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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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

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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

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.  

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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:

Are Zero-Hours Contracts Bad for Your Health? (with video summary)

Pic: Social Psychologist Dr Gary Wood on BBC's Inside-OutFor the BBC Inside-Out  (08/2/2016) programme I was asked this question: are zero-hours contracts bad for our health?  In this blog post I expand on the themes in the programme, offer some examples of pertinent psychological theories, suggestions as to what appropriate research might look like, and offer some links for further information on zero-hours contracts. A video of the interview is at the end of this post.

The Benefit of Flexibility?

Having worked in a zero-hours contract research job as a student, I valued the flexibility. It operated as a semi-formal arrangement where I had to phone in each week to see what hours I could get. It varied from week to week and often we were at the mercy of a capricious supervisor. For me, it wasn’t so bad. I just had to grin and bear it and grovel a little and in those days students had grants too. I wasn’t going to starve if I couldn’t get as many hours as I needed in one particular week. The work was repetitive and boring and the working conditions wouldn’t exactly meet today’s health and safety guidelines, but It was flexible and many of the people there were really good fun to be around. In many ways, it was ideal for my circumstances at the time but for many people, it was their only source of income.

The Benefits of Zero-Hours Contracts to Employers

Today’s zero-hours contracts are a very different arrangement. I got paid for the hours I worked and only had to be on-site for those hours. In the modern-day versions, employees have had to be on-site and only paid for the hours they are required to work. This means they could spend all day at the work-place and may not earn a penny. Some ’employers’ even though they asserted no liability to provide work still demanded exclusivity clauses that prevented people from seeking gainful employment at other jobs. It’s easy to see how this arrangement benefits the ’employer’ but what are the likely impacts on the employee?

The Psychological Impact of Zero-Hours Contracts

When asked the question ‘are zero-hours contracts bad for our health?’, a number of psychological concepts and theories came to mind:

  • Reactions to stress
  • Martin Seligman and ‘learned helplessness’ (being able to exercise control)
  • Abraham Maslow and the hierarchy of needs (survival and security needs)
  • Barbara Frederickson and the concept of ‘broaden and build’.

There’s a whole body of evidence that demonstrates the links between stress and ill health, including depression and a suppression of the immune system. This happens when stress becomes a chronic (i.e. long-term) condition. If we accept the argument that one of the reasons people go to work is to provide for basic survival needs and security, it’s not difficult to see the detrimental impact of not being able to predict income (and working hours) from one week to the next.  Not being able to effect changes in our circumstances can lead to ‘learned helplessness’, which in turn may lead to depression. To be able to thrive rather than merely survive, we need to be able to build on other emotions and feelings, other than fear. It’s difficult to think aspiration when you can’t even meet basic needs.

Evidence of the Mental Health Impacts of Zero-Hours Contracts

Exploring the Parliament.uk website someone proposed the question (No 19559, December 2015): To ask the Secretary of State for Health, if he will make an assessment of the effects of zero-hour and uncertain hour contracts on the mental health of people holding such contracts.

The reply, from Alistair Burt MP (Department of Health) was short and to the point:

The Department has no plans to make any such assessment. Research undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that, compared to the average employee, zero hours contract workers are just as satisfied with their job (65% versus 63%) and happier with their work-life balance (62% versus 58%).

The research was carried out in 2013. However, the imposition of zero-hours contracts is becoming an increasing trend. It is therefore important to continually monitor the situation. Research findings in 2013 only remain valid if the situation remains static. Alistair Burt’s answer focuses on the people who are happy with zero-hours contacts, mainly because they value flexibility. But what of the people who do not choose to work in this way but are forced into it by necessity?

Research also conducted in 2013 by the Resolution Foundation reaches the opposite conclusion:

[I]t is clear that for the majority of those employed on zero-hours contracts this freedom and choice are more apparent than real. For those individuals who require a minimum number of working hours per week to ensure their family is financially secure or those who, confronting severe power imbalances in the workplace, fear that turning down hours as and when offered will result in future work being withdrawn, life on a zero-hours contract is one of almost permanent uncertainty. For those who have had their hours zeroed down on the basis of a perceived unwillingness to work the hours their employer requires or following the lodging of a workplace complaint, this uncertainty can be coupled with the anxiety that comes from exploitation.

What Further Research Do We Need?

The key factor is whether people choose zero-hours contracts or have these contracts forced upon them. When chosen it is most likely that the flexibility the contracts supports a chosen lifestyle. This is in stark contrast to people who have no choice to accept the contracts in order to survive. Clearly, the impacts n mental health are going to be different for each of these cohorts. This is what we should be comparing in research. It’s spurious if not downright dishonest to compare ALL people on zero-hours contracts with ALL people in secure employment.

Of course, not everyone in secure employment is happy with their job. Some people might like to be in a better job. Others might be unhappy because their job does offer the flexibility to support their lifestyle. Also, it wouldn’t be surprising to find people who’d prefer not to work.

So ideally, we’d like to consider four groups on a range of mental-health measures:

(i) Zero-hours contacts – satisfied with terms and conditions (by choice);  (ii) zero-hours contracts – dissatisfied with terms and conditions (or not by choice) ; (iii) Secure contracts – satisfied with terms and conditions, and (iv) Secure contracts – dissatisfied with terms and conditions.

This would be the simplest model and would not just rely on comparing descriptive statistics, such as percentages. Part of my job involves research design and analysis. Often many people’s idea of research is just comparing percentages. Sadly, it’s what I’m most often asked to do. However, this should be only the first phase. The stage that gives us answers is the inferential phase. This is where we can meaningfully talk about statistical significances between the different groups. The very basic research design above should be the absolute minimum. Merely comparing percentages barely qualifies as statistical foreplay.

Conclusion: Are Zero-Hours Contracts Bad for Your Health?

We don’t currently have the research data to answer this question. We can only infer from anecdotal evidence and from what we already know about human psychology. Although we shouldn’t equate common sense with a scientific approach, what seems most likely is that conditions that restrict an individual’s ability to take control over basic survival and security needs is likely to have a detrimental psychological impact.

Considering the political impact, some have argued that zero-hours contracts take us backwards to the working practices from a bygone age. Here’s a summary by Professor Roger Seifert – University of Wolverhampton Business School (for full article see link below):

In the Victorian era there were sweatshops, child labour, few worker rights, and casual employment with no guaranteed income. We view this with horror as a sign of gross inequality, ruthless exploitation, and as bad times in which the rich and powerful were able to maintain their idle privilege through laws, customs, and a deeply religious conservatism where everyone was born into and knew their place.

Scratch the surface of our modern world and we can find signs that progress has not been as spectacular as we like to believe.

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

If you are concerned about or affected by the impact of zero-hours contracts, here are some useful links are given after the video of the interview.

Useful 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.

How Do You Know You Are Ready For Life Coaching? (and is it right for you?)

How do you know you are ready for coaching and it's the right time for you?You might be considering personal or professional development coaching for any number of reasons and whether it is right for you, at this particular time. Maybe you have goals that you want to move towards. It could be that there are a number of life circumstances from which you want to move away. You might be at a crossroads or just have a vague feeling that things could be better. The bottom line is that you approach a coach because you want to live a better life. So, how do you know whether coaching will help you find the solutions you need?

Too many questions already? Pause for a moment and take a few long slow deep breaths. Now continue.

Are you ready, willing and able to make the changes to meet your goals?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodCommon to these reasons is the idea of change. That’s what coaching is about. Change in attitudes, this includes changes in feelings, thoughts and actions. Before making any changes it’s important to consider the age-old trinity of ‘ready, willing and able’.  In my book Unlock Your Confidence, I devote a section to this triad and use a technique known as a scaling question to help bring a sharper focus. I then offer a series of follow-up questions. pic: Ready for life coaching scaling question diagram

By rating each of these dimensions on a scale from zero to ten, it can help to see where the resistance lies.

It could be that you do not the resources or feel that the actions required to make changes are not within your ability. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting things clear in your head. Often the problem is stress (anxiety). It tends to have the effect of causing you to underestimate your skills and strengths or to view solutions in black and white. There’s often great value in exploring the grey areas.

Stress can cause you to think in terms of survival and override your creativity. Because the coach bears some of the burden of helping you to organize your thoughts, this makes it easier to access your creativity. Gaining freedom over stress will help you to shift from survive to thrive. The reason I emphasize deeper breathing techniques is that they are the quickest way to short-circuit the stress response.

Once you have pondered the scores for each of the scaling questions, a few follow-up questions can offer further clarification:

  • What tells you that you are at this state of readiness / willingness / ability ?
  • What have you done to get this far? What’s already working for you, no matter how small?
  • If you’ve scored a zero on any of the scales, what has to happen for the first green shoots to show?
  • What number on the scale would you consider ‘good enough’ to be ready / willing / able to make changes?
  • What do you imagine would be happening a half point along the scale?

Coaching is all about goals – better life goals. It’s often said that if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching. Different coaches approach goal setting in different ways. Some favour a formulaic approach using acronyms (such as SMART and GROW), others use more approaches that are more conversational or ones that get you to use your imagination. Having trained in a number of coaching models (performance coaching, cognitive-behavioural coaching and solution-focused coaching) we can work to find an approach that best suits you. (If you’re not sure, we can try out different approaches).

Is there ever a perfect time to embrace change?

Most of the decisions we make in life are based on imperfect information. That’s why in coaching I often ask ‘what would be good enough?’

Perfectionism is part of a black and white view of the world that can be paralyzing. Part of that involves the thought ‘what if coaching doesn’t work?’ ‘What if I’m not ready and waste this opportunity?’ Sometimes it’s nice to options in reserve – like a lifeboat. Again, it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Many coaches offer a free consultancy ( I do). It allows you to ask questions and get an idea if and how a particular coaching approach would work for you. On the last working day of each month, I offer free speed-coaching sessions. A mini-coaching session (20 minutes) for you to see how it works.

Is the coach right for you?

Making a decision from a perspective of stress is not ideal  (except if you’re in imminent danger). When stressed we tend to view the world in black and white. It also leaves us susceptible the lure of the nearest ‘life-saver’, rather than the ultimate one. So, before making an important decision, take a few deep breaths again, then make some notes of the kind of questions you want to be answered before contacting a coach. Here’s a link to my earlier post that might help: How to Find a Life Coach and the Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring One.

If you find the coach’s answers acceptable then you might want to proceed. It doesn’t have to be a full course of coaching. You might just want to try out a single session then decide whether to continue with a course. One session might be all that it takes to help you to move forward.

Alternatives to hiring a life coach

The most obvious alternative to hiring a life coaching, apart from doing nothing at all, is reading a personal or professional development book. The advantages of this are that books are more economical and flexible – you can dip in and out, as and when you wish. The downside is that there’s less of an imperative to make life changes – there’s less commitment. Often we use books to help us to think about things in different ways but stop short of taking action. With personal and professional development it’s not just the thought that counts! It’s how we put those thoughts into action. Reluctance to take action is the biggest barrier to change (back again to ‘ready, willing and able). One-to-one coaching means you are more likely to act on new insights. Each coaching session generates ideas for actions between sessions. These are crucial in building momentum and making progress.

In another earlier post, I offer a blueprint for reading self-help books. To sum it up, the best approach is to suspend your disbelief, read it from cover to cover, do all the exercises and then assess the impact. Doing this will help to spark a perceptual shift as you get to view your current situation from a slightly different angle.

Conclusion?

The aim of this post is to help you to decide whether or not life coaching is right for you, whether you feel it will help you to live a better life and whether you are ready for coaching at this particular time in life. You might decide to dig in and go it alone with renewed vigour. You might decide to buy a book. You might decide to try the ‘two heads are better than one’ approach of working on goals with a friend. Finally, you might decide that the best way forward is to engage the services of a professional coach. With all three options, if you desire to make changes the important things are to: get fresh insights, take ownership and commit to take action.

Post updated: 11 November 2019.

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Pic: Ask about coaching with Dr Gary WoodIf you enjoyed this post and/or found it useful then please use the ‘like’ and share ‘buttons’. Your comments are also welcome. If you wish to ask any questions about this post or coaching in general or wish to book a free consultation, please use the form below.

Further Reading:

 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:

How do you know you are ready for coaching and it's the right time for you?

An Ambition Realized: Author Talk – Confidence-Karma at Watkins Books

Pic: Author talk by Dr Gary Wood at Watkins BookshopAnyone who knows me knows that I love books, that means proper books. I’m a tactile learner, I love the touch of real paper. For me if I’m reading a real ‘page-turner’,Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood I actually want to turn the page (not swipe a screen). The internet is a wonderful thing but, for me, nothing beats wandering around a book shop and making a discovery. My favourite book shop is Watkins Books in London. It’s an esoteric bookshop and has been established over 100 years. Every time I visit London, a trip to Watkins is an absolute must. Just a walk along the little alley (Cecil Court) feels like a trip back in time. It’s also been a long-standing ambition to give a talk there and recently that ambition was realized and fortunately filmed for posterity. I was also interviewed in preparation for the talk (see link below).

The talk was entitled simply Confidence-Karma. It’s a concept that I introduced in my book Unlock Your Confidence. Essentially, confidence-karma is about how to boost your own confidence by focusing on boosting confidence in others.  The book outlines my unique approach to confidence building and brings together solution focused coaching, social psychology, positive psychology, teaching and learning theory together with some esoteric ideas, many of which I discovered during trips to Watkins. Here’s the video:

Ask about coaching with Dr Gary WoodThe link to the on-line magazine interview that accompanies: Watkins Magazine : Meet Dr Gary Wood

One of the main strands of my work is life coaching. Clients approach me about work-life balance, career change, general personal development and of course confidence building. My coaching (and training) practice is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh, UK, although through wonders of technology I offer coaching nationally and internationally via Skype.If you happen to have purchased my book, I even deduct the cost of it from a block booking of coaching. If you’d like to ask find out more (or ask questions about the book), please get in touch:

Why Thomas Edison as a Role Model for Personal Development is Only Half the Picture

Picture of rival  inventors Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison

Rival Inventors: Nikola Tesla (R) and Thomas Edison (L)

You may have seen or heard the motivational quote to encourage persistence that cites the example of  inventor Thomas Edison. It’s doubtful that the encounter ever happened and the numbers of attempts reported by self hep gurus certainly vary. The story goes that Edison was asked how it felt to fail a 1000 times to invent the light bulb. Edison is said to have answered ‘I didn’t fail, I discovered 999 things that didn’t work’ or ‘the light bulb was an invention that took 1000 steps’. The general message is that you shouldn’t give up. You should never quit. Yes, persistence is important but so is your approach.

There were many fitting tributes to Thomas Edison when he died with one notable exception of Nikola Tesla, which was quoted in The New York Times (in 1931):

If he had a needle to find in a haystack he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, but would proceed at once, with the feverish diligence of a bee, to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. … I was almost a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.

Of course Tesla, also an inventor, was purportedly a bitter rival of Edison. However the point Tesla makes is that Edison didn’t have to spend a 1000 attempts to solve a problem if he had refined his approach.

In recent years there has been much debate about the contributions of the two inventors most notably the Oatmeal comic has championed Tesla at the expense of Edison. Many of its claims are hotly contested by an Edison biographer. It’s not the aim of this post to attempt to settle the debate. I have provided the links so you decide. The aim of this post is to make the point is that for any personal or professional endeavour there needs to be a marriage of scientific method and persistence.

Book: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodI returned to studying psychology as a mature student and one of the first things I did was delve into the introductory textbook’s chapters on cognitive psychology. It made sense to me to use psychology to study psychology. In a few hours I discovered lots of tips that teachers had never told me. Up until this point my efforts at studying at all been about persistently plodding along. Cognitive psychology taught me a few short cuts. I had in Tesla’s words applied a little theory and calculation. Instead of the fly that repeatedly collides with a window trying to get outside, I’d become a baby learning to walk. The baby is a better metaphor for learning that the fly. My subsequent interest in (life) coaching came through teaching a class of mature students studying psychology. I had a chance to pass on my insights for study skills. I also learned better ways of building confidence and motivation by starting to train as a life coach.

The blind persistence approach is often encourage by the ‘positive thinking’ movement. Edison has become the self-help gurus’ because he most closely resembles the modern day entrepreneur, whereas Tesla died penniless. Now of course an attitude of persistence is important however it’s equally important to have an action-plan that begins with a working hypothesis. We need a blend of Edison and Tesla. Persistence, a focused and organized method plus an eye on the material world.

Links

About Gary Wood

Dr 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.