalog planning my power grid conversion…early 1990’s.I’ll go back to that train of thought with huge personal goal and help a few people out on the way! Thank you for the insight, I have a few books to read and a workshop to take.

  22. I was thinking… first, I’d be coughing and hacking with a pile of Kleenex in the trash can next to my desk. I don’t do the “day off” thing. Second, I’d snort some TheraFlu and run out the door with you.

    In the second scenario, I’d still be at the desk… but that 10K would be sitting on top of my printer so I could look at and touch it all the time – and I’d throw my full Kleenex wastebasket and my hot TheraFlu at the burglar.


  23. I know exactly what you are talking about. I am a freelancer myself and fell the ups and downs of this business all the time. I can only hope I will be able to make the change needed to get out of this cycle. Really nice post, it was my best read today.

    Keep up the good work.

    Cheers Alex


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