Building Unshakable Confidence: Unveiling the Power of Confidence Karma

Confidence – that elusive quality we all strive to possess. It empowers us, propels us forward, and enables us to conquer our most significant challenges. Yet, at times, confidence seems to evade us, leaving us feeling uncertain and hesitant. This blog post delves into the root causes of a lack of confidence. It explores practical strategies to reclaim and nurture our self-assurance. But first, let’s introduce a unique approach: Confidence Karma. This approach recognizes that we boost our own confidence as we seek to uplift others, creating a positive cycle of growth and empowerment.

What causes of a lack of confidence?

  • Unfortunate comparisons: In the age of social media, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. Measuring our achievements against other people’s ‘highlight reels’ can erode our self-esteem and lead to a lack of confidence.
  • Past failures: Negative experiences and setbacks can linger in our minds, creating self-doubt. ‘Reliving’ past failures without acknowledging the lessons learned hinders our ability to move forward with confidence.
  • Fear of judgment: The fear of being judged or criticized by others can paralyze us. Worrying about what others might think stifles our authenticity and it prevents us from fully embracing our unique abilities.
  • Self-limiting beliefs (SLBs): Deep-seated beliefs about our worthiness and capabilities can hold us back. These SLBs, often formed during childhood, create a fixed mindset that impedes our growth and stifles our confidence.

How Do You Fix a Lack of Confidence?

  • Self-reflection: Awareness is the first step towards positive change. Start by examining the root causes of your lack of confidence. Be honest about the negative thoughts and beliefs hindering your self-assurance. 
  • Embrace imperfection: Shift your perspective on failure. Understand that setbacks and mistakes are stepping stones to growth and success. Embrace the idea that perfection is unattainable, and that progress is more important than flawlessness.
  • Cultivate self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Replace self-criticism with self-compassion. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes and that it is okay to be imperfect. Nurture a loving relationship with yourself.
  • Surround yourself with positive influences: Gaining support from encouraging people can positively affect your confidence. Seek out mentors, friends, or communities that uplift and inspire you. Their positivity will fuel your self-belief.

The Power of Confidence Karma

Now, let’s explore the innovative Confidence Karma approach. By focusing on building our own confidence, we become catalysts for confidence in others. Here are keyways to embrace Confidence Karma:

  • Encourage and uplift: Offer genuine compliments and words of encouragement to those around you. By lifting others up, you create a positive and supportive environment that fosters growth and confidence.
  • Share experiences: Open up about your struggles and triumphs. By sharing your journey, you inspire others to embrace their own challenges and build resilience. Remember, we’re all in this together.
  • Mentor and support: By sharing your wisdom, you empower others to believe in their own abilities. It can start small. By offer guidance and mentorship to people who may benefit from your knowledge and experience your confidence will grow too.

In conclusion, confidence is not an unattainable trait reserved for a select few; it’s a journey and a skill that anyone can learn. By understanding the causes of a lack of confidence and implementing practical strategies, we can reclaim our self-assurance and embark on a journey of personal growth. So, let’s embrace the power of Confidence Karma. Let’s challenge the comparison trap and replace it with self-acceptance and self-love. Let’s acknowledge our past failures as valuable lessons and stepping stones toward success. Let’s release the fear of judgment and embrace our authentic selves unapologetically. Let’s shatter self-limiting beliefs and adopt a growth mindset that propels us forward. Remember that by the Confidence Karma approach, we not only build our own confidence but also become beacons of empowerment for those around us. As we uplift and support others, we create a ripple effect of confidence that reverberates through our communities.

Get in touch with Gary to discuss you goals, or just to ask a question about the book.

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About the author: Dr Gary Wood specialises in translating in evidence-based psychology and coaching principles into practical solutions. Having taught psychology and learning skills at UK universities, he is a frequent guest on radio and television, offering expert analysis and coaching tips. As a trusted agony uncle for numerous magazines and websites, Gary Wood’s insights are widely quoted in the press, establishing him as a go-to resource for personal growth.

TikTok: The Surprising Social Psychology Playground for Building Confidence

I thought I was over social media. Initially, I welcomed the distraction as an escape from the real world – a place to relax. Then, some platforms morphed into a showcase for the worst aspects of the real world. So, I deleted the apps from my phone and saw my usage plummet. Then I invested the time I saved on ‘doom-scrolling’ in to online courses from FutureLearn and Coursera. However, in a twist, I did a few courses on digital marketing with an eye on creating social change. Now I’m beginning to see social media in a new light, particularly TikTok. So if, like me, you thought TikTok is just an app full of dancing teens, think again. Its moved on.

I was aware of the app from younger relatives, and I looked at it probably a year ago. I thought it was brash and shallow and a massive waste of time. So, what changed? First, TikTok has changed, and this is user-led. When people adopt innovations, they often use them innovatively. With social media platforms, it’s never just about the content; it’s how we can use them meaningfully, both personally and culturally.

The catalyst for me revisiting TikTok was the re-publication of my confidence book. The publisher’s marketing team mentioned it. I agreed to have another look and discovered #BookTok. And I soon realized that there is a ‘Tok’ for pretty much anything! Yet, I still found the app to be brash and bewildering, but I slowly started to warm to it. My first move was to call in the experts to help me make sense of it, that is, my nephews and nieces. I only had to say, ‘Can you teach me about TokTik’ for them to laugh and ‘Show the oldie how it’s done’. Next, I signed up for a webinar on #BookTok and then did the Coursera specialization ‘Marketing with TikTok, which I highly recommend. So with more information and a renewed sense of purpose, I changed too.

Now, it’s early days, but after following a few people on TikTok, I’ve realised that anything goes. That is, if I can get my sausage fingers to press the right keys on my phone at the right time. Quickly, I came to enjoy the sense of community on the app. To me, as a social psychologist, it is the most appealing aspect. We all crave connection and belonging and want to tell our stories to anyone who will listen. Also, as a coach, I appeal to clients’ imagination and creativity. TikTok is based on fun, creativity, a sense of belonging and collaboration. Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.’ And as Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’ These two quotations sum up TikTok.

The platform’s ethos is about creating a place where people get to express themselves in an authentic way. There’s less need for Instagram’s surface gloss and glamour. What appeals to me personally is TikTok’s brevity. Although we might argue that it’s contributing to shorter attention spans, it’s also an encouragement to ‘get to the ******* point!’ We can say a lot in 60 seconds. In that time, we can tell a complete story. And as a psychologist and coach, in a minute, I can give you a tool, tip, or technique to help boost your confidence. TikTok can be a goldmine for this type of content. But like anything else, the platform can be a timewaster. It is designed to keep you there as long as possible. And that’s where your goals come in. You need to use TikTok with a purpose in mind. That could be entertainment, empowerment, or education, but it helps to set a time limit. TikTok should break up the day not take over the day.

I know I will use TikTok in line with my values. My book is called ‘Confidence Karma: How to Become Confident and Help Others Feel Great Too’. And several themes in the book align with TikTok’s ethos. The central pillar of the book is ‘you boost your own confidence as you seek to build confidence in others’. The book is about helping you feel comfortable in your own skin and helping others do the same. I call it self-help with a social conscience, or self-help for social good. And running through the book is the theme of writing your own 60-second ‘elevator pitch’ to sell yourself which is perfect for TikTok. So do check out the book and join me on TikTok too. I’m still figuring it all out so it would be great to work it out together. Let’s have fun making sure what goes around comes around, that is, kindness, confidence, compassion, and creativity. See you there.

And I’ll end on the line from my first TikTok: Confidence loves company. Be the one to pass it on.

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About the author: Dr Gary Wood is a social psychologist, personal development coach and broadcaster. He works with companies and individuals to translate evidence-based psychology and coaching into down-to-earth, workable solutions. He has taught psychology and learning skills in several UK universities and regularly appears on radio and television offering expert analysis and coaching tips. He has been an agony uncle for magazines and websites and is widely quoted in the press. Get in touch with Gary to discuss you goals, or just to ask a question about the book.

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:

Calmer – Confidence – Compassion Meditation (with Script) for Dealing With Difficult People

In psychology we know that the states of anxiety and relaxation cannot co-exist. This has become the mainstay of behavioural therapy for dealing with phobias and other anxiety disorders. We can also adapt this approach when dealing with ‘difficult people’. Some may argue that there’s no such thing as a ‘difficult person’ only ‘difficult behaviour’, However, when we are on the receiving end of someone whose habitual patterns of behaviour cause us distress, the distinction really doesn’t matter.

In the, Dhammapada, a collection of Buddhist sayings, there’s one that says ‘ Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness’. This saying was the inspiration for a the Loving-Kindness meditation that is used in the Broaden-and-Build in positive psychology. The idea is that we gain more by actively cultivating positive emotions rather than forever trying to ‘mop up’ negative feelings.

I’ve adapted the loving-kindness meditation for my confidence building approach which is based on our ability to feel comfortable in our skin, that is, to be able to relax. True inner confidence comes from stillness, whereas the busy ‘in your face’ over-confidence is often masking anxiety. Another key theme is in my approach is the concept of confidence-karma. This is the idea that we build confidence in ourselves as we build it in others. So this is how I devised the calmer-confidence-compassion meditation for my confidence building workshops. The idea that it helps to lay the foundations for positive interactions, even with the people we find objectionable.

The Calmer-Confidence-Compassion Basic Script

  • Begin with long, slow deep breaths to relax. As you breathe out, repeat the word ‘calmer’
  • Start directing feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself
  • Smile and mentally repeat the mantra ‘calmness, confidence and compassion’ for a few breaths
  • Reflect on your positive qualities, and make a positive statement about yourself
  • Continue to direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself
  • Now direct your attention to someone (not a family member or friend), who you admire and respect; it could be respected public figure or a spiritual leader
  • Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling at you (and sending back feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion). Take a moment to experience the positive feelings.
  • Now imagine a close friend, a family member or a loved one and direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them.
  • See them smiling and redirecting the feelings back to you, taking a moment to experience the feelings
  • Now imagine a neutral person to whom you have no special feelings, such as a shop keeper or the person who delivers the post.
  • Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling to you (and sending feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion back). Take a moment to experience the positive feelings.
  • Now consider a ‘difficult person in your life’, someone you are currently having issues with.
  • Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling to you (and sending feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion back). Take a moment to experience these feelings.
  • Now bring your attention back to you and direct the feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself. Smile and repeat the mantra (‘calmness, confidence and compassion’).
  • After taking a few long, slow, deep breaths, open your eyes and return your awareness to your surroundings

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThis is  an edited version and represents the first stage in a three stage process (The full version can be found in Unlock Your Confidence).

The order is always the same:

  • begin with yourself
  • then focus on a famous figure whom you revere and you don’t know
  • then a family member, friend or loved one
  • then a neutral person – a casual acquaintance you know by sight
  • the difficult person
  • back to yourself

Practised regularly it will open up opportunities to take small, significant actions to boost and build confidence in others. It will also help to begin to change your perceptions of difficult people in your life. You may not see a dramatic transformation but you may well see a few glimmers of light.


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About the author

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


Why There’s No Such Thing as “Too Much Confidence” or “Over-Confidence”

We often hear the phrase ‘over-confidence‘ (or ‘too much confidence’). There is no such thing!  If it seems too much or ‘over the top’ then it’s not confidence. It might be arrogance, aggression, over-compensation, blind faith or even delusions. Most importantly, it may indicate lower self-esteem. These over-the-top displays of bluff, bluster and bravado are nothing but a smoke-screen.

‘Fake it ’til you make it’ confidence is based on stress

Outer displays of ‘over-confidence’ are part of the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ approach, whereby you behave confidently until you actually believe it and until it becomes ‘part of you’. So they begin as a way to counter a lack of self-belief. Yes it’s good to take action and indeed confidence does need a leap of faith, however, real confidence, true self-assurance starts within. At its root, confidence is about feeling comfortable in your own skin. If it seems ‘too much’ it’s about covering up for discomfort. Inner confidence is cool and level-headed. ‘Over-confidence’ is hot-headed. That’s because psyched-up displays are more likely to stem from the classic stress responses of fight or flight. most notably, the fight response!

Building confidence is like building rapport

In face-to-face interactions people tend to model and match each other as they build rapport. So they may begin using similar words and gestures as the other person. This happens spontaneously. This is why, embarrassingly, you may find yourself starting to speak in a similar regional accent to the other person. A similar thing happens with confidence. When we are around truly confident people, it rubs off. Confidence is positively contagious. You begin to relax and this brings out ‘the best in you’ and you pass this on to others. The thing about body language is that if we focus on relaxing we don’t have to worry about faking it. The body language takes care of itself. If everyone is a little too ‘in your face’ and intent on ‘faking it’ then the encounter is based on lies and that can be stressful. If you are stressed, then it’s not confidence.

The difference between assertiveness and aggression

We prize assertiveness but it is often confused with aggression. The concepts are often used interchangeably but are very different things. In an assertive state we can stand our ground and make our point and still accept that another person doesn’t necessarily have to accept our view. We can be assertive and still be quite calm. On the other hand, aggression is all about making sure another person accepts our point of view. Aggression is all about force. It’s all about the fight. So if a person dominates a space and leaves no room for other opinions or for others to contribute that’s not confidence. It’s aggression or maybe even outright bullying.

Relaxation is the basis of elite performance

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn my workshops, first  I focus on relaxation. In a relaxed state we are able to access a broader range of emotional responses, skills and abilities. Professional athletes adopt a similar strategy. they begin by learning to take control of their own stress response. This doesn’t mean that they perform in a ‘semi-comatose’ state. They learn plenty of techniques to psych themselves up too. The point is that the cornerstone of elite performance is relaxation. This is what we build upon. So in my workshops, I invite people to take risks and have fun. I’m aways the first in the workshop to risk looking foolish. Usually by the mid-morning break, everyone in the group is chatting as though they are good friends. At least one person comments on that when I ask for feedback. They are surprised at how quickly the group forms. And for my part, I never cease to be amazed at how quickly people will grow and take risks if you provide the necessary conditions. Many of them have attended workshops and training courses where they have managed to get through the whole day without learning anyone’s name. That never happens in my workshops.

Fear and respect are not the same

We all learn more efficiently when we are relaxed and amongst a group of like-minded people, not when we are stressed in a group of (hostile) strangers. This is the basis of my confidence-karma approach, that is, we build confidence in ourselves as we pass it on to others. We begin by relaxing ourselves and then focusing on putting others at ease.  The most frequent challenge I get to this approach is from managers who question whether they will get respect if they ‘try to be everyone’s friend’. Nowhere in my book or workshop do I suggest we should try to be everyone’s friend. Being a boss and focusing on putting people at ease do not have to be mutually exclusive. It’s common amongst managers to confuse fear and respect. Respect is earned and fear can be overcome. You will get a lot of respect from being a person who empowers others.

No such thing as ‘too much confidence’ with the Confidence-Karma approach

So that’s why according to my approach, there is no such thing as over-confidence or too much confidence. Confidence people bring out the best in others, they don’t scare them into submission.

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Forget New Year-New You! Why Re-Invent the Wheel? There’s Plenty Right With the Old You, Read on. . .

Every year, buoyed by the significance of the first day of a brand new year we set our New Year’s resolutions. Magazines and books scream out at us to re-invent ourselves with messages of New Year, New You. I say forget it!

I’m not suggesting that we all do nothing. I’m a committed advocate of lifelong learning. We are always moving forward, whether we take control of it or not. I’m just asking the question ‘What’s so wrong with the old you that a bit of tinkering can’t put back on track?’ These messages to embrace total self-transformation embody the message that you’ve screwed up and it’s time to put it right. It’s bull! The New Year-New You (NYNY) philosophy won’t build confidence and esteem. In fact it may have the opposite effect. In this post I aim to tell you why it’s counterproductive to indulge the gurus that advocate total transformation. I’ll also suggest what you can do instead.

You’re here. You already made it

There’s an old saying ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’. It’s sound advice. The NYNY approach sometimes goes as far as telling us to throw out the bath too! Seeing as you are already here then you must be doing something right. That’s the approach I take in coaching. We stock take. The stock in question is your skills, strengths, values and how you got to this place. The Pareto Principle states that we 20% of our actions yield 80% of the results. Through coaching or just by self-reflection you can tap into your key 20% Lots of self-help books will ask you to make massive changes on the assumption that this is the only way you will get massive results. I maintain that the small changes create knock-on effects that yield significant results. Bigger is not alway better if it’s not what you really want!

How did you get to where you are now?

In coaching I use scaling questions. Simply, I ask you to rate your overall life satisfaction on a scale from one to ten. Where one equals very low satisfaction and ten equals total satisfaction. Before focusing on ‘what might be better’ we focus on how you’ve got to this point. So if you report a satisfaction of four, I would ask you ‘How have to got to a four? How did you do that? How come it’s a four and not a three, a two or a one?’ By exploring the question from this angle, we begin to tap into that all important 20% of what works for you. It’s about jogging your memory rather than negating your life experience. Usually coaching clients recall things (almost forgotten) that help to move them forward. It’s up to the coach to uncover these gems.

Once we have established that, I ask you what you imagine things will be like, half a point along the scale, or even a quarter. The aim is to get you to thinking about small steps that you can make. I also ask what score will be good enough for you. Does it have to be a ten? For many people a 7 or 8 is good enough. After all, if it’s a ten then where is there left to go? Despite sports people claiming that they gave 110%, there is no such thing as11 out of ten! Once we have established what ‘good enough’ looks like, we can begin to set goals. These goals will include milestones or sub-goals to maintain motivation and boost confidence.

Setting goals properly can boost self-esteem

Think of a goal as a journey. After all that’s where the idea of coaching came from. In transport, a coach gets you from A to B. A life coach gets you from A to where you want to Be. For any journey, preparation is key. Part of  this involves taking stock of your skills, strengths, values and life experience. This is where New Year’s resolutions go wrong. It’s the preparation that maintains the motivation when the novelty and euphoria wear off. Begin by considering if you’ve tackled a similar goal before recall. How did it go? What went right? How long did it last? What were the stumbling blocks? It’s common for people to get discouraged if they falter. However that’s part of the process. Setting a goal is not about demonstrating you have iron will power. A great deal of the goal setting is working out how to match the process to your particular way of doing things. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ blueprint. You are the blueprint. It’s a matter of playing to your strengths and managing your shortcomings. If you try to force the ‘black-and-white, all-or-nothing, pass-fail’ approach then you learn nothing about yourself. By being more flexible and using the knowledge about yourself along the way, not only will you meet your goals, you will also boost your sense of self-efficacy in the world.

Working as a life coach, although I have a range of standard (tried and tested) questions, tools and techniques, I do not practice an ‘off-the-peg’ approach. I work with you to co-create an action plan. It’s all about matching your needs and strengths to the goal. The reasons are simple: (i) it saves time and (ii) it builds self-assurance. The idea is that you should go away from coaching feeling empowered not dependent on the coach. Yes, the coach should offer you tools, techniques and an alternative way to view your world. However all of these should add to ‘your sense of you’, not take away from it. That’s why I shun the ‘New Year-New You approach’ popularized by lifestyle magazines and self-help gurus. It’s common in advertising to see products described as ‘New Improved’. This doesn’t make sense. Is it new or is it improved? Usually it means it is an improvement on an existing product. They didn’t start from scratch. They took all that was good about the existing product and tweaked it a little to make it better. That’s exactly the approach for lifelong learning. Forget ‘New You’, just improve on an existing classic!

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIf you enjoyed this post, please use the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons below to let others know. 

If you are looking for a complete personal development course, try my book: Unlock your Confidence or else just check out my Survival Kit for New Year’s Resolutions.


Other life coaching posts by Dr Gary Wood

10 Point Confidence and Esteem Building Plan from Social Psychology

In my earlier post I introduced the idea of ‘Treating Low Self Confidence and Low Self Esteem as ‘Self Prejudice’‘ and coined the term ‘auto-prejudice‘. This is a form of an ongoing negative auto-biography, a story that you tell yourself (and others) about yourself. It frames your view of the world and acts as a filter for your experiences. If you look at the world through a muddy lens you are not going to get a clear picture. This is a form of ongoing negative auto-biography, a story that we tell yourself and others about yourself. Challenging the attitudes you have towards yourself is at the heart of my confidence building approach.

Auto-Prejudice Reduction Plan (with the Confidence-Karma Approach)

This is a ten-point plan to reduce self-prejudice and in so doing to boost self-esteem and build confidence.

  1. Build confidence in others – this is the master-key in my confidence-karma approach. It could be as simple as making more of an effort to pay compliments, praising, expressing gratitude and listening to others.
  2. Communicate clearly – adopting a communication style that is clear and unambiguous is part of being assertive. Don’t drop hints or sulk and expect people to be mind readers. I recall two friends. One would always get upset when people forgot her birthday. The other friend made damn sure that no one forgot.
  3. Positively stated goals – to support your strengths and values. Focus on what you want to move towards rather than what you want to move away from.
  4. Look after your health – this includes making time for relaxation, exercise, drinking water and eating a varied diet. It’s more difficult to feel good about yourself and pass on positivity if you are dehydrated, have heartburn and no energy. A piece of cake may give you an instant high but a little exercise can trigger the release of feel-good chemicals and boost your metabolism. People who are ill look inward not outwards.
  5. Do your bit to save the planet – don’t be put off with doom and gloom arguments that it makes no difference. Do something anyway. It’s a natural extension to building confidence in other people. It’s a way of thinking outside of yourself (and bigger than yourself) and making a difference.
  6. Join a social group and share a common interest – making friends with like-minded people can boost self-esteem it can also help to develop and maintain social skills and communications skills. Connecting with people is a key way of building psychological hardiness.
  7. Find opportunities to laugh and have fun – it’s difficult to ‘have a downer on yourself’ when you are laughing.
  8. Take a course on absolutely anything and learn something new – it doesn’t really matter what you learn. Don’t be put off by people who say ‘it’s a waste of money’ or ‘you’ll never make any money doing that’. Do not underestimate the knock on effects of learning something new. It helps to create different perspectives and gives you a sense of achievement.
  9. Travel – again it doesn’t really matter where. Getting out of your routine is the important thing. A change of scenery can bring about a change in perspective. You may find yourself doing things that you wouldn’t normally do which makes you re-evaluate who you are and what you can do. Experiencing different customs and values may inspire a reappraisal of your own.
  10. Broaden and build – focusing on investing time in positive emotions to create a buffering effect for stress and a broader pool of possible responses in stressful situations. When under stress we have a very narrow view on the world. One of the easiest way to build positive emotions is to practise gratitude.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodI introduce this ten-point plan mid-way through my book Unlock Your Confidence. It acts partly as a mid-point revision of what you’ve already learned and a preview of what follows. You don’t have to commit to the whole plan, all at once. Begin by picking two or three points and try them out, as a personal experiment, to assess their effects. In all personal development it is important to take a scientific approach by trying things out and using the feedback. People often use the phrase ‘If I don’t try then I can’t fail‘. However it isn’t possible to build confidence and boost self-esteem by doing nothing. Both need action. It is the results of our actions that help us reassess our attitudes and how we view the world. That’s how we break down our self prejudice and so create a better foundation to build something better.

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Treating Low Self Confidence and Low Self Esteem as ‘Self Prejudice’

‘Having a downer on yourself’ means that you put a negative spin on your appearance, abilities and competencies in various situations. It’s essentially a form of prejudice directed towards your self which colours how you view the world, including self-confidence,  and what you do in the world.

Why self prejudice?

Poster: What is auto-prejudice?

Reviewing my notes after a session with one coaching client, I saw that I had scribbled ‘prejudice’ in the margin. However, it wasn’t in the way that we usually understand the word.  It wasn’t negative attitudes towards a target group. Instead, I noticed a pattern of the deeply ingrained negative attitudes that the client directly towards herself. For this, I coined the term auto-prejudice. This is a form of ongoing negative auto-biography, a story that we tell yourself and others about yourself. It frames your life.

Prejudice literally means ‘to pre-judge’, and as with all forms of prejudice, auto-prejudice forms a perceptual filter by which we process all information about ourselves. So the stuff that affirms the negative view is readily accepted while anything that contradicts the negative is either ignored, discounted or explained away. Defining negative attitudes to the self as auto-prejudice opened up a whole body of research that I could bring into my (life) coaching practice. One of the things I’m particularly pleased about in my book Unlock Your Confidence is that I was able to draw on training programmes that address discrimination. The only difference is the target of discrimination is your self.

The Social Psychology of Coaching

My earliest research in social psychology had been in attitudes, stereotypes and the way we view the world. In particular, I explored the impact of The Authoritarian Personality by Theodore Adorno and colleagues. The main factor I explored was the concept of Intolerance of Ambiguity (researched by Adorno’s colleague Else Frenkel-Brunswik). To put it simply, some people have a stronger need for certainty and black-and-white thinking than others. For some people, it causes distress when things don’t fit into discrete categories. Sometimes this distressed is reduced by denying the grey areas to create cleaner boundaries.

The tendency to make cognitive distortions is a key feature of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These are basically logical errors in the interpretation of what life presents us with. Sometimes people select only the evidence they consider relevant, that is consistent with the negative attitude. Sometimes they go beyond the evidence to reach conclusions that are not supported under closer scrutiny. Part of CBT treatment involves a logical disputing by checking the evidence to gain a sense of balance and challenge distorted views of the self and the world.

It’s part of our psychological make-up to think in stereotypes. We can’t process every single bit of information that comes our way. Instead, we operate on cognitive economy. Stereotypes create a framework to reduce cognitive overload. The problem is that often they contain false assumptions. Often a stereotype operates a filter that leads us to accept things that confirm the stereotype and reject or modify things that refute it. This is particularly pertinent to self-esteem. Many people are also burdened by a strong cultural mantra that ‘self-praise is no praise at all’. So what we have is a strong tendency to evaluate ourselves in a negative way.

What do attitudes and confidence have in common?

Many people declare that they would take more chances in life if only they had the confidence. The implication is confidence precedes action. To a certain degree, this is true. The study of attitudes reveals a link between thoughts, feelings and actions. The literal meaning of attitude is ‘fit and ready for action’. So, life-affirming feelings and thoughts are more likely to lead to life-affirming actions. Part of being confident is having the courage to take action. However, it’s a circular model. Taking actions can change attitudes (thoughts and feelings). Taking action can build confidence. This is at the heart of the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ model of confidence. My approach is to take a three-pronged approach to work on thoughts, feelings and actions to build confidence.

My job as a coach to help clients reassess the stereotypes they hold about themselves. This is achieved by a logical, rational approach to help you to reassess the data they use to form and maintain your negative attitudes. Auto-prejudice will sift the evidence to find things to maintain the negative view and convince you that ‘if you don’t try then you can’t fail‘. Auto-prejudice focuses on the problem so that the problem just gets bigger and bigger. Coaching provides the antidote by exploring solutions.

Solution Focused Coaching

In a typical coaching session, I will spend 20% of the time with you exploring the problem and 80% of the time exploring solutions. When I was undergoing my coaching training during a coaching session my coach I got locked into describing a problem in the finest of detail. After a while my coach asked quite bluntly ‘where are we going with all this?’ At least that is how I heard it. However, it gave me the jolt I needed to switch to solution thinking. It’s clear the coaching works better if the coach and the client work together. There is little point if the client’s aim is to convince the coach that ‘life is crap and all action is futile’. My own softer version of the intervention is ‘I’ve got a really clear idea of the problem and what you want to move away from. What’s less clear is what you want to move towards? Perhaps we could spend some time on that?’ A simpler intervention is ‘So what do you want instead?’ For me, coaching is about helping people engage with a different view of themselves in the world. It is also the main aim of this blog and my books.

Putting pen to paper and putting things into practice

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodUnlock Your Confidence is my attempt to bring together my academic background with my coaching and teaching practice. It’s my personal and professional journey in confidence-building. I often say that it took me longer to live it than it did to write it. It’s also a very collaborative affair. I love the idea that the reader continues to write where the author left off. I’m aware that some people like to adopt a more analytical approach and so I have included material that I wouldn’t necessarily bring into a coaching session such as defence mechanisms and elements of Transactional Analysis.  The aim is to take things a bit further than the average self-help book. So what I’ve attempted to do is to distil the essence of theories and concepts to generate new insights that will inspire you to action. In this way, the book maintains the 80:20 rule. It’s still mostly concerned with tackling auto-prejudice and entertaining solutions rather than incubating problems. What is explicit throughout the book is the use of solution-focused language. The aim is that by repetition you will learn and embrace an alternative way of viewing the world and your place in it.  As you challenge your own self-limiting attitudes there is always a knock-on effect. So the book also provides a blue-print for passing on these insights to others. It’s what I call Confidence Karma. You gain confidence by building it in others.

A key theme in the book and in my coaching approach is ‘Little by little, a little becomes a lot’. So if you have enjoyed reading this blog post please share it with friends and colleagues on your social networks. 

Follow-on post: Adapting Prejudice Reduction Plans from Social Psychology to Build Confidence


Pic: Ad for confidence and self-esteem coaching with Dr Gary Wood

Practise Mindfulness and Reduce Your Phone Bill! (. . . and Build Confidence)

Social media has made social commentators or us all

Living in the modern world is not necessarily living in the present moment. I went out with a group of people recently and one person periodically reached for his phone to post a series of updates, a running commentary on the night’s proceedings. It begs the question of whether he was really there at all.  Observing people on their mobile phones and hearing about their astronomical phone bills has made me think about needs, motives and mindfulness. Can being more aware of life make you happier, more confident and save you money?

Experiencing the moment rather than observing

I ran an experiential team building course as part of a university’s management development programme. Part of assessment for the course required the students to keep a reflective diary. The whole aim of the course was to experience team building rather than sitting and listening to theories in a ‘chalk and talk’ format. So there were lots of group activities. One person just hung around at the edge of the activities writing things for her reflective diary. Despite being encouraged to join in she kept gravitating back to her diary which had really become an observation of other people since she contributed nothing. She successfully avoiding being in the room so what could she really reflect? She was just a passenger. It reminds me of the time when I was a passenger in a car, travelling back from a night out in another city  (in the early hours of the morning). The other passengers took the opportunity to go to sleep leaving the driver ‘alone’. I also started to fall asleep until the car swerved. It seems that the driver had the same idea too. I suddenly became pretty mindful and participated in the journey. Despite being tired, being in the present moment was infinitely preferable to the alternative!

Do we text so we don’t have to talk or just to fill time?

Routinely I see people alone on buses who spend most of the fifteen minute journey phoning anyone and everyone but not really saying anything. Much of the conversation, at best, involves a running commentary of the bus journey.

I’m often amazed when some people tell me how much they spend on their mobile phones. Even with staggering allowances they still manage to pay double their monthly tariff. Most of the money goes on SMS (text) messages. Every month they seem genuinely surprised by their phone bills. One of the biggest ‘culprits’ is the text conversation in which numerous texts are exchanged, one for each line of the conversation. Sometimes a text will just say ‘yes’ or ‘lol’ or a smiley face emoticon. Actually calling the person would be easier, more efficient and cheaper. Texting has become a way to keep in touch without really communicating. It’s seen as more convenient because you don’t want to spend too much time talking to someone. Ironically, there is no time saved as lives are put on hold waiting for the next line in the ongoing text saga. Time is not saved. Money is just wasted. It just creates the illusion of connecting. Often it’s just a way of pimping someone else’s time.

People run up huge phone bills because they aren’t really paying attention to the world around them. They are either trying to alleviate boredom by killing time, alleviating loneliness or blocking unpleasant emotions. Practicing mindfulness can help to deal with unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Present Moment Awareness

To be surprised by a huge phone bill means you haven’t been mindful of what you have been doing.  A pivotal moment in my own personal development was going on holiday alone. It was before mobile phones had become an integral part of our lives. I carried a paperback book and a notepad around with me. I’d guessed that sitting alone having a coffee might be awkward so I could read a book or pretend to read a page then gaze of into the distance thinking about the page I’d just ‘read’. Alternatively, I could scribble things in my note pad. Effectively I was keeping a reflective diary without actually having done anything to reflect about. After a while, I got a bit tired of getting the books out and just decided to sit there and enjoy the present moment. After all, I was sitting over looking a beautiful harbour. I credit this moment as the discovery of my confidence, my true inner confidence. I wasn’t concerned about other people and what I imagined they might be thinking. I just looked out to sea, the boats, the sky, the sounds and so on. That was enough. I realized that doing this I’d become totally comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t occur to me that the experience would be heightened by ‘sharing it’ with someone back home. That would have taken me out of the moment.

Being Mindful, Being Happier, Being More Confident (and saving money)

We hear a lot about the practice on mindfulness and usually it’s about taking time out to be still and just observe our breathing. If our minds wander we simply bring our attention back to our breathing. Research has shown that meditation and mindfulness can increase our sense of well-being including optimism, confidence and happiness. It also has a beneficial effect of stress levels and strengthens our immune system response. There are however other types of mindfulness. There are many types of mindfulness apart from being mindful of your breath in a mediation exercise. If you go for a walk in the park you can practice mindfulness of nature. A tree is no more or no less because someone has texted another person about it. It just is. Switching off the TV and paying attention to what you’re eating is mindfulness of food. Being ‘in the zone’ and being engrossed in a hobby is never made better by getting out of the zone. Indeed, the state of being totally immersed in a task is known as ‘being n flow’. The more time you spend ‘in flow’ the happier you are.

Here is a simple mindfulness exercise taken from my book Unlock Your Confidence that I use for the basis of confidence building:

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodClose your eyes, take long slow deep breaths and simply focus your attention on your breath. If intrusive thoughts pop into your mind, just acknowledge the beginning of the thought and then observe when it ends. Then bring you attention back to your breathing. That’s all. If you want you can name the thought and then let it go. You will notice that the thoughts become less frequent and the periods of stillness increase.Do it for ten to 20 minutes each day.

Ideally, commit to trying this out everyday for a month to assess the effects on your relaxation, confidence, happiness and, of course, on your phone bill. Spending more time practising being in the present moment may mean will help to still the mental chatter and intrusive thoughts so that you don’t need the distraction of endless text messages.

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders – Lao Tzu


3 Top Tips: How to Get the Most from a Self Help Book

With limited space in which to cover complex issues, a standard tactic of ‘agony’ advice columnists is to recommend a self-help book. They also offer a cheaper alternative to life coaching. Of course, it assumes that these books can deliver the results they promise. If a book claims to change your life in a week or a month and the author writes a sequel, then just how effective was the first book that it needs a follow-up and another and another and another?  So is there a way to get the most out of the first self-help book in a series that you don’t need all the spin offs? Before we address that question let’s consider a little background to put self-help books into context. We’ll then consider strategies for maximizing your chances of getting self help books to deliver results for you.

Understanding the background to the self-help movement

I got into writing self-help books as an extension of my work as an applied psychologist and coach. All of my training in psychology emphasized being cautious and conservative with evidence. So that’s how I approach self-help books. After all, if they work so well, then why are there so many of them.

It was something of a surprise to me to learn that the self-help business thrives on repeat business. People become fans of an author and loyal to an author. Two things alerted me to this.First, I read Sham by Steve Salerno (See: USA / UK) who offers the compelling argument that the self-help industry actually makes (and keeps) us helpless! Think about lifestyle magazines, how many times did you not know you had a problem until the magazine pointed it out?  Salerno’s book offers a great deal of food for thought, although in my opinion, the book does trail off into a right-wing rant that only stops short in blaming the self-help industry for the fall of the Roman Empire, the destruction of the ozone layer and the extinction of the woolly mammoth! Nevertheless, the first half of the book is a compelling read and I took a lot of it on board when writing my second self-help book (Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It). It helped me to keep empowerment at the forefront on my writing. It’s undoubtedly why I didn’t hold back and offered everything I knew about coaching and personal development. So first I’d urge you to read Salerno’s book (and take the second half with a pinch of salt). It will certainly help t put things into perspective.

The second thing that really did drive home the idea of ‘dependency’ on self-books was a review of my book . Someone had written a positive on-line review in which he used the line ‘Certainly miles ahead of some of the nonsense the consumer has had to endure such as The Law Of Attraction’. This provoked a ‘fan’ of the Law of Attraction series to write a counter-review which included the line ‘Name Your LinkThis book is an average self-help book, as you do need to apply the advice within if you are to gain something‘. This line shocked me and amused me in equal measure. It had not occurred to me that people expected to read a book and expect their lives to change automatically.  I checked the other reviews and there were several for the Law of Attraction series. It also had never occurred to be before that people became fans of a self-help series. The reviewer also said that there were too many exercises in my book. Suitably chastened (not!), I put a lot more into my third book. So what is the best way to approach a self-help book if it’s not to stroke the cover and expect change to occur through when the positive energy permeates the fingertips like the process of osmosis? 

Now I have to say that I have not read the Law of Attraction books but my understanding that they are about attracting positive energy and results through positive thinking. I have no issue with this but unless the thoughts are matched by affirmative action then all you have is wishful thinking. My approach is that while you are waiting for the cosmic order to deliver you should give fate a helping hand, set goals and take action. That way you have a better chance of getting results and if the cosmic order delivers and you also get the results from your own actions then you can sell the surplus on eBay!

Three top tips for maximizing the benefits of a self-help book

My three recommendations for getting the most out of personal development books are:

  1. Keep a journal
  2. Practise an active reading technique, and
  3. Find a self-help partner or form a discussion group

Now all if these seem like extra work for one very good reason: they are! If you are serious about getting the most out of self-help books then you have to do a whole lot more than stroke the cover, lie back and think of the cosmos.

1. Keeping a self-help journal

If you commit to just one of these three recommendations then it should be this one. I subscribe to the idea embodied in the Samuel Johnson quotation: ‘A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it’. A self-help book is finished by the results you attain through reading, not by closing the cover and putting it with your collection. That’s shelf-development not self-development. My own books include the kind of things I use in coaching and training. My training is highly interactive and I give plenty of opportunities for discussion and feedback. In my coaching practice I work with the client as a partner or co-pilot rather than the all-knowing expert. By keeping a journal, when reading a self-help book, you get to add your own thoughts, ideas, insights and experiences. In this way the book really comes alive. In effect you by keeping a journal you write the next chapter. Your journal becomes a unique personal resource.

2. Active reading method for self-help books

At university, students are taught methods of active reading that we can adapt for self-help books, one is called the SQ3R method. It was devised by the wonderfully named Francis Pleasant Robinson. SQ3R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review.

For the purposes of reading self-help books I’ve changed this to Survey, Question, Read and write, Re-act and Review. So let’s go through each step:

  • Survey – this simply means to flick through the book, familiarize yourself with the layout, style, subheadings and so on. The aim is not to read the book, just to get a feel for it. It helps to create a context for reading and learning. This is something you may do in the book shop or in on-line opportunities to ‘look inside’. You will repeat this repeat this for each chapter as you make your way through the book. I usually start my book chapters with a famous quotation and a brief summary, just to set the scene.
  • Question – for each chapter ask yourself what the chapter is about and what questions would you like it to answer. It’s helpful to write down one or two questions (in your journal). This is another way in which you create a context for your learning.
  • Read and write – as you work through the chapter keep you questions in mind to see if the chapter is answering them. Write down any insights, thoughts or further questions in your journal.
  • Re-act – follow the exercises in the book. If any exercise provokes strong feelings, make a note of those feelings. It’s important to actually do the exercises rather than just think about them. The reason is because in any self-help book there is an element of attitude change. Attitudes are comprised of thoughts, feelings and actions. All three interact and influence each other. Actually doing something often has more of an impact because it takes you outside of your head. This may yield fresh insights that you cannot always predict.
  • Review – In my books I provide a section for an end of chapter review. This is a crucial stage in the learning process particularly to assess the impact of any actions you take. It ties in with my PAR formula: Plan, Action, Review for goal setting. Once you’ve taken action you need to assess the results and the impact. You can then decide whether you need to make adjustments and try again. This is something else for you journal.

3. Get a personal development partner or form a group

I’m aware that it’s easy to lose momentum on a personal development plan so just as you would have a gym buddy, it can help to maintain your motivation if you partner up and get a ‘self-help buddy’. This could be a friend or colleague with similar interests. Agree to meet once a week and discuss a chapter of your chosen self-help book. An alternative is to form a discussion group, either through a website such as Meetup or through your local library which often has free space to use for community groups. There are also online options such as Google HangoutsYahoo Groups and of course groups and pages on Facebook. Not only will this keep on track you will also gain from the shared insights of other people and they will benefit from yours. Connecting and working with other people can also help to increase psychological hardiness, that is, your ability to cope with change.

How to read a self-help book – practising what I teach

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

So there you have it. At this point I’m duty bound to tell you that I wrote my previous two books with these tips in mind. In the introduction to Unlock Your Confidence I encourage you to keep a journal and I give a less technical description of the SQ3R method. I set the scene to make the learning and absorption of material easier. In Chapter Four of the book on Impression Management (making good first impressions), I include a whole series of fun techniques to be tried out with a self-help buddy, a friend, colleague or partner. Many of these exercises will probably make you laugh. That’s the idea. We absorb information better if we are relaxed and learning should be fun.

The whole self-improvement industry tends to emphasize a passive, self-oriented approach. If a book just makes you want to wait patiently for the sequel then has it really done its job for you?  My recommendations offer a more active, self-directed, socially-oriented approach. Unlock Your Confidence is my attempt to put a bit of social conscience back into self-help. There’s a strong call to pass on what you have learned to others and seek out opportunities to build confidence in other people. It’s about empowerment rather than helplessness. It’s about passing it on. Reflective books have their place in he world but if they do not inspire action then what’s the point?

[If you have enjoyed this post check out other personal development posts from Gary Wood and don’t forget to pass it on by using the like and share buttons below]

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