About Gary Wood

Social Psychologist, Solution Focused Life Coach, Author & Broadcaster, Dr Gary Wood combines a solid academic background with an engaging style to communicate psychological insights about all aspects of human social life. He runs his own coaching and research practice, specializing in translating evidence-based psychology into workable solutions. Gary is regularly features in the press and on radio and television. His PsyCentral Blog offers a psychological perspective on human social life including current affairs; sex, gender & relationships plus learning, development and coaching insights and tips. . . the odd acerbic comment and the occasional rant. He is author of 'Don't Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It!' and 'Unlock Your Confidence', 'The Psychology of Gender' and 'Letters to a New Student'. He is based in the UK in Birmingham and Edinburgh. In his spare time he eats, sleeps, reads.. . and occasionally sings. Not Gary Wood the actor, the footballer or the Dr Gary Wood who 'died, went to heaven and came back again'. Not Gary Woods either. The other one.

Self-Help Information Overload? Time to Stop Reading and Start Applying It?

pic; Ad for coaching with Dr Gary Wood - Time to Apply Self-Help InformationBuying a self-help book can be a useful and low-cost way to work on our development. Of course, not all books are created equal, but I’m bound to say that. Working as a problem-page columnist for many years one of the strategies to cope with the limitation of only have 100 words to reply, was to suggest a book. So, it made sense that eventually, I wrote some self-help books. My idea is that you should approach my books like complete personal development courses, do all the exercises, apply the insights, and take action. And for many (including me), that’s the sticking point. What do we do with the knowledge once we have it? The same applies to workshops, courses, counselling, therapy, physiotherapy, and so on. Sometimes, with too much information at our fingertips, it’s difficult to know where to begin. This blog discusses how coaching can help offers a few pointers with the overall strategy of ‘start small and be consistent and persistent’.

Little by little, a little becomes a lot

In a previous post, I offered three tips to get the most out of a self-help book and the essence of this is to approach these books with a more academic, more structured approach. Taking a step back ask yourself what do you want from the book. Is it just a little reassurance and comfort that everything will be all right in the end, or do you want to take action to help out that outcome? The same applies to workshops and blocks of counselling sessions. What is the future desired outcome for these? There’s an assumption that if we talk about things and put the time in then things will eventually fall in to place. Instead what we find is that we amass a wealth of knowledge that we don’t quite know what to do with. And, I include myself in that. The secret is to pick something, a tiny action or change, carry it out consistently and review its impact. Taking action is the quickest way to change perception.

The viewing influences the doing and vice versa

In solution-focused coaching (and therapy), we work with the idea that ‘how we view the world affects what we do in the world’. So, collecting an overwhelming amount of information only leads to feelings of overwhelm. Perhaps, the best advice I ever got as a writer is that we don’t finish books, we abandon them. If that sounds a little harsh, it means that there is always another tweak, another rewrite, and another piece of information we could add. But with that approach, there would be on books just unfinished manuscripts. It helps to break the stranglehold of procrastination if we see a goal as the next chapter, instead of absolute and ultimate truth.

How coaching helps with self-help overload

The never-ending quest for information is the quest for a certainty that does not exist! Most of our decisions in life and made with incomplete information. Mostly we work with educated guesses. In coaching, you as the client bring agenda. It’s my job as the coach to shoulder some of the burdens of organizing and planning the strategy. This approach includes making use of your knowledge, resources, strengths, and skills. My job, as the coach, is to ask questions that keep you accountable to your goals. We put our heads together and come out with solutions and steps forward. Often, the steps are quite small, but the effects can be quite profound. A small step is often all it needs to break the stranglehold of procrastination and get things moving forward. Coaching helps to get you out of the ‘spin-cycle’ of thinking-for-thinking-sake. Clients often come to me thinking they have gone round in circles, and that they have wasted time on books, workshops and therapeutic interventions. The truth is that coaching works with whatever. It’s all groundwork, and we’ll start first with whatever resonates with you the most. And, we work with the basic principle that it only takes a small step to tame the whirlwind. Once you’ve set your goals, coaching will help and support you to channel your efforts into reaching them.

So there you have it:

  • Approach self-help books in a more formal, structured way with a view to applying what you’ve read
  • Work with a coach to channel your knowledge, skills and strengths to take you towards your goals.
  • There’s no such thing as a step too small in the right direction. Just make a start and be persistent and consistent, and review the impact of the actions as you go.

Further reading

The blog posts mentioned in this post are:

About Gary Wood

Gary is a Chartered Psychologist, Solution-Focused Life Coach and author, based in Birmingham and Edinburgh UK. He helps clients achieve their goals, working face-to-face, on the telephone and via Skype.

Get in touch for a free consultation with Gary Wood, by telephone or Skype, to discuss your goals:

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When that brick wall is a mental block – how coaching can help you to grasp the goals you reach for

Pic: Advert for coaching with Dr Gary Wood - What if that brick wall is a mental block?Often our goals are in sight but seem out of reach. It might feel that you take one step towards your goals, and they seem to take a step back. I get many queries from potential clients saying just that. They talk of brick walls and mental blocks and self-sabotage. Sometimes there’s a post-mortem of what they should’ve done. In this blog post, I challenge that goals being ‘out of reach’ is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s how things should be. It’s how coaching works. 

Accepting Things the Way They Are

A few years ago, I took a course in pranayama (breathing yoga) as part of the research for a book. One phrase, from the course, stuck with me: the present moment is inevitable.  As a personal and professional development coach, my first job is to challenge clients to consider that things are as they should be and that this moment is a starting point. The alternative is to indulge in ‘why’ questions, which are abstract, philosophical questions. You can a different answer every time you ask why? And every time, they cause you to look back. Instead, in coaching, I ask lots of concrete ‘how’ questions. They will take you forward. In coaching, the first step is to accept that whatever you’ve done up until now has got you here. It’s just that you now need a different plan to take you further. And that’s what we’ll work on, together.

Our goals ARE out of reach –  at the moment

As the Robert Browing line goes ‘One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ It’s the purpose of coaching to reduce or eliminate the gap between reach and grasp. Goals are supposed to stretch us. The secret is not to set them so far out of reach that we lose hope and motivation. Conversely, if we make them too easy, we’ll tire easily, become bored and give up. Coaching aims to tread that fine line between resolution and resignation. So, if the goal is very grand, we simply break it down into a series of milestone goals that stretch you. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is just to take some action, any action, in the direction of the goal. It doesn’t matter how small that step is. I’ve pretty out the Tanzanian proverb ‘Little by Little, a little becomes a lot‘. The quickest way to change perceptions and attitudes is to take action. By the time you’ve reached the first milestone, your perspective will have changed, and you’ll be better equipped to tackle the next one.

Brick Walls and Mental Blocks

Some people talk of ‘mental blocks’ as if they are physical barriers. They aren’t. Coaching is about working with you to remove attitudes that get in the way of moving forward. It involves challenging negative thoughts and self-talk and looking at alternative metaphors, scripts and ways of describing situations. But it’s also about taking stock of skills and strengths to create a method of working and an action plan that’s tailor-made for you. In coaching, it helps to ‘suspend your disbelief’ and enter into it with an attitude of positive anticipation. Instead of asking will it work’, ask ‘how will it work?’ It’s also about trying things out like personal experiments – testing the water to assess the impact of a small step forward. Ultimately, with any attitude, it’s important to ask ‘How is this taking you forward?’ If it’s not, what attitudes will? Then, try them out and see how they work for you.

Up for a challenge?

Pic: Dr Gary Wood (Line drawing)In coaching, the aim is to help you to reach your goals or get as close to them as is practically possible. I’m Gary Wood. I’ve been coaching students since the mid-90s and private clients since the early-noughties. My coaching training and practices are grounded in evidence-based psychology. My specialism is attitude change – the cornerstone of coaching. I’ve written five books on various aspects of psychology, the most recent is Letters to a New Student on study skills, but has a lot to say about life skills. And as I coach, I love a challenge.

So, get in touch for a chat. 

If you can’t think of anything to write in the message box, just type ‘can we talk?’ and add the best days and times to get in touch.

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The Confidence Paradox – the Courage to Act

Sometimes there’s a time lag between recognizing we need help and support and, taking action to get that help and support. As a coach, it’s not unusual for potential new clients to tell me that they have been thinking about getting in touch ‘for ages’. Others describe it as ‘trying to pluck up the courage’ to get in touch, or ‘psyching themselves up’. So, the challenge for me as a coach is how I can make it easier for people to take that step. This blog post is an attempt to address that question.

The Confidence-Courage Paradox

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIt seems a paradox that some people might need to gain the confidence to seek coaching to build confidence. But it happens, and the first step is to recognize that it happens. When your confidence takes a hit, it’s tempting to see the hesitation to take action as further evidence of low confidence. This becomes another reason to ‘beat yourself up’ which in turn pushes you further away from taking action. But this is not something specific to you. It’s something common to stress. I’ve had clients show me tattered business cards of mine that they’ve carried around for months, even years. So how can we break this cycle?

Who can benefit from coaching?

Often, in the initial email, potential clients ask ‘Is this something you can help with?’ And it’s written from a very personal perspective, as though these kinds of issues wouldn’t or haven’t happened to anyone else. There’s a sense of isolation and ‘aloneness’ in the questions. And it’s reassuring that yes, such issues can be overcome. Of course, the coaching is unique to the individual, but often the problems are universal themes. Recognizing this is the first step in overcoming the ‘aloneness’. You aren’t alone. It’s not just you. That’s why I’ve written this post.

Anyone can benefit from coaching. In fact, the main thing that my clients have in common is that they want to achieve their goals. Their backgrounds and goals vary enormously, but the principles of coaching are the same. It aims to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Previous clients have included people between jobs, people looking for a promotion, homemakers, students, business people, and entrepreneurs. Sometimes it’s people who just have a vague sense that things could be better. As a coach, I’ll work with whatever you bring. So bring it on.

Not knowing where to start

Another delay in getting in touch is the idea that all goals and action plans have to be perfectly formed. No, that’s the coaching process is for. It’s not easy to make decisions and problem-solve when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. In fact, the first aim of coaching is to shoulder some of that burden. So, if you approached me, we’d first have a chat (via Skype or telephone), and typically it takes about 20 minutes. You get to ask any questions, and I explain the process. Then if you decide to go ahead, I send you a pre-coaching questionnaire. This forms the basis of the first session and offers signposts and milestones for future sessions. There’s nothing off-the-peg. As I coach, I meet you where you’re at. Then we’ll work together to get you to where you want to be.

How long does it take?

Another sticking point can be how many sessions to go for? Some clients come with a long list of goals and are concerned that they won’t be able to fit everything in. Obviously, the cost of coaching is an important factor. I offer to coach in blocks of four to ten sessions because the research indicates that this is the optimal range. In the consultation chat, I’mn often asked two questions:

  1. How many sessions will be enough so that we can cover all the issues I have?
  2. What happens of cover all the issues before the block ends, what then?

To answer both of the questions, it’s crucial first to emphasize the purpose of coaching. It’s not just about sorting out problems. It’s more about empowerment. The take-away value of coaching is that it aims to empower. Through the process of coaching, we create an action plan tailor-made to your skills, strengths, circumstances and goals. So, if we don’t cover every single issue in the block of coaching, you’ll still have a set of skills to put into practice for the remainder. If we cover all the issues before the end of the block, it means you can then look at consolidating the skills and also looking to longer-term goals.

The solution-focused approach tends to work quicker than some of the more ‘inspirational’ approaches to coaching. My background is in psychology and teaching, so everything I do as a coach is based on evidence. So we can cover a lot in relatively few sessions. Many clients express surprise as to how quickly they move forward. As a rule of thumb, if you’re at crossroads, need to refocus and a looking for a life audit, then go for four to six sessions. If you’re dealing with more significant life changes or looking to deal with more deep-seated attitudes and habits, then go for eight to ten. If in doubt, go down the middle. I’ve done a lot of work to make sure that every session counts. Even one session can move your forward. 

What’s more effective, face-to-face, telephone or Skype?

When I started coaching, I was sceptical that Skype or telephone would work as well as face-to-face. As part of my training, I had coaching. However, the coach I wanted to work with was in America, so I didn’t have the option of face-to-face. All the sessions were by telephone, and it changed my opinion. Now I work with clients up and down the UK and across the world. Lots of clients are from the US. They read my profile or have read my books and want to work with me. And, if you look at the outcome research for coaching (and counselling), one of the main factors for success is the relationship with the coach. Don’t let Skype or telephone coaching put you off.

Moving Forward

Pic: Dr Gary Wood (Line drawing)So those are some of the practical issues when stress gets in the way of making a decision. You don’t have to be confident to work on confidence, you don’t have to have a masterplan, you don’t have to agonize over the number of sessions. Just go with what you can afford and make the most of every session. The same applies to how coaching is delivered. 

Coaching can be a significant investment. It’s not cheap. I’m not a budget coach. And you might achieve the changes on your own with any intervention. It might take a little longer, but you’ll probably get there. The value of coaching is the value you place on getting there sooner, with a new set of skills that will take you further still. For further information see my posts:

Get in touch for a chat

Please use this form to request a coaching consultation – it’s just a brief, informal, no-strings chat. You don’t have to leave a message – just leave it blank. Once we’ve had a conversation, you make the decision.

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Learning Skills as Life Skills (and vice versa)

It’s tempting to view formal education as learning and then everything else that happens afterwards as your ‘real-life’. However, it’s a false dichotomy. We continue to learn throughout our lives, whether or not we want to. Recognizing this can help us to see the connection between learning skills and life skills. How we approach learning informs how we approach life and vice versa.

I was invited to speak at a learning and training event and submitted the title ‘Learning Skills as Life Skills’. The idea is based on my book Letters to a New Student ( Read a sample: UKUSA ). In this post, I offer four main factors that provide a blueprint for lifelong learning. It’s a slight reworking of the book’s structure.

Four Factors for Lifelong Learning: Attitudes, Wellbeing, Cognition, and Management.

The four factors of attitudes, wellbeing, cognition and management interact with each other. A change in one affects the others.

Pic: Four Factors of Lifelong Learning

Based on Letters to a New Student ( Read a sample: UKUSA )

Attitudes

Attitudes are the cornerstone of how we make sense of the world. In coaching, I use the principlethe viewing influences the doing, and vice versa’.  It’s a key principle in confidence-building.  How we view the world shapes what we do in the world. As coaching is action-led, it’s the doing that builds the confidence. For more on this, see Unlock Your Confidence.

A concept in psychology often relegated to a ‘stress-busting’ technique more accurately offers a philosophy for coping with life. Psychological hardiness is made up of three attitudes – the three Cs. These are control, challenge and commitment.  In short, emphasize what you can control, reframe problems as challenges (or goals) and commit to connecting with other people, and show a curiosity about the world.

Having to study when we’d prefer to be doing something else can lead to feelings of resentment. This attitude makes it more challenging to process and retain information. Learning is inevitable. It’ll happen whether or not we set our own goals. When facing a deadline, often, I’d much prefer to be doing something else. But I remind myself that it’s an opportunity to achieve a personal-first or a personal-best. With students, I ask them to consider how formal learning is a luxury. It’s similar for life-tasks, such as ironing or washing dishes or paperwork. They seem to take longer with feelings of resentment. The secret is to find an attitude that changes the emotional tone. Hence my Zen-Ironing. It’s a nice metaphor for smoothing out the wrinkles of life. Ok, so that might be stretching it. But it works.

Wellbeing

When faced with a demanding goal there’s often a temptation to put wellbeing on hold. The illusion is that if we don’t bother about wellbeing, the time saved can be used on the task. We can then catch-up on wellbeing when the task is over. However, this is stress-based, survival thinking. If we treat self-care as a foundation rather than an add-on, it can have a beneficial effect on mood and cognition. Investing in your wellbeing supports learning (and life). Sleep, diet, exercise, hydration, and relaxation exercises all interact. Together they will aid peak performance so that you make the most of your time add. Neglecting wellbeing means you’ll gain a bit of extra time to use inefficiently. 

Cognition

Often we stumble on to study techniques that work for us. These might be time-consuming, boring and inefficient, but because we have had some degree of success with them, we are reluctant to give them up. However, rather than leading with personalization, it’s crucial to learn basic principles of human psychology, and then put your twist on it. That way, you work with psychology rather than fight it – working smarter, not harder. The three simplest things to implement are:

  1. Work in shorter blocks to give your brain time to digest the information.
  2. Vary your learning techniques to keep it interesting. Boredom is a choice.
  3. To process the material at a deeper level, ask and answer questions rather than rely on rote learning

For more information see Letters to a New Student ( Read a sample: UKUSA ).

Management

Some might find it difficult to ask for help, when studying, or in life. It’s not a weakness or an admission of failure; it’s resource management. Most people like to help, so why deny the opportunity? And, you will get the chance to ‘pay it forward’. Knowing when to ask for help and who to ask are essential learning skills and life skills. Begin by making a list of your go-to people. 

Whether it’s life or learning, time management is essential – plan to do whatever you need to do, and do it. It’s also crucial to plan in the downtime, and most importantly, your wellbeing. What’s not so obvious is managing moods and motivation. It’s not just about aside the time; it’s adopting supportive attitudes and using techniques to get in the mood. And, sometimes that means just getting on with it. Who says we always have to be ‘in the mood’. Do it, and let the mood catch-up!  After a period of writers’ block, I learned that a ten-minute walk first thing in the morning sets me up for the day. I also know that the worst thing for my productivity is switching on the television in the morning for the news. For me, first thing in the morning, no news is good news. 

And finally, there’s the driver of all peak performance – goal-setting. It shouldn’t get to the point that we feel ‘bludgeoned’ by goal-setting. Goals are a means to an end. They provide the structure and the momentum to keep moving forward. They should stretch you but not overwhelm you. There are many posts on this blog about goal-setting – check them out.

Meaning: The Meta-Principle

The over-arching principle in learning and life is to make it meaningful to you. Use the four basic principles of attitudes, wellbeing, cognition and management, and adapt to your circumstances, strengths and values. 

Summary

So those are the basics of using ‘learning skills as life skills’, and vice versa. To find out more, read the book or drop me a line to find out about academic coaching or life coaching. In the meantime, here’s a summary of the main points:

Pic: Book cover for 'Letters to a New Student' by Dr Gary Wood

  • Frame your experiences with positive mental attitudes.
  • Take care of yourself – Exploit the mind-body connection.
  • Work with cognitive psychology rather than against it.
  • Be proactive – Manage time, moods and motivation.
  • Finally, make it meaningful to you.

About Dr Gary Wood

Pic: Dr Gary Wood (Line drawing)Dr Gary Wood is a Chartered Psychologist, solution-focused life coach, and broadcaster specializing in applied social psychology. He is on the British Psychological Society’s ‘media-friendly psychologists’ list and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Gary has taught psychology in several UK universities and is widely quoted in the media. As a consultant, he works on health and social policy research projects and reports, for government bodies, broadcasting ‘watchdogs’, NHS Trusts, charities, and media companies.

Books by Gary Wood

  • Letters to a New Student (Read a sample or buy: UKUSA ).
  • Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It (See UK / USA)
  • Unlock Your Confidence (See UK / USA)

Get in touch to discuss academic coaching or life coaching:

Pic: Business card for Dr Gary Wood - Get in touch to discuss coaching.

 

How I came to write a study skills book problem-page style

letters_3d

I returned to education pre-Internet. Yes! That long ago! I’d always battled with the ‘no-pain-no-gain’ approach to learning and revising for exams. As I was about to study psychology, I figured that psychology had to have tips on studying itself. I wasn’t aware of any study skills books and had to make do with an Introductory textbook. Sure enough, I found a few ideas on attitudes, attention span, the context of learning, and how to take a more holistic approach to studying. This modest find inspired me to look for more hints and to apply what I found.  And, I continued to do this throughout my time as a student and then as a lecturer. Over the years I gained and honed key principles on how to learn how to learn – and how to work smarter not harder.

As a psychology lecturer, I quickly realised that no one processes information as efficiently when stressed. And, when faced with a daunting reading list, the last thing we need is a study-skills book ‘thick enough to stun an ox’! We need the signposts, the quick fixes, and the short-cuts. The challenge in writing in a book on study skills is as much as what you leave out as what you put in. A book needs get across the framework of understanding without giving exhaustive tips, techniques and examples. It needs to cut-to-the-chase. The Internet is a wonderful thing, but often we start out looking for an answer and end up looking at totally irrelevant stuff with no idea how we got there. Sometimes we need to contain and focus our curiosity.

gary_wood_outro_pic_letters copy_tilt_border copyLetters to a New Student ( Buy: Amazon UK /  Buy: Amazon USA ) is a brief book and you the reader choose how to read it. It can be read from cover-to-cover or as a troubleshooting guide. It also mimics this ‘stream of consciousness’ style of the Internet so you can follow your own path or hop around at random. The also book taps into my experience as agony uncle and advice columnist. It’s based on a series of short, informal, problem page letters. This idea came about from reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. There’s also a bit of ‘dice-living’, from Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man thrown in to create a similar experience as the old Dungeons and Dragons books. You can read the letters in any order. You can even use dice! You’ll still get the same blueprint to make the information stick with less effort. The book offers an easy-to-use ‘survive and thrive’ guide of how to work with human psychology rather than fight it.

There’s also a strong theme of getting support and managing relations, and one aim is to get students and parents on the same page. I don’t know of any other study skills book aimed at parents too. The book also offers great principles to live by, so can be enjoyed by lifelong learners and self-help readers.

Letters to a New Student hasn’t taken nearly as long to write it as it has to live it. It’s been honed over 20 years. It’s the book I wished I’d had when I started out.

May it give you a shortcut to success.

Gary Wood

____________

Based on material from the book Letters to a New Student. Tips to Study Smarter from a Psychologist by Gary Wood. Published by Routledge. Buy: Amazon UK /  Buy: Amazon USA 

To find out more about one-to-one-coaching with Gary Wood, get in touch using the form below:

Solution Focused Life Coaching with Chartered Psychologist and Author Dr Gary Wood

Planning for Retirement: Meaning and Happiness Goals

When I was 14, I asked my granddad if he had any regrets. He had two. First, he regretted having a tattoo. Second, he regretted not planning for his retirement. The first one made sense, and I’ve never had a tattoo. However, at 14, the second one made no sense to me at all. I thought retirement was when you just have a hard-earned rest and spend a lot of time ‘with your feet up’. After a few months of retirement, my granddad went back to work, part-time. The other time he spent reading, which is probably where I got my love of books. And now, as a coach, I see many clients wanting to deal with retirement planning. This blog aims to set the scene and provide the background for retirement planning. It deals with the attitudes with which we approach life changes and the value of setting happiness and meaningfulness goals.

Attitudes – Psychological Hardiness

Some people cope better in times of uncertainty and social psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi identified three central attitudes that determine how we ‘come out the other end’. Or, as they call it, psychological hardinessThese attitudes – the three Cs – are commitment, control, and challenge. In the context of retirement, commitment is about connecting with others and having a curiosity about the world. Control is about taking stock and emphasizing what you can control, however small.  Often in coaching, we often start by looking at the ‘taken-for-granted’, small stuff. It’s a bit like ‘panning for gold’. Challenge is about approaching problems as projects and setting goals that stretch us.

Happiness and Meaningfulness

In coaching, it’s essential to match the clients’ goals to their values.  A tenet in my coaching practice is that everything should be meaningful to the client. So there are no grand symbolic gestures required, just practical steps in line with clients’ goals. And, values – the things they stand for in life – are important drivers. They give meaning. In recent years, Positive Psychology has contributed a great deal to our understanding of how to create positive emotions, such as happiness and optimism. Psychologists Julie Round and Jolanta Burke in a small longitudinal study explored the wellbeing of recent retirees using expressive writing and goal-setting. They focused on hedonia (happiness) and eudaemonia (meaning and purpose in life). The classic book, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘Chick-sent-me-hi’) deals with how to achieve happiness through goal-setting. The idea is that we set goals that put us into the state of ‘flow’ – the times when we become totally absorbed with something and lose a sense of time and of ourselves. So, the more we can set goals to put is into a state of flow, the happier we are. All this creates a platform to explore desired retirement outcomes using Round and Burke’s expressive writing exercises.

Future Desired Outcomes

Imagination plays a key role in coaching. It feels different to ask ‘What will you do?’ than asking ‘What kind of things do you imagine might work for you?’ Expressive writing and journaling are a great way to ideas and options for ways forward. For their study, Round and Burke suggest writing over four separate days. Here are their exercises, simplified slightly:

  1. Describe your best-retired self, imagining all your dreams have come to pass.
  2. Explore the key building blocks of your life at their future best (home, family, community, leisure etc.)
  3. Imagine that everything has gone to plan. How will things look in five years’ time?
  4. Imagine everything has turned out as you would like. Write about your 80th birthday party. Think about how it looks, smells, feels and sounds. Who’s there with you?

These exercises can help you to take stock of what’s already in place for your best-retired self and highlight areas that need attention and some groundwork. These insights form the basis of your goal setting – things that will add happiness and meaning to retirement. Start with where you’d ideally like to be, then count back the steps to where you are now. Pick one theme and set a small goal for the first logical step. Setting small goals and taking action on them little and often is more effective than an ad hoc ‘blowing-hot-and-cold’ approach. as the Tanzanian proverb says ‘Little by little, a little becomes a lot’.

Coaching for Retirement Planning

If you’d like to discuss coaching for retirement planning, please get in touch (via the form below) for a free, no-strings telephone (or Skype) consultation chat. It usually takes about 20 minutes and even if you decide not to proceed with coaching it can be useful for signposting next steps.

BooK: Don't Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet ItReferences and Further Reading

Here are the sources referred to in this blog post and a few recommended books. Most of the material here around goal-setting in covered in my two books. See below:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The Psychology of Happiness: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness. London: Rider. See Amazon UK orAmazon US

Maddi, S. R., & Kobasa, S. C. (1984). The Hardy Executive: Health Under Stress. Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Irwin. (Currently out of print). For a summary see blog post: Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching

Round, J. & Burke, J. (2018). A dream of retirement: The longitudinal experiences and perceived retirement wellbeing of recent retirees following a tailored intervention linking best possible expressive writing with goal-setting. International Coaching Psychology Review, 30 (2), pp. 27-45.

Seligman, M. (2017).  Authentic Happiness. Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. See Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

Wood, G. (2008). Don’t Wait for Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It. Tools and Techniques for Positive Lasting Change. Chichester: Capstone. See Amazon UK or Amazon USA

Wood.G. (2013). Unlock Your Confidence. Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through the Confidence-Karma Method. London: Watkins Books. See Amazon UK or Amazon US

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Writer’s Block & the Psychology of Gender

It’s been a quiet year on the blogging front for me in 2017. Most of my writing efforts have gone into breaking through a pretty stubborn bout of writers’ block.  How I overcame it also has strong parallels with life’s roadblocks.

Losing Motivation and Other People

Writing is a strange process. It requires hours of solitary confinement, a period of collaboration and compromise and then a period of handing over the finished project to fate, or a fate worse than death – other people who ‘play the numbers game’ and treat your creative efforts as numbers on a spreadsheet. The whole project becomes a team effort without shared accountability.  Ultimately, even if as an author you do everything for the book, by the book, if anyone in the team doesn’t do their bit the book can sink without. An important lesson I learned was that no matter who screws up, the buck always stops with me. This led to a pretty compelling sense of ‘what’s the point?’ My spirit to write was strong, but the motivation was weak, and the flesh ‘couldn’t be bothered’. It was probably what positive psychologists term learned helplessness. When you come to the point that you lose all sense of agency, then you stop trying. (You’ll probably get a strong sense that I’m choosing my words carefully here). So what did I do?

I got to the point where not writing something was not an option. So, I figured that writing about something I know a lot about would help overcome the block. I chose to revisit the subject of gender. On paper, it seemed like a good idea. And indeed it started well. However, I hadn’t quite taken stock of how much the subject of gender had moved on. It’s in a state of flux with everyone ‘jockeying’ for ascendancy.  It’s said that sometimes things need to get worse before they can get better. It’s precisely what happened. I spend too much time in online chat forums where the self-appointed guardians of gender terminology expend a lot of energy chastising the ‘less-informed’. I’ve read of people getting death threats for not hitting the space bar! The writer’s block grew markedly worse. I became fixated on how each word and sentence might be interpreted and taken out of context until I sat, day after day, staring at a blank screen. Eventually, I got to the point where I realized that no matter what I write, someone, somewhere will disagree with it. I just had to refocus on my goal. This was to write a book called The Psychology of Gender aimed at an audience who wanted something between self-help and academia.

Routine and Perception

Over the years I had developed a predictable writing routine, but it had begun to fail me. It took longer and longer to get started, and the results of each session were meagre, that is, if I managed to write anything at all. So in response, I changed everything. I abandoned my office and occupied space in a local café. Instead of my habitual 3pm to 9pm slot, I switched it for 7.30 am to 1.30pm.  I’d always thought of myself as an afternoon person and transformed into an enthusiastic morning person. Perhaps ‘enthusiastic’ is a bit of a stretch. In finding the right café, I ‘auditioned’ quite a few. The one I settled on was 1.3 miles from my home, and I think the early morning walk also helped to get ideas flowing.

People have asked me about the distractions writing in public spaces compared with my home office. Well, it balances out. At home, I have access to an endless supply of tea and coffee and usually take full advantage of it. At a café, there is, in theory, an endless supply of tea and coffee but I think twice having one every fifteen minutes, as I would do at home. There is also only so much I can carry with me, so I tend to think about which books I am going to need, rather than having everything at my fingertips. At a café, there are no sofas to lie on, no CD collections to flick through, no musical instruments to noodle about on. To pass the time in a café, I work. Although there is background music I usually listen to my own playlists through earphones. I found that when the music stopped, I continued working with the headphones on. This has now become a way to mute distractions. I work with the headphones in and the music off. It seems to help me to concentrate. It also signals to other people that I am busy, well, at least that’s the theory. Sat in my usual spot one day, I was typing on my laptop; I was wearing my reading glasses, I had headphones on, with books and journal articles on the table. Out of the corner of my eye, a stranger mouthed something to me, I looked up, took off my headphones, and he said ‘Are you busy?’ No these are my new earrings, I thought but didn’t say anything. I just politely affirmed that I was and took a moment to have a little chat. Just because I’m busy doesn’t mean I can’t be human. It turns out the stranger was a retired publisher.

Finding Your Process In Writing and In Life

Finding a writing process and finding a way to manage life is not so very different. Both evolve. Things that once worked might cease to work. Although there are constants, flexibility is the key. Alvin Toffler in Future Shock argued that a defining capacity of human beings is our ability to learn, un-learn and re-learn. We often need to renegotiate our processes and adapt, both to changing circumstances and to our ourselves as lifelong learners. At the same time, we need to keep focusing on our own goals and values at any given time. We night have core values that never change. These are our terminal values, the endpoints. Alongside these are our instrumental values that might change. These are the values that get us to the endpoints.  Also, it helps to adopt the three attitudes that comprise psychological hardinessThese are a commitment (to other people and the world), emphasize control rather than powerlessness, and focusing on challenge (rather than security). All three of these attitudes are evident in the way I ‘mixed things up’.

Book: The Psychology of Gender - By Dr Gary WoodThe Outcome

So what is the outcome of this deliberation? Well, that would be The Psychology of Gender (See UK / US)! It was definitely a labour of love. However, at the end of it, I have found a writing process that will also take me through the next book for which I wrote a proposal a few weeks after I’d handed in the gender manuscript. Most of the time, even in the face of distractions I have remained civil and also made a few friends along the way. And whether it’s embraced, treated with indifference or torn to shreds like Orpheus in a Bacchanalian frenzy, I’ll live to tell another tale!
To discuss coaching for writing, coaching for life in general or training in the psychology of gender, please get in touch: info@drgarywood.co.uk
Visit the sibling site The Psychology of Gender to find out more about the book. See also Twitter: @gender_psych
Pic: Gender questioning coaching with Dr Gary Wood

End of Year Review 2016: Top Psychology and Coaching Posts

Pic: Social Psychologist, Dr Gary Wood discusiing gender stereotypes

In 2016 I’ve been involved with many writing projects (& reports) and so the blog took something of a back seat. So, still at number one in the top ten most visited psychology, coaching and confidence posts of 2016 is the body language post. However it’s amazing that I often hear the body language repeated as if fact. So maybe there are still a few more years’ worth of sharing left in it!  Apart from the Orange, Silver, Purple, and Month poem (don’t ask), many of the posts are based on tools and techniques I use in my coaching practice, which have also found their way into my books:

  1. Body Language Myth: The 7% – 38% – 55% Rule.
  2. What Does “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it. Mean?
  3. Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching.
  4. What Rhymes with Orange, Silver, Purple, and Month?
  5. Why You Shouldn’t Ask Why? And What Open Questions You Should Use Instead.
  6. A Simple Technique for Dealing with Overwhelming Negative Thoughts and Feelings.
  7. Tips for Handling Compliments and Praise ( – giving, receiving and why it’s important).
  8. Three Top Tips: How to Get the Most from a Self Help Book.
  9. Why There’s No Such Thing as “”Too Much Confidence” or “Over-Confidence.
  10. Self-Disclosure: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right? Are You an Open or Closed Book?

The most popular page visited on the blog is What is Solution Focused Coaching? This is usually visited as a prelude to people getting in touch to find out how the solution focused coaching approach would help them with goals. Although 2016 has been viewed as ‘a bit of a disaster’  by many, I’m still amazed and humbled by the clients I have worked with. Many of them set themselves ‘making a difference’ goals and many have achieved some amazing results despite the doom and gloom pervading 2016. For many of them, this became an added motivation at a time when the world needs more people who make a positive difference.

I’m looking forward to working with more courageous people in 2017! And if you’d like to find out how solution focused coaching can help you, your goals and your organization, then do get in touch.

Best Wishes and Bright Moments

Gary Wood

3 Questions to Help You Set Deadlines for Your Personal Goals (and how to remain accountable to them)

The Twelve of Nevermber - the date for your goals.Many clients tell me that they find it easier to work to an externally set deadline. Personal projects seem to drift along without end, especially when life gets in the way. So what can be done about it? The short answer is to set your own deadline and build in accountability to the process. In this brief post I offer three simple questions that I ask clients. These questions will help you to overcome procrastination, set your own deadlines and increase your motivation.

When would it be too late, to achieve your goal?

  • 1. By what date will you be disappointed that you have not completed this project or reached this goal? In other words ‘what date’s too late?’

This gives a possible end date by which procrastination has gone too far. A goal is really only a goal if it does have a target date. Until then it’s just wishful thinking. An end-point allows you to move out of the ‘intention phase’ and to begin making concrete plans.

Now that you have a latest possible date, it helps to review the reasons. How come this feels too late? If you pass this date, how do you imagine you feel? What are the other negative associations with passing this date? What are the negative consequences of dragging things out until the last-minute? It helps to get something in black and white, so make a list. This becomes something that you can add to and review from time to time. Sticking to your goal will help you to avoid all of this down the line.

What’s your delighted date?

  • 2. For you to be absolutely delighted and elated, by what would you have to meet this goal?

Together with the first question, you now have range for the target date for your goal. the nest change is to inject a little realism.

What date is most realistic to complete your project?

There’s a phrase I use in coaching that I use to preface questions: ‘Knowing yourself as you do’. Coaching should be from a position of realism and self-knowledge. In the ubiquitous SMART goals, the A and the R represent Achievable and Realistic.

  • 3. So, knowing yourself as you do, what would be the most realistic date, between your ‘disappointed’ and ‘delighted’ deadlines for you to complete this goal/project?

This allows you to take into account obstacles, or just aspects of everyday life. The example I often use is starting a healthy eating plan on 23rd December when you also want to enjoy Christmas.

Goal completion: Delighted to Satisfied to Disappointed

Not only do these three questions give you a range of dates to use, they also have an emotional value attached, which helps to address some of the impetus that comes with external goals. This may be enough for you to pick a date, put it in to your diary, program the count down on to your phone or stick a note to the front of the fridge. The question then becomes, how do you maintain the momentum? Aside from engaging the services of a life coach will keep you accountable to your goals, there are techniques you can use by yourself.

The first step is to acknowledge the importance of this target date. If you nurture the attitude that it can move if something else comes along, then it will keep moving. Think about what you do if you are no likely to meet an externally set goal? What’s your process? As soon as you know your are not able to meet the original deadline, you estimate how much longer you would need and then contact the outside person to renegotiate a new deadline. However, the odds are that there will be some room for manoeuvre but not much. It’s important that you use the same criteria to re-set your own goals. If you don’t the over-arching message is ‘this is not important enough’. If you make a habit of reinforcing the ‘not important enough’ message it’s unlikely that you will meet the goal.

Using a formalised procedure for goal-setting

Some people find acronyms useful, others loathe them. There are a lot of them about, with SMART and GROW being the most famous. My own addition to the goal-setting acronyms is GO-FLOW. It’s a development of the GROW acronym. I came up with to fit in with the water-based theme of my book Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It!  GO-FLOW stands for: Goal, Observation, Feelings, Limitations, Options, Will. For more information see: Going For Your Goals or Going with the Flow.

There are many goal setting tips on this site (See: Goal-setting Posts ). The important thing is to find a formalised system to help you keep track of the goals. One development of the SMART goals formula I use is SMARTER: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Enthusiastically Phrased and Reviewable. Goals evolve as we progress, especially with regard to achievability and realism.  However if you need to readjust target dates it shouldn’t be done with a shrug of the shoulders. it should go through a formal process, even the act of putting the new date on a calendar or in your diary. ‘Whenever I can fit it’ means the goal is unlikely to be met.

Rewards as accountability

The most powerful of tools for shaping and changing behaviour is simple rewards. Working on goals should be a thankless task, so it’s important to break down bigger goals into smaller steps and build in a series of rewards as you complete the steps. When you are rewarded it makes it more likely that a behaviour will be repeated. So give yourself something to look forward to as you progress with your goals, obviously keep the reward proportionate to the achievement. You should save the bigger celebration for the end.

It can be more difficult to meet goals that do not have external deadlines. The main difference is that we often approach external deadlines more seriously. This post has offered a process and ideas for creating more compelling personal deadlines to make sure that  perpetual postponing is not inevitable.

If you enjoyed this post and/or found it useful then please use the ‘like’ and share ‘buttons’. Your comments are also welcome.  

Links:

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 About Gary Wood

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodDr Gary Wood is a chartered psychologist, life coach and broadcaster specializing in applied social psychology, personal development and life coaching. He is the author of Unlock Your Confidence: Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through The Confidence-Karma Method (Buy: Amazon UK  /  Buy: Amazon USA ) Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his coaching and training practice and research consultancy.

To find out more about coaching for your goals, with Gary Wood, please get in touch using the form below:

Living with Freedom, Living a Better Life, and Coaching

Pic: Breaking the chainsIt’s often said that life coaching is all about goals – usually goals to a better life. Recently I read an interesting booklet called Getting All Emotive Online by Phil Byrne & Neil Henry. It’s about on-line marketing and something they wrote about ‘freedom’ really resonated with what I aim to offer in my  (life) coaching practice. I realized that maybe that message didn’t always come through clear enough in my web presence and in consultations with potential clients. So in this post, I aim to address that and consider how coaching should be all about helping people to live a life of freedom. Let’s start with a definition of freedom.

What is freedom?

Dictionary definitions state that freedom is:

  • The power or right to act, speak, or think as you want
  • Absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government
  • The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved
  • The state of being unrestricted and able to move easily

The implication with all of these definitions is that threats to freedom are external. However, as a psychologist I’m more interested in the interpretations of threat and how we internalize threats in the form of attitudes.

What are attitudes?

Attitudes structure the human experience – they are the way we feel and think about things. At their simplest form, they are likes and dislikes. We are drawn to the things for which we have a positive attitude and repelled by things for which we hold negative attitudes. The literal meaning of attitude is ‘fit and ready for action’. So attitudes prime us for action. Although attitudes don’t necessarily lead us to behaviour they do help to create the mind-set to make it more likely. It’s easy to see how an attitude of ‘If I don’t try then I can’t fail‘ is likely to inhibit action. These are the kinds of self-defeating attitudes that we address in coaching.

Coaching as attitude liberation

Pic: Self actualizationByrne & Henry suggest that there two types of freedom: ‘Freedom to‘ and ‘freedom from‘. Although they discuss these in the context of marking, these two types of freedom are also relevant to coaching. In my coaching practice, I draw heaving on my research expertise in social psychology – particularly attitude change. Crucially this involves moving clients towards ‘freedom to’. This is freedom to seize opportunities, freedom to make the most of your abilities and freedom to pursue you goals and ambitions.

Often the path to ‘freedom to’ means addressing some ‘freedom froms’. This might be freedom from low self-esteem, freedom from self-doubt, freedom from putting yourself down with negative self-talk, and so on. Coaching can empower you to act, speak and think as you want. It can remove psychological restrictions and the feelings of being trapped by the past or the expectations of others. Coaching offers a means to weaken the hold of the ‘freedom froms’ and make, more likely, the freedom to meet your goals, the freedom to make more of your strengths, skills and inner resources . Goals are the means to an end. Ultimately coaching is about securing the freedom to have a better life.

Links (other posts about coaching and personal development):

If you enjoyed this post and/or found it useful then please use the ‘like’ and share ‘buttons’. Your comments are also welcome.  

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 About Gary Wood

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodDr Gary Wood is a chartered psychologist, life coach and broadcaster specializing in applied social psychology, personal development and life coaching. He is the author of Unlock Your Confidence: Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through The Confidence-Karma Method (Buy: Amazon UK  /  Buy: Amazon USA ) Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his coaching and training practice and research consultancy.

To find out more about coaching with Gary Wood or to book a free telephone or Skype consultation, please complete the form below: