Why Do We Feel Better in the Sunshine?

I recently did a spot on local radio to answer the question ‘Why do we feel better in the sunshine?’ In the midst of a heat wave we can’t help but notice that spirits are up and people generally seem more upbeat. The staff at my local coffee shop look forward to the sun even though they are working indoors. Why? Well when it’s sunny, the customers are less grumpy. If  only one thing, they are not moaning about the bad weather. Research has found that a walk in nature can lift the spirits and boosts measures of self-esteem. People report feeling better. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, sunshine makes us more likely to want to do something active, such as going for a walk. Our skin’s Exposure to sunshine produces vitamin D. A deficiency in vitamin D is associated with mood disorders, as well osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease . Vitamin D has a beneficial effect on the immune system. So overall, a few minutes exposure to the sun each day can have a beneficial effect.

Sunshine also helps to regulate serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin plays an important part in the regulation of learning, mood, sleep and also may have a role in mood disorders. We have lower serotonin levels in winter which may help to explain why we feel more grumpy during gloomy weather. Melatonin regulates sleep patterns. So overall, if we can sleep in the heat, sunshine helps to regulate bodily (circadian) rhythms. Also raising mood may also have a knock on effect for pain management, so together with the serotonin and vitamin D, may have a positive effect on many physical conditions just as arthritis and rheumatism.

Psychologically, our pattern seeking brains look for congruence. Usually we associate bright days with happier times and gloomy days with unhappy times. So, at the first glimpse of a bit of sun we make this perceptual shift.  Also, judging from what some people wear it appears that a bit of sunshine can help to increase our body confidence, or make us feel more brazen, whichever way you care to view it. There’s been an e-card doing the rounds on the internet that says ‘In this heatwave, please dress for the body you have rather than the body you wish for’. People appear more daring and less self-conscious in the sun.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodAll of this demonstrates that it only needs small changes to boost confidence and self-esteem. Obviously we can’t control the weather but we can (be more daring and) control our exercise which may have the same effects as a sunny day. Taking care of the small stuff to create a knock on effect is one of the main themes in my approach to coaching and in my book Unlock your Confidence

As the weather is our main topic of small talk and there is just no pleasing some people, was moaning about the weather has almost become a national sport. I saw a Facebook comment that read ‘It’s just too hot. If I’d wanted it this hot, I would have gone abroad!’ However there are many people who will seize this opportunity and make the most of it, which is also great advice for building confidence and esteem.

Overall, psychologically, the sunshine just makes us more relaxed. Being relaxed is an optimal state as it takes us out of survival (stress) mode and into a mindset where we think more broadly and creatively. So the overall message is make the most of it and while in a more laid-back state take this time to reflect on longer term goals.

(In conversation with Annie Othen  BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 09 July 2013)

Links:

Advertisements

Mental Fatigue, Well Being and Confidence

How we process information has an impact on confidence and self-esteem

In my confidence building workshops and coaching I take a holistic approach. It’s not just about tips and tricks to appear confident. It’s about working from the inside-out too. It’s also about using basic human psychology to unlock inherent abilities.

One of the most visited posts on this blog is aimed at mental fatigue when studying. However the basic message doesn’t just apply to students. Feeling tired mentally will have an impact on how we all process information. This has a knock on effect in terms of confidence and self-esteem. The main ingredients for dealing with mental fatigue are: keep hydrated, exercise, breathing exercises, check your posture, eat healthily and build variety (and novelty) into your life and work schedule.

We’re All Water – Hydration and Mental Fatigue

Professional athletes know the importance of staying hydrated. It’s not just that we need water on a physical level but also at a psychological level. Even if we are dehydrated by a few percent this can have a negative impact on our ability to process information. So why make things more difficult when a humble glass of water can have a positive impact on our cognitive processing abilities? However, don’t over do it. A glass of water on your desk and a few sips might make all the difference. It’s a question of remaining hydrated not drowning in the stuff!

Health body, healthy mind

Tests on various brain training activities have found that the best way to boost memory is to spend just twenty minutes on a running machine rather than hours on a brain training machine. The mind needs time to recuperate and the increase in oxygen uptake is more effective than solving puzzles. Just a break away from your desk and go for a walk will have a positive impact. Perhaps a few sit-ups or squats in your breaks from study. Mental fatigue often occurs because we have created an imbalance by overdoing the mental activity. Taking a holistic approach helps to redress the balance. It’ll also help you get into better shape.

Take a deep breath and beat mental fatigue

Again top athletes know the value of breathing exercises. When stressed we breathe more shallowly. When relaxed we breathe more deeply. By practicing breathing exercises we take control of our stress response. When we are in a relaxed state we take ourselves out of survival mode. Being relaxed improves our ability to absorb information. By taking control of our breathing, our pattern-seeking brain assumes we are more relaxed too.

Check your posture – boost your attention

Having good posture is associated with confidence and other positive mental states. We we feel ‘down in the dumps’ we slump down in our chair. When something interests us we sit up and take notice! So check you posture for signs of tension. Are you carrying the proverbial weight of the world on your shoulders. Having a break, taking a deep breath, stretching and doing a bit of physical exercise can improve your posture. It will give you a confidence boost and once again send positive signals to the brain. The brain works with congruence and so adds to your positive state.

Food and mood – eat healthily and think healthily

When stressed we often reach for the junk food – the comfort food. This might temporarily give you an emotional boost. However it is more likely to create spikes in your blood sugar followed by the lows. During the lows you may be tempted to hit a bit more junk food. However this creates a vicious cycle. Instead, if you practice all of the things already discussed you are much more likely to boost your cognitive processing. The temptation, when facing a tough deadline, is to go for a quick fix. However it’s a false economy. Quick fixes actually slow us down in the long run.

It’s not just a cliché, variety really is the spice of life

In information terms, variety really is the spice of life and it’s also true that a change is as good as a rest. Fixating on one activity for too long can tire us out mentally. It’s as if we have little power sources attached to each of our senses. Students most commonly pick a strategy for exam revision and stick to it. All this achieves is that it depletes one of the power sources and so mental fatigue occurs. It becomes more of a struggle to retain information. The temptation is to embrace the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy and just press on with more of the same. You won’t break through a mental fatigue barrier. It will only make matters worse. So what do you do?

Instead, I advise students to switch tasks. This taps into different power sources and gives the depleted sources a change to recharge. Use mind maps, draw diagrams, use picture based cue cards. In short anything to create variety and interest in the task. Surprisingly human attention span is only about 20 minutes at full capacity. After that our ability to absorb information reduces quite dramatically. So sitting there for hours without a break is counterproductive. The answer is to take a break or switch task, or better still incorporate both. When I’m studying or writing, I usually do so in intensive 30 minute blocks with short breaks in between.  I also have a proper lunch away from my desk and make sure I go out for a walk in the fresh air.

Positive mental attitude and fatigue

Things are more tiring if we are met with resistance and this can be our own mental resistance. If we resent doing something it adds to the burden. It’s important to be philosophical. We can’t like everything we have to do in life but if we look carefully enough we will find at least something to like about it. It can be as simple as recognizing our own personal resilience and resolve in tackling a task we don’t like!

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodAll of these points taken together create a powerful mental fatigue prevention programme. The reason for the efficacy of these tips is that they work with human psychology rather than work against it thus building confidence in your own inherent abilities.

Links:

Confidence In Small Steps

Little by little, a little becomes a lot

In most aspects of our lives we learn in small, incremental steps. Occasionally we might experience a eureka moment or a momentous life changing event but by and large, it’s step-by-step. The Tanzanian proverb ‘Little by little, a little become a lot’ has become a firm favourite of mine. It’s the approach I use in my coaching and it forms the basis of my book Unlock Your Confidence.

Inevitably even small changes have a knock on effect. By focusing on the small stuff we see immediate changes. This builds confidence and motivation.

Every day confidence is built in everyday life

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodSome confidence building courses centre around daredevil stunts such as walking on hot coals or bungee jumping. The problem is we rarely need those skills in everyday life. A more productive approach is to review your values, take stock of your strengths and set goals that are personally meaningful to you. This gives you a sense of what drives and motivates you, what tools you have to propel you forward and a clear picture of the final destination. You can apply this to every aspect of your life. Using this approach even the tiniest step becomes significant. Often people recognize that they got to where they are now by stages, it rarely happens overnight. Taking the courage to tackle the small challenges in life build the confidence to tackle with bigger issues. It’s important that we retain the sense that the biggest challenges in life are comprised of tiny pieces. Little by little, a little becomes a lot. it applies to the problem and it equally applies to the solution – the way forward.

Links:

How to Say Sorry

Different ways of saying sorry?

Body Language Myth: The 55% 38% 7% Rule

I noticed that a search term that’s leading people to my blog – ‘how to say sorry with body language‘. Why not just ‘how to say sorry?

There is a suggestion – in this phrase – that saying ‘sorry with body language’ is different to ‘saying sorry with words’. Arguably this is perpetuated by the common body language myth that non-verbal signals are more important than words. It’s not true. The ‘words account for 7% of all communications’ myth is based on a distortion of the original research. So before considering the links between words and body language, let’s consider one of the most famous apologies in history.

Saying ‘sorry’ builds relationships, trust and esteem

Saying ‘sorry’ has a lot of benefits. Recognizing that you’ve made a mistake and quickly apologize for it can have the effect of boosting trust. People often use the phrase ‘that it takes guts to say sorry’. Apologizing can preserve and boost our self-esteem and our standing in the eyes of others, so it’s important to get it right. If you doubt this the recall one of the most famous apologies in history. Consider the unsuccessful ‘Bay of Pigs’ Invasion of Cuba by the USA in 1961. To put it mildly, the whole incident embarrassed the Kennedy administration. However, following the Bay of Pigs fiasco President Kennedy’s approval ratings increased substantially, leading to his comment ‘I hope I don’t have to keep doing stupid things like that to remain popular’.

There have been many public apologies by celebrities over a range of misdemeanors. As a rule the most successful apologies are where people appear genuine. A sign of this is that is a match between verbal and non-verbal aspects of the message. I say ‘appear genuine’ because we have no way of really knowing if someone is being genuine. Mostly it’s gut reaction. It’s only after the fact that ‘body language experts’ point out what everyone sensed anyway.

How to know if someone is genuinely sorry?

The phrase ‘how to say sorry with body language’ does imply that words may not be enough. The body language needs to act as a ‘convincer’. Being genuine is far easier than appearing genuine. If there is clash between verbal and non-verbal signals then the non-verbals (tone of voice and body language)

We do not need any special training to detect deceit. We process the ‘message’ both at a conscious level but also at a ‘gut reaction’ level. A mismatch between the verbal and non-verbal aspect of the messages triggers alarm signals that ‘something is not quite right. So, trying to emphasize an apology with the supposedly ‘right’ body language may end up backfiring, even if we are genuine. Disingenuousness will ‘leak out’. The best approach is to focus on the apology and letting the body language ‘take care of itself’. If you are being open then your body language will match. You will be using open gestures. You will also be taking a ‘one-down’ position. It’s not an apology if you’re towering over someone waving your hands and spit out the words or if you don’t make eye contact and have your arms folded and mumble. Open hands, palms up, nothing to hide!

Key parts of an apology

The first step is recognizing what you are apologizing for. Clearly identifying the behaviours that ‘wronged’ the other party is the first step. Next is to communicate that you understand how the other person felt. It’s basic empathy, that is, to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’. Including reference to how the other person’s feelings gives further indication that you understand the repercussions. It’s possible that the ‘injured party’ might want to fill in a bit more detail. Let them. Listen.

You may wish to add a reason but don’t make lots of excuses. Keep it short. Planning an apology offers you the opportunity to think about what really is important. When choosing the words, don’t think it needs to sound like a piece of Shakespeare. It can be short and simple.

When apologizing, don’t play with words

When people want to appear to apologize but still retain the upper hand they have a tendency to ‘play with words’. In one my first jobs there was a supervisor who seemed to be constantly on a quest for one-upmanship. Instead of saying ‘I agree’ he would say ‘I wouldn’t disagree with you’. Phrases like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ or ‘I’m sorry you have interpreted my words that way’ are not true apologies.

Focus on what you are sorry for. So for instance you may say ‘I’m sorry that my words hurt you’. You can then clarify that it was not your intention. Sometimes words don’t come out exactly as we had intended. Sometimes there are misunderstandings. Just focus on your part in the misunderstanding rather than your first thought being ‘how can I shift the blame?’

Sometimes an apology is not enough

Finally be prepared that the other person may not accept your apology. However, if it’s heartfelt and you’ve tried your best then give the other person some time to process it. It may take a while. It doesn’t mean that you have to keep apologizing for the rest of your life. Sometimes people have a greater need to hold on to the hurt rather than move on. Sometimes an apology is not enough. For some people an apology will never be enough. That’s their right and their responsibility and that doesn’t mean that you have to take responsibility for it. Be genuine, make your apology, learn from your mistakes and then move on.

Links

Dealing with “Stuckness” – Tips For Making Decisions In Times of Overwhelm

Stuckness, choices and overwhelm

Inevitably at some time in our lives we will experience “stuckness” – the state when we feel overwhelmed by choice. It could be we have to choose between to equally bad choices (the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’) or two equally positive choices. Alternatively we can be swamped by too many choices. It could also be that we need to take action to generate choices. So how do we break out of a state of “stuckness”? Here are some suggestions to help to create a shift.

Dealing With basic survival needs in decision making

We are better equipped to make decisions if we are fed, watered and rested. So making sure you eat healthily when the temptation is to hit the junk food.  Drink some water when you’re more inclined to reach for the coffee. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. A little fresh air such as walk in the park can do wonders to clear the head. Exercises has also been shown to boost cognitive abilities. In short, look after yourself and your body and a clearer mind will follow. All of these are the basic building blocks for dealing with mental fatigue as well a basis for building confidence.

Dealing with unfamiliarity in decision making

Just asking two simple questions can help to create a shift in perspective when faced with choices. It does help if one of your core values is learning. Do you like to try new experiences? Will the choices ahead contribute to your personal or professional development? When experience demands on my time presented as ‘opportunities’ from other people I always asked these questions. Of course, I try to help whenever I can, but sometimes I just need to set my own priorities. This sets me up for the next tool.

Apply the ‘Absolutely Yes’ or ‘No’ Rule

If I’m trying to deal with competing demands on my time I ask the question ‘Do I want/need to do this, ‘absolutely yes’ or ‘no’? If I can’t say ‘absolutely yes’ then it’s automatically ‘no’. Sometimes I need to ask myself ‘am I just saying no because I’m scared or because it’s a challenge or a new experience?’. This helps me to make sure I’m just  saying ‘no’ out of fear. Often the difference between fear and excitement is about perception.This brings me to the next tool.

Which choices best match my core values?

Having a sense of my values helps with decision making. Two of my values are ‘learning’ and ‘making a difference’. Knowing your values can help to eliminate some choices and increase the attractiveness of others. Your values are a statement of ‘what you stand for’ in life. Linking goals and values means that we gain a lot of intrinsic motivation to complete them.

And finally if all else fails. . .

Toss a coin

If you are faced with two equally compelling (or repellent) choices then just toss a coin and try one out. Really commit to the decision and put effort into it to make it work for you.

So there you have a few coaching techniques and a few personal insights to clear a sense of ‘stuckness’.

Links:

Mental Preparation: Look for What Sparkles

As a coaching psychologist I’m often asked for tips on mental preparation for interviews, exams or presentations. Recently I was asked for help on something that didn’t really fit any of those categories and so I used a technique that I used in coaching, called ‘looking for what sparkles’.

Personal Resourcefulness

At the beginning of the first coaching session I spend a little time finding about about how you like to spend your time. It’s not idle chit-chat. What I’m looking for is a topic where you come alive more. So that might be flower arranging, baking, horse-riding or what ever else ‘floats your boat’. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it’s somewhere or doing something where you lose sense of yourself and feel more resourceful. Once you have discovered what sparkles in your life, you can transfer it to another less resourceful area or task.

Learning by Association

We learn by making associations between concepts, ideas, thoughts and events (classical conditioning). Think about Pavlov’s somewhat cruel experiments with dogs at feeding time. The dogs learned to associate the sound of a bell with food and eventually would salivate over the mere sounding of the bell. One of the most evocative aromas in British culture is the small of fish and chips. We can’t help pass a chip shop and have positive memories flooding back of family holidays and so on. We can use this innate ability to make associations to prepare for new challenges.

The Luxury of Learning

Having taken a fair few exams one of the importance of the context of learning was perhaps the most important thing I learned. In academic coaching I work with students who haven’t yet made the connection between attitude and knowledge retention. They resent the time spent revising for exams when they could be out enjoying life’s many luxuries. I suggest that learning is a luxury. Everything above basic survival is a luxury.  We then discuss ways to make studying more enjoyable. Now for me that was getting in some great coffee and biscuits and creating a really comfortable place to learn. Resentment acts as a barrier to learning. If you let go of the resentment and realize that learning is a luxury and will lead to further luxuries, this positive mental attitude makes learning easier. If you remove the block to learning then ironically you don’t have to spend so much time and working so hard to force the new information in. Context is a vital component of learning. The positive attitude and the positive environment become encoding with the information.

Preparing for New Challenges

One of the main techniques I use for exam preparation  is active rehearsal of the material. I don’t just sit down with the books and try to cram the knowledge in. Not only is it more passive it’s usually quite boring. Instead, I give lectures or presentations to an empty room! I pretend I have an audience and with just a handful of flash-cards or a few brief notes, I stand up and talk to my imaginary group for 20 minutes. If I struggle I can look at my notes but I can’t stop until the 20 minutes is up. What this does is put me under a mild amount of stress and forces me ‘think on my feet’. As new connections occur spontaneously they are added to existing information. Understanding deepens and it becomes more memorable.

Another way it which we can prepare mentally, is to learn the material while we are doing something we love doing. So if you’re preparing for an interview and you love baking, then combine the two. If you’ve got a presentation, rehearse it on horseback. Or it may be something as simple as going for a walk in nature. This is a great way to generate new ideas, connections and associations. Research has shown that a humble walk in the park can help to boost self-esteem (and confidence). You achieve the same by combining learning with something that you love doing.

The new information takes on a positive association with what sparkles in your life and so is easier to recall. Then once you have worked everything out in your head, you can take a more formal approach of dressing up as you would for the presentation, interview or exam and use the ‘lecture to an empty room approach’ and talk for 20 minutes.

Finally, when studying or preparing for anything, never underestimate the effects of a relaxation.

The Importance of Relaxation

When we are stressed we switch to survival mode which tends to narrow our range of thoughts and behaviours. When we are relaxed, that range is broadened. The effects of working with what sparkles in your life is that you are more likely to be in a relaxed state and are able to tap into a broader range of emotions and cognitions. In short, you are more resourceful. So never underestimate the benefits of taking two minutes out of your busy schedule to take a few, long, slow deep breaths. It will give you a physical, emotional and mental boost.

So there you have it. Mental preparation is about exploiting a few key, innate learning abilities. Relax, adopt a positive mental attitude and use the associations of what sparkles in your life to create positive context for new learning.

Links:

Building Your Assertiveness: Having Fun With Cold-Callers

It seems that nowadays we can’t walk down the street without someone with a clipboard wanting ‘just a minute’ of our time. My approach is quite simple. I just state ‘Sorry I don’t conduct any business in the street’. I extend this to people knocking on my door (‘Sorry I don’t do business on the doorstep’). However, for telephone cold-callers I adopt a slightly different strategy. In my coaching practice I encourage clients to seek out opportunities to develop life skills such as assertiveness and self-confidence. Rather than an annoyance, cold-callers offer such an opportunity.

Despite registering with the telephone preference service I still get unwanted calls. Surveys and market research is not covered (honoured) by this opt out. Of course, it should, morally speaking. Any reputable company would make the assumption that if people have taken the time to register with the service then it’s likely they don’t want to be bothered wasting time on surveys. One of my first approaches was to discuss my fees with them. This doesn’t work. Unless of course you follow up with a letter in writing to let the company know that you will charge an administration fee for future calls. You are then within your rights to send them an invoice and if its not paid, you can proceed through the small claims court. However, I digress.

Recently, I tried out a new approach which proved to be great fun. I’d decided the next time I was cold-called I was going to take the opportunity to sell my own services of coaching, training, broadcasting, writing and research. So I prepared a brief spiel and waited for the inevitable call.

The call came and was from someone purporting to be from the National Accident Helpline (NAH). In the past I have reported such calls and found that it’s common for dodgy companies to impersonate the NAH. The real NAH does abide by the telephone preference service. So I began:

Me: ‘Thank you very much for your call. It is coaching, training or research that you are interested in?’

Cold-caller: ‘Sorry?’

Me: ‘How exactly can I help you?’

Cold-caller: ‘I’m calling from the National Accident Helpline’ (lie)

Me: ‘Splendid. So is it coaching within your organization, training, researcher or perhaps you’d like me to front a media campaign’.

Cold-caller: ‘Sorry. Who are you calling from?’

Me: ‘Actually you called me and I’m trying to establish which of my services are of interest to you’.

Cold-caller: ‘Sorry. What company are you from again?’

Me: ‘Well you called me. So which of my services interest you?’

No doubt we could have continued along these lines for longer but I’d run run out of script. Next time I will run through a description of each of my services.

The value of this type of opportunity is that you have a captive audience. It’s up to you to take control of the situation and have fun with it. If you don’t have a service to promote then perhaps you could pretend to have a sofa for sale and describe it in great detail. Ask the caller what they look for in a sofa. If they are not interested then try to sell them something else. The value of this is that you get to role play for free and will probably have a good laugh too.

Speaking in public is one of the most feared challenges, so cold-callers offer a great opportunity to practice those skills too. Assertiveness and confidence are built in small steps and start with a state of relaxation. Find other opportunities in life to develop people skills, such as small-talk at the supermarket or at the bus-stop. Losing your temper or being rude is not assertiveness, it’s aggression. Just have fun with it.

I’m now looking forward to the next opportunity to practice my sales pitch and who knows I may try to sell my old chaise longue.

Links:

Life, Fun, Gratitude and Regret… a call to action

Sometimes life gets us down. We get stuck in a routine, become overwhelmed by circumstances or paralyzed  by fear. We claim not to know what we want except we know that we don’t want more of ‘this’. Knowing that you do not want more of the same is a start. Describing what we want to move away from is the first step in describing what we want to move towards. It also helps to take stock of what we already have. It’s often described in self-help speak as acquiring the attitude of gratitude. Simply be focusing on what we are thankful for (however small), helps to retune our perceptions to potential positive opportunities. It’s become a key strategy in my confidence building approach (See Unlock Your Confidence).

I saw ‘International Fun Smuggler’ Mrs Barbara Nice’s show at Edinburgh Fringe. Mrs Nice takes great delight in celebrating the small things in life (and it’s difficult to come away from her shows feeling anything but uplifted). In the show she also touched on the regrets in life. These provide clues to what we might do to escape ‘more of the same’. Bronnie Ware, palliative nurse recorded the top five regrets of dying patients and at first glance seemed all rather un-sensational. However they provide a recipe for living without regret. Here are our biggest regrets:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Consider how you allow the expectation of others to limit your choices and perpetuate more of the same. Consider what small thing you could do today that brings you a tiny bit closer to your idea of your true self. It could be starting a new hobby or attending an evening class. Start with a small thing to build your confidence and create momentum. Do it today.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Consider how you can create a little balance in your life. What do you do to relax? What small things can you let go to make time for yourself? When I run confidence building workshops I ask about the moments when people have more confidence invariably they report times when they are relaxing and having fun. In Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In…Swim Out to Meet It, I wrote that a melody consists not just of the notes, but also of the rests in between the notes. Taking time out can improve efficiency at work and can have a knock on effect in other areas of your life. What will you do today to create some moments of fun or relaxation?

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Often bottled up feelings can lead to resentment and bitterness and sometimes people turn those feelings in on themselves. Many people spend years in work meetings saying nothing until one day they speak up. At that time it didn’t matter if anyone else agreed, it was just enough for them to ‘say my piece’. Like anything else, if you have little practice at expressing your feelings (saying your piece) then start small, with something almost inconsequential, as long as it’s a first step. Expressing our feelings will engage others in feedback. Sometimes they will agree and sometimes they won’t. Either way the act of speaking up and dealing with the feedback is a way of building self-esteem. Of course, it can be positive expressions of feelings such as gratitude to another person.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Sometimes we take friendships for granted and let other aspects of our lives get in the way. The same applies to family members. We just assume that they will always be there. They become part of our ‘psychological furniture’ rather than real people. There have never been so many ways to communicate as there are today. A group text message to all of your contacts is not staying in touch. It’s going through the motions. When looking back over our lives we realize that all the things in life that, at the time, mattered more than people, don’t. Forget Facebook (for a while) and focus on facial expressions and vocal inflections with real people, off line. So who can you reconnect with, voice to voice, face to face?

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Getting the ‘gratitude attitude’ helps to create a foundation for happiness as does making time to have fun. It’s interesting that the regret here is ‘let myself’. This implies that the opportunities were there but not seized. A key way of finding more happiness to set goals that stretch in areas of life that interest us. In his classic book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-sent-me-high) offers a simple message. To be happier we just need to spend more time ‘in flow’. These are the moments when we become so totally engrossed in what we are doing that we lose all sense of time. We set goals to improve our personal best and develop skills, engaging blissfully in the present moment. So what would that be for you? What start can you make today?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodNothing here requires massive life changes. All that it takes is small affirmative steps. In my coaching practice, the emphasis is on creating small, shifts in perception and action. It has always amazed that clients do far more between coaching sessions that we agreed or that either of us expected. It’s not bungee jumping or fire walking that transform lives, but small steps of persistent action in the desired direction.

What will you do today, to build happiness and regret-proof your life?

Links:

Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching

When faced with change, how we cope depends on our psychological hardiness (similar to resilience). Rather than a personality characteristic it’s more of a personality style or way of viewing the world. Whereas personality characteristics appear fixed, views can be changed. A core part of the life coaching process (and a key theme in my book Unlock Your Confidence) is to consider alternative viewpoints and change attitudes.

Poster: Building psychological resilence

Building confidence and building psychological hardiness go ‘hand-in-hand’

The concept psychological hardiness was proposed by psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi. It comprises three attitudes – the three Cs: commitment, control, and challenge. Individuals ‘high in hardiness’ are more likely to put stressful life events into perspective and tend to perceive them less of a threat and more of a challenge and as opportunities for personal development. As a consequence stressful events are less likely to impact negatively on a person’s health. The buffering effect of psychological hardiness on health and well-being has been well researched and has been demonstrated for a variety of occupational groups, from business executives to students including people working in highly stressful conditions such as fire-fighters and people in the military. Let’s consider the three Cs in turn:

  • Commitment is the attitude of taking a genuine interest in other people and having curiosity about the world and getting involved with people and activities. The opposite of commitment is alienation, which involves cutting yourself off and distancing yourself from other people.
  • Control is the tendency to hold the attitude that control is something that comes from the inside and act as if you can influence the events taking place around you by your own efforts. It is The opposite of control is powerlessness which includes the perception that your life is controlled by external forces (fate, government) and that you do not have the means or capabilities to achieve your goals. Our sense of control is often based on perception rather than objective facts.
  • Challenge is the attitude that change is the norm, as opposed to stability and that change offers opportunities for personal development rather than threats. The opposite of challenge is security, and the need for everything to stay the familiar and predictable, allowing you to remain in your comfort zone

Taken together the three components of psychological hardiness provide the motivation and confidence to look to the future to find meaning in life rather repeating the past. Often in coaching we find that small changes can have a big impact. This is one of the basic tenets of the type of solution-focused coaching that I practise.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodBuilding psychological hardiness need not be a mammoth task. It may involve simple ways in which we can reconnect with people or what some people call ‘getting yourself out of the house’. A few minutes engaged in a chat at the bus stop is a lot better than hours at home spent going over our problems. A small change can cause a dramatic shift in perspective.  Just by focusing on the small areas that we have control and exercising that control may lead to fresh insights. Just choosing to break a routine and do something slightly different or in another order can cause a shift. We can build on the smallest of shifts in coaching. The same applies to challenge. We all crave predictability in live but at the same time we appreciate the difference a bit of novelty brings. Again, a small ‘shake-up’ may be all that it takes to open up a new perspective.

Ask about coaching with Dr Gary WoodAdopting the three attitudes of hardiness (commitment, control, challenge) has been shown in research to enhance performance and health even in the face of stressful life changes. To choose the unfamiliar future over the familiar past also requires courage. Coaching provides the necessary support and strategy to help you to do just that.

What will you do today that demonstrates the attitudes of commitment, control and challenge?

Links:

Things to do instead of obsessing over body language

Body language, properly non-verbal communication, has become something of an obsession. I’ve written a number of posts about the supposed 55-38-7 rule and how it is often used out of context. A number of people have suggested that if I ‘shoot something down in flames’ (however false it is), I still need to suggest an alternative. Well the whole ‘body language’ thing is almost a cult, largely promoted by the evidence-less NLP (neuro-linguistic movement). I’m sure that no one would suggest I provide an alternative to a cult. I will anyway. Don’t join one.

So what are the alternatives to hours spent poring over body language books and attending expensive courses. They are surprisingly simple. Mostly body language devotees are concerned about deceit. Such as, how can I present myself as a genuine person?

There are tips to appearing genuine: (i) Relax; (ii) Be yourself; (iii) Don’t tell lies.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodRelaxation is the basis of confidence. Invest time in relaxation and spend more time on activities where you feel comfortable in your own skin (that don’t involve drinking, talking drugs or binge eating). Body language often happens ‘naturally’. When we try to force it, we look phoney. Over analyzing our every non-verbal signal in minute detail can only have a paralyzing effect. All that happens is that we give out mixed signals which are more likely to be interpreted as deceit. These are all principle keys in my book Unlock your Confidence. I emphasize techniques that unlock our inherent abilities.

A lot of the obsession about body language is the need detect or hide deceit. Detecting deceit in not an easy thing. There are so many factors to take into account. Non-verbal communication needs to be interpreted in clusters. No individual signal is definitive. Context is everything. There is also so much rubbish written about non-verbal communication that we can never protect against someone else’s faulty interpretation. Non-verbal communication is about ‘broad strokes’. Many pop-psychology books just make things up that might look good in a press release and so picked up by newspapers and radio programmes that need to fill space with a bit of whimsy. So take the easier path, invest all that time that you would spend on studying body language on finding ways to relax and control your stress response. This in turn will make it more likely that you are comfortable in your own skin and are able to be yourself.

The original  Albert Mehrabian body language research was concerned with first impressions and also congruence between verbal and non-verbal signals. We have to bear in mind that the original experiments were laboratory based and so lacked a little real-world significance. As systems theorist Peter Checkland commented ‘Life is too quixotic to be modelled’. So, we need to take the non-verbal communications statistics with a dose of scientific scepticism. Unfortunately, self-help writers, television producers and magazine and newspaper editors simply don’t have the time, space or training to do this. Body language is often the favourite bit of ‘science’ to slot into analyses of reality TV. It’s a great lever to shoe-horn in a bit of cod-Freud.

Considering the role of body language in forming first impressions. Relaxation and being yourself are key. These are far more important than having to remember lots of manipulative bod language tricks that invariably look phoney. One important from the Mehrabian research is that we are all pretty good at working out when words and gestures are at odds with one another. The signals are meant to be taken as a whole to give us a general impression. That’s as often as much as we need. If you set about trying to find out if someone is truthful in an encounter, you’re behaviour may become so odd as your eyes flick here there and everywhere that the other person may interpret you as a liar. They in turn react to their perception of your deceit and become more guarded. You interpret this as their deceit because you have neglected to consider the effect your weird behaviour is having.

Confidence doesn’t come from having a set of party tricks and cod-psychology at your disposal, it comes from relaxing, being yourself and putting others at ease. If you get the impression that someone’s words and gestures do not match, then use more words to find out. Get more information. Ask questions.

Links:

Follow and Like: