The psychology of achieving

Literally writing your own story.

stays with you. Head bowed, shoulders hunched. A looming lack of confidence. and forethought dominated by all that could go wrong. English football team readying themselves for their destiny with penalties against Columbia, Naaah! That moment when you’re contemplating your future. For me, meeting my union rep for careers specialist advice.

He was a nice man and listened intently. Finally with a big sigh, he barely concealed, he exclaimed, “What on earth are you worried about?” “Write your own story”. That phrase, “Write your own story” has surfaced as a tour de force this World Cup Games.

Another footballing meme. When an opponent scores a goal and the team head back to the half way line to kick off, the team enforce a collective amnesia. “It’s still 0–0. C’mon”. Memory and the subconscious’ play on caution are banished.

Write your own life script. Take control. Carpe diem. It sounds straightforwardly simple, yet it’s possible to conjure all manner of excuses.

Twenty odd years ago, it seemed easier. A lack of opportunity in the UK led to me boarding a plane to undoubtedly, the most interesting place in the world, South Africa. It was transitioning from an apartheid state to a democracy, and I wanted a front row seat. It would end with me reporting for the BBC WS on President Mandela’s inauguration. Today, a seemingly endless number of scenarios can be created as anvils hanging around your neck.

Take some time off and physically draw up a plan, he said. It sounded soporific. But somehow the very essence of converting thought to a physical shopping list of demands seems to substantiate affirmation — a belief in what you want to achieve.

Stating it appears to be one level, repeating it over and over again another and writing it down reaffirms commitment, though the demand has to lie somewhere in the scope of the doable, within the bounds of achievable. I might strive for a new car, but I’m unlikely to realistically acquire a space ship in whatever time frame.

In 2002, a story I have not told before, I was a filmmaker for the heavyweight boxer Lennox Lewis facing Mike Tyson. I was brought into base camp and one morning at breakfast was ambivalent about Lennox winning. His camp went nuts over me, standing up from the breakfast table, flailing their hands and abandoning me to eat my eggs alone. A couple of days a BBC friend joined us at breakfast. What happens if Lennox loses, he asked. Strangely, I found myself standing up with astonishment admonishing my friend. The level of self belief, from a continual but quiet reminder of the task ahead, had rubbed off me

In a psychological experiment by Gail Matthews at Dominican University, writing something down is likened to a vision and her data showed that those people that did and shared their intent, were more likely to achieve their goals. This is akin to an executive function — a cognitive process drawing together the ability to plan, and inhibit other ideas. Writing down those aspirations and benchmarking them can help filter out unlikely distractions. It’s the equivalent of setting out a daily scheduled of to dos, whilst discarding ambling on social media. SM may sate your appetite for bite information, but you could go without it with little cost to your mindset. In Thinking Fast and Slow, a team of researcher from Oregon University linked the ability to raise intelligence with controlling attention.

The thinking is that writing a list of aspirations and affirming it as a goal, within a time frame, drives the subconscious into self empowerment. By continual reminder, the subject is motivated to varying activities, often even imperceptibly towards that vision. In telling someone, this increases the odds of attaining that goal — perhaps linked to desire on the one hand, and not wanting to lose face on the other.

So, last year I wrote down my shopping list.They were:

  • Collaborate more
  • Rebuild my site ( which won an int. award) and its branding
  • Look for a sabbatical to replenish my well
  • Create my own University/ Academy
  • Publish a book

So how did I do?


Two major collaborations were working with the Guild of Entrepreneurs, and with Simone Pennant OBE of the TV Collective to create the TV Leader’s List. The former sets the bar for a new way of collaborating between professionals and students and the latter between academic enterprise and commercial or charity bodies. In the List it yielded this exhibition and this giant composite photograph of UK leading media execs from black Asian Minority backgrounds.


I have been designing web sites since 1998, and teach it at MA level. In the last few years there’s been a shift away from flat design to bespoke and the cinematic enveloping bolder images and spartan text.


This year I was privileged to undertake a sabbatical at UBC in Vancouver. The break was not only invigorating and the exchange of knowledge worthwhile with a highly supportive faculty.

Publish Book

Sadly I didn’t get to publish my book. I did get an offer and am working on finessing the right offer.

Unexpectedly I did find a shout out about my work in Reimagining Journalism in a post-truth world.


Haven’t set up my university yet, but headed up a new programme in digital and interactive storytelling LAB, which is reshaping learning at MA level. The lab melds different approaches and disciplines in a way that mirrors an agency. It’s something I’m very pleased with. This year we’ve approached a software giant who’s going to be lending a hand on the course.

Importantly, several life hackers speak about rewarding yourself once you hit your target. The next phase is to build upon the aforementioned. So, what have been your milestones and have they come to fruition? Meanwhile as I write this, England continue to write their own story.

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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