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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‘Are You Fit and Ready for Goal-Setting’ Quiz?

Fit and Ready for Action

At the most basic level, an attitude is a feeling or evaluation towards something, that is, our likes and dislikes. So, we can have an attitude towards just about everything, from foods, to people, to situations and courses of action. If we look at the Latin origin of the word ‘attitude’ it means ‘fit and ready for action’. So, attitudes create ‘a mental state of readiness’. Just like athletes on the starting line they provide the’ get ready and steady’ before the ‘go’. However, although they prime us ready for action, it doesn’t mean that we will always ‘go’. Attitudes don’t necessarily lead to behaviour; they just set up the mindset to make it more likely. So, for instance, you may have the attitude that going to the gym and eating healthily are good for you but that doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll follow up on this and do either of them.

Coaching as Attitude Change

As a social psychologist I have incorporated my specialism of attitudes into my coaching practice. Essentially the coaching process is a process of attitude change. Part of the process involves exploring attitudes to the self, the way the world works and our place in it and the benefits of setting goals. For many of us our first experience of goal-setting is the ill-fated new year’s resolution that tend to fizzle out after a few weeks. So perhaps it is not surprising that goal-setting, for some people, has a bad name. However, this attitude may prove a barrier to personal and professional development. We know that one of the conditions to maximize learning is to start with a positive mental attitude. It’s more difficult to retain knowledge if you resent having to learn it!

Attitudes have three components (ABC): affect (feelings), behaviour (actions) and cognitions (thoughts) and . Coaching deals with thoughts and feelings about ourselves, the world and how we act and interact in the world. It’s often expressed as ‘the viewing influences the doing, and vice versa’. Coaching can help to change feelings and thoughts and create a mental state of readiness for action. Goal-setting provides that extra nudge to take action. It’s often said that ‘if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching’.

In order to explore your attitudes to goal-setting, here is a brief quiz.

Are You Ready for Goal-Directed Action Quiz?

For each of these statements just answer (circle) true or false. For the purposes of this test there is no maybe.

  1. True or False? I’ve done alright so far, so why bother with goal-setting now?
  2. True or False? If I achieve my goals, people will expect even more of me.
  3. True or False? I get weighed down by the idea of a constant, lifelong pursuit of goals, and yet more goals.
  4. True or False? If I don’t try then I won’t fail.
  5. True or False? I don’t need to set goals.
  6. True or False? Things tend to work out as fate intended whether or not I set goals.
  7. True or False? I don’t want to feel constrained by goal chasing.
  8. True or False? Goals are just another way of getting us to ‘tow society’s line’.
  9. True or False? All the energy I spend setting goals may as well be used to get the job done.
  10. True or False? I’m just not a goal-setting kind of person.

What do your goal-setting quiz results mean?

If you answered ‘false’ to most of the questions it suggests that you are ready to take the plunge and set goals. Otherwise, you may already been routinely setting and achieving goals. If you answered mostly ‘true’ it indicates that you are not mentally ready to set goals. Perhaps you are more inclined to let the hand of fate sort it out. That isn’t resolution; that’s resignation.

Goals as Future-Desired Outcomes

There is debate as to whether we have all become somewhat ‘goal-obsessed’. This is more of a problem if you are just setting goals for goals’ sake. If the ‘future desired outcomes’ for your goals are personally meaningful to you, then goal-setting can help to streamline the personal development process. It take a lot of the ‘hit and miss’ out of the process.  So, review the questions in the quiz and consider the ‘true’ questions. What evidence can you find to challenge these statements? Have you attitudes to goal-setting changed (enough for you to give it a go)?

Goal-Setting Approaches

In my early coaching training, I learned to use goal-setting models (in the form of acronyms) and have developed some myself – GO-FLOW). However some people prefer not use such a prescriptive system. In my coaching practice I use Solution-Focused Brief Coaching which involves a series of focused conversations. Instead of acronyms, I ask questions to tap into your imagination, take stock of your strength, skills and achievements and ask you to consider small meaningful steps forward. Although I structure the process, each time its very different depending on the client who decides what the steps should be.

We all have goals. We all value and pursue different things. Goal-setting methods and systems can help us to signpost the way forward and encourage and motivation us to take action. After all, if there ain’t action then they ain’t goals.

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Reset Your Goals – First Day of Spring

The euphoria of the New Year has long evaporated by now. Stumbling with our goals is often interpreted as failure and a reason to give up. However, going off track is more likely feedback that the goal’s action plan needs to be adjusted. As we seem to put a significance of key dates as starting points for our goals, there’s a good argument to revise, refine and reset out goals on the first day of Spring. It’s the perfect day for new beginnings.

Working as a coach I work with clients to set goals all year round. That’s not to say we can’t borrow a little momentum from a significant date. The most common reasons for stumbling on goals are that the goals are unrealistic. Usually people take on too much given their circumstances. Goals may have been vaguely described which means it’s difficult to keep a track of when you are on track or not. The other main reason is one of motivation. The significance of a particular day is simply not enough to carry us through when times get tough. So spend some of this first day of Spring reading the following posts, renewing your goals and getting back on track.

More on goals:

How to Guide Your Decision Making With Your Value System

Faced with innumerable decisions we need a system to filter out the ‘wheat from the chaff’. What’s most important to you and what can you let go? Fortunately, you already have such a system. It’s called your value system. Each of us live by a set of principles shaped by our society and culture but with our own particular spin. Our values help us to focus on the essentials. Life is a bit like a supermarket. There are the budget supermarkets that have just one of everything on the shelves and there are the major supermarkets that have ten of everything on the shelf? Do we really need to choose between ten brands of ketchup when the contents are pretty much the same? The Pareto Principle states that 20% of our efforts yield 80% of the results. If we focus on the core 20% we get more time to relax, provided of course you don’t agonize over the choices for a relaxing activity.

When I work with (life) coaching clients we focus on core values and how goals support these. It’s fairly obvious to anyone who knows me that curiosity and learning are amongst my top values. Equality and ethics are also important to me. That’s how I got to slim down my list of shopping brands. There are just some that I refuse to buy because of what I consider to be their company’s unethical practices. So take a while to consider what  are your top ten values, the guiding principles in your life. When you have made a list of ten, cross out the bottom five and concentrate on the top five. When faced with decisions and goals, ask yourself: ‘Will doing this support my values?’ Obviously there will be exceptions. Any system needs to be flexible. However it will give you a focus if you stick to these core values 80% of the time.

Another tool I use is the ‘Absolutely Yes or No Rule’. This will help to maintain your focus. If when faced with a choice if the answer is not ‘absolutely yes’ then it is automatically ‘no’. This is particularly useful if you find it hard to say ‘no’ to people. However make sure you don’t say ‘no’ just because you find the task a little daunting. Instead ask: ‘Is this a new experience?’ ‘Will I learn anything new from it?’ Again be flexible and stick to the rule a least 80% of the time.

If you sit quietly for a moment and bring your attention fully back into the room you will begin to notice sights, sounds and sensations that you routinely blank out. This is because we cannot possibly pay attention to every tiny bit of information that comes our way. Therefore our attention is selective. We focus on the important stuff and blank out the noise. Using our value system can help us to do that when faced with too many decisions and a limited amount of time. So what are your values in life and how will you let them lead your decision making?

(In conversation with Annie Othen, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 4/1/13)

Links:

Job Interview Essentials

Like all skills, interviewing well takes practice. It also helps to recognise that interviewing is a two way process. Often people assume that it’s all about being interviewed by a potential employer to assess suitability as an employee. However, it’s also your opportunity for you to assess whether a particular employer is a match for your skills, strengths, values and personality. So be prepared to ask questions to check out the employer and the organization. This requires self-reflection and a bit of research on your target employer. It starts by reading the job specification, the person specification and finding our more about the organization.

Possibly in an effort to make the process a little less boring for themselves, interviewers may dream up creative questions that sound more difficult than they really are. Some interviewers may not be experienced or comfortable interviewing which may be reflected in questions that add very little to the process. So, it’s worth being clear about what the interview process aims to achieve. Top Executive Recruiters agree that interviews need to assess three key topics: Strengths, Motivation and Fit. These translate into three main questions:

  1. Can you do the job?
  2. Will you love the job?
  3. Can we work with you?
Interview questions are most often these three themes ‘dressed up’ to varying degrees. Getting to the yes/no answers requires sifting the evidence. As an interviewee you need to provide evidence of skills, qualifications and experience to demonstrate that you can do the job. This is not about repeating what’s on your CV, it’s about giving examples that demonstrate how you have applied your skills and strengths. It’s also helpful to identify transferable skills. I use a number of tools and techniques to help clients to identify their strengths. It’s the basis from which all else proceeds. It’s also worth considering when things didn’t go smoothly. How did you handle ‘failure’? How did you move forward?
‘Loving the job’ is all about motivation. What will continue to make the job worthwhile when the going gets tough, apart from the money? The job may fit in with your values, that is ‘what you stand for’ or may tie in with your long term goals. It’s all about knowing what makes you tick, what gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you going when the going gets tough. I’ve coached students in applications to MBAs to the highest ranking Universities in the world. Most of the questions are about goals and values. Knowing yours is absolutely essential for job interviews. Again, I use values elicitation exercises with clients and also to see if existing goals are supporting these values.
As well as providing insights into our motivation, knowledge of our values can also help us determine how well we may fit in with organizations and teams. You may have all the skills for the job but if you have a strong social conscience and the organization is a ‘do what ever it takes’ enterprise, then there may be a values clash.
As well as self-evaluation you also have to do your home-work on the organization. Don’t be like the woefully unprepared candidates on the TV show Dragon’s Den who pitch an idea for stationary not knowing that one of the dragon’s sells paper-clips or pitching a new dessert not knowing that one of the dragon’s once owned an ice-cream van. It shows a lack of professionalism and respect. There is no excuse for not doing an internet search and finding out about your potential employer. It’s the only way you are going to properly assess that there will be a match.
Self-knowledge and a little background research can transform the interviewing process so that it’s no longer a mystical ordeal but instead a personal and professional development opportunity.
For further information see:

Give Up the Routine and Predictable for Lent – Give Up On Giving Up

Lent, in the Christian calendar is marked by prayer, penance, repentance, charity andself-denial, for forty days leading to up Easter. It is usually summed up in the phrase ‘giving up something for Lent’,  and is often seen as a test of will-power. However, there is more than one way to ‘give up’ and make sacrifices. So if we consider Lent from a secular, personal development angle, you don’t have to be religious to observe lent.

One aspect of prayer is about giving thanks and practising gratitude. So over, the next 40 days, take a moment each day to take stock and be thankful what the things, situations, opportunities and people in your life. To help, here’s a link to my Gratitude and Anticipation Experiment. Another aspect of prayer is giving time to reflect quietly, so you could also include 40 days of meditation, for a couple of minutes, three times a day. Try my Two-Minute Stress Buster and give up on stress.

Penance and repentance are about facing up to mistakes and seeking forgiveness. So use the next 40 days to build bridges with people and put things right. Also, spend the next 40 days forgiving people whom you feel have wronged you. Sometimes we hold on to past hurts and don’t allow ourselves to move on. Also, spend the next 40 days giving up on collecting new hurts. Start by forgiving yourself. Give up on beating yourself up about past mistakes. Give up on holding on to the past. Give up on that inner-self talk that puts you down.

Charity involves giving something to others. It’s easy to give money (when you have it to spare), but more difficult to actually give time. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. So, over the next 40 days you could do a random of act of kindness each day.

Self-denial is what is most associated with Lent, but need not be about giving up our favourite treats. Instead, think about giving up routine by trying something new. We often get stuck in a rut, so use the next 40 days to deny ourselves that ‘luxury’. Opt for novelty over familiarity. Increase variety of the foods. Get more exercise. Read a book or start learning a new language. Deny the part of the self that likes to get stuck in a routine. Give up on saying ‘that’s just the way I am‘.

Think of any aspect of your life or self that you’d like to develop such as confidence, social skills or self-esteem. Give up on the feelings that are holding you back and take the first steps to try the very things you’d like to do. Give up on excuses.

At the start of the 40 day experiment, rate your happiness on a scale of zero to ten. Rate your life satisfaction and also optimism of the same zero to ten scale. At then end of the 40 days, rate your happiness, life satisfaction and optimism again. What’s changed. Is there any thing that you’d tried during the 40 day experiment that you’d like to continue doing?

Give up on giving up. . . but not just for Lent.

Links:

Kung Hei Fat Choi – Reviewing, Refining & Renewing Your New Year’s Resolutions

Has your resolve has already weakened and have resolutions already been abandoned, or  are about to be? Well, take the opportunity of the new lunar year (Chinese New Year) to renew your vows.

The first day of January is always brimming with significance but the euphoria soon evaporates when the reality of a poorly thought-out goal strikes. What is it a realistic and achievable goal or do you need to review, refine and re-target?

Try this:

(i) Apply the SMARTER formula to be sure that the goal is well formulated (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound, Enthusiastically Worded, Reviewed)

(ii) Was the goal realistic and achievable or just too ambitious. Do you need to revise your expectations? This isn’t admitting failure, it’s all about responding to the feedback.

(iii) Review your motivations. Write down ten good reasons for achieving this goal. Think of internal rewards that tap into values rather than external rewards such as money or possessions.

(iv) Take action and start again. You may have to review and renew your goals again. It’s all part of the goal setting process.

Wishing you every success with your goals for the coming year, and following  are some previous posts to review, refine and renew your goals.

Kung Hei Fat Choi

Links:

Dealing With Overwhelm – Step by Step

At times in our lives were are faced with a heap of tasks that seems insurmountable. It’s one big amorphous blob of potential misery with not enough hours in the day to tackle it. Invariably this seemingly unmanageable blob of perceived misery is usually made up of smaller blobs of stuff that are reasonably manageable that we’d prefer not to do. Overwhelm is a form of cognitive overload. There’s just too much information to take in. We simply can’t process the enormity of the task and so we don’t bother. We just sit there and look at it. We become transfixed by it. We can’t possibly start anything else with the blob staring us in the face. And so, the blog gets bigger. We protest that we don’t have enough time to do everything and at the same time we don’t do anything at all.

The cognitive overload (overwhelm) distorts our perception of time. The problem is that we don’t have objective data to counter our subjective response. Here’s an idea, from my coaching practice, to help break the viscous circle. The aim is to find accurate timings for tasks and instil confidence that your abilities to complete tasks.

  1. Break the big blob up into smaller tasks. It’s not going to make them any more appealing but it each one will seem more manageable.
  2. Pick one task, preferably a smallish one that you think you may be able to accomplish relatively quickly.
  3. Do the task and time yourself.
  4. Make note of the timing in a note pad, that you will keep. This becomes the objective evidence that you can look at when you feel overwhelmed.
  5. Repeat the process with other sub-tasks.

What you will find is that the smaller tasks are often completed much quicker than you’d expected. You will also have objective data to call upon next time you are faced with the task.

As a psychology lecturer, it has not been unusual for me to be faced with a pile of more than 100 or 200 student essays to mark (grade). I simply split them up into batches of five, and then tackle those. I put the big pile out of sight and just focus on five at a time. I make a note of how long it takes me to do each batch of five. What usually surprises me is that the essays don’t usually take as long to mark as I first expected. You can apply the same principle to mundane things such as the ironing. Look at the labels in the clothes and create three piles based on the dots on the label. Three dots need a hot iron. Tackle those first, switch the iron setting down to two dots then have a little break to allow the iron to cool. Then tackle the two dots and final the one dot clothes. Make sure you make a note of the timings. Ideally do it a few times until you get your average timings.

What this “break-it-up and time-it approach” does is it creates smaller more manageable tasks and it provided objective data.

I now know that after an elaborate dinner party where I’ve used used just about every utensil in the place, it only takes about half an hour to wash them. When I first look at the pile it looks as though it’s going to take a three times that. Now that I have the data, my perceptions have changed and my feeling of overwhelm has reduced. Conduct your own personal experiments to see how it works for you.

Based on material from: Book: Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It

Related posts:  

Making Mondays Better. Banishing the Blues.

How we feel about things has a lot to do with our mindset – our perceptions. We talk about the Monday Morning Blues as if it really exists. Nothing tangible happens on a Monday that doesn’t happen on a Tuesday. It’s just that Monday follows Sunday – our day off. Tuesday follows Monday, and because we have negative perceptions of Monday, Tuesday automatically feels better. Wednesdays are pretty dismal because they are the point of no return for the week. On Thursday the weekend is closer. On Friday we just have to hold on for a few hours and then it’s the weekend. It’s all mental tricks. For each day we have a particular perception that frames our experience of it.

So let’s start by giving your most recent Monday a rating out of ten. Where one equals ‘terrible’ and ten equals ‘brilliant’. If it’s a low score such as a three or a four, then ask why is it as high as that and not a two or a one.  This is a technique I use in my coaching practice. How did it get to a three of four? This way you will focus on the things that make your typical Monday bearable. Why is it not an absolute zero? At this point, I suggest that waking up above ground counts for, at least, a score of one. You can then ask yourself, what you can imagine yourself doing to take yourself one point up the scale, or even just a half a point. Now try doing it.

Begin Monday, or any day, by asking yourself what three things you are looking to that day, however small. Write them down. If you can’t think of anything then create something to look forward to that will become part of your Monday routine. At the end of each Monday, write down three things you were grateful for that day, however small.

Ask yourself what score would Monday need to be, realistically,  for it to be ‘good enough’. Does it have to be an eight, nine or ten? Would a five, six, or seven be good enough?

Finally, why not apply the same strategy to all days of the week? Try it everyday for a month. Yes of course, these are just mental tricks, but as mental tricks got you into this frame of mind in the first place, it’s only sounds reasonable that you should give them a chance to get you out of the Monday blues. . . and to help you balance those negative perceptual filters for life in general.

Links:

Look Before You Leap – They That Hesitate Are Lost! Be Bold but be Scientific with Your Goals

Each new year brings a new impetus to make life changes: the perennial ‘New Year, New You’ mindset. Unfortunately, the changes are rarely maintained long term. The motivation gained from the special date (1st January) weakens with each passing day, and is not enough to sustain us when we stumble. All too often a glitch in the plan is interpreted as absolute failure, whereas in real life there are few if any absolutes. More often we live our lives based on a serious of approximations.

Each year we embrace the ‘It’s now or never, they that hesitate are lost’ philosophy over the ‘look before you leap’ philosophy. To maximising our chances of getting positive lasting change we need to embrace both. No, that’s not a contradiction. Yes, by all means leap towards positive change but also have a game plan. Work out an action plan that maximises your chances or staying on track and, above all, be flexible.

New Year’s Resolutions and Goals are better approached like a scientist.

Scientists do a lot of preparation for experiments and come up with a best guess. In life we are all scientists too. Babies learn to walk, talk and get to grips with a bewildering complex world with a scientific trial and error approach. So when faced with making life changes, do your homework. There are numerous formulae out there such as SMARTER to sharpen up that best guess. It may be accurate the first time around in which case you have to do it all over again to demonstrate it wasn’t a fluke. You may also have to make some refinements to get it even more accurate. Of course, you could be way off the mark in which case you use that feedback and redesign your experiment by coming up with a better guess, Then you test that out. This approach builds motivation and confidence in your goal setting skills.

So if you find your resolve weakening one week or two weeks into your New Year’s Resolution or even one day in, then act quickly, use the feedback and make an adjustment  to your plan.

Be Bold, Be Scientific. Be Successful.

Here are a few past posts/links to help you stay on track: