Self-Disclosure: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right? Are You an Open or Closed Book?

Self-disclosure is the process of revealing your inner self to another person. It helps with self-acceptance (esteem) as people form positive impressions of people who give something of themselves. Getting the balance right is important – the ‘Goldilocks Principle’ – Too much, too little or just right.

We describe people as ‘closed books’ who give nothing of themselves away. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the people, who go for total, no-holes-barred, openness. Rushing up to strangers in the library and offering to show them your intimate operation scar and confessing your darkest secrets is hardly likely to win you friends, although it may influence people to avoid you. So when is enough, enough?

In a earlier post, I offered Tips for Making Small Talk, Confidently, including why we should engage in small-talk and how to do it right.

Self-Disclosure Quiz

Here’s a short quiz to explore self-disclosure issues. Rate each of these statements on a scale from zero to ten, where zero equals ‘have never mentioned to anyone’ and ten equals ‘I have disclosed everything about this to everyone I’ve met’. This includes status updates on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

  1. General worries (money, health, wealth)
  2. What really gets on your nerves
  3. Things that make you happy and bring joy to your life
  4. Areas of yourself you’d like to improve (fitness, health, confidence, skills)
  5. Dreams, goals and ambitions
  6. Sexual activity and love life, including graphic details
  7. Your weaknesses and negative character traits
  8. Hobbies and interests
  9. What makes you angry and what happens when you are
  10.  Things in your life you are ashamed of or feel guilty about.

Scoring the Self-Disclosure Quiz

It’s important to stress that this quiz is intention to stimulate thought and discussion. It is not a scientific assessment. The cut-off points only give general feedback. If you score is close to the edge of a range, then also look at the other band too.

 Zero – speaks for itself. You are a closed book, inside a pad-locked buried chest, with a prison built on top of it.

 1 to 20 indicates a closed person who doesn’t like to give much away. Sharing something with others provides an opportunity for feedback. Focus on less personal areas and make small disclosures. Hobbies and goals are a good place to start.

21 to 60 indicates a moderate level of self-disclosure. Just be aware of higher scores and don’t be over familiar with unfamiliar people. Scores towards the middle of the band indicate a balance between your private self and public openness. If you score is below 30, also read the feedback for the lower band.

 61 to 81 indicates an open person with high levels of self-disclosure. Some of these topics may make others uncomfortable or cause the judge you harshly or take advantage of you. Openness is often a good thing provided the other person can handle it, wants to handle it and you can trust them. Spare a thought for the feelings of your listeners.

90 to 100 indicates that you are very open. In fact there isn’t much you won’t disclose and are happy to do so with anyone who will listen including people who’d prefer not to receive so much information. Beware of becoming like the celebrity reality TV stars who live their lives like an open wound. Focus on the more neutral areas for disclosure and the personal stuff more sparingly and with fewer people. Some things are better kept to ourselves, and one or two trusted friends. Beware that your self-disclosure doesn’t become habitual dumping on other people for free therapy.

What is safe for for self-disclosure?

Obviously we have different levels of self-disclosure depending on the degree of intimacy or closeness with people. So begin by thinking of making small-talk with strangers. Consider how much self-disclosure would constitute general chit-chat and also think about at what point it would definitely be TMI (too much information).

Using another ten-point scale, assess the safety of each of the above topics, where ten equals ‘totally safe’ and zero equals ‘Shhh! Don’t tell a soul’.

If these scores match roughly with your first set of scores, your disclosure level for this topic is about right. However, if there is a gap between the two sets of scores then you need to make adjustments. For instance, if you rate sexual activity as a 5 for safety but a ten for disclosure, maybe it’s time to keep a few details to yourself.

Repeat the exercise for friends, people you are dating, partners and colleagues. That way you will get an idea of how to strike the right balance. When we feel an instant connection with someone, the tendency is to mistake this for intimacy and tell all. However, this immediate connection might be because this person reminds us of something else. It’s best to remember that a new acquaintance is still a relative stranger no matter how the sparks fly. It’s also important to remember that friends and partners are not just sounding boards or dumping grounds for your dark secrets and issues. When we feel that we really must disclose all, perhaps its better to engage a professional stranger (counsellor or therapist) to tell all.

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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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7 Attitudes Towards Human Nature and How They Affect Self-Esteem

For his classic book Assumptions about Human Nature, social psychologist Lawrence Wrightsman conducted extensive research into how we judge human nature and the social world. Other commentators on his research have argued that the ‘self-accepting’ (higher self-esteem) person tends to view the world as a friendlier place than does the self-rejecting person (lower self-esteem). In this post we consider seven attitudes about human nature:

  1. Agree or disagree? People are basically honest and trustworthy.
  2. Agree or disagree? People are basically altruistic and try to help others.
  3. Agree or disagree? People have a lot of control over their lives.
  4. Agree or disagree? People have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Agree or disagree? Most people will speak out for what they believe in.
  6. Agree or disagree? You can’t accurately describe a person in a few words (that is, people are simple to understand)
  7. Agree or disagree? People’s reactions differ from situation to situation (people are unpredictable)

Black-and-white thinking indicates a degree of cognitive inflexibility and has been implicated in emotional issues (disturbance). Challenging this kind of binary thought is a key principle in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and in life coaching based on the CBT model. One of the techniques is to explore exceptions to the ‘rule’.

Begin by asking the following questions:

  1. Do your responses (to the 7 attitudes) make for a safe and friendly world or an unsafe and hostile one?
  2. How do these attitudes shape your social interactions, especially in relation to confidence building?
  3. Which of these attitudes are most likely to act as an obstruction to your personal development and goals?

Consider each attitude in turn and explore exceptions to the attitude, such as, ‘People have a lot of control over their lives’. Consider the ways however small where you have control over your life. Also considering ‘People have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses’. What are your strengths? Continue through the seven attitudes to consider exceptions to all attitudes that have a less favourable view of human nature. Each time consider how each attitude impacts on your self-acceptance (esteem).

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn my coaching practice, I take a solution-focused approach which means that we focus on strengths and opportunities. As a client you will also look at your values, the principles and ideals you stand for in life. One of the challenges is to consider how attitudes and actions support your values and in turn support your goals. In confidence coaching (and in my book Unlock Your Confidence) a key theme is to consider how attitudes impact on confidence and esteem.

In solution focused coaching there is a maxim: the viewing influences the doing, and vice versa. This means that how we view ourselves, how we view the world and how we view other people, will influence what we do with our lives, our actions. The literally meaning of ‘attitude’ is ‘fit and ready for action’. Having the courage to take action is at the root of confidence.

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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.

Links:

Tips for Handling Compliments and Praise ( – giving, receiving and why it’s important)

It’s all a matter of give and take

Subscribe to Dr Gary Wood's psychology and coaching blogSome people are generous in dishing out compliments and praise but find it harder to be on the receiving end. Other people complain of never receiving compliments or praise and they are also the ones less likely to give them. However if we view the whole subject of praise-giving as a part of communication then it fails under the same rules. It’s a matter of give and take. For the social engine to run smoothly, you have to be comfortable and confident at both: the give and the take. In this post we’ll look at how to give and receive compliment and praise.

The Gifts of Compliments and Praise

Check out coaching and confidence building events from Dr Gary WoodThe ability to accept praise and compliments graciously is not usually thought of as a skill. Many people feel uncomfortable doing so. Consider your own reactions to compliments or praise.

Do you:

  1. Argue with the person and demand they take it back?
  2. Argue for the contrary evidence, listing your faults and failings?
  3. Laugh in embarrassment and say ‘it was nothing’?
  4. Ignore the praise/compliment altogether?
  5. Look embarrassed, grunt or mumble an acknowledgement, but do not make eye contact?
  6. Say thanks, hurriedly or sharply, and quickly move the conversation on?
  7. Make eye contact and accept graciously (smile and say thank you)?

Which option most closely matches your reaction?

If you answered (1) to (6) response, instead consider that it wasn’t a compliment or praise, but that someone gave you a gift. Now I’m guessing you don’t snatch it out of their hand and throw it in the bin saying ‘Well that’s a load of old rubbish’. Treating compliments and praise as gifts, how has your answer changed?

Gracious acceptance of praise and compliments

It’s socially appropriate to accept graciously. You don’t have to believe the compliment. Self-esteem is nothing but an evaluation. Just by acknowledging positive feedback you begin to entertain the possibility that maybe there is something positive to comment on. It begins to change your perception of your self.

read_confidence_posts_r_jus copyAccepting praise: It is just a question if practice?

Difficulty in accepting compliments and praise is not always about confidence and esteem. It could just as easily be a lack of practice. If you were raised in a environment where compliments were rare, then you don’t gain the experience of accepting them. Therefore you just need to catch up on lost time and practice more now.

Try this exercise: Praise yourself in the mirror at the end of a good day or as you have successes. Look yourself in the eye and say ‘Well done’ or ‘you did well today’. If you cringe it’s a sure sign that you need more practice doing it (and accepting compliments in general). Continue doing it until it doesn’t make you cringe. Afterwards, continue doing it anyway.

Why do people offer compliments?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodCompliments are good conversation starters and help to build rapport. They help to establish reciprocal liking (‘I like you because you like me’). If you say something nice then people will think you are a nice person and are more likely to be nice in return. It doesn’t always work but that’s the guiding principle.

Compliments and praise also act as positive reinforcement. That is, they can be a form of reward and encouragement. So they acknowledge a particular behaviour as something that’s positive and as something that should be repeated. Psychological research tells us that rewards are more effective than punishments in shaping behaviour. Saying thankyou is also a reinforcer. If people feel appreciated they are more likely to repeat whatever received the thanks.

How to pay a compliment

I remember my first advice to someone to use a compliment. A school friend really fancied this girl and didn’t know how to approach her. I suggested that he casually pay her a compliment. I think our definitions of casual were very different. He waited for her to come out of the toilets and then leapt out, made her jump, and blurted out ‘I like your frock!’. I suppose given the circumstances, it could have been worse, Needless to say, that love remained unrequited.

If you are giving a compliment, there are a number of basic principles:

  • Most important of all, it should be genuine (that includes not ‘fishing for compliments’, that is giving a compiment to get a compliment)
  • If it’s an ice-breaking type compliment keep it simple and keep it small. It’s better to say to someone ‘I like your brooch’ rather than some over-blown, phony and quite transparent attempt to ingratiate yourself. People will accept small compliments more readily than grand displays. The aim is to give someone a little uplift, not embarrass the hell out of them.
  • Don’t follow one compliment after another, ‘and I like your hair, and I like your bag, and I like your shoes’ and so on. Yes, we get the message, you like lots of things. It sounds obvious but people often fall into this trap when trying to impress someone. If you are attracted to someone or want them to like you, the stakes are higher, stress levels increase and perspective goes out of the window. You don’t want to people to grow weary of saying thankyou.

Compliments and praise and stress relief and confidence building

Compliments and praise have other social functions. According to the daily hassles and uplift theory of stressrather than being caused by critical life events, stress is the result of those petty niggles and hassles that stack up during the day. The antidote is to create more daily uplifts during the day so that the uplifts cancel out the hassles. So by paying compliments and giving praise you could be helping to reduce people’s stress levels. You can ‘make someone’s day’. You also get the feel good feeling of doing a kind deed.

In my approach to confidence, we gain it by passing it on. Stepping outside of yourself to give to others does have an esteem boosting effect. In turn people will perceive you as more confident if you are the one instilling confidence.What goes around, comes around. It’s what I call confidence-karma.

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So there you have all the basics: treat compliments and praise as gifts, practice regularly, be genuine, don’t go for overkill, keep it simple, enjoy the positive knock-on effects.

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.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful and wish to offer praise of compliments:

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Right-Brain / Left-Brain: Fact, Theory or Myth?

What is the right-brain/left-brain theory?

The basic premise of right-brain/left-brain (pop-) psychology is that each side of the brain is said to control different types of thinking. For each of us, one side of the brain is supposed to be dominant. So if the left side of you brain is dominant, by the theory, you would be a logical, methodical, objective, analytical scientific kind of person. However if the right side of your brain is dominant you would a more creative, artistic, intuitive, expressive, subjective kind of person. Knowing what side of brain is dominant is presumably helpful in explaining why we might meet problems with certain tasks and indeed what we might do to balance out the ‘one-sidedness’. The theory of brain-dominance is something that frequently crops up in discussions in my confidence-building workshops. Sometimes these kind of theories provide comfort because on first glance seem to offer a way to explain and structure our experience. So let’s look at the evidence.

Considering the evidence for the right-brain-left-brain

Supporters of the theory might argue that this is supported by scientific evidence, and yes of course, as with many pop-psychology theories there is a grain of truth. However, when reviewing evidence, it depends on how old the research is, whether up-to-date research has challenged initial findings, whether the original research is generalizable to the general population and who is interpreting the evidence. It’s common to see newspaper journalists report evidence-based research in a headline grabbing way. There is no space for the fine detail.

The right-brain-left-brain theory is based on the work of Roger W. Sperry in the 1960s. In psychology it’s known as  the the lateralization of brain functionOur brains are comprised of two hemispheres connected by a structure called the corpus callosum which facilitates inter-hemispheric communication. So it the normal, undamaged brain, there is ‘dialogue’ between the two sides. Sperry studied epilepsy patients and discovered that seizures were reduced or ceased when the corpus callosum was cut. Through a series of experiments, Sperry (and others) were able to determine which parts of the brain were involved in various functions, including language, maths, drawing and so on.

This is the basis for the pop-psychology theory. I heard one self-styled new age guru claim that ‘old psychology is dead’ and we need to usher in the new psychology. Apparently he didn’t see the irony of citing research from the 1960s. It’s also important to correct the misnomer of two brains. A neuroscientist would not use this terminology, unless to criticise the theory. We have one brain with two hemispheres. So if you see or hear someone waxing lyrical about ‘right brain’ this and ‘left brain’ that, chances are they probably don’t have any qualifications in neuroscience or psychology.

Apart from the passage of time, there is another key point to be made here. The research was based on people with epilepsy and who had their corpus callosum cut, therefore ending communication between the two brain hemispheres. This hardly sounds like a sample representative of the general population. It’s a pretty select group.

So what does up-to-date research have to say?

Contemporary evidence for the right-brain/left-brain theory

Inevitably there has been a wealth of research published on neuroscience since the 1960s. Unfortunately, much of this will not find its way into newspaper headlines of pop-psychology books.

In an attempt to better understand brain lateralization with a view to treating medical conditions (rather than myth-busting), scientists at the University of Utah in analysed more than 1000 brains to see if people had dominant sides. They found no evidence. On average, both sides of the brain were essentially equal. The study’s lead author, Jeff Anderson, explains that while it is true some brain functions occur in one side or the other (language: left; attention:right), ‘[P]eople don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection’.

The overall conclusion from this an other up-to-date research is that the two sides of the brain communicate through the corpus callosum to work together to perform a variety of tasks.

Why does the popularity of the right-brain/left-brain theory persist?

Searching online I found some interesting and amusing exchanges between the supporters of the right-brain/left-brain theory and its critics. In response to a discussion of up-to-date, peer-reviewed research from leading neuroscientists, the striking thing is that supporters of the theory offer personal anecdotes to ‘disprove’ the research. The subtext is, ‘that’s all very interesting but it doesn’t apply to me’. Here’s one example:

When I am studying math or chemistry intensely I find the left side of my brain hurts, Whereas when I am writing a report or something along the lines of literature, the right side of my brain hurts. It’s a nice pain though. I was not aware of this right brain left brain theory until I started noticing this happening and researched it for myself. Amazing really.

This inspired a particular pointed (cruel) response:

You should see a doctor. It’s not amazing, it sounds more like you’ve sustained a stroke.

In a follow-up comment, the same ‘wag’ makes another important point:

Wow, from some of the posts . . . you would think the world is full of neuroscientists that are all incapable of doing a simple internet search for information.

This last comment is quite telling, It highlights a phenomenon in social psychology, in particular the subject of stereotypes. A stereotype is a generalized, over-simplified packet of knowledge about something. We can see in the realms of prejudice where are a stereotype can act as a filter for new information. Anything that contradicts the stereotype is rejected. So, yes, all this neuroscience may be very interesting but if it contracts a strong belief in the right-brain/left-brain theory, then the scientists must have made errors. The results have to be rejected. The fact that the research went through a rigorous review process does not matter. At the same time the supporter of the right-brain/left-brain theory will overlook the lack of a generalized sample for Sperry’s research. By time the belief is firmly held, the whole question of research may not even matter anymore. ‘My head hurts on the left hand side when studying maths, that’s good enough for me’.

There is also the question of exposure to information. Magazines and reality TV pundits like to offer a ‘bit of science’. For the purpose the ‘science’ needs to be easy to comprehend. So idea of right-brain/left brain keeps popping up. The more a thing is repeated leads us to question whether ‘there must be something in it’.

How to interpret right-brain/left-brain tests

Common magazine pencil-and-paper test of right-brain/left-brain begin with the assumption that there is specialization. This is written into each of the questions in these tests. The results are foregone conclusions. Reducing human experience to a binary is always problematic. Nature never creates a dichotomy. That’s something we do to help explain thing. Black and white categories are easier to process. Rarely do these over simplifications map onto real-world experience. So at the very best, treat these tests as a bit of fun

A better strategy is to spend time taking stock of your own abilities and strengths. It’s easy to look for evidence to contradict the test’s verdict. Instead, balance things out and look for any evidence that contradicts the result. Think of your life experience. The longer you spend on this phase, the more evidence you will find to contradict the results and the more you will realize is what modern neuroscience tells us: you’re using both sides of your brain pretty much equally. What you will have is a better picture of yourself as resourceful, psychologically rounded human being.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThat’s got to be a boost to your confidence and self-esteem. Much better than believing you’re living only half of the human experience.

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Tips for Making Small Talk, Confidently: Why do it and how to do it

Subscribe to Dr Gary Wood's psychology and coaching blogSome people complain that small-talk is superficial and pointless. Often ‘not seeing the point’ is about ‘nor knowing the rules’. You may worry that you’re being boring or too banal or to confessional and controversial. You may not know what topics to choose and what to avoid. Small-talk is a key building block in building relationships. It all begins with ‘a bit of banter’ or ‘chit-chat’ to ‘pass the time of day’. Connecting with other people in a positive way is a way of boosting your resilience and confidence.

This post offers some tips and pointers for confident small-talk skills (adapted from Unlock Your Confidence), which are essentially the same as a basic grounding in communication skills. (There are also several links to posts containing supporting information).

What if I’m too shy to initiate small-talk?

They keys to learning any new skill are practice and relaxation. Often people who claim not to be very good at making conversation just need to practice in some low-threat situation. The easiest way is to ask for directions in a supermarket or ask someone’s opinion about a product. I’m particular good at reading maps, contrary to the male gender stereotype, I’ll just stop to ask directions. When I visit a new place I check it out on-line to find recommendations of places to eat and drink. However, many of the best information comes asking the locals. People like to recommend good places and warn you about the ‘no so good’. People like to share their knowledge.

Relaxation is the cornerstone of elite performanceIt’s also the basis of building confidence and esteem. It’s  the ability to control your own physiological responses. A few deep breaths is often all it takes. If you initiate a conversation in a relaxed state, the other person is more likely to match this state. If you both feel comfortable the conversation flows. So focus on putting the other person at ease too. This is a key principle in my confidence building workshops. If we focus on putting the other people at ease and building confidence in them, this rubs off on to us.

It helps to practice some form of relaxation technique or breathing technique regularly and frequently. The more you practice, the more it is likely to become habit, or ‘second nature’.

Small-talk is not about ‘just filling the space’

When I started contributing to radio features, I was very aware of empty airspace. Radio presenters are aware of this and use the discomfort of the contributors to let them chatter away and fill the airspace. On one occasion, with a rather ‘difficult’ presenter, I realized that the responsibility for the dead airspace was his. I resisted the temptation to fill the space and just kept to what I was comfortable saying. I’d made it clear beforehand that I don’t gossip about celebrities and yet he insisted on asking about a particular celebrity. I just ‘stuck to my guns’ and he owned the responsibility for the dead space and asked me a question I could answer.

We are much likely to get the ‘verbal diarrhoea’ when we are nervous. Take a few deep breaths. Any question is a two-way street and it both people share in the responsibility for the ‘awkward silences’. When we feel stressed, the silences seem longer. When stressed we talk faster. Just remember that it’s okay if there are a few gaps. Every conversation has a little variation and changes in pace. It doesn’t have to be a ‘wall of sound’.

Small-talk is also about listening not just talk

Listening is a core communication skill. People often overlook this. Rather than filling the space with our own words you can give the other person a chance and ask a few questions. A ‘bore’ is jokingly defined as ‘a person who wants to talk about her/himself when you want to talk about yourself’. As a general rule, if you have spoken about yourself for 60 seconds then you have already been speaking too much. An easy way to include the other person is just to tag on the words ‘and how about you?’

The great thing about small talk is that it can take unexpected ‘twists and turns’ if you let it. It works better if you don’t have an agenda and just see how things go. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t get to make all of your points. So be flexible. There is a temptation, when the other person is speaking, to just ‘screen for keywords’ so you can prepare your next contribution. When you find yourself doing this, it means you have stopped listening. Part of the fun of small-talk is you don’t know where it will lead.

If you lose the thread, just ask the other person, ‘tell me more about. . . ‘. Then you get a second chance to practice your listening skills!

Open and closed questions: how to move the conversation a long

You have probably seen interviews of famous people where the interviewer has branded them ‘difficult’ or ‘uncooperative’. There’s a classic clip of a famous Hollywood star who mainly answers ‘yep’ and ‘nope’ to most of the questions. It’s clear than the interviewer asked too many closed questions that only required one word answers, usually ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It’s obvious that if you ask someone ‘Do you like X’ you get a very different response if you ask ‘How do you feel about X?’ or ‘What’s your opinion of X?’. Asking questions with a ‘who, what, where or how‘, will open out the conservation. That’s why they are called open questions. Closed questions are all about the questioner’s agenda. Open questions help along the two-way conversation.

Be patient: The other person may not know all of these small-talk tips

If someone launches into a monologue, just be patient. Not everyone knows the rules of small-talk. Sometimes, we just have to accept the opportunity to practice patience and practice listening skills. Of course, any experience is also an opportunity for reflection. This is important to learning any skill. So sometime after the encounter, just pause and make a few notes about how it went. There’s no need for a full-scale post-mortem. Just a couple of learning points will do.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn my book Unlock Your Confidence, I offer a whole chapter (Chapter Four, to be precise) on practical tips and techniques for impression management (making good first impressions) and communication skills including suitable topics for casual conversations and topics more likely to promote heated discussions, scare people or bore them to tears.

What are suitable subjects for small-talk?

Here are a few examples of the kind of topics suitable for small-talk:

Saying where you are from, a recent film or television programme you enjoyed, saying what you do and where you go to relax, pets, recreation interests, books you’ve read, your name, food, the weather, clothes, holidays, places to visit, theatre productions, concerts and commenting on something in the immediate environment.

What subjects should be avoided for small-talk?

Here are some topics that you should avoid:

Talking about ailments, sex dreams, religion, being a know-it-all, discussing your sex life or asking questions about theirs, talking about infidelity or swinging, asking someone’s salary, asking whether people own their own home, racism, political correctness, politics, paedophilia, capital punishment, abortion, vivisection, animal rights, pornography, discussing bodily fluids or body parts that have gone septic or the power of prayer as a tool against evil.

A good test is to consider, is this the kind of topic you would discuss over afternoon tea? Think of scones, jam. clotted cream, little sandwiches with the crusts cut-off and a nice pot of Earl Grey tea. Now add your topic of conversation. Does it go? Theatre productions: yes. Septic body parts: no!.

As a general rule, keep it positive. Yes, we all like a bit of moan from time to time, but follow the 80:20 rule. The moaning can not be more than 20% of the conversation. This is easier said than done. Once you are on a negative train of thought, it’s more difficult to switch to the positive.

Casual conversations: How to get started

Never underestimate the power of a smile. It’s an immediate signal that you are an approachable person. Of course, that doesn’t mean you walk around with a fixed rictus grin. (That’s a sure sign of something else entirely).

Assume you are meeting someone for the first time. You exchange named. That immediately leads on to ‘What do you do?’ This is a coded phrase for ‘what’s your job?’ It can be a little dull, unless you are in those dreadful networking situations where people stand about handing out business cards and try to work out whether you are of any use to them whatsoever.

As a twist, try asking ‘How do you spend your time?’ Or ‘How do you like to spend your time?’ This gives the other person the opportunity to talk about something they like. This generates positive feelings which are to a certain extent projected on to you. Some people hate their jobs but most people love their own hobbies and pastimes.

Small-talk and body language

Probably, you will have heard of the often quoted body-language myth that words only account for 7% in any encounter. Take this with the proverbial pinch of salt. The research was carried out in laboratory conditions and may not be generalizable to the real world to the strict 7% rule that is often (mis) quoted. The research mainly applies to first impressions. It’s fair say that if you give off the right non-verbal signals then the words are less important.

You don’t have to study a whole body language book to get the basics right. In fact, we have already covered most of it: relax and smile and show an interest in what is being said, that is, listen. If you do this then the body language will take care of itself.

read_confidence_posts_r_jus copySo that’s it. Those are the basic skills for a successful casual conversation. These also form the basics for good communication skills. Small-talk skills are a great set of skills to have. It means that you can take the lead in awkward situations, especially where people don’t know each other. It’s rare that efforts are rebuffed, most of the time, people are just relieved that someone broke the ice.

With small-talk, perhaps the most important tip is just to have fun with it.

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What next?

How to be More Persuasive and Convincing: Use the Rule of Three

It’s not difficult to persuade anyone of the prevalence and significance of the number three in Western culture. It’s everywhere, from sport (three points for a win, hat-tricks),  fairy tales (Bears, Pigs, wishes), literature (Musketeers), films (Amigos, Stooges),  to religion (the Trinity), interior designers (three ornaments on a shelf) even stand-up comedy (the rule of three elements in a joke). We even say that bad new comes in threes! There is something intrinsically satisfying about the number three to our pattern-seeking brains.

In psychology there are also plenty of triads such as Sigmund Freud‘s id, ego and superego (in psychoanalysis) and Eric Berne‘s parent, adult, child (in transactional analysis). I was surprised at just how many there are, so much so, that when writing my book Unlock Your Confidence I found it useful to use a triangle device to communicate the essence of psychological theories, without getting too bogged down in the details. I tested in workshops and it was a fast and effective way of introducing new material without taking away from the hands-on, experiential nature of the workshops. People really seem to get ‘three’.

It turns out that the rule of three offers a blueprint for persuasiveness. Kurt Carlson (Georgetown University) and Suzanne Shu (University of California) in their research paper ‘When Three Charms but Four Alarms’, find the ideal number of claims to include in a persuasive argument. People, firms and products should all use the ‘charm of three’ when making positive claims. Two is not convincing and adding a fourth point is viewed as a step too far.  It actually has a detrimental effect and increases scepticism..

This post is deliberately brief as the rule of three has endless applications. I figure your time would be better spent updating your CV (resume), updating your websites, rethinking your presentations, sales pitches, marketing and advertising campaigns or just the humble negotiations in relationships. There is no need to come up with as many convincing reasons as long as your arm. Three will do nicely.

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Training the Trainer & Psychology – Going Back to Basics and Avoiding Common Pitfalls

With learning and curiosity right at the top of my values system, it’s no surprise that I love to attend training courses as much as I like to deliver them. Unfortunately teaching as a profession is often dismissed by the old George Bernard Shaw put-down “People who are able to do something well can do that thing for a living, while people who are not able to do anything that well make a living by teaching”. This is usually paraphrased as ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’.  It implies that teaching is not something that has to be done well. This leads many people to think that anyone can teach or train. In part this may be true, but not everyone who tries their hand at teaching and training does it well. The means that I get to sit through courses where trainers make fundamental mistakes. Often this is because they have not been trained (or taught) to train (or teach) of if they have, not particularly well.  Sometimes this means that the new trainer gets trained in the experienced trainer’s bad habits or misconceptions. The old philosophical question is never so pertinent when directed at teaching: ‘How do we know what we don’t know?’

In this post, I discuss the basics of structuring training sessions so that you appeal to the learning needs and styles of most people in your group. I use these principles in my own training and in my books. All of these principles are based on my training in psychology, teaching and coaching and are backed by evidence-based research of how people learn. The post also shares a few ‘howlers’ of things not to do.

When your students say ‘I might be thick but. . .’

Some trainers keep making the same fundamental mistakes and the people who suffer the most are the ones on the receiving end. There is a power differential in the trainer/trainee relationship. By the time the trainee (student) has worked out that the trainer (teacher) doesn’t know what they are doing. the student has already run the ‘Is it me? Am I thick/stupid?’ script in their head. So if a student begins a question ‘I may be thick could you explain that again?’ it is a signal for the trainer to take two actions:

  1. Challenge the ‘thickness’ hypothesis
  2. Explain the material in a different way

My standard response is ‘No, you are not thick. Different people learn in different ways and it’s just that I haven’t explained it in a way that connects with you’. Chances are that is there’s one student feeling ‘thick’, there are others who feel the same but didn’t have the courage to speak up for fear of appearing foolish.

Knowledge is supposed to be empowering not confidence-sapping. So, it’s your job as a trainer to accept the challenge of explaining things in different ways.  All of your trainees/students will benefit. For you, the trainer, it’s part of your professional development. You consolidate your knowledge by explaining it in a way that’s out of the ordinary (mundane) for you.

Trainer / Teacher: Know your audience

Often trainers are so enthusiastic about their topic that they forget that the aim is to communication information not offer a sermon. There are lots of people out there calling themselves ‘evangelists’ to indicate their enthusiasm for a topic. Of course this assumes that people want to be ‘evangelled’ to!

This label says more about the trainer’s self-image than the message. If you can gauge your audience’s present level of knowledge, it becomes easier to build on this. Without this you run the risk of patronizing them, boring them or losing them. It’s fundamental to any training session or lesson is that you work from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Also consider what’s in it for the audience. What take-away value does your talk offer? How can you apply it to their lives and experience?

If you don’t know, then include more interaction between your trainees/students where they get to discuss how the material applies to them. A crucial part of each session is to ask your audience what are their aims and objectives for the training sessions. Apart from working from the familiar to the unfamiliar, the other two guiding principles in any training session (lesson plan) are:

  • Start from the simple and work up to the complex and,
  • Start with the concrete and work up to the abstract.

Although it’s good to give examples of your own personal experience to bring the material to life, it’s just as important to get examples from the students/trainees. That’s the way the material will come alive.

What happens when you don’t put your students’ needs first

In my first year at university, the statistics lecturer decided to begin with the most complicated statistics test on the syllabus. The main reason was that it fitted in with his research interests. He wanted us to collect data for his PhD dissertation and combine that with the coursework requirements. We got to write-up his experiment as part of our coursework and he got to keep the raw data. Not surprisingly, collective apoplexy was the order of the day. The defense in the staff-student committee was that it was a legitimate strategy to expose students to most difficult statistics first so that by comparison everything that followed would seem easy. I was the student representative and argued that all that had been achieved was to reinforce the negative attitudes that students have to statistics. It shouldn’t have happened. It was a prime example of students getting in the way of university business. The whole of the first year statistics course ran this way. I had studied statistics before and still I struggled. For many students it was the first time the had encountered statistics. Not a great start.

I know of one trainer who was forever fiddling with his phone and would regularly stop to read his text (SMS) messages. Another trainer I experienced used to set the trainees up with a practical exercise then nip out to feed her pets (she lived locally) and would return with magazines and snacks which she proceeded to munch her way through in class. Both trainers appeared to be going through the motions and communicating to the group that they were not important and the material was not important. It’s the clear that the trainees (students) weren’t supposed to notice or weren’t supposed to question the trainer’s authority. Although these are extreme examples, the point is that the trainers’ and teachers’ behaviour form part of the ground rules for the session. These actions would have undoubtedly spoken louder than the course content.

Reading the room – Verbal and Non-verbal cues

I’ve lost count of the training courses (and lecturers) I’ve attended where the trainer or teacher neglected to ‘read the room’. So much nonsense is written about body language (non-verbal communication) but in this instance you only have to read the gross (obvious) signs.There are few subtleties in the messages people give when you’re boring them or annoying them.

If people are fidgeting and yawning, it’s a sure indication that whatever you’re doing in the session, you’ve been doing it for too long. My own favourite example is of a trainer who thought it would be a good idea to tell the audience what he did in an organization but take 50 minutes to do it. It should have taken 60 seconds, as that really was a much as the audience needed to know. The additional time it took was more to do with  ‘ego’. To achieve this seemingly simple aim, the trainer offered one slide projection of an organizational flow chart and then proceeded to talk us through it. After ten minutes, it was clear that many people were just staring straight ahead, and robotically nodding with eyes glazed over. After about 20 minutes everyone in the room (except the trainer) had clearly had enough with many people stiffing yawns. At 30 minutes a man with ‘additional learning needs’ (our saviour) yawned very loudly, stretched his arms and then blurted out even louder ‘God, isn’t this boring!’ Now all were gripped by fits of the giggles (except the trainer) which they tried to suppress. All around the room, heads bowed, shoulders twitching, and faces contorted trying to hold back the laughter. Still this had no effect on the trainer whatsoever who continued for a further 20 more minutes telling us what he did! Throughout the session the trainer forgot to ask ‘Do the audience really need to know all this?’ He overlooked the principle of ‘what’s in it for them’ in favour of his encyclopedic knowledge of the organizational structure and his role in it.  No one else in the room could give a damn (and that’s being polite).

Ground rules

As a trainer you are responsible for who the session unfolds. Usually it is common practice to tell people where the toilets are and basic health and safety to tell them where the fire exits are. It’s also import to let people know about basic ground rules such as confidentiality, valuing other’s opinions and so on.

I attended a theatre-based improvization day beginners workshop. There are a number of basic rules for improv such as ‘always accepted an offer’, ‘follow the follower’, and ‘always make your partner look good’. Among the cardinal sins are blocking offers by saying ‘no’ to everything, working in jokes to get a quick laugh and trying to steal a scene at the other person’s expense. A key thing in improv is that we learn by mistakes which are discussed in an open forum. So with a beginners’ class it’s crucial clearly to set out these basic rules. That way when people break the rules, it doesn’t come as such a surprise when they get feedback in front of the group. The group facilitator (trainer) can remind everyone of the ground rules and then highlight the transgression. That way everyone learns and it’s not too painful fr the person who made the error.

However, I have witnessed courses where people have been for breaking the rules even though the rules had not been clearly articulated at the start of the session. Further more the public ‘dressing-down’ of ‘bad, selfish person’ went on far too long so that the whole of the group began to feel uncomfortable. By this time squirming had overtaken the learning. Even an interjection of  ‘Come on, it’s not as if he’s murdered anyone or anything’ did not halt the tirade. It’s all to easy for trainers in this case an ‘evangelist’)  to be so passionate in their quest to get everything right that they lose sight of the audience. If your aim is to create a playful, engaging atmosphere, that won’t be achieved through fear of making mistakes.

Aims and Objectives: Let everyone in on the lesson plan

People learn better and can process information more effectively if they have a context.This has been demonstrated in memory experiments in psychology. Give two groups a page of text to memorize. The only difference is that one group gets a heading to contextualize and the other just gets the text. The one with the heading remember more of the text. The heading offered something to ‘hang the information from’.

A training session, lecture or lesson should have a road map open to all. You only have to think about going on a journey to an unfamiliar place. The journey back always seems shorter. That’s because you now know the landmarks, milestones and signposts. Occasionally you might want to take learners on a mystery tour but if you do this, don’t be too surprised if people fidget and shout out from the backseat ‘Are we there yet, Dad?’  So unless it’s an experiential workshop where it’s key to let the process develop usually people like to know what they are letting themselves in for.

Variety is the spice of a training session

Psychologically we all have quite short attention spans. No it’s not just you. On average, after about 20 minutes of doing the same activity our ability to process information at full tilt begins to diminish. The exception is if the task in question is a personal passion. So you can see that there maybe a conflict if you assume that everyone shares your passion for a subject. For you, 50 minutes of non-stop lecturing might be a wonderful experience. To your audience it may well be 30 minutes too much. To avoid this, remember the rule of 20. Chunk your training session down into 20 minute blocks. If you really must lecture for the whole session, then after 20 minutes, give the audience five minutes to discuss the main points with their ‘neighbour’. Then invite the audience to shout out the points they came up with. Give feedback, add any important points you think they missed then carry on bor. . . sorry I mean lecturing them. Okay, so this will eat into your lecturing time but that few minutes will help to consolidate the knowledge. It’s no point in cramming in as much information you can if you don’t respect basic principles of psychology.

Basic Psychology: Know something about how people learn

Throughout this piece I have alluded to the importance of the psychology of learning. This doesn’t have to involved years studying psychology. You can achieve a great deal with the basic principles we have covered here. In addition, recognise that there are different learning styles and nor all people respond to the same way of receiving information. One way of typing learners is through sensory preference. All this means is that people prefer to use a particular channel linked to their senses. The main ones are: visual, audio and kinesthetic. The audio people may prefer a training session with someone talking for the duration, although even they need a break. The visual types prefer diagrams or video demonstrations and the kinesthetic lot like to experience and ‘feel’ things for themselves. The easiest way to cater to all needs is to create variety in your sessions.

Some learners are more reflective and some like to ‘get stuck in’ and try things out (active versus reflective learning). Again just build in opportunities for both. Some learners like to see the big picture (global learners) where are some prefer a step-by-step approach (sequential learners). If you begin with a summary of what trainees/students will expect and then follow-up with the steps, you cover both bases. Some are more theoretically inclined and some are more practical.

(I have written other posts aimed at students and how they can maximise their learning with basic psychological principles, see: 17 Top Study Skills Tips From a Psychologist and Lecturer)

It’s important to recognise that it’s not possible to satisfy every person in the room, every minute of the time. However, by creating variety in your lesson plans and training sessions you are more likely to address the needs of the group.

So here’s a recap:

  • Build variety into your training sessions and lesson plans to tap into different learning styles
  • Follow the 20 minute rule. After this time that there is a serious drop in the amount of information people will absorb. The remedy is to switch activities or have a short break.
  • Start from the familiar (so you engage people) and work up to the unfamiliar, so you take them on the journey
  • Start with the simple stuff and work up to the complex. Simple stuff includes offering definitions for key concepts. If basic definitions are fuzzy you can be sure how everyone is making sense of the material
  • Start with concrete stuff people can relate to and work up to the abstract.
  • Read the room and be flexible. If people are yawning or fidgeting, it’s an indication that you need to do something different.
  • What take-away value does your training session / lesson plan have?

Anyone teaching or training will make mistakes, that’s part of the process. The secret is to reflect on your efforts and take stock of what you do right and where you can connect better with your audience. Part of this process is vicarious learning. So it’s important to be continue your personal amd professional development by being a student.

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Dr Gary Wood is a Chartered Psychologist, author, life coach and broadcaster. Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodHe has taught in several UK universities and regularly contributes psychological insights and coaching tips in the media. He runs his own coaching and training practice and research consultancy in Birmingham and Edinburgh, UK.As well as academic papers he is the author of three self-help books, including Unlock Your Confidence.

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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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2 Attitudes to Increase Hopefulness in Your Life

Each year we experience an oceanic feeling of hope. On New Year’s eve and New Year’s day there is a proliferation of good wishes for a happy new year. One friend describes this as an overdose of ‘wish upon a star, fortune cookie wisdom’. The question is how do we maintain a sense of hope when the euphoria wears off? In this post I explain how we can create a sense of hopefulness by changing two key attitudes.

Positive Psychology over ‘positive thinking’

It is through out attitudes that we explain and shape our perception of the world. So we don’t have to rely on the fleeting euphoria inspired by the symbolism of a brand new start from a brand new year. This is not the deluded philosophy of ‘positive thinking’ that tells us that we create our world through our thoughts. Instead it is the rooted in evidence-based positive psychology. The former is based on a philosophy, the latter is an academic discipline.

How you explain the world shapes your experience of the world

In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman argues that we maintain our sense of optimism and pessimism through an explanatory style, that is, the way we explain positive and negative events in our lives,

The two attitudes related to hopefulness are:

  1. Making it permanent – it’ll never end (permanence)
  2. Making it pervasive – it affects everything (pervasiveness)

Recipe for Hopefulness

  • Negative Outcomes: When faced with negative outcomes to events instead of jumping to the premature/automatic conclusion that the situation is never going to end / change and it affects all aspects of your life. Instead, balance out the negative default conclusion by looking for explanations that emphasize the temporary nature of the situation and take stock of other areas of your life not affected by it. For example, don’t think of a bad day at work as the beginning of the end. You may just have been tired rather than ‘all washed up’. If you get knocked back after asking someone out on a date, it’s more likely that you are just not their type or they are not looking to get involved. The aim is to look for a specific explanation rather than a universal one. It’s important not to go beyond the evidence.
  • Positive Outcomes: When things go well, the tendency sometimes is to write-off such outcomes as flukes and exceptions to the rule. Instead look for explanations that emphasize things can be enduring and may well spill over into other areas of your life. So rather than writing things off to luck, take stock of the things that you did to bring about the positive results. When someone does accept your invitation it’s not because they are weird, it maybe because they see you have something to offer.

By adopting these hopeful attitudes we embrace the possibility that bad things may get better and good things can endure.BooK: Don't Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It by Dr Gary Wood It’s not a Pollyanna-rose-tinted glasses approach, rather it balances out a social and cultural bias.We talk about bad news coming in threes but don’t seem to have a standard multi-pack for good news. We are encouraged to indivualize problems rather than to consider social injustice and social inequalities. There is a bias to self-blame.

Keeping a ‘hope’ journal

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodA helpful way to ensure that we adopt and maintain hopeful attitudes is to keep a journal. It’s also a key strategy that I recommend for getting the most from a self-help book. Hope needs to be nurtured and it’s more difficult to do so purely in our heads. It helps if you can see things in black and white. Like everything else in psychology, the more we practise things, the more deeply ingrained they become. The journal becomes a useful resource in less hopeful times.

Hope is a precursor to courage and confidence building. All begin with a change of attitudes.

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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