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The bit before the actual beginning…

‘Never trust a man who, when left alone with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.’

Billy Connolly

An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman walked into a bar. The barman looked them up and down and said, ‘Is this some sort of joke?’

All gags started like that in the 1970s and 80s. They were hilarious, until we found out that they were actually lazy, stereotypical, racial slurs. Who knew? Alternative comedy brushed these tired olde worlde jokes aside, so we had to come up with something different.

Which is fine by us because nobody tells jokes any more. It’s all about stories, and our story didn’t start like that. There was no Irishman. And no bar. There was an Englishman and a Scotsman, but they met in a café at St Andrews. They had a cup of tea, a bit of a natter and left it at that.

That doesn’t work as a gag (not even an alternative one) and is not even vaguely interesting.

But what follows is. Because, you see, the Englishman and Scotsman kept in touch and when the time was right, they joined forces to write a book. This book, as it happens.

So what exactly is ‘this book’?

This book, dear reader, is the best self-help book ever written. By Gav and Andy, that is. Whether it’s actually the best ever, I guess the Amazon reviews will be the judge of that. Hand on heart, our aim at the outset was to write the best damned book the self-help shelves have ever seen.

The Scotsman was excited. You see, he’s never written a book before, so had no idea what pain and suffering was down the line. The gnarled old Englishman’s an old hand. He knew, so his excitement was tinged with scepticism. ‘The best book ever’ was a nice idea (it was the Scotsman’s idea), but really? The Englishman smiled politely, like we do.

Anyhow, the Englishman and Scotsman came up with a plan and went their separate ways. Gav to Edinburgh, Andy to Derby, and they started penning stuff. Well typing it, but you know what I mean.

The Englishman was struggling a bit. He was beginning to wonder how many times he could get away with saying exactly the same thing that he’d said in his previous five books, when ‘ping’, an email arrived. It was the Scotsman. ‘Will be sending you some ideas later today.’

That was it.

Ten minutes later; ping, another email from Edinburgh, entitled ‘A wee bit of magic’, and this time there was an attachment.

I sighed. ‘A wee bit of magic’? Wee? The Scotsman is writing it in chuffing Scottish!

I was about to open the attachment when there were two more pings; ‘Silly Stress’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ had arrived, each with an attachment.

The Scotsman was flying.

I opened ‘A wee bit of magic’ and had a quick look. In a previous life Gav had been a teacher, plus I’ve heard him deliver a keynote and I’d read his back catalogue of blogs, so I knew he was okay with words. But he’s unpublished.

‘A wee bit of magic’ blew me away. In two short pages, I laughed and cried.

Beginner’s luck?

I clicked on ‘Silly Stress’. Same! ‘Mary Poppins’ raised the already sky-high self-help bar to Dick Fosbury levels. It was flopping amazing; a proper sucker punch of writing that softened me up with some fun stuff before delivering a killer blow that took the wind out of me. It was the kind of writing that I had always wanted to do.

The best self-help book the world had ever seen? What if the Scotsman was being serious?

While the Englishman was reading, six more emails had winged their way down the A1/M18/M1 information superhighway, each as good as the last.

And so here we are. It’s clear that the Scotsman probably didn’t need the Englishman at all. Or maybe he did? Because the seemingly random bunch of stories needed a narrative. There are times when the reader needs a breather, and that’s where I come in with a bit of science or a new angle, or (as is very often the case but will go totally unnoticed) some proper punctuation. Apostrophes? Helloooo! I wonder how the Scotsman ever qualified as a teacher. So, for the purists, I promise good grammar and no emojis. Thinking aloud, is it a generational thing – putting three exclamation marks to make a really big point?!?!?!

Anyhow, there’s a lesson for you already in the comparison thing that I’ve been doing. Gav talks about changing your focus away from being the best in the world towards being the best for the world. It’s a subtle play on words that has very unsubtle connotations. It dovetails rather snugly with Simon Sinek’s notion that finite players play to beat the people around them whereas infinite players play to be better than themselves. Applying it to life means it’s not about Twitter followers, FB likes, book sales, salary earned or how funny you are. It’s not about producing better work than your colleagues, or outdoing anyone. One-upmanship gets you disliked.

Matching up to the Scotsman’s levels of hilarity is beyond me, so I swapped ‘finite’ for ‘infinite’ thinking. Whether I can write books that are as amazing as the ones my heroes write becomes a moot point. I’ve changed my focus. The greatest personal development writers of all time are not my competition. The Scotsman is not my competition.

I am my competition. Not just in writing, but in everything.

And you are yours.

In which case, joy doesn’t come from comparison, but from advancement. For me, it’s about producing better work than I did last time. I’m very very proud of my previous books. That means I have to up my game to be very very very proud of this one.

Best of all, it’s actually quite a relief to twig that I don’t have to match up against the best in the world. I only have to match up to being a little bit better than me from last time. It helps enormously to have the flying Scotsman on board because he will help me be better.

And if I can help him too, we’re cool.

So there you go, your first lesson and we haven’t even got to Chapter 1 yet. Progression rather than comparison.

And so to the actual book itself…


Rediscovering your energy,
happiness & purpose

Andy Cope & Gavin Oattes

Wiley Logo

Thank you to my wife Ali, who always tells me I can
just when I need to believe it.

This book is for the over thinkers, the worriers and anyone else in the
world who turned red while reading aloud in class.

– Gavin Oattes