Self-Help, Personal Growth and the Reluctance to Take Action

You can have a bookcase full of self-help books and attend all the top personal development courses but if you don’t put them into practice then what is the point?

My approach to personal and professional development is solution focused and action oriented. It’s often said that if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching. Goals need action plans but to mean anything they have to be followed through. Of course many people get this. People approach me for coaching because they are fired up and ready to go. However, occasionally, I get inquiries from people who are more interested in how I can magically transform them and instill instant motivation and preferably just bring about change without ‘the pain’ of action. The short answer is ‘I’ll work with you and help you to achieve your goals but I won’t work against you!’

My first insight into the ‘transformation by reflection’ rather than action came in the review of my book Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It’. Some bright spark reviewer on Amazon described it is an average self-help book because ‘you do need to apply the advice within if you are to gain something‘. At the time I was surprised at this review. Since this I have encountered similar sentiments in different arenas. I have had inquiries from potential coaching clients who state boldly that they know all about goal setting but ‘just lack motivation’ and don’t know why. When I mention values they usually reply that they know all about values too. Maybe some people are invested in being enigmas or maybe there is just a stronger motivator in their lives other than achieving their goals. Maybe some people feel the need to explore and analyse their feelings and delve into the past. That’s fine but it ain’t coaching.

In my confidence workshops, I use warm-up exercises. These are low threat opportunities to have a little fun and build group cohesion. Occasionally, someone will decide to ‘sit these out’ or on occasion pretend to go to the toilet and never return. For the majority of the people who do take a chance they usually reap the rewards. They feel connected to the group and usually have a good laugh in the process. There’s nothing like a laughter as the perfect platform for learning. Over-reflection and rumination are not the solution they are more likely to be the problem. We need to balance reflection with some action.

I was asked to run a staff development session on how to motivate other people. So I thought I’d offer some skills on motivational interviewing. However the word came back that they ‘don’t want motivational interviewing. We’ve already done that’. My immediate thought was ‘so why don’t you use it then?’ I soon found out why. Instead I offered to do solution-focused coaching skills. The word came back that this sounded fine as long as there was no role play, ‘they don’t like role play’. Role play is the mainstay of coaching and counselling training. I suspect that the motivational interviewing training didn’t contain any practical exercises. They never got to experience the techniques in action and so judged their efficacy on incomplete knowledge (just their thoughts and feelings). I don’t know anyone who ever learned to ride a bike by hearing about it and thinking about it. You have to get on the damn thing and fall off a few times!

Often the solution is to go against our pre-judgement (prejudice) and just try the techniques out anyway. It’s part of the approach of treating new learning experiences as personal experiments. It doesn’t matter if they don’t totally work for you. It’s just important to get some feedback. It’s true that we are not all the same but there are basic psychological principles that apply to us all. We discover our unique way of learning without a broad psychological framework. A key principle is that at some point we need to take action.

Coaching offers a tailor-made personal development programme and at the heart of it is co-operation. It’s a collaborative process. It shouldn’t be the coach working against the client. The coach is the co-pilot not a hostage negotiator! Most of my coaching training involved experiencing the techniques in training. I even went through coaching to support my training. I didn’t have to do it. I just seemed logical that I had to fully experience the process from the perspective of a client.

Much of coaching and training is about attitude change. The three components of attitudes are: feelings, thoughts and actions. Sometimes people focus too heavily on feelings and so avoid moving outside their comfort zone. However, it is only by taking action that we get to fully explore our feelings. Feelings and thoughts are internal. Actions are external. Actions represent fresh input to consider. They can help us to redefine our sense of ourselves. That’s when change can take place.

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Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIf you found this useful or interesting:

About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

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2 thoughts on “Self-Help, Personal Growth and the Reluctance to Take Action

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