Yvonne van Dalen of the Photographers Coach Academy: “Switch off from devices”

Switch off from devices. Having nothing on your mind, will recharge you and create tons of time for deep work. Allowing yourself to get time offline daily will force your brain back into relaxation and creation mode. So just switch off. As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I […]

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Switch off from devices. Having nothing on your mind, will recharge you and create tons of time for deep work. Allowing yourself to get time offline daily will force your brain back into relaxation and creation mode. So just switch off.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Yvonne van Dalen.

Yvonne van Dalen, Photography Success Coach and Founder of the Photographers Coach Academy, faced a burn-out shortly after opening her first photography studio when her children were still very young (both under 2). She now works 20 hours a week while making 6 figures each year. It’s her mission to help photographers and creatives worldwide thrive in their business and increase their income from photography for a life with more freedom and flexibility while staying true to their authentic self.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thanks so much for having me on this interview, Yitzi! Sure, I’d love to talk about that.

Before I had kids, I was ALWAYS working. The first 15 years in my own international translation agency, and after that when I opened my first photo studio in 2010. I absolutely loved what I was able to do: connecting with people and being the creative, but I had no clue on business skills, knew nothing about marketing and had no systems, so I was working 60–90 hours a week. By 2013 I was a burnt out, overworked mum of two little children, struggling to run my own business and balance my life. But I wanted to enjoy my time off with them and set an example of being a good business owner that made her own money. Unfortunately, at that point, all my hard-earned money went to the daycare center, leaving me penniless.

When I hired my first coach, things changed around and — after some extensive soul searching, marketing courses and implementation of new sales and automation techniques — I was able to build a business that was streamlined and 10x-ed my income. I finally got a breather, because I was actually able to work way less (20 hours a week) and have time off, while making good money and working with my dream clients!

I wanted to teach others what I had done and — as I also started to get more interest of other photographers — I decided to found my own coaching business Photographers Coach at the end of 2017. Things went pretty quickly from that point on.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

I can only speak from my own experience and share how my own coaching clients feel when they reach out to me: rushed. Yes. We often tend to function in an ever-present “production mode”, afraid of missing out on “it”, whatever that may be. In the current world, we have so many systems that can distract us, get our attention. Phones, laptops, news channels, on-demand tv shows, billboards, smartwatches — information is just EVERYWHERE. You can drive yourself crazy and exhaust your brain by wanting to keep up with everything.

I don’t know if has always been like that. I know I grew up with none of that and the internet didn’t even exist then. We had one landline in the house. A tv with 12 channels and no remote. There was no 24/7 tv programming. I still remember my first time dialing in on “the web”. I was 18 at the time, but computers had no big impact on my life then. Life was much slower. But ever since things have developed pretty quickly and I know we just can’t think of a world without information. So in my opinion lots of people continuously feel that they have to keep up.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

For me the burnout symptoms started end 2013, early 2014 because of that constant FOMO. I was addicted to staying on track with all possible information channels, but I realized my body wouldn’t function anymore and I felt drained. Drained of constantly having to post and being perfectly present online. I was exhausted from thinking about going online, missing out on a notification, and even getting all those notifications. All while having to take care of my photography business, my two young children and our household. By being switched on the entire day, I could no longer focus, had no energy, no longer was excited about life and just felt myself slipping into a numbed-down state of being. I needed a break. Things needed to change.

That’s when I switched to having more downtime and becoming conscious of how I wasted my precious time and energy by being on a device. I cut the routine of waking up, picking up my phone from the nightstand and then checking Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, my personal email and my business email, only to start the whole circle all over again. I used to pick up my phone over 200 times a day. And it was just too much. So I went cold turkey. It was a drastic move.

Our brains and bodies just aren’t wired for a constant fight/flight/freeze mode. It exhausts us. It decreases our ability to concentrate, it compartmentalizes our brain so it can’t produce coherent thoughts and we start producing stress hormones. Rushing and constantly feeling anxious depletes our bodies and makes us unhappy, unfulfilled and unhealthy.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

Yes, I can, because I’ve lived it. I created bandwidth for… nothing. I just switched off from all devices. I started using off-line weekends. Just being. I went into nature to walk, run, read, play, cook. I was reconnecting with my family and friends. Having long hot lavender baths. I started meditating daily. And slowly I could feel my body returning to the present. I was recharging by doing less and by reconnecting to my inner voice and feelings. I was reconnecting by disconnecting. By letting my brain wonder off I was getting inspired again. I regained focus and energy.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Sure! I use tons of mindfulness techniques and have tons of tips in that area that I use myself and teach others:

  1. Switch off from devices. Having nothing on your mind, will recharge you and create tons of time for deep work. Allowing yourself to get time offline daily will force your brain back into relaxation and creation mode. So just switch off. For example: I regularly go into the woods to walk and just look around. All I have is some music on my watch and headphones. I don’t use music all the time: sometimes I just wonder around and count the number of squirrels, birds or hedgehogs I see. I forget about all things work-related and the stuff that is in my calendar by simply moving my body and being active and in the present moment. When I get back to my office, I am filled with new energy. I also bundle tasks throughout the week: I check my emails once a day and then close my email program, my phone is on airplane mode (when possible), I place client orders on Friday, I coach on fixed hours and days, I do deep work twice a day in 2-hours blocks and I keep my focus on ONE thing at a time.
  2. Allow yourself to get bored. Try to go without technology or notifications for an entire weekend, or longer if you’re bold! And then watch what happens. You will first freak out (if you haven’t done this before), but after you’ve checked off all the tech stuff you normally use on your time off, you will find that you have so much more time to be and to do! I use this technique usually on weekends. To help myself with staying away from social media, I uninstall all related apps from my phone and put my phone on Airplane mode at the start of the “detox” week(ends). What do I do with my down-time? I do chores around the house. I pick up that book that I never finished or talk to a friend. I love to sit in my garden and sit with my eyes closed, soaking up the sun, do gardening or put out a lovely lunch for my family to enjoy. I do arts and crafts with my daughter. Play with legos and build stuff. Go for a bike ride, a walk or a run. There is so much we forget to do. You just slow down without machinerie, so gift yourself the gift of time without devices. Having nothing on your calendar will get the creative juices flowing again.
  3. Use a journal. And just write. Don’t type. Write. This is a slower process. It forces you to sit down and just be with your thoughts. You need your body to transfer your thoughts onto the paper and it’s quite a meditative exercise. Doing this 30 minutes a day will make you grateful, more in the now. And more aware of your actual thoughts and what really matters in your life. So, again, switch off all notifications on your phone and take that alone time to simply write down your thoughts, plans and things you’re grateful for. I myself use my own vision and goals list that I write down after journaling every evening. I feel that — by listing what I want for my life or business before I go to sleep — I program my subconscious brain to dream about my goals and make them more real, more a matter of the now. It might sound woo-woo, but I have seen so many entrepreneurs without clear goals, and they just don’t progress as fast. This is all a result of being non-specific with your intentions in my opinion.
  4. Have family meals only. Now, I feel kinda old-fashioned writing this, but do try to have every meal possible together with the family, or your significant other, or roommate, by sitting down together at the dinner table. No phones, laptops, tv. Just together, with your food. That’s a HUGE zen moment in our family home, because we get to actually be together, taste the food, and have a decent conversation without distractions. We talk about our days, really listen to each other, which is a structure that allows us, three times a day, to just slow down and disconnect from work and agendas. Try this one, or — if this is the opposite of what you’re used to — start with one meal a day and build your way up. You’ll love the simplicity of this life hack, because it will get your attention right back to the present moment. It will also improve the way your food tastes, better your digestion and prevent you from overeating. So, “slow food” and “soul food” over fast food.
  5. Create Ta Da lists. Instead of getting all worked up by all the stuff that you THINK you need to do, simply focus on what you ACTUALLY need to do in a day. I start with ONE big task and get the smaller stuff done when I have time left. Then I write down all things that I have accomplished and finished that day, so I can celebrate what I have checked off, instead of focussing on everything that I didn’t get around to doing that day, thus frustrating myself. The Ta Da List celebrates with me and gives me a way better feeling than the never-ending to do list, that focuses on time shortage, feeling behind/frustrated/unaccomplished. It’s a simple of flipping the perspective from shortage to abundance and it works wonders on your mindset. You actually get way more done this way, because your mind feels positive, accomplished, proud and grateful. So, don’t look shocked if you just work your way through all your tasks with ease and flow! Getting more done is just a side effect of using a Ta Da list.
  6. Say NO more. This final strategy is the life saver for me. I used to be Little Miss Nice and wanted to please everyone by saying yes to so much in life. But saying yes all the time wore me out. Remember that burn-out at the end of 2013 I mentioned? Well, guess how that one got started? Exactly, by me saying yes to practically every request that came my way. I also made myself too available: I answered phone calls all the time, had my email program open the entire day and I reacted to all my notifications as soon as they arrived. I was literally running on OPP (Other People’s Problems). Well, in 2014 that changed. I deleted unnecessary apps from my phone. I let phone calls go to voicemails and answered calls once a day. I started answering my emails only once a day and said “Let me think about it and get back to you” if I got a request that I didn’t want to take on. By doing so I gave myself way more time to think about my response and say “no” more. I created more time and energy in my own business to actually be productive. I regained tons of me time. I found out that NO was the most powerful word to get more work done. I now only work on what I feel is a priority and my customers also feel good at this way of communication. They know I give them 100% of my time and attention when I talk to them and work with them.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

For me mindfulness is being in touch with my gut feeling. I have to feel my body and my emotions. It’s all about observing and getting in touch with what you need and feel. It’s raising awareness on your inner world. Feeling versus thinking. I know I can think my way out of things, try to come up with reasons for doing or not doing certain activities or projects. But when I just listen to my gut feeling — that “little voice” that tells you yes or no — I am always right. Some years ago I decided to take on a client that I felt I could transform, but somewhere in the back of my head I heard that little inner voice say “Be careful! I wouldn’t do it!”. I ignored that feeling and booked the client anyway. Boy, was I wrong! It turned out to be the most time-consuming, unaligned, detail-obsessed and energy-draining client I EVER had! When they came back last year, I told them I was not able to take on more work, and referred them to someone else I knew would be a better fit for them. And it felt so liberating, because I didn’t need the money, and I knew I had saved myself tons of work by not working with them. I also was certain that I wasn’t the right person for them to work with, so I basically did them and myself a favor by listening to my gut feeling and saying no to working with them. In short: take on people that fit your business values and service to the core. These people you can serve best and with the best energy.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

Oh, I have tons! But I’ll name a few. First, be gentle and kind with yourself, and gift yourself the gift of time and presence. I often say the present is exactly that: a present. It’s the one moment we never get back. We can never create more time. So use it wisely. And don’t over-schedule your personal and business calendar. Secondly, allow yourself to do short meditations when transitioning from one task to another like finishing up work to start the evening routine of cooking dinner or traveling home from work. When you take just 5 or 10 minutes to do a short meditation/gratitude prayer/body check/yoga exercise, you turn your attention inwards and you tune the world outside out. This centers you and recalibrates your central nervous system. Thirdly, you can even do a micro meditation by taking 3 mindful circular breaths (6 seconds in, 6 seconds holding the breath, 6 seconds out, 6 seconds holding the breath out) with your eyes closed. When you’re done, just smile, open your eyes and go about your day. And finally, I LOVE tapping. It’s a technique where you tap on certain energy points on your head/face and upper body to relieve stress and it’s quick and effective.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

I do, actually. I meditate. I stretch and I do yoga. I have tons of meditations and videos bookmarked on YouTube and Spotify, so I can pick whichever one I need at that point. I love the meditations by Dr. Joe Dispenza, the guided meditations from one of my former coaches Polly Alexandre who is really big on Money Mindset, Abundance, Personal Growth. And finally, my friend and colleague Jessi Risley has an amazing Meditation Mastery course for entrepreneurs to thrive in their business, which I use myself.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices

I love “The Mind Your Business Podcast” by James Wedmore, “The Mindvalley Podcast” with Vishen Lakhianiand I absolutely adore and admire Rich Roll, who has The Rich Roll podcast, a show with a holistic approach and multi-faceted topics. I also love the book “You can heal your life” by Louise Hay that is filled with affirmations you can use for different aspects in your life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love this question! Mine is from Pippi Longstocking, a character from a children’s book by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. Pippi is red-haired, freckled, unconventional and superhumanly strong — able to lift her horse one-handed. Her favorite expression is “I’ve never done that before, so I think I can do it!” and it just reminds me so much of my own children — especially my daughter Isa, who has the same approach — look at change and challenges that stretch their comfort zone. When they think about taking on new challenges in their life, they aren’t hindered by any doubt. They just have no limiting beliefs in their mind. And they use the quote by Pippi Longstocking. That take on life is so inspiring that I have embraced it for myself. When I come across new ideas/opportunities that are new/strange/different but feel good, I just use the same expression and go for it! It has brought me so many new opportunities and growth moments in life so far!

But I didn’t always feel this way. Both my parents engrained the concept of fear of heights in me so deeply when I was a little girl, that I have suffered from fear of heights my entire life. I think about a time we went on a holiday to Austria a few years back and we were going to climb a 2.7 kilometer long wooden stairway through the trees, the Wipfelwanderweg in Rachau. As I froze at the bottom of the stairs, I watched my son get scared too and — as he started crying — I thought of this expression from Pippi. I knew I had the ability to climb these high stairs through the tree tops and, scared as I was, I took the first step and never looked back. My son Jelle immediately dropped his anxiety and climbed the stairs with me. I now go hiking on the highest mountains in Switzerland, and in 2019 I have climbed the Sněžka mountain on the border between the Czech Republic and Poland during a Wim Hof Expedition. I did that in the cold winter weather, in the snow, in my shorts. I was the only woman in the tribe to reach the top! So Pippi definitely is my hero and an inspiration for my take on life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Thank you for that enormous compliment. I really appreciate that. Well, for me the power lies in the simplest things and gestures. So, I guess one of the things that I would love to see is for people to think, talk and act compassionately. As a vegan and a minimalist, I care about all forms of life and energy. Compassion for me is an essential value. So, I’d like to inspire other people to live in a compassionate way. If we all would go about our lives without complaining, talking others down, over-consuming to numb our fears and doubts, but instead supporting each other and holding space for love and respect, we would come a long way. I think that living your life with compassion — towards our planet and our fellow earth inhabitants — that would generate the most beautiful movement ever.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

Thank you so much for having me. I loved all your amazing questions.

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