Martin Petkov is a hyper-competent coach and influencer specialising in all-inclusive, personalised coaching solutions for senior executives and entrepreneurs. As an ex-banker, busy practitioner and a successful business owner, Martin recognises the value of time and the ability to be resilient in the face of the stress that work and life can bring. So, the essence of his work and coaching programmes is about enabling consistent, lasting positive changes for clients in an efficient, flexible and personalised way.
Martin’s approach is unique in that it empowers his clients to participate and be fully invested in their own growth journey. He uses tailored and effective incentive structures that ensure the people he works with are able to consistently do what they want to do. These partnerships based on trust, ensure that clients develop strong self-reliance that enables them to prosper independently and build and motivate high-performing teams around them.
In addition to the bespoke and exclusive coaching services, Martin delivers insightful talks and workshops and works with HR leaders on large-scale corporate-wide employee well-being and development programmes.
Martin has been coaching in one form or another since he was 7, and more formally since 2010. His career before becoming a full-time coach and influencer includes over 6 years in leading financial institutions and working as a Business Coach with talented apprentices. During his tenure in one of the world’s biggest banks, he co-founded mindfulness@HSBC. This employee-led initiative grew to a global movement with thousands of members and weekly guided meditation sessions and talks.
Hey Martin, can you introduce yourself to us?
I’m a certified mindfulness master practitioner, speaker, and trainer. I help leaders and teams deal with stress, become resilient and improve performance through mindfulness. The truth is that my professional experience in the area has grown organically from my own struggles and facing my own ‘demons’. I’ve used mindfulness to help me deal with a variety of stressful situations – from losing my beloved grandmother without being able to see her in her final days, through simultaneously having to cope with exams, job applications and sleeplessness due to pain from growing wisdom teeth, to struggling with obesity as a teenager.
When I don’t work, I work out (pun intended), meditate, read books, or spend time in insightful and enriching conversations with friends. I know that work-life balance is a long-term endeavour. By this, I mean that when I’m on the wings of inspiration I can have periods where I work for 12-14 hours a day and then when the project is completed, I can take a week for a meditation retreat. The things that I never compromise on are my sleep, diet, meditation and exercise.
Often, I’m very intense and direct in my communication even at a first meeting, I sometimes make jokes and find humour in situations, which are upsetting for some people, I can be way too honest and unconventional for many people’s ‘normal.’ But, I accept the fact that I can be misunderstood, don’t apologise about it and am comfortable with who I am.
I know my true intention and calling and that is to live an awakened and genuine life and not try to hide this so that the people who seek the same can find resonance and benefit from our interactions. I know that we all have our own difficulties and struggles in life and we have the capacity to face them in an open and mindful way. I know that ultimately we can grow from the stress we face, become more resilient and even improve our ability to live a meaningful and satisfying life. If this sounds like something you may be interested in.
Some interesting facts that some find hard to believe, I have approximately 4,000 hours of meditation practice because I haven’t missed a day since I started meditating formally in 2013. I was ordained after a week-long retreat in a Zen monastery with the name Sei Do – True Way.
Born in Bulgaria, can you take us through your journey to where you are now?
The essential question that prompted my journey has been “What am I?”. Asked in a genuine, and often a non-verbal way when I was a child, this one question has prompted me to open my mind more and more and seek ways to be more for myself and others. Seeing Episode 4 of Star Wars was at age 7 was an illuminating experience for me. The idea of an all-pervading ‘force’ that permeates, penetrates and emanates everything in the universe struck me as a self-evident truth. That very day I became a ‘Jedi Master’ and started training my peers in the backyard in the ‘ways of the Force.’ This was the de facto beginning of my coaching career.
Fast forward to my teen years… Through my love for food and over-caring parents and especially grandmother I was now obese and subject to uncomfortable ridicule. Fortunately, around that time a friend of mine gave me a book by John Kehoe talking about the power of the subconscious mind. I was profoundly inspired by the insights of the book and sufficiently motivated to put them in practice due to the discomfort that I was enduring. This is when my fascination with the power of the mind, health, and fitness began.
Later in 2009, I came to the UK to study Business Administration at the University of Bath. Although I excelled in this and got a First Class with honours, my primary interest was in health and mental resilience. Most of my spare time was dedicated to working out, building my knowledge of anatomy, physiology and psychology, and training fellow classmates and some of my professors. Toward the end of my degree, I faced another trying period. During the exams of my final year, I was also looking for a graduate job and dealing with super painful growing wisdom teeth (I know wisdom came late to me, but better late than never…), which made it impossible for me to sleep… On one sleepless night, I picked up a book, which talked about Buddhism and introduced me to the idea of mindfulness. So, in essence, this period of profound physical and mental discomfort helped me open up to the most powerful practice for building resilience in our lives… Goes without saying that I haven’t had a day without meditation ever since.
A few years later, I was thriving in my corporate career at HSBC when I had to face another powerful wake-up call. I lost my grandmother who was my primary caregiver and the person who has played a major role in shaping me as a person when I was growing up to heart disease and poor health. This was a great personal loss for me and also a great gain in determination and inspiration to deepen my knowledge of how to empower people to live a healthy stress-resilient life so that they don’t go through what my grandmother went through and their relatives don’t have to be without them. This was also a wake-up call about impermanence and the evanescence of life. Here I was with a steady and very rewarding salary, doing some reading, meditation, and coaching in my spare time but not truly living my purpose… This is when I realised that the fulfilment that I want and the meaningful contribution beyond me that I’m after will not come through a 9-5 job. I needed to get my act together, overcome my fear of uncertainty, step out of comfort zone and do whatever it takes to make my calling (coaching others for health and growth) my career. The rest is history as they say…
How did you launch your mindfulness training and speaking business?
It emerged naturally as a consequence of more than a decade of research and study, meticulous testing and application, and formulation of assignments and individual tasks. I was applying some of the materials with some of my clients and saw that they benefit from having videos and other resources available on the go. Another key insight that emerged from experience is that profound, long-lasting transformation comes to those who are willing to invest themselves and invest in themselves fully and allow the coaching to benefit as many areas of their life as possible. Essentially, partial solutions did not work as well more complete and inclusive ones.
The challenge for me was that I also had a full-time job for parts of that period. Putting together the flagship programme Master your Super Power (watch the trailer) would have been impossible without the work of my dedicated team who helped to put together the videos under my guidance and then I created individual practical assignments for most of them. This is the backbone of the programme. Clients get, I dare to say based on my industry knowledge, the most comprehensive coaching suite of resources coupled with 1:1 coaching delivered personally by me. This means that our work is based on a solid foundation. The 1:1 coaching time is biased toward practical application, tailoring and helping clients identify potential blind spots (shadow work) rather than simply educating them, which they can do by themselves on the programme.
So, to answer your original question, launching this was an exhilarating and massively rewarding experience. It was the product of more than 10 years of research, application and refinement. Thousands of hours of reading and study, coupled with at least that much more to create all the videos, books and assignments. And, of course, the work of a dedicated and passionate team that I’m deeply grateful to.
What fuelled your initial passion for wanting to help others deal with stress through mindfulness?
It was above all else my personal struggles. I’ve had very difficult periods having to do with the loss of loved ones, broken relationships, uncertainty about what the next step in life is. As painful as these experiences were at the time, I realised that the best way to overcome them is to face them directly. Instead of trying to escape in entertainment and busy-ness I’d come back to my breathing and extend my meditation practice. This is the only thing that worked consistently and allowed me to 1) deal with the difficult period more quickly and effectively 2) remain fully aware throughout so that I can learn and grow from the experience.
I’m passionate about building empowering partnerships with my clients. I make it clear from the onset that this is their personal journey and they will do the majority of the work, which they are more than capable of doing of course. I’m acting as an unbiased mirror and a springboard for their health and success improvements. I’m sharing with them more constructive and resourceful ways of contextualising their lives, thinking, acting and being. Creating this safe and empowering space naturally helps them grow and unlock powerful internal potential.
Can you tell us 3 stress-busting tips for our audience of entrepreneurs?
- Recognise stress. The value of mindfulness is that it enables you to be aware of what is going on in your body and mind. Bring your attention to your breathing and the muscle tone of your body. Are you breathing in your chest instead of in your belly, are your shoulders raised up instead of relaxed, is your mind racing lost in thoughts rather than calmly abiding in the present? These are your indications that you are stressed. What you are unaware of, you are controlled by. What you recognise you can change.
- Befriend stress. There is robust scientific evidence that the way that you perceive stress determines its effect on you. Briefly, researches found that when you believe that stress is beneficial for you it results in positive health outcomes and vice versa. So, many of us would gladly have a cup of coffee in the morning which initiates the very same hormonal cascade in our body as a stressful event and then complain about a ‘stressful’ deadline at work. Same, thing from the body’s perspective, totally different interpretation in our minds. The first one is voluntary and enjoyable, the second one is a resisted pain in the neck.
- Leverage ‘positive stress’. I have a few videos in my module on mindfulness, which specifically train people to recognise and use stress as a mild ‘performance enhancing drug’ and learn to ride it as a wave of inspiration for entering into a flow state. Again, there is robust evidence that your mental and physical performance increases significantly under the influence of short-term stress. Resilience is not about becoming immune to stress but learning to use it in a constructive manner. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”
The secret is in the consistent and indiscriminate application of 1,2 and 3 above. Make no exceptions and treat each stressful event as an opportunity for boosting your performance in the short term and building your resilience in the long term. This will result in the elimination of the dreaded and debilitating ‘chronic stress’ through its transmutation into the benign and nourishing ‘positive stress’.
What methods are you using to help leaders and their teams build resilience and improve performance?
The absolute key here is that I’m very selective in choosing the people that I work with 1:1. This is not about being elitist. It is a natural consequence of the fact that my time is limited and I can only work with so many people. So, from the people that apply for my programme I chose the ones that are determined and can clearly articulate their motivation and the internal resources that will help them persevere and establish mindfulness as a cornerstone of their success.
On a practical level, my flagship online programme Master your Super Power (trailer) is very helpful. This solid foundation magnifies the value of the in-person talks and training and accelerates progress beyond what is achievable through online learning or coaching alone. Additionally, for people on the flagship programme, I run regular group sessions or webinars where I introduce and talk about a topic and then open for Q&A. This interactive and frequent format also adds a lot of value.
Then, I also have a unique approach to the most important aspect – incentives. Many of the people that I work with have a reasonable understanding of what needs to be done. So they have the answer of 1 of the 3 key questions for success: what, why and how. I help with the other 2 – Why? and How?. Essentially, I get people to pledge to themselves and be fully committed to their chosen path. This ensures long-term compliance and very high success rates.
I solve the ‘Why?’ by helping them clarify their motivation and designing a personalised incentive structure, usually including a substantial financial pledge (which is recoverable based on performance). Even for people that claim that money is not their primary driver it is a most effective means of helping them do what they want to do. I work with successful executives and entrepreneurs, if they were not financially motivated at least to some degree they would not be where they are and they would not be working with me. So, I use this healthy relationship with money to get them to essentially ‘pay themselves’ to get results.
I solve the ‘How?’ by sharing my wealth of experience and insights and asking the right questions. Because I often remind my clients that they are the ‘only expert on themselves’.
Crucially, my solutions address the most important limiting factor for stressed leaders – time. Both my online programme, and the mindfulness practices I teach aim for efficiency. Furthermore, they are designed in a flexible way that can be integrated even in the busiest schedule and executed even by people who travel a lot. I even have momtrepreneurs with three to five children among my clients. So, my approach is designed to work consistently even for the busiest of people.
The productivity increases, as well as enhanced physical health and fitness, are the objective improvements as a consequence of better stress resilience and more mental acuity.
Above all, I emphasise the development of two essential success traits, which are often ignored – discipline and habits. I have 2 modules and a whole course in the programme just on these two. I want to help my clients make all constructive practices part of their DNA. This ensures lasting results that don’t depend on temporary motivation but have become habitual.
The ultimate goal is to enable stressed leaders and teams to transcend from pessimistic endurance (surviving) to enthusiastic purpose (thriving). It is very much about helping people help themselves. I only suggest, enable and facilitate. All the growth and development that happens is the domain and responsibility of my clients. It is about creating powerful independent beings that can take care of themselves and are complete enough in themselves to be able to lead others and build long-term relationships.
Where can you see yourself within the next 5 years and what plans do you have in place to expand?
In 5 years’ time, I see myself as the resident adviser and coach at Capitol Hill and Westminster doing work with celebrities and business tycoons on weekends. On a more serious note, I see myself expanding my work with HR teams to roll the programme or a modified version on a larger scale.
I see myself coaching more prominent and influential figures such as leading politicians, actors, and other influencers. Leveraging their influence will magnify the overall value of life-improvement that the course can bring.
I see myself collaborating with universities to roll the Master your Super Power as a degree or at least as a university course. The value of the transformation that the programme brings magnifies and multiplies over time… So, the earlier someone completes it, the more value they’ll accrue over a lifetime. A degree of emotional maturity is required, of course, but having worked with young people I know that some have the hunger, determination, and acuity to benefit from such a programme.
I see myself working with education leaders to introduce the axioms and basic principles of the course in schools across the world. These are powerful and life-changing ideas, the earlier the seeds are planted, the bigger the trees will grow…
I see myself training other coaches that can facilitate and deliver the programme so that we can scale and benefit more people. This, of course, is a gradual process that needs to happen organically to ensure that utmost quality is maintained. Passionate graduates with the right attitude are some of the obvious champions.
I see myself expanding the referral scheme. Everyone that encourages a friend to benefit from the programme is generously rewarded for doing the right thing. I see myself with a loving, beautiful, smart woman by my side that shares my direction.
What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?
Seeing someone become self-reliant. Speaking, acting and being in a certain way that emanates confidence and profound trust in oneself that all will be well because ‘I can face with clarity whatever the present moment presents to me’. Note the word ‘presents’. Realising that every challenge coming our way is a precious gift propelling our growth is a fundamental axiom for building resilience.
My eyes have teared more than once when I’ve seen a client that has completed the programme a year or so later, I see a different person, clearly, they were in an excellent space and had the willingness to take care of themselves and invest in their future in order to enrol in the programme, but seeing them on the other side is something different altogether. The first thing that strikes me is the spark in the eyes, the gentle smile emanating trust, confidence and contentment, the spring in their step, the wag in their tail. The grounded masculinity of men. The inspiring feminine energy of women.
Seeing clients’ willingness to confront their own challenges gives me ultimate career satisfaction. Seeing clients’ ability to deal with each moment instead of hiding in distractions gives me ultimate career satisfaction.
Accepting my own limitations and learning from mistakes and failures also gives me a lot of satisfaction.
What challenges have you overcome during the growth of your business?
My biggest challenges have been noise and extremism.
Noise is the barrage of information and apparent opportunities that constantly bombard me and my clients. We live in a time of unprecedented availability and ease of access of (mis)information. Getting on my programme is a few clicks away but so are dietary and life advice that is counterproductive and limiting. I’ve had to dedicate thousands of hours of my life in research and trial most of the things myself to sift through all the noise. This is very valuable now that I enable others to get to the crux of things without wasting time. Clearly, it was a challenge for me as it required a massive investment of time and energy. I am grateful for this difficulty, however, as it sharpened my critical thinking and gave the tremendous experience and competence that I know have as a foundation for my confidence.
Extremism is more of a personal challenge. I tend to do things 200 per cent. So in my time, I’ve experienced the extremes in more than one essential dimension of life… Going from raw vegan to raw carnivore in my diet. Going from someone enjoying casual intimacy in a very respectful way to practising total celibacy for nearly two years. From enjoying regular drinks with friends, clients and associates to total abstinence for 4 years.You name it I’ve done it. I’ve had to face and endure a lot of peer pressure, challenges and criticism. Clearly, I was no right all the time. But I did have the confidence and the determination to do without compromise what I considered to be right at the time. I’ve never discontinued a practice because someone disapproved of it. Only my own convictions determine my actions. I’ve grown tremendously by going through my periods of extremism and this now enables me to facilitate more balanced solutions for clients.
When I talk about my struggles and the ups and downs in my own life, I like to say half-jokingly… “I live my life so that it is an interesting read when someone decided to write about it…”
How do you define your own success?
‘Doing in each moment all that is to be done at that moment in an awakened manner.’ Allow me to elaborate. True wisdom lies in the reconciliation of two apparent opposites. Having long-term goals and living in the present moment.
The massive vision for the future drives me forward and helps me jump out of bed in the morning. But the far more challenging and important part is to remain fully grounded, aware and awake to each present moment. Not to allow future aspirations to come at the cost of present happiness.
Therefore, I define my own success as being fully awake, aware and grounded in as much of my waking moments as possible. Only this would ensure that the way that I’m threading is my way.
What does #BEYOUROWN MAN mean to you?
To me, #BEYOUROWN MAN means having unshakable confidence based on a solid grasp of who and what you are that does not depend on your achievements or on what others say or think about you. To me, #BEYOUROWN MAN means walking with your feet firmly on the ground, your spine straight and your eyes looking straight ahead. It means being willing to admit quickly and openly when you were not right. Willing to change your mind in light of new evidence, living true to your principles and not sacrificing them for temporal or material gains. #BEYOUROWN MAN means being an example for others of being your own man.
I appreciate that #BEYOUROWN MAN’s audience is mostly masculine and excusing the sex bias in the expression itself I think a real woman can and is indeed both true and unapologetic about her feminine energy and needs and also is ‘her own man.’
Finally, what are you working on throughout 2019?
2019 is a period of transition and transformation. Those who realise this and have the courage will invest heavily in their own growth and development. Life provides plenty of challenges and opportunities to facilitate this.
The decade is coming to an end and all initiatives better are completed and ready for a new phase in 2020. For me and my business, I see 2019 as setting the foundations for scale while maintaining the exclusive and massively empowering 1:1 feature of my work. I continually remind myself that ultimately each of us on Earth is embarking on a personal journey. So remaining grounded and doing my own internal work, looking into my own shadow and healing what needs to be healed very much remains a priority for me. I can only enable others to take care of themselves if I’m doing this consistently and to an exceptional standard.
Building a community of supermen and superwomen (graduates of the Master your Super Power programme) will also go a long way in spreading the vibes and accelerating the evolution of the collective consciousness.