Posts Tagged ‘self motivation’

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.


Whose permission do you need to succeed anyway?

February 7, 2012

Whilst this might seem like a strange question, it’s a vital one to consider. Too many people seem to be waiting for someone or something else to give them the go ahead in life … when in fact what they really need to do is give themselves permission to succeed.

Let’s face it, we spend our early years asking permission from parents and teachers to do almost anything (and as a parent, I’ll add “rightly so!”) – where to go, what to do, what to eat … even going to the toilet!

However, if constant permission-seeking creeps into adult life in an inappropriate way, it can stifle personal development and stop you achieving your goals: it’s one thing as a teenager saying to those around you “I can’t come out tonight, my mum won’t let me” – quite another to be complaining that “I’ll never get a promotion because my boss just won’t put me forward”.

Don’t get me wrong – there are times when permission to do something MUST be sought. What I’m talking about here is when we actually give up responsibility for our own actions and potentially give up on our goals and aspirations.


SO … whose permission are YOU asking for … and why?


1) The Government’s?
If you’re waiting for the economic tide to turn before you start a business / sell your house / plan for the future … you might as well lie down and die right now. DO NOT leave critical decisions about your personal future to a bunch of numpties at Westminster (substitute your own seat of government here!).

As a surveyor friend of mine put it recently, we have to work on the basis that this is the ‘new normal’. We live in an uncertain world. We must make bold decisions anyway. We must raise our aspirations anyway. We must move forward anyway.


2) Your boss’s or client’s?
I was working with someone a while ago who had felt that her career had run into the buffers because her boss wouldn’t let her attend a training course that was necessary for her to progress, because they felt she wasn’t ready for it. She’d been inspired by something she heard in a song on the radio: Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’. The words that caught her attention were, “When they insist we’re just not good enough … just look then in the eyes and say I’m going to do it anyway”. Without her boss’s consent, she funded the course herself, and was able to move forward in her career.

I faced a challenge recently where I’d devised some life skills workshops for teenagers, and was literally seeking permission to run them in a school somewhere … with little success. As soon as I decided NOT to seek permission and to run them myself anyway, I was able to move forward.

At the end of the day, the decision to progress is an individual one.


3) Your family’s and friends’?

Usually your friends and family have your best interests at heart. They don’t want to see you get hurt. They don’t want to see you fail. They don’t want to see you make a fool of yourself. And, sometimes, they can unwittingly put the kibosh on your plans and aspirations.

Marconi’s friends tried to have him committed because, according to them, he must have been mad to try to get sound to travel through ‘thin air’ via radio waves. Enough said, really.


Challenge yourself:  are you asking the wrong people for permission, and if so, WHY?  To my mind, there are 3 key reasons … all of which can be fixed.


1) Fear.  Fear of getting it wrong, fear of what people might say, fear of looking like an idiot.

Asking someone else’s permission (whoever that might be) can indicate that you’re looking for reassurance. Which is fine … but what if you don’t get it?

Do you have the courage of your convictions to just get on with it anyway? Is it really a confidence thing that’s holding you back?

2) Procrastinating. Asking for permission allows you to delay decision making and put off taking action. The ball is in someone else’s court. You can’t move forward until they get back to you, or until they give you the go ahead.

Is this really the case … or can you move ahead anyway? Is this more about your motivation levels than anything else?

3) Lack of personal accountability. Asking someone else’s permission absolves you of responsibility for the outcomes, and provides you with plenty of excuses why failure wasn’t your fault.

Is it really fair to blame someone or something else … or is it more about YOU?

So whose permission DO you need to succeed? It’s a question you really need to ask yourself.

Stay on track with your New Year’s Resolution! Three questions to ask yourself daily

January 15, 2012

Whether or not you set yourself some challenges at the start of the year, it’s all too easy to lose the plot when it comes to your goals, and get side-tracked by STUFF that happens in day-to-day life.

I’ve challenged myself this year to ask myself these three questions at the end of every single day, and I’d like to invite you to do the same.


Question 1: “Have I acted with courage and zeal?”

The question here is the attitude with which you’ve approached the day: have you forged ahead and done things that needed to be done, even if you were a little bit afraid of doing so … or have you allowed fear to prevent you from doing something? Have you adopted a “get on with it NOW” mindset … or have your procrastinated and put off doing a task until you “get around to it”? Have you acted with a positive and enthusiastic outlook, or trudged through the day as if your goal was forced labour?

Consider the impact that a positive approach has … compared with the sorry alternative.


Question 2: “Have I sown the seeds of tomorrow, today?”

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and success can take time, depending on the goals that you’ve set for yourself. Have you done something today that has sown the seeds of your tomorrow, and that has moved you in some way closer to your goal? Success often comes through consistently doing the small things, rather than waiting for the right moment to make a one-off gargantuan effort.

Ultimately, you reap what you sow … so what’s it been today?


Question 3: “Have I retained balance?”

Whatever you’ve done and achieved today, have you done so without compromising your values and character and without infringing the rights of others? Have you maintained your sense of ‘self’ and well-being?

If you have freaked out for some reason (it happens to everyone all too often) it’s worth reflecting on the day and thinking about the precise point at which you started to ‘lose it’, and what triggered that emotion, so that if the situation arises again you can either try to stop it … or if that’s not possible, recognise the need to develop some coping strategies to keep you grounded.

At the end of the day, success isn’t success if along the way you lose sight of yourself and your values.


If you ask yourself these questions frequently, it doesn’t matter too much if you go off track for a day or so: you can catch up quickly.

If you DON’T ask yourself challenging questions and hold yourself to account … or you only do so once in a blue moon … then you’ll have MUCH further to catch up if you’ve slipped off the track. And you might not catch up at all.

Music to Inspire

July 19, 2010

Just a quick one this time. We probably all have a song or two that never fail to cheer us up when we’re feeling a bit naff.

Before I share my top ten with you (I don’t care if you laugh –  I LOVE these tracks!!!) let me just say that there’s a significant amount of research that proves that music has beneficial effects in terms of stress management and indeed in terms of learning.

A BBC report on the One Show last year said that listening to rhythmic music while exercising ‘lessened the perception of effort’, and listening to quiet, calm music post-exercise caused the heartbeat to return to normal more quickly.

The ‘Tomatis Method’ uses both music listening and music making to work with kids with ADHD, reducing the need for drugs – with some remarkable results.

Georgi Lozanov developed a way of language learning where large amounts of information could be absorbed and recalled…while listening to music.

So it’s not just a quick pick-me-up. Music really can effect your mood and your state of well-being.

For what it’s worth – here’s a countdown of my top ten  smile makers  : )

10. The ‘Indiana Jones’ theme Tune

9. Volare – Gipsy Kings

8. Beautiful day – U2

7.  The Fallen Angel Set (from the album To Answer the Peacock) Brian McNeill

6. Canario – Joaquin Rodrigo

And now to share my top 5 with you……

5. Hoedown – Aaron Copeland  (YEEEEEEEE HAAAAA!!!)

4. World Cup Song – K Naan

3. One Day Like This – Elbow

2. I Get Knocked Down (but I get up again)  – Chumbawumba


1. JUMP  – Van Halen (I could be at death’s door and this would revive me. Love it Love it Love it)

Happy listening!