The red shoes … and a little lesson about living in fear

December 3, 2012

red shoes 2Sometimes we learn big lessons from little things, and as part of the Yara philosophy of learning from anything and everything, I’m going to share an example of that with you now.

A couple of weekends ago, I and two friends were celebrating our birthdays. As part of this triple whammy, the evening was to start out with champagne before heading to a local establishment to dance the night away.

I hardly need say that the dance-related half of this arrangement is not something that I do very often (actually, neither is the champagne), and I was thrown into a bit of a quandary over the issue of what to wear … especially on my feet.

Vanity suggested my favourite red shoes with the square heel. Common sense told me that sensible flats would be the way to go.

Fortunately, my thirteen-year-old daughter was on hand to give me some fashion advice … and in doing so, provided some unexpected life lessons too …


Practical, schmactical

It’s not entirely surprising that my daughter laughed in my face at my suggestion of practical, sensible footwear. Even when it’s pouring with rain she’s inclined to wear slip on ‘dolly shoes’, which are a guarantee of cold, wet feet, and which represent a triumph of fashion over common sense.

Her point here was clear enough though. Sometimes practical is boring.

My choice of shoes might have been more comfortable on the dance floor, but they were indeed boring. Dull. Lifeless.

Is your pursuit of what’s most practical causing you to be dull and predictable, and preventing you from making a statement or having an impact?

Wear the red shoes.


Don’t wait for a special occasion

Part of my reluctance to wear my red shoes was because they’re special shoes, reserved for smart occasions. However, that does mean that I don’t wear them very often.

As my daughter pointed out, what was I waiting for? If I’m holding out for an invitation to some red carpet event, it might never happen, so why not get on with it and wear the shoes?

Are you saving something for a special occasion? I don’t just mean a pair of shoes or some THING… this might extend to a skills or talent.

If you’re constantly waiting for the right moment or occasion, why? Maybe you should create the occasion and just do it!

Wear the red shoes.


Worrying about what might go wrong

Given that these are my favourite shoes, I was also concerned that I might ruin them. What if they got wet? What if I broke a heel dancing? What if someone spilt a drink on them … or worse?

Again, as my daughter pointed out, what actually WAS the worst thing that could happen?? Probably nothing that a decent suede brush couldn’t sort out.

Is your concern over what might go wrong preventing you from taking action on something? Don’t let fear over ‘what ifs’ hold you back.

Wear the red shoes.


On my daughter’s advice, I wore the red shoes after all. At the end of the evening my feet were sore and my legs were aching.

And my red shoes were absolutely fine.


Want to be more innovative at work? Go to an art gallery …

November 6, 2012

I’ve spent several months researching and making links between creativity, in an artistic sense, and innovation in the workplace. And that link isn’t as tenuous as you might think.

Here are three things that great artists have done, which can in principle form the basis of creative techniques at work (and which form part of my ‘Lightbulb’ creativity and innovation programme).



The father of modern art, Cezanne broke things down into their simplest form. In terms of shapes, this for him meant the sphere, the cone and the cylinder.

In essence, he’d look at a landscape (Mont St Victoire, for example) and distil it down to its essentials.

The point is this: what happens if you take your company’s products and services and distil them down to their essence? What does that leave you with, and how can you use the same ‘essences’ to develop new products and services in your portfolio?




       Da Vinci

Without a doubt, Da Vinci was a genius.

Part of what made him so was his insatiable curiosity about EVERYTHING. He did not limit himself to any one discipline, but looked to explore them all, and in doing so developed ideas and techniques that were years ahead of his time.

In the workplace, look outside your immediate discipline for insights, inspiration and ideas. Some of the best business innovations have come from someone’s ability to cross-pollinate ideas and practices from an entirely different sector or area.



It took me a while to get to grips with George Braque and cubism, until a friend pointed out that (like many of the great artists) he wasn’t merely trying to paint what something looked like. In his case, he was taking an object and breaking it into tiny pieces and reassembling it, or looking at it from every angle at once.

How might changing YOUR perspective lead to the creation of something new? How might looking at a market need, a business opportunity, or even an existing product, change or develop it by breaking it up (metaphorically) and reassembling it, or by looking at it from different angles?


One of the biggest mistakes that companies and individuals make is to try to create something new from the status quo: to inch beyond where they already are, using the same thought processes and methods that they’ve always used.


True innovation requires creativity. And, as a starting point, the arts have all the answers on the question of ‘how to’ – it’s simply a question of knowing how to turn artistic practice into business benefit.


For more inspiring information on using the arts in training on leadership, change management and creative thinking, contact me at

How to make negative emotions work for you

September 17, 2012

You don’t need ME to tell you that dwelling on negative emotions to the extent that they chew us up is never helpful.

However, emotions are a signal of something, and acknowledging them and analysing them can prove useful in finding a way forward and spurring us into action …


Regret: highlighting things to be replaced

Regret is often characterised by wishing you’d not done something, wishing you HAD done something or wondering what might have been if you’d taken a different course of action.

Overall, it’s probably more useful to focus on what IS rather than what might have been. However, focusing on the specifics of what it is you regret can be useful, as you may be able to replace or compensate for some of these things.

If you regret moving house, for example, WHY exactly? If you pinpoint exactly what it is you miss, you may well be able to find replacements where you are now.

If you regret a relationship break-up, what specifically were the good things about the relationship that you can find with someone else?

If your regret is about things that you wish you’d done but didn’t, or an opportunity missed, learn from that and DO something now.


Anger as a spur to action

In this context, anger could vary from mild annoyance to incandescent rage. And once again, if unchecked, anger can be extremely self-destructive.

However, it IS telling you something.

Try to focus on what specifically you are angry about. If you feel so strongly about it, what can you DO about it? Likely as not, the more angry you are about something, the more motivated you might be to do something about it. And make sure it’s useful: I’m not talking about revenge here!

Where I live, many people are angry that the local authority is planning to build hundreds more houses in the village. Many are planning to make a protest of some sort, and it’s fair to say that the strength of their feeling will probably have an impact on the level of protest they make.

If you really can’t do anything about the thing that is making you angry, think carefully about developing coping strategies – you may just have to learn to let it go – and perhaps consider a Plan B to address the issue.

Deciding to DO something rather than just feeling angry will make you feel more empowered and less helpless and frustrated.


Boredom as a signal for the need to change

Boredom. Stuck in a rut. Ho hum. It can often lead to frustration, which in turn can lead to anger.

It’s all too easy to blame circumstances, your job, your boss, you family situation … almost anything … for being stuck in a rut.

What boredom IS telling you, though, is that it’s time for change.

Don’t just sit there. Challenge yourself to do something different. Try something new.


Fear as a spur to develop strength of character

Fear is the biggest single factor that stops people from doing things: fear of what people might say, fear of being wrong, fear of failure, fear of success.

The clue is in the title of Susan Jeffer’s book ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’: feeling fear, isolating SPECIFICALLY what you’re afraid of and moving beyond it are the stepping stones for developing courage, confidence and strength of character.

I once (briefly) overcame my fear of heights and abseiled down the side of a tall building for charity. My specific fear was of falling to my death. Logically, given all the safety procedures, I knew that that simply wasn’t going to happen: I still FELT the fear, but I focused on the logic of stepping over the edge and raising a few funds for a good cause, and I did it.

I’ll never do it again, mind you … but at least now I know that I can overcome my fears and just get on with it if I have to.


Jealousy to tell you what you want

Ah! The green eyed monster! How could jealousy POSSIBLY be useful in any shape or form?

In common with ALL negative emotions, extreme jealousy is NOT helpful. Mild envy, though could be telling you something.

I’m not the least bit envious of people who drive big fancy cars even if they brag about them … because I really don’t care about big fancy cars.

On the other hand, I always feel a slight pang of envy when I hear of someone I know having a book published … because I want to have a book published. I don’t begrudge them their success, but I DO recognise that their success is something that I’d like to emulate.

So that’s it: I’m going to write a book.

Who do you envy, and for what? And how might you turn wishful thinking into a determined action to achieve something?


In a nutshell, then, what are your negative emotions telling you? Focusing on the emotion, rationalising it and figuring out exactly where it’s coming from, and then moving through it to some sort of action could ultimately make the pain worthwhile.


Ideas + guts + action = success

September 3, 2012

Last week I attended a networking event, held at the Anta showroom on George Street in Edinburgh.

For those not in the know, Anta sells the most beautifully designed, covetable things handcrafted in the Highlands of Scotland (have a look for yourself at and you’ll see what I mean. And order their catalogue – it’s got some fabulous recipes in it!)

One of the most inspiring things about the entire evening was the story of how Anta came about, as told by its founder, Annie Stewart.

Here are three key things that I took from her story:



Whilst many people start out with a clear vision of what they want to achieve, this isn’t always the case.

Far from having a lightbulb ‘eureka moment’ that was to shape the rest of her life, Annie speaks of leaving Edinburgh Art School with a degree in Fine Art, and having an ‘”oh sh*t” moment, when it dawned on her that she’d have to do something to make a living.

Capitalising on knowledge that she’d developed from her course, she approached a weaver of Scottish tartan and asked him if he’d weave a small bolt of cloth in a traditional pattern, but using pink and lime green wool.

Whilst the weaver wasn’t entirely delighted with what he’d produced, Annie set about making ties and other accessories with the resulting cloth.

Sometimes necessity really IS the mother of invention: sometimes you have to be in an uncomfortable place in order to feel the need to do something different.

The challenge is, what knowledge do YOU have (even if other people also have that knowledge) that could, with a twist here and there, be turned into something new and unique? And are you, in fact, too comfortable with the status quo to really bother doing anything with those ideas?



With a small range of accessories made of her lime-green-and-pink tartan tucked into a suitcase, Annie set off to visit a friend in New York.

While she was there, she telephoned round a few designers and department stores: note, we’re not just talking one or two small boutiques here, we’re talking Jasper Conran, Bergdorf Goodman – the highest end of the fashion market.

In short, she managed to blag her way in to see some of the biggest names in fashion at the time, and to begin to sell her accessories in prestigious locations.

Often, success requires us to be brave and step out and do something, even though we might be taking a personal or emotional risk. Success takes guts. It means taking a risk that someone will laugh at you, shut the door in your face, or just say “No”.

On the other hand … they just might say “Yes”.

So here’s the question: what are you afraid of? Is it just time to feel the fear and do it anyway?



Success in the States and recognition from major-league fashion houses brought its own challenges in the early days: the almost accidental design of tartan ceramics led to a commission from Vogue for corporate gifts for its advertisers, which in turn led to one of those advertisers placing an order for a large number of ceramics which they wanted delivered in a very short space of time.

Annie and her team of designers and craftsmen back in the Highlands of Scotland took the commission and, despite time pressures, delivered.

And here’s another lesson that often gets missed: once you’ve set yourself up as something, you have to follow through on it. This is about more than delivering on your promises – it’s about psychologically stepping up to the plate and becoming the person you aspire to be. It’s about not being afraid of success.

It would have been easier to take a step back and say “sorry – we can’t fulfil that size of order in the time” and take a step back. But that’s not the choice that Annie made.

And the challenge for the rest of us? To be brutally honest, most of the time, it’s just ‘easier not to’. But success requires you to get off your butt, rise to the challenge and DO something when most people don’t.


Now, some 25 years on, Anta is a thriving business providing a valuable outlet for the handiwork of dozens of skilled designers, craftsmen and women.

Who knows: but for an idea, some guts and some serious action, it might never have happened.

“Switch it off and switch it back on again”

August 23, 2012

I don’t know about you, but whenever my computer is playing up I’ll spend several frustrating minutes trying to figure out why and fix the problem (which, given my limited knowledge of IT, is unlikely at the best of times). Then I’ll try everyone’s favourite method of switching it off and switching it on again – and voila! It’s amazing how often it kicks back into life like nothing has happened.

You’ll have also heard people say that the brain is like a computer. So what happens if you put those two ideas together?

Like most people, I’ve taken a break over the summer, but this year I’ve done things a little differently.

In the past, even if I went on holiday, I’d take some work with me. If nothing else, while everyone else was eagerly reading the latest pool-side best-seller, I’d read a couple of books on management and leadership before letting myself read for fun.

This year, however, for a full week I consciously chose NOT to think about anything work related. I did this to the extent that if work-related thoughts crept into my mind, I’d consciously switch them off and think about or do something else.

Here are five of the most productive and useful things to have come out of that experiment.


1. Guilt lessens as you realise the value of switching off

Many people feel guilty about taking time out and simply allowing themselves to switch off – the self employed in particular, where there’s no one else to take up the slack if you take a break.

However, if you’ve set yourself a clear time frame for switching off, for example “this week, I’m not thinking about anything work related at all”, you’ll feel less guilty in the knowledge that you WILL be tackling these issues in good time. Just not now.

If you start to stress that you’ll forget something important, write it down somewhere, and then put it aside.

Trust me: the world won’t stop if you do.


2. You’ll get things into perspective

It’s all too easy to get bogged down in day-to-day matters which do have to be addressed, but which, if you give them too much attention as and when they arise, take up far too much of your focus and time.

I, for one, am often guilty of dealing with things immediately as they arise, in effect treating everything as an emergency and running the risk of faffing about with the small things rather than concentrating on the things that really matter.

Allowing yourself to switch off and, as it were, view some of these things with detachment, gives you a different, clearer perspective on what actually matters.


3. You’ll learn new things and make fresh connections

When you deliberately step away from your work you’ll find yourselves doing other things – things that engage and interest you. Even though you’ve deliberately ‘switched off’ from work, you’re not wasting time doing nothing.

Allowing yourself to focus on other things provides valuable opportunities to learn new things which can in the long term prove MUCH more useful than if you’d tried to stay half tuned-in to work.

I’ve been doing a bit of research on creativity and innovation, and one of the most useful things I’ve done in recent months is wander round a few art galleries. Not only was it a relaxing thing to do, it provided food for thought, and I met one or two interesting people who have provided me with valuable insights as to how the artistic process relates to innovation.


4. Subconscious works

In essence, when you deliberately switch off from work-related issues, you allow your subconscious to take over and figure it all out for you.

The power of your subconscious is not to be underestimated: it can and will draw upon hidden strengths and forgotten knowledge in order to solve problems, generate new ideas and so on … but it can’t work effectively if your conscious mind is constantly over-riding it. Switching off provides the opportunity for it to work for you. 

My personal example of this relates to a training workshop I’d been asked to develop and deliver at short notice. Instead of fretting in front of the computer screen trying to dredge ideas up from nowhere, I went for a run.

By the time I came back an hour later, I had a clear idea of the content and structure of the workshop, and even some of the props and visuals I was going to use.

There’s no way I’d have come up with the same quality of ideas if I’d tried to force them: it was a case of deliberately doing something else and letting my subconscious do the work.


5. When you switch on again

This, my friends, came as perhaps the biggest surprise of all, and is perhaps the most important point: if you take time to switch off, when you switch on again and tune back in to work, you’ll find that during the time you’ve switched off, something has happened.

You’re better able to focus, you have better ideas and you’re more motivated – not in spite of, but BECAUSE you’ve switched off and switched on again.


So here’s the thing. Take time to switch off: you don’t have to go on holiday, you can take a ten minute breather. It’s counter intuitive, but sometimes switching off rather than ploughing on can be the most productive thing to do.


Be creative, even if you think you’re not. Just do it.

May 26, 2012

This isn’t so much of a blog post as a challenge. Do something creative.

Do it this weekend. Make something. Draw something. Write a song. Bake something. Decorate something. Do whatever grabs you.

Why? Well, I don’t need to tell you when these three other people can:

Picasso: “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” …Rediscover your creative capacity.

Vincent van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” …Stop saying “I can’t” and start saying “I’ll give it a go”.

Sir Ken Robinson: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”….Worried it won’t turn out perfect? Do it anyway.

Go on – I dare you.

As for me, I’m doing something I find it very difficult to do, and that’s play the piano in front of people.

Here’s a short piece I wrote recently. It was inspired by a day out climbing Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran (off the West Coast of Scotland) with some WONDERFUL friends, and I’ve called it ‘View From The Top’.

It’s not Mozart, but it’s mine.

It’s not great, but it’s original.

It’s not professional, but you won’t have heard it before.

Do something creative. Be original. Be unique.



Positive Thinking and Resourcefulness … and Macaroni Cheese.

May 22, 2012

Let me nail my colours to the mast: I find people who constantly complain and take a negative view incredibly annoying. It’s a behavioural trait that I find difficult to tolerate … that said, I’m very well aware that I used to be very negative and sarcastic myself …

Today I’d like to share a little story about my friend Sarah and her macaroni cheese to highlight how – by contrast – a little positive thinking and resourcefulness can go a long way.

About 20 years ago, Sarah and I were room-mates in halls of residence at Birmingham University (UK). In typical student fashion, the closer we got to the end of term, the less money we had, and the deeper we dug into our overdrafts.

On one Saturday afternoon, we were both hungry, but a quick inspection of the cupboard (which rapidly turned into a desperate search for anything edible) revealed that we had practically nothing to eat.

My own response was to grumpily resign myself to the fact that I was either going to go hungry or head to the supermarket and get further into student debt.

Sarah, though, had other ideas. “What can you make with flour?” she asked.
“Flour and what?” I replied.
“No,” she said, “just flour”.

Imagining the most tasteless of flatbreads, I dourly replied, “nothing”.

About half an hour later Sarah appeared with two plates of macaroni cheese.

Where … How??! I cynically thought she must have resorted to theft … but no!

Searching again in the cupboards that we’d previously thought were bare, she’d found a packet of dried macaroni left by a student the previous year. It was past the ‘sell-by’ date … but it was dried macaroni … how bad could it possibly be? (Not bad at all, as it happened)

She’d also remembered that on our outside window ledge (we didn’t have a fridge) we had left a few individual portions of wrapped cheese that we’d pinched from the student canteen.

I’m guessing she stole a splash of someone else’s milk from somewhere in the kitchen … and with such unpromising ingredients had conjured up a passable macaroni cheese for two.

The moral of the story is:
1) Think positively and don’t give up. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
2) If the situation seems bleak, look again carefully, and re-evaluate: you have more resources at your disposal than you realise
3) Think laterally and don’t give up: even with a little it’s possible to do quite a lot.

And Sarah, if I never said so at the time, thank you for that macaroni cheese … and for the surprising life lessons it taught me 🙂

Goal Setting and Mountain Climbing – 5 key lessons

May 7, 2012

Sometimes, achieving your goals can seem like climbing a mountain. Well, funnily enough … it is!

I’m fortunate to have some wonderful friends – a few days ago we decided to climb Goat Fell, the mountain on the Isle of Arran just off the west coast of Scotland … and we all took our sons with us.

Climbing a mountain really does hold several great lessons for goal setting and success. Here are five of them:

1. From a distance …

From the mainland, our goal (the highest point on the island) looks very distant indeed.

It’s actually difficult to get a true sense of it from across the water: sometimes it’s too misty to actually SEE the mountain from the mainland. Sometimes the top is shrouded in cloud whilst the rest of the island is visible.

Perhaps more to the point is that I see this view – weather permitting – almost every day. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve said to myself, “I really must climb that thing …”

And isn’t that the thing with life goals sometimes? The bigger they are, the more distant they seem, and it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of saying, “Ah yes! One day …” rather than actually making plans to get there.

2. As you get closer …

As the ferry gets closer to Arran, Goat Fell starts to look alarmingly large and steep, especially to a novice hill walker like me. The dreamy image of an island across the water in the sunset gives way to a towering hill of rocks … and a challenging summit with a rocky outcrop.

When you focus on your goals and move them from the status of a wish or a pipe-dream to something you actually intend to do something about, the enormity of the task can seem daunting … to the point of actually putting you off.

It’s important at this stage, though, to look at the challenge in front of you, and make a decision to go for it.

Once you’ve determined to set out, the route to the top turns out to be pretty straightforward: you prepare and plan as much as you can for your journey … and then you put one foot in front of the other and keep going until you get there.

3. As you journey up the hill towards your goal …

It does get tiring climbing up the hill. Your focus is often on where you’re putting your feet, so that you can avoid stumbling on a loose rock or slipping on the scree. However, you’d be missing the point if you didn’t stop from time to time to look up and make sure you’re still on the right path to the top … and to look back and admire the view.

In terms of goal achievement, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, one-step-at-a-time tasks that are taking you to the top. These are, of course, extremely important.

It’s also vital, though, to pause from time to time and check that you’re still on the right path, and if not make adjustments and realign your direction … and to look back see how far you’ve come.

Getting to the top is important … but so is enjoying the journey.

4. The path becomes apparent

From the bottom of Goat Fell, it’s not easy to see exactly how you‘ll get to the top: the last stretch of the climb looks like a challenging heap of large rocks with no immediately obvious path.

As you get closer to those rocks at the top, though, a path becomes obvious. Bizarrely, the rocks have formed a sort of natural stairway to the top of the mountain.

Sometimes when you set off towards your goal, the path to the top ISN’T obvious. Sometimes that can put people off. But as you carry on purposefully towards your goal, a path will open up in front of you (I’m not being trite here … it really does!)

5. At the top … the next peak is on the horizon

Yards from the top, walkers on their way back down encouraged us to keep going, that it would only take another 10 minutes or so, and that the view from the top was spectacular.

They were right – on a clear day, the view from the top of Goat Fell is stunning, and absolutely worth the effort of climbing to the top.

Celebrate your successes and your goals as you achieve them.

And in exactly the same way that, once you get to the top of one mountain, you can see the peak of the next one, your next goal will already be on the horizon.

Who or what are you judging … and what does it say about YOU?

April 17, 2012

Let’s face it – it’s difficult NOT to pass judgement on people, situation, things … all manner of scenarios. Sometimes it’s entirely appropriate that we should do so. And sometimes, our judging someone or something actually says more about US than about the thing or person we’re judging ….


1) What THINGS are you judging?

I’ve been having a fascinating series of conversations with a friend recently, about art and various artists. I used to work in a music and drama academy, surrounded by gifted performers and academics.

The arts are VERY subjective: I tend to hang pictures on my walls that I like to look at and that make me think, and listen to music that sounds nice to me. Fairly pedestrian considerations, I know.

I’m aware, though, that my artist friend’s judgement on paintings, and my musician colleagues’ judgement is far more well informed than my own.

My point is this: if you’re forming a judgement on something – is it on the basis of knowledge and understanding … or on a gut reaction? Which does it actually need to be … and could a hasty judgement be revealing your lack of knowledge? And might you, yourself, be judged on the basis of that?


2) What SITUATIONS are you judging ?

Strange, isn’t it, how two people can tell you about a single situation and the two versions will be completely different.

I was delivering a training programme recently, and one participant in particular seemed to be reluctant to take any of the learning on board, providing every reason under the sun why the techniques and skills wouldn’t work for her: “in MY department …” “… with MY boss …” “… with MY colleagues …”

Rather than underlining the impossible challenges of her workplace, and the unreasonable attitude of her boss and her colleagues, she was actually revealing more about her own accepted status as a victim, and her unwillingness to even make an attempt at rectifying her situation.

When you judge a situation, what does it actually reveal about your own attitude, mindset and approach? Are you positive and proactive … or negative and ready to throw in the towel? And how might others be judging YOU on those attitudes?


3) WHO are you judging?

Who are you judging… and more to the point, on the basis of what? I’ve fallen into the trap many, many times of judging people on the basis of what they tell me about themselves, rather than on the basis of what they actually DO … and then been badly let down.

Alternatively, I’ve met people who have judged me on the basis of my apparent position.

One of my first jobs after graduating from university was as ‘Hospitality Co-ordinator’ on a live daytime TV show, greeting guests, showing them to their dressing rooms and so on.

I was privileged to meet some of the biggest show business names of the day. Some of them: Sir Tom Jones (plain old ‘Tom Jones’ as he was then), Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka, were absolutely charming and polite to everyone – from me to the floor crew to the girls in make-up: everyone. David Hasselhoff arrived in a vibrant purple suit, and was absolutely great. Sir Cliff Richard signed autographs for fans outside the front door in the rain.

Others (who will remain nameless) didn’t even look our way, and those who didn’t have minions to cater for their whims only spoke to issue commands.

You know what? Their intent might have been to impress everyone with their personal status. They might have judged that by treating those whom they perceived as inferior with disdain they were enhancing their own position. Far from it. They absolutely failed to impress.

So who are you judging, on the basis of what, and with what intent? And by the same token … what does that tell the world about YOU?


So go ahead and make a considered judgement by all means. But bear in mind that it might be more to the point to look  in the mirror first.

Feelings are just a signal. It’s what you DO with them that counts.

April 2, 2012

I’ve re-learned a big life lesson this week – what it has done is shown me that although we think we know certain things … it’s all too easy to fall back into traps of habit, and into unproductive thoughts and practices that can hold us back.

The scenario? Well, it’s one that I’m sure many will be familiar with – feeling dissatisfied with a specific situation, and giving way to having a good old moan about it.

Here’s the thing. Those feelings of dissatisfaction are just the start: it’s how you think and what you do about them (and the situation) that makes the difference.


Emotions are the signal

Studies into human behaviour and emotional intelligence indicate quite clearly that people will respond to situations and other factors instinctively first, emotionally second … and logically only after that.

A few years ago, I had just finished delivering a training session at a shipyard in Glasgow one winter’s day, and, as I walked back to my car, a lad on the other side of the road threw a snowball at me. My initial reaction was instinctive – to put up my hands to protect my face from the incoming missile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite quick enough, and the snowball caught me squarely on the face. My second reaction was an emotional one – I shouted angrily and in none-too-flattering terms at the culprit across the road. It was only several minutes later that I thought rationally about the scenario – the lad had probably been dared by his friends to throw the snowball at me, and hadn’t expected to hit me at all, let alone right in the face. In the circumstances, it was actually a remarkably good shot.

So what does any of this mean in day-to-day life? To my mind, it’s this. Feelings and emotions (in this case, I’m considering negative feelings in particular, but the same is true of any) are merely a signal. They’re a little warning light that something isn’t quite right.

It’s too easy to get stuck in the ‘feelings’ of a situation, and not to move on – but this will lead to feelings of being a victim, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of blame and so on. Focusing entirely and solely on negative feelings themselves will lead to a downward spiral of moaning and self pity. That’s not useful to anyone. And I’m talking to myself here, as much as to anyone.


Think about it

At some point, it really does become necessary to get a grip and to try to think rationally about the situation.
I’m not talking about stifling your feelings or ignoring them – I’m taking about acknowledging them … which may mean admitting to yourself that you have the feelings at all … and then thinking through them.

Key questions to ask yourself might be:

  • When did this situation start?
  • When did I first notice it … and what did I do about it at that stage?
  • Why am I unhappy with it?
  • Have I contributed to the situation? Have I let this happen?
  • And crucially, whether or not I’ve contributed to the situation … WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?


Do something

It’s just a casual observation, but I think an accurate one, that some people are happier grumbling about a given situation than actually taking steps to do anything about it.

I used to work in an organisation where almost everyone complained about the management culture … and yet no one was prepared to even stand up as a group do anything at all to challenge it. Perhaps people enjoyed blaming senior management and positioning themselves as the helpless victims – misery loves company, after all.

There’s almost always SOMETHING you can do to impact your situation. If you can’t change it, then you may need to move out of it altogether, or to develop coping strategies.


Whichever approach is best for you, look to develop a plan of action of some sort that will have you stepping up to address your own issues … rather than wallowing in negative emotions and dragging yourself and everyone around you down.

Whilst it can be a personal challenge, DO SOMETHING to bring about change. At the very least, you will feel empowered and in some control of your own destiny. At best, you’ll change your situation for the better, and develop yourself in the process.