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Run with those better than you

Seek out those who are better than you at things you want to improve.
It will inspire you and make you work harder and do better. You will be pulled willingly out of your comfort zone. You will succeed as part of a group (even if it's not really a formal team).
I did this for my latest half marathon - the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Set a stretching target. Ran with a much faster group. Surprised myself how fast I could actually run. 1 hour 47 minutes 40 seconds and about 3081st of 16000. (I'm happy with that.)
Simply running comfortably with people as good as me didn't make me any better. Running with people faster than me made me much better.
Run with the right herd if you want to succeed.

Overcoming fear of failure and procrastination

There are times when I just can't face something. A report, an email, a phone call, a project. I think it will go badly. I question my ability to do it. So I avoid it. Delay it. Anything to avoid the inevitable evidence I'm a fraud and not worth it. Anything to avoid failing.

But here's a surprise. Once I get started, it usually goes quite well. Sometimes very well. Because no matter what I challenge myself with I usually have the capability to do it. Sometimes it means asking for help. Sometimes it means being honest and saying I've done my best and know it's not perfect. Sometimes it means doing it a few times and practicing inbetween to get better.

It's the fear you see.

I'm not stupid. I have the evidence to show I'm not stupid. Other people know I'm not stupid but I still get the fear.

And I know there is only one way to overcome it. To face it. To start whatever I think I can't do. To achieve that very first step whether it's the first three paragraphs of the report or drafting the key points of an email or phone call on pen and paper. To reinforce I can at least start it. To remember the times I thought I couldn't do something but did it and got great positive feedback.

And each time I do this I end up with another success to put in the bank for next time. To remind me I can.

The fear will never go away. I won't always feel like challenging it but I know how to fight it and I know that I'll win.

Which reminds me, I've got something to start.



Louis Van Gaal brings ability belief and character back to Manchester United

What happens when you don't believe in yourself? When you're just off the pace compared to others? When the never say die spirit is, well, dead?

Whatever happens in the Premier League this season, Louis Van Gaal (LVG) has brought ability, belief and character back to Manchester United on their pre-season tour in the United States.

Luke Shaw played for England in the World Cup but isn't fit enough to play in this team - so he has to get fitter and do what he's told. And he does just that.  

The players believe they can win and do win. No more of the 'other team are favourites'. We might not be 'good enough yet' but we are good and we will get better. The players go out representing the club knowing they can be champions and act like it.

They show the character to keep going. Three nil up and they keep powering forward to win by seven. One nil down and they reflect and turn it around - bye bye Liverpool. The players take the feedback and grow from it. They do what's right even if it's not easy.

Contribute to the team or go and play somewhere else. Hold your head up and know we will win. Keep going, change things round, fight through to the last minute and keep going.

The ability to do something, the belief you can do it, the character to get it done. Simple as ABC. But oh so important and what makes the difference whether you're the biggest football club in the world or a kid from East London.

Thanks Louis for showing the way.


What is social mobility?

I have a better education than my parents, a much better job and live in a more affluent location. So I guess I was  a beneficiary of social mobility. But what of today's generation? How easy is it to do better?

Last night I attended the Lord Mayor's Charity Leadership Programme Social Mobility Debate. 

In some ways there are more opportunities for social mobility, in many ways less. Education is better but far more competitive. I got to a top ten university without an A grade and amongst only one fifth of my peers who went to university in the 1980s. It took a while but through experience and hard work I developed a consultancy business, earn a good living, got a PhD and have spoken, on invitation, at international conferences. 

But I don't think that journey would be as possible for someone like me today. There are too many people chasing the same dream, fighting for the A grade. That bright, but painfully shy unconfident young person lacking grit would fall at the first hurdle and not be picked up.

Social mobility today requires us to see, take and stick with opportunities otherwise we will fall by the wayside completely. Yet the more we have overprotected our children and reserved confidence building and character building for a too select few, the harder it is for the remainder to spot, seize and follow through when that vital possibility or opportunity comes their way.

Without the right skills and drive, without self belief, without the self regulation to see through adversity, all the opportunities in the world will be meaningless and the shy, brittle teenagers of today will go sideways or backwards.

There is a solution. In addition to the right opportunities we need to level the playing field. Promote and develop confidence, encourage resilience through experience, teach the skills which make us enterprising but also play to our inherent passions and personalities. Promote and develop this for as many children as possible. Otherwise, the divide will get bigger and the poorer, disadvantaged kids might as well not bother.

Time for something new to emerge.

Dr Simon Davey, Director, Emerging Scholars www.esipforest.org.uk


What is child like - the importance of play

We are born explorers. We don't know the limit of our potential. We keep trying new things like breathing, crawling, grabbing, walking. We try and sometimes cry but we are persistent. We learn a whole new language and how to control the human body. We are fascinated by simple things like empty boxes and why leaves move in the wind or what happens when we chase birds or prod cats and dogs.

We grow up. We learn rules. We get put into boxes. We fit around other people, organisations and systems. We get told that doesn't work here.

What does it mean to be child like?

I think it means a passion to explore, the freedom to try and fail regardless, about having a go, about accepting yourself.

I've watched my nephews and nieces grow up. They have a sense of wonder - a smile delights them, they build wild and meaningless structures with lego, they mess with paint and dirt. They have no obsession with tidiness and structure or neat corners. They take pleasure in the simplest things. When very small they are remarkably persistent in reaching things you don't want them to reach. They care little about consequences.

Of course children lack adult responsibilities and they need us grown ups for boundaries and consequences. But they know how to play and how to be free. They don't get stressed. They don't think in terms of measurable outcomes. They get frustrated but only for very short amounts of time. They have a go because they don't believe consequences matter. They live by the moment and they give themselves time and space.

So what can we learn and how can we be child like?

  1. Live in the moment - notice what is happening around you, smell the flowers, see the sunset, forget, if only for a while, your responsibilities. You are neither a machine nor an output producing being.
  2. Don't worry what anyone thinks. Whether you are playing with lego, drawing, dancing or creating a new project, realise no one really cares how good you are or what it looks likes. Stop being so judgemental and self-critical.
  3. Let go. Find a place to shriek or let off steam. Cry, run, shout, scream. It works for toddlers. Probably not wise to bawl your eyes out in the office though...
  4. Get better at something without caring about the consequences. Learn something for the hell of it rather than because it matters. Enjoy the skill rather than the learning objective.
  5. Be you. No really. We are who we are. We can all be different or better but sometimes we just need to accept ourselves and stop worrying about self improvement for a while.

So that's how to be child like. And kids, if you're reading this in 15 years time, I've just called it as I saw you at the time.

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