If you’ve made New Year’s Resolutions this year, I bet most of them boil down to being a better version of yourself. Mine certainly do. Lose a few pounds, be more patient with the kids, that kind of thing.
I wonder, though, if there is something else, niggling away at you? Something you feel you really should do, if only you could just find the time and maybe also the courage.
This is where an extra dose of inspiration can help.
I confess I’m not always the most motivated person — my old English teacher once wrote in my report card that “Katie works well when motivated; unfortunately, she is not motivated very often” and things haven’t changed much since — so I seek out sources of inspiration and motivation on a regular basis.
One of my biggest sources of inspiration is TED talks. I was introduced to them by a teaching colleague and was quickly hooked. I can spend a long time musing over an idea from a talk.
In fact, one of my earliest blog posts, Empowering young performers at the local Gaelic Mod, was partly inspired by the most popular TED talk of all time. Ken Robinson’s talk, ’Do schools kill creativity?’ has been watched more than 42million times. Incredible.
The whole premise of TED talks is “ideas worth spreading” and they are talks on any conceivable subject — from technology, science and design to business and global issues — and are always under 20 minutes long. Nowadays, they are the gold standard of public speaking and I love them.
A global TED conference is held every year, with tickets going for a minimum of $6000. It’s a big, big deal and this year it will be taking place in Tanzania.
However, there are also independent TEDx events organised around the world — “does that TED never stop talking?” jokes my husband — and when I saw one was being held in Inverness, I was determined to go.
I made all the necessary arrangements — children, ferry, bus and B and B — and duly turned up at Eden Court on October 13, armed with notepad and pen and anticipation. I took notes all the way through — partly an occupational hazard from years as a reporter but mainly because my memory is a bit rubbish (still got baby brain, three years on) and I wanted to make sure I remembered what was said.
The theme of the conference was ‘Rising to Challenges’ and eight speakers took part. Everyone taking part in TedxInverness 2016 was an interesting person with a story to tell but a few in particular spoke to me and I thought I would share some of their insights here to hopefully inspire you lovely people too.
First up was James Dunbar, the founding chief executive of New Start Highland, which aims to tackle poverty, homelessness and long-term unemployment. One of Scotland’s leading social entrepreneurs, James was awarded the OBE for his services to the development of the economy and community in the Highlands and Islands.
He was a charismatic speaker and I listened keenly to his talk, which promised that ‘Ordinary People can do Extraordinary Things’.
Firstly, he instructed: Believe it’s possible.
“Dare to dream,” he said. “Dreaming is the first step in realising your creativity. Free yourself from self-imposed limits and surround yourself with people who see your potential.”
Secondly: Prepare yourself
“Every experience can be useful. Maybe the good ones can be useful – you can learn a little — but the bad ones can teach us so much.”
James revealed that he had, as a teenager, lost a sister to suicide. That really struck me. Here was someone exuding positive energy who had suffered a tragic loss.
He admitted it had made him “a very, very different person” but continued: “Transform hurt. Don’t transmit hurt. Help others. It will come back. There is some law that means we keep getting a whole lot more than we give.”
“Develop an attitude of gratitude. Develop an abundance mindset. Actually believe that there’s enough to go round. We can have win-wins in every interaction but to have win-wins we have to believe that there’s actually enough for all of us — and there is.”
I could relate. As a blogger, you can get psyched out by all the others out there but ultimately there is room enough for everybody. No two voices are the same and we can be a community rather than competitors. Likewise, I was taken with this belief in the law of attraction, which became a clear theme through the whole conference.
Third: Turn thoughts and dreams into plans and actions
“Opportunity will not land in your lap. You need to see it, you need to take it, you need to make it.
“Then you need to listen to the right voices. The ones I’ve listened to have said, ‘you can’.
“Take measured risk and find fellow travellers. This path that’s edgy might get lonely so have them around you because that is one of the things that stops us from giving up.
“Lastly, be determined. If you lack anything in skill, in gift, in talent… being determined can make up for it. Determination wins people gold medals at the Olympics.”
The next speaker to really engage me was Irish educator and comedian Conor O’Hara on ‘Challenging Bullies for Dummies’.
He began by taking a look at the Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest.
“It’s just one line from a very big book,” he said. “This idea of destroying opposition doesn’t happen in nature. We are interdependent.”
In setting out his techniques for neutralising aggression, he explained that a lot of his work was based on the Marshall Rosenberg model of nonviolent communication.
Citing the stats on mental health problems — one in four women aged between 16 and 24 will be affected — he stressed the importance of being able to deal with bullying when it happens to us.
“It causes suffering but we can learn techniques to neutralise aggression, to upend powerplay,” he said. I wasn’t sure I would have been able to make all his ideas work but I did like the idea of the five second rule. This means taking your time to reply.
It’s a way of using silence against a bully, “by breaking the social contract of ‘you say something then I say something’.” It also allows time for compassion to come into an interaction because, as he rightly said, you never know where someone else is coming from or what they have to deal with.
Count to five seconds — your aggressor may well “be freaking out by three seconds” — and then you can call out the behaviour, but do so kindly. Conor suggests something along the lines of “what’s the matter with you?” but not in the “shame on you” sense.
I will always try to remember what he said next.
“We are so privileged to live in a part of the world where we don’t really have a reason not to get along — and you know where these places are. We really have no excuse not to get along.”
He concluded with words from Bertrand Russell — “Love is wise and hatred is foolish” – and Aldous Huxley: “Just be kinder”.
The next speaker was mighty impressive. Laura Bingham who, at the age of 23, cycled 7000 kilometres across South America without any money, relying on the kindness of strangers for her food and shelter. Her story seemed to prove the law of attraction and that anything is possible.
Before she set out, the great explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes said: “Laura is, in my mind, taking on far too big a risk” — yet here she was, telling us all about it and showing us the pictures.
Laura’s journey began in Ecuador and her memories from this country are of being often hungry and quite often upset, too. She remembered being rejected from many houses, pleas for help refused, and being in a dark place.
But as the trip went on, her outlook improved — “I went from crying on a daily basis to laughing on a daily basis” — and so did her situation. People were increasingly helpful and Laura began to notice that she was getting back what she put out.
“All the photos near the end are of me smiling and laughing. I’m so thankful that I persevered through those hard times. Go for your dreams. Whatever it is, you can do it if you just persevere.”
Climber Kev Shields also had something to say about overcoming physical challenges. Kev shouldn’t really have been a climber, having only a partial left hand, epilepsy and difficulty walking after a bad fall — but a climber he is and a good one at that, seeking out bold routes right at his limits. Doctors had told his parents he would never be able to climb a tree or ride a bike.
He told us: “You can face a challenge and become so much better because of something bad. You can turn it on itself. The mountains were my chosen arena where I proved myself.
“I went after the hardest and the most scary routes that I could possibly do. Afterwards, I felt more cleansed and peaceful. As humans, we need that battle. I would actively encourage everybody to go and face up to whatever their fears are.”
He added: “I’ve just faced up to my biggest fear in the last couple of minutes, which is looking out at a sea of expectant faces, expecting me to pass a message across.”
The final speaker who really engaged me was Laura Bruce, who works in public relations. The title of her talk was ‘When we procrastinate we can’t be great’. It could have been written just for me.
Her beginning was so soothing, as she asked us to visualise snow falling — each snowflake unique — on a winter’s night.
“Like a snowflake you floated down. Your purpose is to enrich the world but how will you do it? You owe it to yourself and you owe it to all of us to discover that gift that only you are able to make.
“Are you making the most of that gift? Or are you short-changing yourself?”
She suggested we might be sabotaging ourselves, by not allowing ourselves the time or the opportunity to concentrate on what actually matters.
“Procrastination is a thief,” reminded Laura. “It can rob you of your dreams. Worse, it can rob the world of that contribution that you alone are here to make.”
She gave the example of PD James, who would get up early every morning so she could spend two hours writing before she went to work.
“We’re all busy. If you want to find the time for something that matters, something’s got to give. Cheat. Take shortcuts. Hoover just the centre of the room.
“When you find yourself putting something off that actually matters, is it because it’s not really worth it or because it’s so important that achieving it might actually shake up your life?
“The paradox is that the one thing you procrastinate over may actually hold the key to your greatness. Put in the effort. Put in the time. You may be amazed how great you can be.”
With that, I was inspired all over again. So this month I will finally start that book. I wonder what you will do.