Posts Tagged ‘attitude’

Stuck in a rut? Lifestyle changes #2: Why are you here?

July 16, 2014

choose your path

A few weeks ago I began this ‘In a rut’ mini series with a few questions around where you are now: that is, where are you actually, as opposed where do you like to tell people you are (or even pretend to yourself that you are).

In this second part of my blog mini series, I’m looking at three factors which play a part in WHY you are here.


1) You’ve made (or not made) decisions that have got you here

A while ago I read a book by Larry Winget called ‘Shut up, Stop Whining and Get a Life’ – if that’s not a challenging title, I don’t know what is. One of the key themes that Winget writes about is the fact that we are where we are because of things that we’ve done and decisions that we’ve made.

This might make uncomfortable reading. I read Winget’s book at a difficult point in my life and believe me, I didn’t want to take any accountability for where I was at that point: I wanted to blame anyone and everyone for putting me there.

Before I go on, let me say that I’m NOT saying (and nor is Winget) that anyone is responsible for being the victim of crime or abuse. Clearly that is NOT the case.

What I WOULD say, though, is that we have a choice as to how we respond to our circumstances in order to create better circumstances (or not, as the case may be).

Maya Angelou, the poet, philosopher, activist and generally remarkable human being who died earlier this year overcame the abuse and racism of her difficult childhood to become one of the most influential and respected women of our time.

Model Katie Piper, whose ex-boyfriend disfigured her for life in an acid attack, overcame the physical pain and emotional trauma of what had happened to her and is now a TV personality and a spokesperson for burns victims.

I could go on. The point is that both of them could have given in to misfortune, accepted that their lot in life was not a happy one, and settled into a rut of blaming others for their situation.

Others may have been responsible for these women’s situations…but they took accountability for their lives and chose to move on.

So. What decisions have you made – or shied away from – that have led to you being where you are?

What would you do differently if you could turn the clock back…and what can you do NOW?


2) You get something from being where you are

Dr Phil McGraw writes extensively on strategies for life. I was reading one of his books recently and was challenged by the idea that, if you’re not changing a situation that you’re unhappy with, there must be something about that situation that you ARE happy with, and that does something for you in some way.

Like the statement in my first point, this can be hugely challenging, and, if you’re in that situation it can be difficult to figure out what ‘the thing’ is.

By way of example, I used to work with someone who was always complaining that a pet project of his never got the support of the organisation we were working for, never received funding and therefore had never got off the ground.

He was taken aback when one of my team managed to get him the funding he needed, to the extent that he almost tried to talk himself out of the project: it was too late, there still wasn’t enough funding, and so on.

The point was, he seemed to ENJOY being able to moan about not having the funding. It’d be a fantastic project…but THEY wouldn’t let it happen. He could have achieved something…but THEY wouldn’t let him.

With the funding in place, he had lost the ‘they’ he liked to blame.

On a another note, I had a friend who often found herself being asked at work to deliver high profile projects to very tight deadlines. She was great at her job and always delivered.

However, what started to happen more and more often was that other people who hadn’t managed their time properly would turn to her for help at the last minute.

She was becoming stressed and exhausted to the point of making herself ill. And yet…..part of her really liked to be the caped crusader who could fly in at the last minute and save the day.

Think carefully: if you’re not happy about a situation but haven’t don’t anything about it, what is that situation doing for you? 

Are you prepared to lose that ‘thing’ in order to create a better situation?


3) You don’t realise you have a choice

This is always a tough one – so many people don’t realise that they have a choice.

OK, so sometimes in life that choice is between a rock and a hard place, but there almost always is a choice, even if that choice is just about deciding on your attitude in response to a situation that’s not of your making.

‘I’ve got no choice’. It’s the voice of defeat. Of dejection. Of giving up.

We’ve all been there and heard that voice from ourselves at some point…but it’s a voice that lies. We have choices. If we’re brave enough to make them.

Where in the past (or even now) are you telling yourself that ‘you have no choice?’

Look again. They are there somewhere. Ask yourself: if you did have choices … what choices would those be?


Next time I’ll be looking at ‘what’s your destination’…. join me then!!


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.

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.

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 3: personal accountability

June 25, 2011

Ego-massaging though it might be to blame your staff, your boss, your company culture, the system, the government, the environment, your cat, your spouse … sometimes, we all have to face the facts and admit “it’s me”.

Several years ago, I went through the corporate equivalent of a ‘messy divorce’, leaving an organisation with what I perceived as a bullying culture, and making a huge fuss as I did so. Whilst I don’t believe that the debacle was entirely my fault, it took me a LONG time (at least two years) to realise … and accept … that I had contributed to my own sorry situation.  “Mea culpa”.  At least in part.

Happily, leaving there was the best career move I ever made. But before looking at some of the factors that contribute to personal accountability, here’s a cautionary tale that illustrates what some leaders will do to avoid it …

Over the last couple of years, the UK’s members of parliament have opened our government up to ridicule and disgust by falsely claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses. In what can only be described as a national disgrace, our own elected politicians were, in effect, stealing from the public purse.

When the scandal was exposed, did they take personal accountability for their wrong-doing and offer to pay the money back? For the most part, they did these things instead:

Their first instinct was to try to ban investigations into the extent of the false expense claims. They tried to hide the facts.

When this failed, some claimed that the process for claiming expenses was faulty – it allowed too much scope for fraud. They blamed the system.

Some decided to show no remorse for their theft, and carry on as though it was ‘business as usual’. They tried to pretend it didn’t matter.

Some tried to say that their administrative staff had made mistakes. They tried to blame other people.

Others said that they didn’t fully understand the process, it was very complicated and easy to get wrong. They tried to claim ignorance as defence.

Others said that they were only doing what they saw other people doing. They blamed the culture of the organisation.

Some said that the demands of their job meant that they hadn’t been able to keep on top of all their receipts. They claimed that they had had no time.

At the end of the day, this wasn’t down to the system, the culture, other people’s mistakes or anything else: it was down to a group of people with no sense of personal accountability choosing to do the wrong thing – steal. End of.

The system has changed, and the worst culprits have gone from government office to prison. The damage done to the reputation of the British Government, however, and to the public’s perception of Members of Parliament, has been immense.

Personal accountability takes courage, humility and integrity:

Courage to accept the consequences, whether good, bad or indifferent, and to be prepared to make a stand when and where it counts.

Humility to admit that leaders aren’t infallible, and to ask the question “how might I be contributing / have contributed to the problem?”

Integrity to remain true to your own values, and not lose sight  – not just of who you are,  but of the leader that you aspire to become.

It’s not an optional extra for the leader. It’s an essential pre-requisite.

Why does training fail?

November 25, 2010

Imagine you were doing a bit of DIY in your garage  – putting up a few new shelves, lets say. Mid-way through your project, you went out and bought some new tools.  Rather than unwrapping them as soon as you got home and set to work using them, you thought to yourself “No. I’ll leave them in their packaging and save them until I’m doing a really important DIY job in the house.”

Unlikely, eh? You’d probably want to practise a bit in the garage before heading into the house to do something important and highly visible with  said new tools.

Funnily enough, a pattern of behaviour I’ve noticed a LOT is for training participants to earmark newly learned techniques and skills for a ‘special occasion’…rather than look to put them into practise as soon as possible. 

Using a specific skill set and structure to deliver feedback, for example – a very useful tool indeed – often seems to be put aside for a one-to-one meeting, or a performance review. Active listening skills will be tried out ‘in my next departmental meeting’.  Assertive body language will be attempted ‘when I give my next presentation’.

Two things here: the longer you leave implementation after the end of the training programme (or any new knowledge acquisition) the less likely that implementation is to actually happen. Those new learning tools will stay in their packaging on the garage shelf.

The second thing is….why wait until a crucial moment to bring those skills out? Doesn’t it make more sense to practice in low risk, everyday situations  before embarking on that highly visible front-room project where everyone is going to see the results?

Pick something you’ve learned. Practice the day after your course. Heck, practise on your friends, your family, your dog, on the evening after you’ve finished your course. 

Do something. Test it out. Refine it. So when the big moment comes, you’ll be ready and able, and not looking blankly at a shiny new tool still in its packaging, wondering what to do with it.

Old Habits…and New Trainers

July 7, 2010

My new trainers arrived earlier this week! Woohoo! Maybe they’ll help me run a bit faster!  Remarking on how bright they looked, I’d hardly noticed that my old trainers were really looking distinctly skanky.

It did take me several days before I actually went running in my new trainers. I kept them nicely wrapped in paper in their box, and looked at them when I walked past from time to time, just to make sure they were still there for when I needed them, and hadn’t been tidied away.  Why? Well, it was raining and I didn’t want to ruin the new ones right away. Also, there was the possibilty that the new shoes might hurt a bit, and I didn’t want to discover that 5 miles away from the house and have to limp all the way back.

After almost a week, on a  suitably sunny morning, I pulled on my  new trainers and headed out for a run. Guess what. They were really rather uncomfortable, and to be honest, didn’t feel as good as the old ones.

I have a choice. Do I get back into my old trainers and keep going until they fall apart….or  persevere with the new – and better quality  – ones until I get used to them?

So. Enough of my smelly trainers. The point is (as if I need spell it out)..

How comfortable are we with our old habits, whether or not they’re working for us?

What excuses do we find for NOT putting new habits and things we’ve learned into practice right away?

How useful are those new trainers if we’re not DOING anything with them?

Do you have new trainers still wrapped in paper in a cupboard somewhere that you’ve not even tried yet?  GET ‘EM OUT AND START RUNNING!

Who are you? (who-oo who-oo!)

June 27, 2010

I’ve always hated it when someone says to me ‘”tell me about yourself” – something which usually happens in an interview context when the interviewer hasn’t prepared properly, or has no idea how to conduct a thorough, behavioural interview. Tell you about myself in the context of what? Work? Personality? My life of travel, adventure and intrigue ??

Actually, it’s one of the most irrelevent questions there could possibly be. And here’s why.

You are not who you tell me you are, you are who you prove  yourself to be.

You’ve heard the maxim ‘actions speak louder than words’ and even the bible says “by their fruits shall you know them”.  It’s one of those age old rules…that many of us seem to forget.  

There are two sides of the coin here: if you feel the need to tell new aquaintances as much as you can about yourself in order to make a favourable impression, ask yourself  ‘why’. Are you really the person you are telling everyone about? Why do you feel the need to tell everyone…is it in case they don’t believe you??   I’ve met some lovely people who seem to strive to be liked in this way, little realising that there’s no need. Just being themselves is more than enough.

On the other side of the coin,  I’ve been majorly caught out by people who have professed to be one thing… and turned out to be quite the reverse. I have to take a share of the blame here: I was far too eager to listen to who they told me they were rather than looking at how they conducted themselves.  This approach has cost me a lot of money, time, and emotion.

So a word to the wise – look for actions not words:  if someone tells you they are a good listener, make sure they don’t keep interrupting everyone else. If someone tells you how generous they are – watch them give. If someone tells you all about their abilities – wait and see how they apply them. In this way, to paraphrase another ‘Who’ song, you’re less likely to get fooled again.

Personal development – 4 essential stages

June 22, 2010

Many corporate programmes focus on setting a goal, and making a plan to achieve it… little realising that if this is a rigid and joyless experience, it’s less likely to be fulfilled.

Many personal development programmes will tell you that you can set your goals and just believe, and somehow your attitude will ensure that magical things will happen to you.

Neither hits the mark completely….which is why we developed the Yara Method. Be prepared to ask yourself some tough questions along the way….

Your Goals: How concrete are they?  Do you really have any idea what your success will look like? Is your success a scene you can visualise…or more of a belief system and a way of life  (like “my goal is to change the world”). It needs to be the first, underpinned by the second.

Your Self Image: What is the voice in your head telling you? Whether it’s right or wrong…is it USEFUL? If not, self discipline yourself to STOP and think positively.

Your Abilities: you could list your known abilities very easily – it’s the unknown that could be the key issue. At what point do your strengths become a weakness, and your weaknesses become an opportunity for personal development or collaboration?

Your Momentum: what’s holding you back: what might trigger you to derail? Is it in your head? Is is something that someone else thinks? Is it an actual barrier?  The obstacle is less likely to trip you up if you are aware of it , can watch out for it, and be tuned in to your own emotions so that you can spot the early signs of demotivation. Be clear about what MOTIVATES you – friends and family, sports, music…whatever. And if you do stumble, don’t beat yourself up about it – get up and carry on. In the words of Churchill ” never never never give up”.