Avril McDonald on the Importance of Feeling Brave

An authentic insight into Avril’s story.

Avril McDonald is the author of the ‘Feel Brave series of books’ (little stories about big feelings for 4–7 year olds) and founder of www.feelbrave.com She is passionate about giving all children access to tools to help them manage tough emotions and reach their potential. There is so much great science and research that we now have access to, but Avril doesn’t feel that it’s getting translated effectively and practically enough through to children. We have such big problems with children’s mental health and wellbeing right now so she decided to try and bring simple strategies and techniques into the mainstream using stories and characters (think ‘Peppa Pig meets Tony Robbins’). Avril is trying to deliver something hugely positive and impactful into the world and feedback tells us it’s working so it’s a super exciting and nothing can stop it now!

Avril was born and raised in New Zealand but currently resides in the UK with her English partner and their two children, three cats and very large dog. She is an ex primary school teacher, business woman and (most importantly), a mum!

1. Humble Beginnings

Q: How did you get started and what or who inspired and empowered you to?

I had my first panic attack when I was eight years old and at that time, no one really spoke about mental health or knew much about it. Then in my teens, I started to frequently feel (what I called) ‘dreamy’, like I wasn’t really here anymore. These experiences couldn’t be explained by doctors I saw, so I resigned to the fact that I was probably just abnormal and crazy. It wasn’t until years later when my sister was training to be a nurse, that she brought home some photocopied material she had come across which explained everything I had experienced that I felt so relieved that I wasn’t alone. There were even medical names for everything that I suffered from!

This new information gave me an insatiable curiosity about the mind/body connection and I found techniques such as Neuro Lingusitc Programming (NLP), and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which really helped me. I also found the world famous coach Tony Robbins (who’s work uses many similar sorts of techniques), and I was astounded by the impact that his books and exercises had on not only my ability to manage my anxiety but in helping me reach my own creative potential. I wondered why a lot of the techniques that I had learnt were not being taught to children. I also felt curious about how we might be able to create something that really speaks to children and gives them strategies to help them cope in life just as Tony Robbins has managed to do (and still does) for so many adults. When my daughter had her first nightmare, managing it came very easily to me from all the techniques that I had learnt myself in managing my own anxiety. I just helped her ‘reframe’ her nightmare and it worked immediately.

I realised then that I might be able to help other children by sharing these sorts of techniques and others using characters, poems and stories so I took on the huge challenge to try and ‘nail it’. I love creating poetry and music and need to write like I need food so all of these ideas and concepts came together and Feel Brave was born. It’s such a joy now to be bringing the Feel Brave work to children all around the world working in schools, with various charities like the Westminster Children’s University, and speaking at educational conferences about how to open up conversations about mental health and offer simple strategies for early intervention. When I see the impact it’s having, it makes me excited about the global potential it now has for children everywhere.

Q: What unique and creative strategies if any did you use when you were first getting started?

I have used (and continue to use) the two key strategies that I learnt many years ago from Tony Robbins:

1. The Science of Achievement — which is that you can achieve anything in life if you want to, you’ve just got to find someone who is doing it well and ask them for their recipe! Then you model their behaviour and patterns. I’ve used this strategy not just to find great ways to manage my own anxiety but I’ve also asked for help in other areas of my life which has helped me continue to reach my potential. I have found that when you are clear on your values, and you come from a point of integrity and authenticity, people generally want to help you. Passion and enthusiasm is contagious and when you have this, you become really comfortable asking people for help to navigate and succeed in whatever journey you are taking. There is always a science to achievement and if you take the time to learn the science and then practise it, you can pretty much achieve everything that you want to.

2. The art of fulfilment — which is when you manage to find joy in the process of life (both the good and the bad times). I learnt that practising meditation and mindfulness really helps me manage my anxiety, ground me and balance my life. Because I love what I do so passionately, I can easily fall into the trap of just not stopping to recharge and when I do that, it totally throws me off balance. I also appreciate and celebrate all of the little things in life and try to not just live for the big highs (which can leave you feeling empty afterwards if you’re not careful to find happiness in your ‘every day’). As Tony Robbins says, finding fulfilment is an art not a science. We all perceive and receive fulfilment in different ways because of our wonderful diversity so it’s a real art (and a life’s work I think) to master the art of fulfilment but you are psychologically rich and very content if you can so I highly recommend pursuing it!

2. Mindset

Q: What mindset distinguished you from others who were doing the same thing? How did you develop it?

What I see (and what I understand) from my journey thus far, is that you have to do the work yourself — no one is going to magically do it for you and it’s an incredibly lonely journey no matter who you have around you because you have to make every little (and the occasional big) decision all by yourself. At the same time, you need constant help from your networks and cheering on from your champions to keep up your morale and stamina so building good networks/mentors and asking them to help you (e.g. the science of achievement), is critical. You need passion determination and a growth mindset to get you through what is your unknown ‘gestation period’.

I think that I developed this mindset quite early from my upbringing coming from parent’s who had a great work ethic. Also, my mother would tell you that I was always a great nagger which drove her crazy but probably helps me now. I won’t give up or let go if I really want something. I think you need that sort of grit to succeed in doing what I’m trying to do. I think that most of my grit and determination actually comes from my huge fear of not listening to and following my heart and reaching my creative potential which to me would be complete failure. This is why I’m so passionate about helping children with this too through the work that I do with ‘Feel Brave’. I think that we all have such beautiful and infinite potential and it’s our birth right to live it out and realise it. I believe that we should all be given the tools to at least have an equal chance to reach our potential.

I think that others who get into this game often give up too soon and drop off after a few years when it might take 7–10 years to really get traction, find your voice and perfect your product and marketing. You might get lucky earlier than that but realistically, the people that I know who have brought something similar to what I’m trying to do to fruition, have taken at least 7 years or more. It’s a marathon not a sprint and good things take time. I’m in for the long game. I also think that to succeed you need to have a good relationship with the word ‘No’. I see every ‘no’ as another step towards my yes. I told everyone at the beginning of my journey that I was going out to get my ‘999 no’s’. I was ready for them, I knew they were going to be a big part of this process and even though they are still hard, they don’t get me down. I have been through so many ‘no’s’ but I have enough momentum now to know that what I’ve made totally works and it’s my duty to bring it into the world.

3. What is your definition of success?

Finding joy and grace in the process of life (good and bad) every day, every moment. Feeling grateful for what I have (and to be a part of this experience) and sharing as much love as I can with the world.

4. Failure

Q: What do you think is the main reason why some people face failure when going after their vision?

I think that they probably haven’t found the right people to help them. Maybe they are too afraid to even ask for help or maybe they haven’t spent time working out their values and making sure that their idea and vision is congruent with who they are. If you’re not authentically aligned to your vision, this will show and you won’t get the help you need. I think that sometimes people don’t carry out enough focus groups and research on their ideas to make sure they work on a small scale before they invest all of their time, money and effort into them. There is also a certain amount of flexibility you need to have to feel comfortable pivoting and tweaking your products or proposition if it’s not working. It’s hard to make changes to something that you are so emotionally attached to and personally invested in but when you have the right mentors guiding you, you’ll have the best advice on what areas might need further work or changes. If you don’t have these mentors and/or you are too rigid with your idea not to listen, I think that this can then cause failure.

5. What is the best piece of advice you have received or came across and would like to share with everyone?

I heard a great quote once and I don’t know where it came from but I think about it a lot in my current journey and share it with others which is: ‘If you knock on a door and it doesn’t open, it’s just not your door!’ It’s an encouraging one to remember when you are on a journey that might require a lot of ‘no’s’ to succeed and I think it applies to all areas of your life (professional and personal). It reminds me that you’re never going to please everyone, and not everyone is going to like your ideas and get on-board with you but if you keep on knocking, eventually you will find your door (or doors) that open for you. For me this is a good reminder to never give up and to have resilience.

To view Avril’s work and get in contact with her visit www.feelbrave.com

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