How much have you achieved?

I often ask clients to name something about themselves they’re proud of – almost everybody finds it difficult unless they’re prompted.

Your confidence can be so easily shattered and there’s the habit we have of not wanting to look boastful but I believe we’ve been conditioned to think that only the really big things can count as achievements.

All the talent shows like BGT, all the crushed participants who aren’t the winner. All the players who get knocked out of Wimbledon before the final (or in it!), all the Olympic athletes who don’t get golds – are they under-achievers? Are all eyes so firmly fixed on winning that all the work and success that went before gets overlooked?

Yes, of course we should have big goals and strive to do our best but we should also have small goals on the way to the big ones and we should revel in the sense of achievement that reaching them gives us. It all helps motivate us along the way and all the small achievements add up.

How much effort is enough to qualify? Who decides whether the objective is sufficiently commendable to count? Whose praise or approval do we need to make us feel we’ve succeeded?

You can assess your own achievement – did you put your best efforts into it? Did you improve on previous performance? Have the results (not necessarily final ones) moved you in a direction that is positive? (You’ll notice I don’t say “the right direction”.) If you can say “yes” to these questions, then congratulate yourself! Recognise your achievement and enjoy it!

Tip: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, if you did it, it can’t be that difficult and therefore isn’t much of an achievement.

Why do we let other people tell us what’s right for us?

We can’t, of course, know everything. And, especially in the early years, we need someone to stop us from, say, eating soap or putting our heads between bars. But then we slide into the habit of feeling that certain people routinely know more/better than we do and we doubt our own understanding. We give them an authority they don’t necessarily possess.

Don’t just take it for granted that other people know better – they will have their own areas of expertise but that doesn’t make them all-knowing. And you are the one who knows you best.

Teachers will often tell us that we’re “good” at this or “not good” at that and it may or may not be true. A far more important question to answer first is how good are they at teaching us? We all have different learning preferences and, if these are missed or ignored, we’ll struggle to learn things that we could absorb more easily with a different approach.

If we’re left to feel that we’ve “failed” at something, it saps our confidence not only in that area but also our belief in our ability to learn anything else and that limits our lives.

It’s not often that someone can give you entirely disinterested advice – their view is too often coloured by what seems acceptable or achievable to them: ask people for their input by all means but bear in mind that they’re usually answering for themselves – not for you.

Tip: Find the confidence to challenge others’ view of the world, see if you can find another way to learn what you want to know and remember that your life is yours to direct as you see fit.

(Next week: Part 2 – how to boost your confidence.)

How to be resource-full.

Another limiting belief that may hold you back is the idea that you don’t have what you need to succeed so something you should always do as part of your planning for your goal is to review your resources.

These might be things that you have like a computer or a car; it might be books you own or tools.

Then there’s the people you know or you’ve known in the past: family, friends, colleagues – any contacts you’ve made, even a long time ago.

What about all the things you’ve learned, whether in formal education or from reading, TV, experience?

Get all of these down on paper and add to it as and when you remember others.

Another resource you need to consider is time: how much do you have to devote to your goal and, if necessary, how can you create more?

A role model can be a very valuable resource. Among the people you know are there examples of those who have already achieved the same or a similar goal? Can you use their example to help you? (It needn’t be a real person – how about a character in a film or book – how did they accomplish what you’re trying to achieve? How could that help you?)

And what about you and the qualities and abilities you have? Note them all down as well. And I mean all: can you play tennis/ the piano? They may not seem directly relevant to your current goal but think about what they say about your manual dexterity or physical agility which could be significant.

Do you have a lot of patience? Are you a quick learner? What kind of learner are you and how does that impact on your goal?

It’s good to sit down and get as much of this on paper at one time as you can but it can also help to leave the list around for a while so that you add other things as they occur to you. Stick it on the fridge, for example, and maybe other people will point out things you’ve forgotten.

The point of this is to remind yourself of the many resources you can call on; to help you remember something that might be useful further down the line and to increase your confidence in your ability to achieve your aims.

It should also help you to see the resources you need but don’t have yet and this is your next list. Think about what you need and where you can find it. Don’t forget to check back to your first list to see if there’s anybody or anything on it that can help here.

How to make life bearable at work – plan your escape!

Imagine you’ve been sent to prison for life: there’s no prospect of early release or time off for good behaviour.

You can sit down under it and try to make your cell a bit more homely, befriend other prisoners and maybe some guards, wait for visits from people on the outside. You can shrink your world down until what little you have fills it up.

And then, perhaps, news comes that they’ll be letting you out.

Suddenly, you have something to work towards, something to look forward to. You can review your options, make plans and visualise a better time ahead.

I expect you see where I’m going with this!

If you believe that you’re stuck in a dull, dead-end job until they pension you off (probably stingily!) or you keel over, you can try to make the situation as bearable as possible but, slowly and steadily, your world will shrink. Your confidence and self-esteem and, quite possibly, your health will suffer.

You need a vision of what’s beyond your cell walls; you need a sense of what’s possible beyond the confines of your existing world to give you a goal to work towards. Having an escape plan can be enormously motivating and the knowledge that you only have to tolerate what you don’t like for a measurable amount of time longer can make it all much more bearable.

It needs to be a good escape plan, though! You need to put a lot of thought into it and ask yourself some questions that will help you to set clear targets. Here are some to start you off:

Where do you want to be in 6 months’ time? No pussyfooting here, no setting up barriers! Imagine everything is perfect: where are you? Who (if anyone) is with you? Exactly what are you doing? How have you financed yourself?

What do you know/need to learn to get you to where you want to be?

Who do you know/need to get to know?

What have you got (in terms of finance/equipment/skills) and what do you need to acquire?

Do you need to consider doing something different as a temporary measure to fund your project?

I’d use Mind Maps to help me think all this out – maybe you have another preferred method. Whichever you choose, set aside a few hours (not necessarily all at once), let all your creativity loose and get all your ideas down on paper. Then you can pick the best and make a start!

How does your job score for the 5 Cs?

To get the most from your career – and, as it’s a major part of most of our lives, you really should aim to get as much as you can – there are 5 factors that you need to consider.


Does your current job make you feel that you’re adding something to your own and others’ well-being? Do you feel that you’re adding something to the general good?

It may be fairly obvious if you’re a brain surgeon or a charity worker but don’t underestimate the value you can add with any job.

Take something like hairdressing, for example. Few people have as immediate and profound an effect on their client’s sense of well-being: they can send someone out to face the world feeling great or feeling terrible.

As well as knowing for yourself that you’re making a contribution, it’s essential that that contribution is acknowledged.

Whatever form that takes, whether it’s a financial reward or an “Employee of the Month” trophy or a sincere “Well done!” from your boss (and, really, how hard can that be?), everyone is entitled to the respect of having their contribution valued.


This one’s about motivation: if you can’t believe in what you’re doing, how can you feel motivated to keep doing it?

If you can’t care about the product/service you’re part of providing, you’ll struggle to motivate yourself and work will simply be drudgery you have to slog through to collect the pay-cheque at the end of the month.

And it would have to be a pretty humungous one to make up for spending a large part of your life doing hard labour!


Do you sometimes (often?!) feel that you’re the only one in your group of colleagues who feels the way you do?

Can you align yourself with your employer’s mission and values statements – assuming they have them? And, if they do, how committed are they to abiding by them?

When you can’t feel the “fit” at work, having to compromise your own beliefs and values can take its toll on your nerves and your self-esteem.

Beware, too, of the sessions with colleagues where you gather with a cup of coffee to slate your boss/company/colleagues not actually present! It may be a short-term fix to make yourself feel a bit better but, long-term, it can seriously damage your emotional health.


You’re giving a large chunk of your adult life to your employers. If there’s no feeling of contributing and/or no recognition for your contribution, no belief that what you’re doing is of value and no sense of “fit” with your employers and/or colleagues, how can you feel any commitment to what you do?

And without commitment, how much of a success can you make of it?


One of the most dangerous things about being unhappy at work is how it saps your confidence, not just in your professional ability but in all areas of your life.

Our sense of ourselves, our identity is closely tied to what we do for a living and, if you feel that what you’re doing isn’t making the most of your time and talents, it can have a very negative effect on your self-esteem.

Once that starts to sink, you can so easily lose the will to find something better and the belief that you’re capable of doing so.

Before that happens, it’s time to take a good look at what you really want to do and how to achieve it. And if it’s already happened, it’s still not too late to get some help to move forward with your life – where could you be in 6 months’ time?

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