RiverTribe Business Columnist Norman Jackson looks at the importance of self-belief


At a recent Central London event, I spotted Eddie Izzard on the neighbouring table. The transgender, stand-up comedian, actor, writer and political activist is a remarkable person and I had always wondered how in 2009 – with only five weeks training and no significant running experience – he had completed 43 marathons in 51 days for Sport Relief.

He then followed this up in 2016 by running 27 marathons in 27 days in South Africa (27 was the number of years Nelson Mandela spent in prison). Because he had spent one day in hospital, he had to run two consecutive marathons on the last day – in total, he raised £1.35 million for Sport Relief – a second amazing achievement.

The day after that event, I was in the East Sheen library and on one of the shelves I saw Eddie staring at me – it was his picture on the front of his autobiography, Believe Me. And of course, I borrowed the book and began reading it. I found his solution for self-belief.

When he was building his career, he spent many years as a street performer. One of his fellow performers was a chap named Paul Keane, who had an escapology show in which he asked bystanders to tie him up in knots and padlock him, whereupon he would escape.

One day, Eddie asked him if he could borrow some of his ropes and padlocks as Paul was involved in other stunts. Over the forthcoming weeks, Eddie became quite an expert but on one occasion he had been tied up and padlocked and after ten minutes he was still struggling. So, he said to his audience, “I give up, could someone get the keys to the padlocks from my bag?”

Paul Keane had been watching and afterwards said to Eddie “You failed because you did not really, really believe you could do it”.

So, next time Eddie had difficulty, he remembered those words – and although it took him around 15 minutes (it normally took 30 seconds to one minute), he escaped. There is no doubt that Eddie’s mind-set was a major factor in running those marathons. Comments from some of his ultra-marathon running friends also contributed. “It’s 90% mental and the other 10% … is in the head,” was one.

And of course, it was Henry Ford who said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” His self-belief in 1908 that his Model T automobile would be successful – if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse – resulted in Ford selling over 16 million of those cars over a twenty-year period.

When I meet people in business, one of my mental games is to think how they would react when the going gets tough. And if I think they will perform well under pressure, I will put them in my fictitious “Whatever It Takes” Team. Eddie Izzard and Henry Ford are both in there.

I leave the last word to Captain Jack Sparrow, the fictional character in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, who is also in my team.  He says “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude to the problem.”