Britain's Personal Best, and Courage as a Muscle

23/07/2013 12:17 BST | Updated 23/07/2013 12:17 BST

Eek. Following my bravado of setting a public target, now comes the fear. As part of the new Olympic legacy project, Britain's Personal Best, I have challenged myself to perform a song that I have written in public. And now, in the vernacular, I am cacking it.

It's not as if I'm new to performing in public: I'm a poet, and have been reciting my work at various venues for years. But the more comfortable you become with your surroundings, the more afraid you become of doing anything different. In my view, the best artists are the bravest: those who try whatever is unfamiliar to them. I have always said that courage is like a muscle: if you don't use it, it wastes away. So, with the arrival of Britain's Personal Best - about which you can watch our new video, here - I thought it would be the right time to attempt something new.

At the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Britain's athletes put on a display of courage for the ages. What I found most thrilling about their heroics is that none of the protagonists - Jessica Ennis, Ellie Simmonds, Mo Farah - actually looked superhuman at first glance. They looked like they could be your neighbours. This was particularly inspiring, since it gave the sense that anyone, at any time, could be capable of something remarkable.

Of course, that's not to say that all of us can simply knuckle down and produce otherworldly athletic feats. But it does convince millions of mild cynics like myself that, every now and again, maybe optimism should be the default option. Interestingly, one year on, there's still plenty of feel-good factor and nostalgia left over from London 2012: according to a new YouGov poll, 30% of adults in the UK feel that the spirit of 2012 is still alive. Meanwhile, 31% of adults would like to get involved in the legacy left over from the 2012 games but don't know how to, with this figure rising to 45% in London.

This figures point to an exciting possibility: that this positive public sentiment can be harnessed into something more lasting. That, at least, is the hope behind the launch of Britain's Personal Best; which, supported by the Big Lottery Fund, and run by the Society Network Foundation, is an annual challenge to everyone in the UK, in the spirit of London 2012, to surpass their own personal best in any area of their choice. More broadly, Britain's Personal Best is based upon a concept of optimism that, as discussed above, has often seemed somewhat foreign to us in the UK, but which - given the sporting successes of recent months - we are finding increasingly familiar.

Perhaps this new project can steer us towards a celebration of what we have in common, rather than an emphasis upon that which divides us. If so, that would be fantastic, and certainly a sign of a job well done. But, in the meantime, I have no time for such triumphalism. I have a song to finish writing: and, once that's done, I'd better dust off these vocal cords of mine. After all, this courage of mine isn't going to exercise itself.

Britain's Personal Best mass participation weekend takes place around the UK between 4 - 6 October 2013. To take part, sign up here.