Tip For Success: Keep Your Word

Why keeping your word is more valuable than any talent, and how removing fear helped me keep mine.

Promises get broken, it happens, but there’s nothing more frustrating for a child.

I told myself at the age of around 8 or so that I would never forget what it’s like to have a promise broken. In retrospect, this promise to myself has shaped my life thus far, and is probably at the heart of any success I might have created over the last few years.

Velocity Ultra for PlayStation Vita
We’ve built a loyal fan base by keeping our word.

I’ve never been particularly great at anything. I was third in the class at drawing in junior school. Nick Smith was No. 1, Ben Fletcher was No. 2 (no idea what Ben’s doing now), and then there was a relative cliff drop before stooping down to my ability. Drawing was actually the only thing I was any good at, and compared to these two, I was nothing special.

Still, I continued to draw cartoons for a while and managed to get a drawing included in Rolf Harris’ Cartoon Club newsletter. A single childhood success that I’m still sorta proud of!

I enjoyed music too, playing around on a toy keyboard making up songs and performing them for my parents. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a loving family and very supportive parents, so those days – before the competitive forces of the world dawned on me – were pretty blissful. Then I started secondary school, and learned very quickly again that my abilities were nothing special.

It was tough not being particularly good at anything at school because there was no area of my life to build confidence from. I wasn’t particularly bright (never been in the top set for anything), I was shockingly poor at sport (still am), and even more shocking with girls. Secondary school gradually eroded any confidence I once had.

However, I was blessed with a good memory, and armed with my promise never to forget what it’s like to break a promise, I began to define myself as the boy who doesn’t let other people down.

Thanks Tim

When I was in sixth form, I was told by a friend’s dad that if he knew anyone that would be successful, it would be me. When I asked what he meant he said: “You do what you say you’re going to do.”

I was totally surprised because I had no concept of what successful might mean for me. As far as I was concerned, success was a result of being great at something, and the only thing I was great at was playing Street Fighter II, which at that age had no real world value. I’d completely given up on my creative pursuits by that time, but I took it as a compliment and plodded on.

Street Fighter II was 'my subject' at school.
Street Fighter II was ‘my subject’ at school.

When it came time to leave school, I realised that I had never considered what I might do after leaving, and when I was put on the spot by a friend, I just replied: “Make games?” To which I was dealt the crushing blow: “You’d need to be good at Maths for that, so I don’t think you’ll be able to do it.”

I was no good at Maths, and who was I to question my more intelligent, more popular friend? I was average-boy with little self-esteem.

Luck

I was wholly prepared to stack shelves at the supermarket, because I didn’t fancy being a painter and decorator; the career’s advice suggestion as a result of my interests in art.

Fortunately a friend wanted to learn how to make props for films and so declared that he would go to Art College to learn how to do it.

Art College? I’d never heard of such a thing. “Well that sounds better than Somerfield,” I said, “I’ll come too.”

Free from the deeply flawed education system that was (still is?) the scourge of creative development, I was able to prosper. Being able to set my own goals – which at that point were minuscule blips – and deliver on them was a revelation, and thus incredibly exciting.

What’s more, it seemed that I was one of a handful of people in the entire building who was capable of actually doing what I said I would do. I kept my goals small, and I kept my word. It seemed so easy, but suddenly I was at the top of a class.

This self-image of being ‘the guy who does what he says he’s going to do’ strengthened rapidly whilst at college, and for the first time since starting secondary school, I built a shred of confidence.

Stroud School of Art - I'm not in the photo because I took it
Stroud School of Art – I’m not in the photo because I took it.

The momentum I built during those two years at Art College propelled me through University and into the first few years running FuturLab. I was the guy who got things done; I made things happen. I was going to be successful whatever it took!

Unfortunately, I still had severe confidence issues, and whilst I was desperate to achieve greatness, I simply lacked the confidence to go for it. I’m sure there are many people reading this now who know exactly how I felt.

It’s shit isn’t it?

Crisis

When a colleague and friend pulled me aside and very tactfully informed me that I was ‘directing’ FuturLab into an early grave, I suddenly realised that so far I’d spent three years not doing what I said I was going to do.

This was no less than a full and wholly terrifying identity crisis. All the confidence I had built was based on keeping my word, and I wasn’t keeping my word.

I knew that if I was going to take FuturLab into the games industry, something I desperately wanted, I would need to be able to talk confidently to large groups of people, and what I really wanted to do – something that filled me with dread – was pitch to PlayStation. I needed to fix my lack of confidence, and fast.

Fear of failure

There’s a few approaches to conquering fear, and with hindsight I realise that the surefire way to build confidence is to fail early and often; learning from a young age that failing is nothing to be ashamed of. But in 2007 I needed a quick fix, and so I looked into hypnotherapy. It turned my life around in a single session.

Hypnotherapy took away the physical sickness I’d feel when contemplating doing something scary, like giving a presentation or public speaking. People who have deep fears like this know exactly what I mean – your mouth goes dry, you feel sick to your stomach, and your heart races. It’s what is known as the Fight or Flight response. Under threat of danger, your mind prepares your body to run or to fight. Both benefit from having no food in your gut, so it prepares to eject it on your behalf.

Hypnotherapy doesn’t care why you feel and act the way you do – the hypnotherapist didn’t spend any time discussing why I was scared of public speaking – it only cares about removing unhelpful physiological associations. I wanted the sick feeling gone, and confidence in its place.

The physiological association my brain had established between the thought of public speaking and threat of attack (the result of countless negative experiences at school no doubt) was completely removed in a single session of hypnotherapy. In its place, a comfortable and slightly exciting feeling whenever I think about doing something challenging.

Like Kai Tana, I'm able to face daunting challenges without fear
No fear.

Hard reset

We’re all born with a natural confidence and curiosity to explore what is exciting to us – it’s what makes us start crawling, walking and running enthusiastically around the world well before we have any concept of being ready for it (read: having enough work in our portfolio). We just do it without a single moment of worry about the outcome. Note that worry is not the same thing as consideration. As we get older we learn how to consider our actions before doing them, but too many people confuse the two, believing that worrying about things is somehow more responsible and adult-like behaviour. It’s not, it’s a waste of time.

The issue is that before we can crawl we’re at the mercy of our environment, and for countless reasons our natural confidence can be blocked by tangled layers of negative association. Hypnotherapy removed these tangled layers for me, and now I have the natural confidence to do what I’m doing.

It began with our role-playing pitch to Sony, and it’s been behind every ballsy move I’ve made ever since. Hypnotherapy radically changed my life for the better, and it cost me £60.

Not afraid

Of course, hypnotherapy didn’t do the pitch to PlayStation for me, I still had to pluck up the courage to face the thing that challenged me, but it completely removed any fear of failure. It removed the debilitating sickness that stopped me from ever thinking a challenge through with clarity, and that makes all the difference.

I am now able to commit to something challenging without worry, and that means I can focus on succeeding. It means I can think clearly about what will make the most successful result of effort, and then I can put the hard work in to make sure what I create delivers against that goal.

To summarise, I am now able to keep my word, because fear of failure doesn’t get in the way.

Build trust

The best way to build trust is by keeping your word. What’s more, you’ll stand out from the crowd, because so few people manage to do it.

It’s through gaining trust by keeping my word that I’m able to do what I love. It’s holding doors of opportunity open whilst I excitedly run through them with childlike enthusiasm.

If you want my advice, the next time you decide to state your intentions – whether grand or trivial – keep your mouth shut until you’re absolutely certain you will follow through.

Do what you say you’re going to do.

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16 Comments

  • Gregory S. Napier
    Posted May 19, 2013 at 5:03 pm 0Likes

    WOWwwwwwwwwww, you just spat out the truth of life. I have had all my kids read this. You truly are a insperation to all Thank you James, And God Bless. Sony make.belive and it can come true. Keep up the great work, FUTURE LAB ROCKS, AND James, ROCKS, .

    • James @ FuturLab
      Posted May 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm 0Likes

      Ha! Cheers Greg 😉

      • Gregory Scott Napier
        Posted May 22, 2013 at 6:38 pm 0Likes

        Thank James. You truly are inspiring me, Ive recently received the Playstation mobile devloper & Publisher programs from Sony , I am putting togather static themes first, I have a idea for a girl dress up game, where you take a picture of yourself then your head appears on a avatar then you choose from menu shirts/tops pants/shorts ect then it links to clothing manufacturers and retailers to have a virtual look what said fashion looks like on you. Then you can hit the manufacturers and retailers to purchase said fashion . or archive and play dress up. So what do you think? Ive registered it allready, and have 4 clothing manufacturers and 8 national retailers wanting to be apart of it.

        • James @ FuturLab
          Posted May 22, 2013 at 6:45 pm 0Likes

          What do I think? I think you work fast! Just.. y’know, do what you say you’re going to do 😉

  • lizibond
    Posted May 19, 2013 at 8:30 pm 0Likes

    What a great read. It’s awesome how these encounters and lessons can shape us. I still remember when you told me about that creative course book, which I still read now and pass on to friends. Xx

  • Sam
    Posted May 19, 2013 at 11:25 pm 0Likes

    A great read, because I can see a lot of myself in it.

    I always thought of everything as a challenge that was too big for me, but hell no, like you said.
    NO FEAR.
    so…
    Last year I took the qualifying examination for Art School in my city, I did my best.
    They accepted me and I’m starting as a student this year :)!

  • KC21
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 1:13 am 0Likes

    Wow, wonderful article! I recently graduated from Game Design school and have had trouble finding a job, seeing the great amount of layoffs in the games industry. I recently began experimenting with PS Mobile and this article sure is of great encouragement! Thanks 🙂

    • James @ FuturLab
      Posted May 20, 2013 at 10:50 am 0Likes

      Great. The best way to get into the games industry is to make your own game. It shows that you’re committed.

  • Victoria Sharman
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 3:06 am 0Likes

    Thank you for such a motivational account of your journey and inspiring for all ages.

  • Jag
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 5:23 pm 0Likes

    I really appreciate you sharing this personal story and full credit for being someone who aims to keep your word as much as you can.
    Also thanks for the beautiful work you did on Velocity Ultra, I didn’t think it was possible to top the gorgeous mini but you did.
    I’m so looking forward to Futurlab’s next big project, which I obviously hope will come out on Vita!

  • sam
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 2:10 pm 0Likes

    James…I wonder what prompted you to write? This is an inspiring account, and a simple mantra to hold, yet not always easy to maintain. Well done for keeping to this and even when you wavered for recognising it. E me your hypnotherapists details; I am thinking I might suggest to someone we know. Hope you gave them a great testimonial…

  • Andrew Sargeant (@andrewsargeant)
    Posted September 17, 2014 at 9:59 am 0Likes

    Awesome! This resonated with me on many levels. We all need to be reminded of the value of trust more often, and the examples you give illustrate this perfectly. Great article (and congrats for overcoming your fear).

  • Shay Batty (@bergster30)
    Posted September 22, 2014 at 5:45 am 0Likes

    I’m very glad you shared this! That was incredibly inspirational and motivated me to be better at anything I do. I would like to say that I think your hard work and confidence was worth it, you’ve managed to create some really spectacular games. I fell completely in love with Velocity Ultra and Velocity 2X! I also really like Surge. Thank you for what you do.

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