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:

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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.

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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.

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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 or 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?

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 defense mechanisms and elements of Transactional Analysis.  The aim is take things a bit further than the average self-help book. So what I’ve attempted to do is to distill 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

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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

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

Recommending a sself-help book is a favourite response of agony columnists (aunts and uncles, me included) in their advice columns. There’s only so much we can say in our answers and a book can offer a readily available and cheaper alternative to life-coaching. That’s assumimg that these books actually do 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 maximisng 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 ‘This 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. Buddy-up: Getting a personal development partner or forming 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 WoodSo 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]

If you interested in learning more about one-to-one life coaching, get in touch.

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Future Me – Write Yourself a Letter From the You in Six Months Time

I was asked to comment on a lovely project by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio which they called ‘Future Me’. They asked five people to write a letter to themselves from their six-months-in-the-future self. The letter contains elements of how they see themselves in six months time and advice they would give to the present-day-me to get them to achieve these future goals.

Knowing yourself as you do. . .

By looking six months into the future you are thinking about medium term goals, so it’s important not to be too ambitious. Goals always need to be realistic and achievable. The nice thing about this letter approach is that it taps into our knowledge of ourselves. In my coaching practice, I often begin questions with ‘Knowing yourself as you do. . . ‘. This helps clients to tap into their own personal expertise in their own lives. It’s typical of the solution-focused coaching approach. It’s all about building on existing strengths and abilities.

Should we always be chasing goals?

If we don’t set our own goals then life will dictate them for us. So it’s good to set your own agenda. However, goal-setting shouldn’t be at the expense of enjoying the present moment. It has become something of a cliché but nevertheless true that the journey is just as important as the destination. So take time to enjoy each step of the process not just the end result. In my life I have studied for quite a few exams but I also approach it from a point of gaining understanding rather than just cramming my head full of facts for the end result. I learn a lot about myself in the process. Sometimes that can be even more valuable than the piece of paper at the end. So with goal-setting it’s important to strike a balance.

Write your own future me letter

Begin by just sketching out some idea of how you want things to be in six months. It should involve thing over which you have some control over in life. Winning the lottery would obviously be great but how do you actually plan to do this short of breaking into Lottery HQ and fiddling with the balls using a complex series of magnets, not that I have actually thought about this!

Once you have an idea of where you want to be, realistically, write a letter to yourself, giving yourself the good advice and encouragement that you might give to someone else. It might be something more tangible like getting a new job or saving money or getting to your ideal weight. It could also be something not quite so measurable such as gaining confidence. Once you have written the letter, read it though then put it in a safe place ready to read it again in six months time.

Now take action on your own advice

As a psychologist and a coach I don’t subscribe to this passive approach of sitting back and waiting for things to happen. My job is to help people to make things happen. This means taking action. The letter is a signal of intention and is a tool to help you to tap into your resources. It’s not an excuse to opt and let the ‘universe’ take care of your wishes. The universe may be very busy! The universe doesn’t offer a life-back guarantee, in that you can’t get the life back that you wasted waiting. A better approach is to begin acting as if the ‘future-me’ is happening and actively help it along. Make the future-me letter a self-fulfilling prophecy. Try it out for yourself.

[Based on a conversation on air with Annie Othen BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio, 09 August 2013]

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodLinks:

Attitudes and the Karma of Confidence

Bringing social psychology into coaching for confidence

Attitudes, karma and confidence and are not three concepts that obviously go together. However, they are connected. It was making this connection that helped me bring my expertise in social psychology into my coaching practice to create a unique approach to confidence and esteem building. What karma, attitudes and confidence have in common is ‘action’. Ultimately, to build confidence means to increase our courage to take action. To build anything requires action otherwise it remains a fantasy. So where do karma and attitudes come in?

Karma = Action

We use the word ‘karma’ in everyday life to mean ‘what goes around, comes around’ usually in the context that people will eventually pay for their misdeeds in one way or another. However karma literally means ‘action’.

Poster: What is Confidence Karma?I’d noticed in my own career that when I worked with mature students I focused on more intently building confidence in them. It was the beginning of my coaching career. The by-product was that my confidence in my own abilities also increased. In confidence terms, what goes around comes around. And so, the concept of confidence-karma was born. Often we get the idea from reality TV programmes that we gain confidence at the expense of others. We see people making themselves look better by putting others down. This is not authentic confidence. It’s not even assertiveness. It’s actually a form of aggression. At the heart of aggression is the inability to assert oneself in a productive way. Truly self-assured people put others at ease. Fake confidence is all about the self; real confidence is all about the social.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThis became a guiding theme in Unlock Your Confidence. It may sound a bit grand but I wanted to put the social conscience back into self-help. All too often self-help books are a bit ‘me me me’. Building assertiveness, esteem and confidence in other people puts the focus outside of the self, but still keeps the self at the centre, only in a more productive way. Passing on confidence always has a knock on effect. It’s positively contagious. So where do attitudes come into the equation?

Attitudes make us ‘fit and ready for action’

In social psychology one of the key areas of study is attitudes. The word attitude means ‘fit and ready for action’. It is through out attitudes that we make sense of the world, they comprise our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. To increase the likelihood that our behaviour will change we can work on our thoughts and feelings. Attitudes are the ‘get ready’ before the ‘go’. In confidence building, I take this triangular approach and bring social psychology into my coaching practice. Ultimately one of my main aims as a coach is to get people to re-appraise their attitudes towards themselves. In so doing, you jettison attitudes about yourself that do not support your values and goals. You also get to consider attitudes that do. This builds courage. So, are you someone who seeks to build others up?  Do you compliment, praise and show gratitude? Do you have the courage to nurture and encourage?

Building Confidence is Always Good Karma

Confidence-Karma is about having the courage to see the bigger picture. We shape our social world as much as it shapes us. We can make a difference just by taking control of this cycle of influence, even if just in a small way. Just as there’s no such thing as an insignificant random act of kindness, there’s no such thing as an insignificant act of confidence building. An attitude worth adopting is: building confidence is always good karma – and for it to have real meaning to take action on it.

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For more information about coaching to build confidence contact: Gary Wood. Coaching is face-to-face in Birmingham and Edinburgh, via telephone in the UK and worldwide via Skype.