Self-Help Information Overload? Time to Stop Reading and Start Applying It?

pic; Ad for coaching with Dr Gary Wood - Time to Apply Self-Help InformationBuying a self-help book can be a useful and low-cost way to work on our development. Of course, not all books are created equal, but I’m bound to say that. Working as a problem-page columnist for many years one of the strategies to cope with the limitation of only have 100 words to reply, was to suggest a book. So, it made sense that eventually, I wrote some self-help books. My idea is that you should approach my books like complete personal development courses, do all the exercises, apply the insights, and take action. And for many (including me), that’s the sticking point. What do we do with the knowledge once we have it? The same applies to workshops, courses, counselling, therapy, physiotherapy, and so on. Sometimes, with too much information at our fingertips, it’s difficult to know where to begin. This blog discusses how coaching can help offers a few pointers with the overall strategy of ‘start small and be consistent and persistent’.

Little by little, a little becomes a lot

In a previous post, I offered three tips to get the most out of a self-help book and the essence of this is to approach these books with a more academic, more structured approach. Taking a step back ask yourself what do you want from the book. Is it just a little reassurance and comfort that everything will be all right in the end, or do you want to take action to help out that outcome? The same applies to workshops and blocks of counselling sessions. What is the future desired outcome for these? There’s an assumption that if we talk about things and put the time in then things will eventually fall in to place. Instead what we find is that we amass a wealth of knowledge that we don’t quite know what to do with. And, I include myself in that. The secret is to pick something, a tiny action or change, carry it out consistently and review its impact. Taking action is the quickest way to change perception.

The viewing influences the doing and vice versa

In solution-focused coaching (and therapy), we work with the idea that ‘how we view the world affects what we do in the world’. So, collecting an overwhelming amount of information only leads to feelings of overwhelm. Perhaps, the best advice I ever got as a writer is that we don’t finish books, we abandon them. If that sounds a little harsh, it means that there is always another tweak, another rewrite, and another piece of information we could add. But with that approach, there would be on books just unfinished manuscripts. It helps to break the stranglehold of procrastination if we see a goal as the next chapter, instead of absolute and ultimate truth.

How coaching helps with self-help overload

The never-ending quest for information is the quest for a certainty that does not exist! Most of our decisions in life and made with incomplete information. Mostly we work with educated guesses. In coaching, you as the client bring agenda. It’s my job as the coach to shoulder some of the burdens of organizing and planning the strategy. This approach includes making use of your knowledge, resources, strengths, and skills. My job, as the coach, is to ask questions that keep you accountable to your goals. We put our heads together and come out with solutions and steps forward. Often, the steps are quite small, but the effects can be quite profound. A small step is often all it needs to break the stranglehold of procrastination and get things moving forward. Coaching helps to get you out of the ‘spin-cycle’ of thinking-for-thinking-sake. Clients often come to me thinking they have gone round in circles, and that they have wasted time on books, workshops and therapeutic interventions. The truth is that coaching works with whatever. It’s all groundwork, and we’ll start first with whatever resonates with you the most. And, we work with the basic principle that it only takes a small step to tame the whirlwind. Once you’ve set your goals, coaching will help and support you to channel your efforts into reaching them.

So there you have it:

  • Approach self-help books in a more formal, structured way with a view to applying what you’ve read
  • Work with a coach to channel your knowledge, skills and strengths to take you towards your goals.
  • There’s no such thing as a step too small in the right direction. Just make a start and be persistent and consistent, and review the impact of the actions as you go.

Further reading

The blog posts mentioned in this post are:

About Gary Wood

Gary is a Chartered Psychologist, Solution-Focused Life Coach and author, based in Birmingham and Edinburgh UK. He helps clients achieve their goals, working face-to-face, on the telephone and via Skype.

Get in touch for a free consultation with Gary Wood, by telephone or Skype, to discuss your goals:

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When that brick wall is a mental block – how coaching can help you to grasp the goals you reach for

Pic: Advert for coaching with Dr Gary Wood - What if that brick wall is a mental block?Often our goals are in sight but seem out of reach. It might feel that you take one step towards your goals, and they seem to take a step back. I get many queries from potential clients saying just that. They talk of brick walls and mental blocks and self-sabotage. Sometimes there’s a post-mortem of what they should’ve done. In this blog post, I challenge that goals being ‘out of reach’ is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s how things should be. It’s how coaching works. 

Accepting Things the Way They Are

A few years ago, I took a course in pranayama (breathing yoga) as part of the research for a book. One phrase, from the course, stuck with me: the present moment is inevitable.  As a personal and professional development coach, my first job is to challenge clients to consider that things are as they should be and that this moment is a starting point. The alternative is to indulge in ‘why’ questions, which are abstract, philosophical questions. You can a different answer every time you ask why? And every time, they cause you to look back. Instead, in coaching, I ask lots of concrete ‘how’ questions. They will take you forward. In coaching, the first step is to accept that whatever you’ve done up until now has got you here. It’s just that you now need a different plan to take you further. And that’s what we’ll work on, together.

Our goals ARE out of reach –  at the moment

As the Robert Browing line goes ‘One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ It’s the purpose of coaching to reduce or eliminate the gap between reach and grasp. Goals are supposed to stretch us. The secret is not to set them so far out of reach that we lose hope and motivation. Conversely, if we make them too easy, we’ll tire easily, become bored and give up. Coaching aims to tread that fine line between resolution and resignation. So, if the goal is very grand, we simply break it down into a series of milestone goals that stretch you. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is just to take some action, any action, in the direction of the goal. It doesn’t matter how small that step is. I’ve pretty out the Tanzanian proverb ‘Little by Little, a little becomes a lot‘. The quickest way to change perceptions and attitudes is to take action. By the time you’ve reached the first milestone, your perspective will have changed, and you’ll be better equipped to tackle the next one.

Brick Walls and Mental Blocks

Some people talk of ‘mental blocks’ as if they are physical barriers. They aren’t. Coaching is about working with you to remove attitudes that get in the way of moving forward. It involves challenging negative thoughts and self-talk and looking at alternative metaphors, scripts and ways of describing situations. But it’s also about taking stock of skills and strengths to create a method of working and an action plan that’s tailor-made for you. In coaching, it helps to ‘suspend your disbelief’ and enter into it with an attitude of positive anticipation. Instead of asking will it work’, ask ‘how will it work?’ It’s also about trying things out like personal experiments – testing the water to assess the impact of a small step forward. Ultimately, with any attitude, it’s important to ask ‘How is this taking you forward?’ If it’s not, what attitudes will? Then, try them out and see how they work for you.

Up for a challenge?

Pic: Dr Gary Wood (Line drawing)In coaching, the aim is to help you to reach your goals or get as close to them as is practically possible. I’m Gary Wood. I’ve been coaching students since the mid-90s and private clients since the early-noughties. My coaching training and practices are grounded in evidence-based psychology. My specialism is attitude change – the cornerstone of coaching. I’ve written five books on various aspects of psychology, the most recent is Letters to a New Student on study skills, but has a lot to say about life skills. And as I coach, I love a challenge.

So, get in touch for a chat. 

If you can’t think of anything to write in the message box, just type ‘can we talk?’ and add the best days and times to get in touch.

Pic: Advert for coaching with Dr Gary Wood - What if that brick wall is a mental block?

The Confidence Paradox – the Courage to Act

Sometimes there’s a time lag between recognizing we need help and support and, taking action to get that help and support. As a coach, it’s not unusual for potential new clients to tell me that they have been thinking about getting in touch ‘for ages’. Others describe it as ‘trying to pluck up the courage’ to get in touch, or ‘psyching themselves up’. So, the challenge for me as a coach is how I can make it easier for people to take that step. This blog post is an attempt to address that question.

The Confidence-Courage Paradox

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIt seems a paradox that some people might need to gain the confidence to seek coaching to build confidence. But it happens, and the first step is to recognize that it happens. When your confidence takes a hit, it’s tempting to see the hesitation to take action as further evidence of low confidence. This becomes another reason to ‘beat yourself up’ which in turn pushes you further away from taking action. But this is not something specific to you. It’s something common to stress. I’ve had clients show me tattered business cards of mine that they’ve carried around for months, even years. So how can we break this cycle?

Who can benefit from coaching?

Often, in the initial email, potential clients ask ‘Is this something you can help with?’ And it’s written from a very personal perspective, as though these kinds of issues wouldn’t or haven’t happened to anyone else. There’s a sense of isolation and ‘aloneness’ in the questions. And it’s reassuring that yes, such issues can be overcome. Of course, the coaching is unique to the individual, but often the problems are universal themes. Recognizing this is the first step in overcoming the ‘aloneness’. You aren’t alone. It’s not just you. That’s why I’ve written this post.

Anyone can benefit from coaching. In fact, the main thing that my clients have in common is that they want to achieve their goals. Their backgrounds and goals vary enormously, but the principles of coaching are the same. It aims to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Previous clients have included people between jobs, people looking for a promotion, homemakers, students, business people, and entrepreneurs. Sometimes it’s people who just have a vague sense that things could be better. As a coach, I’ll work with whatever you bring. So bring it on.

Not knowing where to start

Another delay in getting in touch is the idea that all goals and action plans have to be perfectly formed. No, that’s the coaching process is for. It’s not easy to make decisions and problem-solve when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. In fact, the first aim of coaching is to shoulder some of that burden. So, if you approached me, we’d first have a chat (via Skype or telephone), and typically it takes about 20 minutes. You get to ask any questions, and I explain the process. Then if you decide to go ahead, I send you a pre-coaching questionnaire. This forms the basis of the first session and offers signposts and milestones for future sessions. There’s nothing off-the-peg. As I coach, I meet you where you’re at. Then we’ll work together to get you to where you want to be.

How long does it take?

Another sticking point can be how many sessions to go for? Some clients come with a long list of goals and are concerned that they won’t be able to fit everything in. Obviously, the cost of coaching is an important factor. I offer to coach in blocks of four to ten sessions because the research indicates that this is the optimal range. In the consultation chat, I’mn often asked two questions:

  1. How many sessions will be enough so that we can cover all the issues I have?
  2. What happens of cover all the issues before the block ends, what then?

To answer both of the questions, it’s crucial first to emphasize the purpose of coaching. It’s not just about sorting out problems. It’s more about empowerment. The take-away value of coaching is that it aims to empower. Through the process of coaching, we create an action plan tailor-made to your skills, strengths, circumstances and goals. So, if we don’t cover every single issue in the block of coaching, you’ll still have a set of skills to put into practice for the remainder. If we cover all the issues before the end of the block, it means you can then look at consolidating the skills and also looking to longer-term goals.

The solution-focused approach tends to work quicker than some of the more ‘inspirational’ approaches to coaching. My background is in psychology and teaching, so everything I do as a coach is based on evidence. So we can cover a lot in relatively few sessions. Many clients express surprise as to how quickly they move forward. As a rule of thumb, if you’re at crossroads, need to refocus and a looking for a life audit, then go for four to six sessions. If you’re dealing with more significant life changes or looking to deal with more deep-seated attitudes and habits, then go for eight to ten. If in doubt, go down the middle. I’ve done a lot of work to make sure that every session counts. Even one session can move your forward. 

What’s more effective, face-to-face, telephone or Skype?

When I started coaching, I was sceptical that Skype or telephone would work as well as face-to-face. As part of my training, I had coaching. However, the coach I wanted to work with was in America, so I didn’t have the option of face-to-face. All the sessions were by telephone, and it changed my opinion. Now I work with clients up and down the UK and across the world. Lots of clients are from the US. They read my profile or have read my books and want to work with me. And, if you look at the outcome research for coaching (and counselling), one of the main factors for success is the relationship with the coach. Don’t let Skype or telephone coaching put you off.

Moving Forward

Pic: Dr Gary Wood (Line drawing)So those are some of the practical issues when stress gets in the way of making a decision. You don’t have to be confident to work on confidence, you don’t have to have a masterplan, you don’t have to agonize over the number of sessions. Just go with what you can afford and make the most of every session. The same applies to how coaching is delivered. 

Coaching can be a significant investment. It’s not cheap. I’m not a budget coach. And you might achieve the changes on your own with any intervention. It might take a little longer, but you’ll probably get there. The value of coaching is the value you place on getting there sooner, with a new set of skills that will take you further still. For further information see my posts:

Get in touch for a chat

Please use this form to request a coaching consultation – it’s just a brief, informal, no-strings chat. You don’t have to leave a message – just leave it blank. Once we’ve had a conversation, you make the decision.

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Learning Skills as Life Skills (and vice versa)

It’s tempting to view formal education as learning and then everything else that happens afterwards as your ‘real life’. However, it’s a false dichotomy. We continue to learn throughout our lives, whether or not we want to. Recognizing this can help us to see the connection between learning skills and life skills. How we approach learning informs how we approach life and vice versa.

I was invited to speak at a learning and training event and submitted the title ‘Learning Skills as Life Skills’. The idea is based on my book Letters to a New Student ( Read a sample: UKUSA ). In this post, I offer four main factors that provide a blueprint for lifelong learning. It’s a slight reworking of the book’s structure.

Four Factors for Lifelong Learning: Attitudes, Wellbeing, Cognition, and Management.

The four factors of attitudes, wellbeing, cognition and managment interact with each other. A change in one affects the others.

Pic: Four Factors of Lifelong Learning

Based on Letters to a New Student ( Read a sample: UKUSA )

Attitudes

Attitudes are the cornerstone of how we make sense of the world. In coaching, I use the principlethe viewing influences the doing, and vice versa’.  It’s a key principle in confidence-building.  How we view the world shapes what we do in the world. As coaching is action-led, it’s the doing that builds the confidence. For more on this, see Unlock Your Confidence.

A concept in psychology often relegated to a ‘stress-busting’ technique more accurately offers a philosophy for coping with life. Psychological hardiness is made up of three attitudes – the three Cs. These are control, challenge and commitment.  In short, emphasize what you can control, reframe problems as challenges (or goals) and commit to connecting with other people, and show a curiosity about the world.

Having to study when we’d prefer to be doing something else can lead to feelings of resentment. This attitude makes it more challenging to process and retain information. Learning is inevitable. It’ll happen whether or not we set our own goals. When facing a deadline, often, I’d much prefer to be doing something else. But I remind myself that it’s an opportunity to achieve a personal-first or a personal-best. With students, I ask them to consider how formal learning is a luxury. It’s similar for life-tasks, such as ironing or washing dishes or paperwork. They seem to take longer with feelings of resentment. The secret is to find an attitude that changes the emotional tone. Hence my Zen-Ironing. It’s a nice metaphor for smoothing out the wrinkles of life. Ok, so that might be stretching it. But it works.

Wellbeing

When faced with a demanding goal there’s often a temptation to put wellbeing on hold. The illusion is that if we don’t bother about wellbeing, the time saved can be used on the task. We can then catch-up on wellbeing when the task is over. However, this is stress-based, survival thinking. If we treat self-care as a foundation rather than an add-on, it can have a benefical effect on mood and cognition. Investing in your wellbeing supports learning (and life). Sleep, diet, exercise, hydration, and relaxation exercises all interact. Together they will aid peak performance so that you make the most of your time add. Neglecting wellbeing means you’ll gain a bit of extra time to use inefficiently. 

Cognition

Often we stumble on to study techniques that work for us. These might be time-consuming, boring and inefficient, but because we have had some degree of success with them, we are reluctant to give them up. However, rather than leading with personalization, it’s crucial to learn basic principles of human psychology, and then put your twist on it. That way, you work with psychology rather than fight it – working smarter, not harder. The three simplest things to implement are:

  1. Work in shorter blocks to give your brain time to digest the information.
  2. Vary your learning techniques to keep it interesting. Boredom is a choice.
  3. To process the material at a deeper level, ask and answer questions rather than rely on rote learning

For  more information see Letters to a New Student ( Read a sample: UKUSA ).

Management

Some might find it difficult to ask for help, when studying, or in life. It’s not a weakness or an admission of failure; it’s resource management. Most people like to help, so why deny the opportunity? And, you will get the chance to ‘pay it forward’. Knowing when to ask for help and who to ask are essential learning skills and life skills. Begin by making a list of your go-to people. 

Whether it’s life or learning, time management is essential – plan to do whatever you need to do, and do it. It’s also crucial to plan in the downtime, and most importantly, your wellbeing. What’s not so obvious is managing moods and motivation. It’s not just about aside the time; it’s adopting supportive attitudes and using techniques to get in the mood. And, sometimes that means just getting on with it. Who says we always have to be ‘in the mood’. Do it, and let the mood catch-up!  After a period of writers’ block, I learned that a ten-minute walk first thing in the morning sets me up for the day. I also know that the worst thing for my productivity is switching on the television in the morning for the news. For me, first thing in the morning, no news is good news. 

And finally, there’s the driver of all peak performance – goal-setting. It shouldn’t get to the point that we feel ‘bludgeoned’ by goal-setting. Goals are a means to an end. They provide the structure and the momentum to keep moving forward. They should stretch you but not overwhelm you. There are many posts on this blog about goal-setting – check them out.

Meaning: The Meta-Principle

The over-arching principle in learning and life is to make it meaningful to you. Use the four basic principles of attitudes, wellbeing, cognition and management, and adapt to your circumstances, strengths and values. 

Summary

So those are the basics of using ‘learning skills as life skills’, and vice versa. To find out more, read the book or drop me a line to find out about academic coaching or life coaching. In the meantime, here’s a summary of the main points:

Pic: Book cover for 'Letters to a New Student' by Dr Gary Wood

  • Frame your experiences with positive mental attitudes.
  • Take care of yourself – Exploit the mind-body connection.
  • Work with cognitive psychology rather than against it.
  • Be proactive – Manage time, moods and motivation.
  • Finally, make it meaningful to you.

About Dr Gary Wood

Pic: Dr Gary Wood (Line drawing)Dr Gary Wood is a Chartered Psychologist, solution-focused life coach, and broadcaster specializing in applied social psychology. He is on The British Psychological Society’s ‘media-friendly psychologists’ list and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Gary has taught psychology in several UK universities and is widely quoted in the media. As a consultant, he works on health and social policy research projects and reports, for government bodies, broadcasting ‘watchdogs’, NHS Trusts, charities, and media companies.

Books by Gary Wood

  • Letters to a New Student (Read a sample or buy: UKUSA ).
  • Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It (See UK / USA)
  • Unlock Your Confidence (See UK / USA)

Get in touch to discuss academic coaching or life coaching:

Pic: Business card for Dr Gary Wood - Get in touch to discuss coaching.

Planning for Retirement: Meaning and Happiness Goals

When I was 14, I asked my granddad if he had any regrets. He had two. First, he regretted having a tattoo. Second, he regretted not planning for his retirement. The first one made sense, and I’ve never had a tattoo. However, at 14, the second one made no sense to me at all. I thought retirement was when you just have a hard-earned rest and spend a lot of time ‘with your feet up’. After a few months of retirement, my granddad went back to work, part-time. The other time he spent reading, which is probably where I got my love of books. And now, as a coach, I see many clients wanting to deal with retirement planning. This blog aims to set the scene and provide the background for retirement planning. It deals with the attitudes with which we approach life changes and the value of setting happiness and meaningfulness goals.

Attitudes – Psychological Hardiness

Some people cope better in times of uncertainty and social psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi identified three central attitudes that determine how we ‘come out the other end’. Or, as they call it, psychological hardinessThese attitudes – the three Cs – are commitment, control, and challenge. In the context of retirement, commitment is about connecting with others and having a curiosity about the world. Control is about taking stock and emphasizing what you can control, however small.  Often in coaching, we often start by looking at the ‘taken-for-granted’, small stuff. It’s a bit like ‘panning for gold’. Challenge is about approaching problems as projects and setting goals that stretch us.

Happiness and Meaningfulness

In coaching, it’s essential to match the clients’ goals to their values.  A tenet in my coaching practice is that everything should be meaningful to the client. So there are no grand symbolic gestures required, just practical steps in line with clients’ goals. And, values – the things they stand for in life – are important drivers. They give meaning. In recent years, Positive Psychology has contributed a great deal to our understanding of how to create positive emotions, such as happiness and optimism. Psychologists Julie Round and Jolanta Burke in a small longitudinal study explored the wellbeing of recent retirees using expressive writing and goal-setting. They focused on hedonia (happiness) and eudaemonia (meaning and purpose in life). The classic book, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘Chick-sent-me-hi’) deals with how to achieve happiness through goal-setting. The idea is that we set goals that put us into the state of ‘flow’ – the times when we become totally absorbed with something and lose a sense of time and of ourselves. So, the more we can set goals to put is into a state of flow, the happier we are. All this creates a platform to explore desired retirement outcomes using Round and Burke’s expressive writing exercises.

Future Desired Outcomes

Imagination plays a key role in coaching. It feels different to ask ‘What will you do?’ than asking ‘What kind of things do you imagine might work for you?’ Expressive writing and journaling are a great way to ideas and options for ways forward. For their study, Round and Burke suggest writing over four separate days. Here are their exercises, simplified slightly:

  1. Describe your best-retired self, imagining all your dreams have come to pass.
  2. Explore the key building blocks of your life at their future best (home, family, community, leisure etc.)
  3. Imagine that everything has gone to plan. How will things look in five years’ time?
  4. Imagine everything has turned out as you would like. Write about your 80th birthday party. Think about how it looks, smells, feels and sounds. Who’s there with you?

These exercises can help you to take stock of what’s already in place for your best-retired self and highlight areas that need attention and some groundwork. These insights form the basis of your goal setting – things that will add happiness and meaning to retirement. Start with where you’d ideally like to be, then count back the steps to where you are now. Pick one theme and set a small goal for the first logical step. Setting small goals and taking action on them little and often is more effective than an ad hoc ‘blowing-hot-and-cold’ approach. as the Tanzanian proverb says ‘Little by little, a little becomes a lot’.

Coaching for Retirement Planning

If you’d like to discuss coaching for retirement planning, please get in touch (via the form below) for a free, no-strings telephone (or Skype) consultation chat. It usually takes about 20 minutes and even if you decide not to proceed with coaching it can be useful for signposting next steps.

BooK: Don't Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet ItReferences and Further Reading

Here are the sources referred to in this blog post and a few recommended books. Most of the material here around goal-setting in covered in my two books. See below:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The Psychology of Happiness: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness. London: Rider. See Amazon UK orAmazon US

Maddi, S. R., & Kobasa, S. C. (1984). The Hardy Executive: Health Under Stress. Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Irwin. (Currently out of print). For a summary see blog post: Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching

Round, J. & Burke, J. (2018). A dream of retirement: The longitudinal experiences and perceived retirement wellbeing of recent retirees following a tailored intervention linking best possible expressive writing with goal-setting. International Coaching Psychology Review, 30 (2), pp. 27-45.

Seligman, M. (2017).  Authentic Happiness. Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. See Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

Wood, G. (2008). Don’t Wait for Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It. Tools and Techniques for Positive Lasting Change. Chichester: Capstone. See Amazon UK or Amazon USA

Wood.G. (2013). Unlock Your Confidence. Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through the Confidence-Karma Method. London: Watkins Books. See Amazon UK or Amazon US

Get in Touch

 

 

Living with Freedom, Living a Better Life, and Coaching

Pic: Breaking the chainsIt’s often said that life coaching is all about goals – usually goals to a better life. Recently I read an interesting booklet called Getting All Emotive Online by Phil Byrne & Neil Henry. It’s about on-line marketing and something they wrote about ‘freedom’ really resonated with what I aim to offer in my  (life) coaching practice. I realized that maybe that message didn’t always come through clear enough in my web presence and in consultations with potential clients. So in this post, I aim to address that and consider how coaching should be all about helping people to live a life of freedom. Let’s start with a definition of freedom.

What is freedom?

Dictionary definitions state that freedom is:

  • The power or right to act, speak, or think as you want
  • Absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government
  • The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved
  • The state of being unrestricted and able to move easily

The implication with all of these definitions is that threats to freedom are external. However, as a psychologist I’m more interested in the interpretations of threat and how we internalize threats in the form of attitudes.

What are attitudes?

Attitudes structure the human experience – they are the way we feel and think about things. At their simplest form, they are likes and dislikes. We are drawn to the things for which we have a positive attitude and repelled by things for which we hold negative attitudes. The literal meaning of attitude is ‘fit and ready for action’. So attitudes prime us for action. Although attitudes don’t necessarily lead us to behaviour they do help to create the mind-set to make it more likely. It’s easy to see how an attitude of ‘If I don’t try then I can’t fail‘ is likely to inhibit action. These are the kinds of self-defeating attitudes that we address in coaching.

Coaching as attitude liberation

Pic: Self actualizationByrne & Henry suggest that there two types of freedom: ‘Freedom to‘ and ‘freedom from‘. Although they discuss these in the context of marking, these two types of freedom are also relevant to coaching. In my coaching practice, I draw heaving on my research expertise in social psychology – particularly attitude change. Crucially this involves moving clients towards ‘freedom to’. This is freedom to seize opportunities, freedom to make the most of your abilities and freedom to pursue you goals and ambitions.

Often the path to ‘freedom to’ means addressing some ‘freedom froms’. This might be freedom from low self-esteem, freedom from self-doubt, freedom from putting yourself down with negative self-talk, and so on. Coaching can empower you to act, speak and think as you want. It can remove psychological restrictions and the feelings of being trapped by the past or the expectations of others. Coaching offers a means to weaken the hold of the ‘freedom froms’ and make, more likely, the freedom to meet your goals, the freedom to make more of your strengths, skills and inner resources . Goals are the means to an end. Ultimately coaching is about securing the freedom to have a better life.

Links (other posts about coaching and personal development):

If you enjoyed this post and/or found it useful then please use the ‘like’ and share ‘buttons’. Your comments are also welcome.  

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 About Gary Wood

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodDr Gary Wood is a chartered psychologist, life coach and broadcaster specializing in applied social psychology, personal development and life coaching. He is the author of Unlock Your Confidence: Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through The Confidence-Karma Method (Buy: Amazon UK  /  Buy: Amazon USA ) Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his coaching and training practice and research consultancy.

To find out more about coaching with Gary Wood or to book a free telephone or Skype consultation, please complete the form below:

How Do You Know You Are Ready For Life Coaching? (and is it right for you?)

How do you know you are ready for coaching and it's the right time for you?You might be considering personal or professional development coaching for any number of reasons and whether it is right for you, at this particular time. Maybe you have goals that you want to move towards. It could be that there are a number of life circumstances from which you want to move away. You might be at a crossroads or just have a vague feeling that things could be better. The bottom line is that you approach a coach because you want to live a better life. So, how do you know whether coaching will help you find the solutions you need?

Too many questions already? Pause for a moment and take a few long slow deep breaths. Now continue.

Are you ready, willing and able to make the changes to meet your goals?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodCommon to these reasons is the idea of change. That’s what coaching is about. Change in attitudes, this includes changes in feelings, thoughts and actions. Before making any changes it’s important to consider the age-old trinity of ‘ready, willing and able’.  In my book Unlock Your Confidence, I devote a section to this triad and use a technique known as a scaling question to help bring a sharper focus. I then offer a series of follow-up questions. pic: Ready for life coaching scaling question diagram

By rating each of these dimensions on a scale from zero to ten, it can help to see where the resistance lies.

It could be that you do not the resources or feel that the actions required to make changes are not within your ability. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting things clear in your head. Often the problem is stress (anxiety). It tends to have the effect of causing you to underestimate your skills and strengths or to view solutions in black and white. There’s often great value in exploring the grey areas.

Stress can cause you to think in terms of survival and override your creativity. Because the coach bears some of the burden of helping you to organize your thoughts, this makes it easier to access your creativity. Gaining freedom over stress will help you to shift from survive to thrive. The reason I emphasize deeper breathing techniques is that they are the quickest way to short-circuit the stress response.

Once you have pondered the scores for each of the scaling questions, a few follow-up questions can offer further clarification:

  • What tells you that you are at this state of readiness / willingness / ability ?
  • What have you done to get this far? What’s already working for you, no matter how small?
  • If you’ve scored a zero on any of the scales, what has to happen for the first green shoots to show?
  • What number on the scale would you consider ‘good enough’ to be ready / willing / able to make changes?
  • What do you imagine would be happening a half point along the scale?

Coaching is all about goals – better life goals. It’s often said that if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching. Different coaches approach goal setting in different ways. Some favour a formulaic approach using acronyms (such as SMART and GROW), others use more approaches that are more conversational or ones that get you to use your imagination. Having trained in a number of coaching models (performance coaching, cognitive-behavioural coaching and solution-focused coaching) we can work to find an approach that best suits you. (If you’re not sure, we can try out different approaches).

Is there ever a perfect time to embrace change?

Most of the decisions we make in life are based on imperfect information. That’s why in coaching I often ask ‘what would be good enough?’

Perfectionism is part of a black and white view of the world that can be paralyzing. Part of that involves the thought ‘what if coaching doesn’t work?’ ‘What if I’m not ready and waste this opportunity?’ Sometimes it’s nice to options in reserve – like a lifeboat. Again, it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Many coaches offer a free consultancy ( I do). It allows you to ask questions and get an idea if and how a particular coaching approach would work for you. On the last working day of each month, I offer free speed-coaching sessions. A mini-coaching session (20 minutes) for you to see how it works.

Is the coach right for you?

Making a decision from a perspective of stress is not ideal  (except if you’re in imminent danger). When stressed we tend to view the world in black and white. It also leaves us susceptible the lure of the nearest ‘life-saver’, rather than the ultimate one. So, before making an important decision, take a few deep breaths again, then make some notes of the kind of questions you want to be answered before contacting a coach. Here’s a link to my earlier post that might help: How to Find a Life Coach and the Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring One.

If you find the coach’s answers acceptable then you might want to proceed. It doesn’t have to be a full course of coaching. You might just want to try out a single session then decide whether to continue with a course. One session might be all that it takes to help you to move forward.

Alternatives to hiring a life coach

The most obvious alternative to hiring a life coaching, apart from doing nothing at all, is reading a personal or professional development book. The advantages of this are that books are more economical and flexible – you can dip in and out, as and when you wish. The downside is that there’s less of an imperative to make life changes – there’s less commitment. Often we use books to help us to think about things in different ways but stop short of taking action. With personal and professional development it’s not just the thought that counts! It’s how we put those thoughts into action. Reluctance to take action is the biggest barrier to change (back again to ‘ready, willing and able). One-to-one coaching means you are more likely to act on new insights. Each coaching session generates ideas for actions between sessions. These are crucial in building momentum and making progress.

In another earlier post, I offer a blueprint for reading self-help books. To sum it up, the best approach is to suspend your disbelief, read it from cover to cover, do all the exercises and then assess the impact. Doing this will help to spark a perceptual shift as you get to view your current situation from a slightly different angle.

Conclusion?

The aim of this post is to help you to decide whether or not life coaching is right for you, whether you feel it will help you to live a better life and whether you are ready for coaching at this particular time in life. You might decide to dig in and go it alone with renewed vigour. You might decide to buy a book. You might decide to try the ‘two heads are better than one’ approach of working on goals with a friend. Finally, you might decide that the best way forward is to engage the services of a professional coach. With all three options, if you desire to make changes the important things are to: get fresh insights, take ownership and commit to take action.

Post updated: 11 November 2019.

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Pic: Ask about coaching with Dr Gary WoodIf you enjoyed this post and/or found it useful then please use the ‘like’ and share ‘buttons’. Your comments are also welcome. If you wish to ask any questions about this post or coaching in general or wish to book a free consultation, please use the form below.

Further Reading:

 About Gary Wood

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodDr Gary Wood is a chartered psychologist, life coach and broadcaster specializing in applied social psychology, personal development and life coaching. He is the author of Unlock Your Confidence: Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through The Confidence-Karma Method (Buy: Amazon UK  /  Buy: Amazon USA ) Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his coaching and training practice and research consultancy.

To find out more about coaching with Gary Wood or to book a free telephone or Skype consultation, please complete the form below:

How do you know you are ready for coaching and it's the right time for you?

An Ambition Realized: Author Talk – Confidence-Karma at Watkins Books

Pic: Author talk by Dr Gary Wood at Watkins BookshopAnyone who knows me knows that I love books, that means proper books. I’m a tactile learner, I love the touch of real paper. For me if I’m reading a real ‘page-turner’,Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood I actually want to turn the page (not swipe a screen). The internet is a wonderful thing but, for me, nothing beats wandering around a book shop and making a discovery. My favourite book shop is Watkins Books in London. It’s an esoteric bookshop and has been established over 100 years. Every time I visit London, a trip to Watkins is an absolute must. Just a walk along the little alley (Cecil Court) feels like a trip back in time. It’s also been a long-standing ambition to give a talk there and recently that ambition was realized and fortunately filmed for posterity. I was also interviewed in preparation for the talk (see link below).

The talk was entitled simply Confidence-Karma. It’s a concept that I introduced in my book Unlock Your Confidence. Essentially, confidence-karma is about how to boost your own confidence by focusing on boosting confidence in others.  The book outlines my unique approach to confidence building and brings together solution focused coaching, social psychology, positive psychology, teaching and learning theory together with some esoteric ideas, many of which I discovered during trips to Watkins. Here’s the video:

Ask about coaching with Dr Gary WoodThe link to the on-line magazine interview that accompanies: Watkins Magazine : Meet Dr Gary Wood

One of the main strands of my work is life coaching. Clients approach me about work-life balance, career change, general personal development and of course confidence building. My coaching (and training) practice is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh, UK, although through wonders of technology I offer coaching nationally and internationally via Skype.If you happen to have purchased my book, I even deduct the cost of it from a block booking of coaching. If you’d like to ask find out more (or ask questions about the book), please get in touch:

End of Year Review: Most Popular Psychology and Coaching Posts of 2014

The top ten most visited psychology and coaching posts of 2014 for this blog are a mixture of newer posts and a few classics. The body language myth post is a perennial favourite as is the sex and gender post. Over the past couple of years I have been doing a lot of confidence building training and coaching so it’s good to see a number of those are still in the top ten. Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog and if you have any suggestions for blog post topics please use the form below.

The top ten:

  1. Tips for Handling Compliments and Praise ( – giving, receiving and why it’s important) (2014)
  2. Body Language Myth: The 7% – 38% – 55% Rule (2009)
  3. Tips for Making Small Talk, Confidently: Why do it and how to do it (2014)
  4. What Does “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it.” Mean? (2011)
  5. Sex and Gender are NOT the Same Thing! All Gender is a Drag! (2009)
  6. Preventing Mental Fatigue – Good Study Habits (2012)
  7. 3 Techniques to Help You Get Out of Bed Every Day and ‘Rise and Shine’ – Even on a Monday Morning (2014)
  8. 7 Attitudes Towards Human Nature and How They Affect Self-Esteem (2014)
  9. Why There’s No Such Thing as “Too Much Confidence” or “Over-Confidence” (2014)
  10. How to Find a Life Coach (and the questions you need to ask before hiring one) (2014)

If you liked the posts on this blog, please use the buttons below to share with your friends, colleagues and readers and if you have a suggestion for a blog post topic, please get in touch using the form below:

 About Gary Wood

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodDr Gary Wood is a chartered psychologist, life coach and broadcaster specializing in applied social psychology, personal development and life coaching. He is the author of Unlock Your Confidence: Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through The Confidence-Karma Method (Buy: Amazon UK  /  Buy: Amazon USA ) Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his coaching and training practice and research consultancy.

Why You Shouldn’t Ask ‘Why?’ And What Open Questions You Should Use Instead

Ad for coaching with Dr Gary WoodWe are told that to open up conversations we should use open questions – ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘why’. The question is, do ‘why’ questions belong in the same category and are they as useful as the others? Are ‘why’ questions really open questions?  ‘Why’ questions are a favourite of parents, teachers and managers but are they effective in delivering the desired results? Do they really help us to find out why? Often people splutter out, in a panic, the first thing that comes to mind. Rarely, if ever, is that information insightful or useful. In his post, I argue (as the title implies) that from a coaching perspective, why-questions won’t take us forward to consider solutions. Here’s why.

Why ‘why’ feels instinctual

All children go through the ‘why phase’. Talking with my three and half year old niece and trying to explain something recently, every level of explanation was met with ‘why?’ We might argue that the question ‘why?’ is hardwired into our psyche. It becomes almost instinctual to ask ‘why’ when we want more information or to discover the motives behind actions. In reality, asking ‘why’ is a habit. It’s easy. That’s why young children use it. They may not have acquired the language to paraphrase. What they mean is ‘I don’t understand, please explain’. With our more sophisticated grasp of language, we don’t need to rely on ‘why’.

We are not always logical so don’t know ‘why’

Book: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

Read a sample of Unlock your Confidence. See UK or USA.

Managers often use ‘why’ as a coded way to say ‘explain yourself’. It is often ‘finger-pointingly’, accusative and a thinly-veiled put-down. It usually means ‘that was a dumb thing to do’. The ‘why’ question assumes that human beings are totally logical –  like the Vulcans in Star Trek. The problem is, we are not. We often hold competing values and attitudes about ourselves, the world and other people. Sometimes we just do stuff without thinking it through. Sometimes we don’t know why. So when things haven’t gone to plan, just barking ‘why did you do that?’ to someone isn’t likely to yield much useful information. It’s not enlightening it’s disempowering.

When I was writing Unlock Your Confidence I carefully worded the prompt questions so that I didn’t ask ‘why’. This mirrors the same approach I use in coaching. A couple of the editors didn’t ask why. They just changed the questions to the snappier ‘why’. To the editors, my questions might have seemed odd or indirect. They were supposed to be. I don’t want people to be transported back to a ‘naughty-schoolchild’ mindset’. Instead, coaching aims to empower people to think about things in different, more productive ways. I want to shake up perceptions and assumptions. ‘Why’ questions won’t do that. They just lock us into the problem whereas instead of focusing on solutions. So if we accept that people don’t always know why, let’s find a way of focusing on what they do know. To do this let’s analyze the keywords for open questions.

‘Who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, and ‘how’

If we examine the other ‘W’ words ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, there’s a common theme. They all relate to something concrete. When constructing experiments we declare the concrete ingredients before describing the ‘how’. We define the apparatus before detailing the method. It’s the same with a recipe. Ingredients before the step-by-step procedure. Okay, you may protest that when you are pressed for time ‘why’ is just damn quicker. The problem is, that ‘why’ never got your caked baked. That’s mainly down to ‘how’. Even if we do manage to get an answer to ‘why’ question, this may inaccurately frame (or bias) subsequent insights from the other open questions. Sometimes the manager won’t even use the ‘why’ information. It’s just left hanging there without resolution. Instead, the manager or teacher will just tell staff what do to right next time, rather than ask them. ‘Why’ questions can really close down learning because they take us backwards. They are past-oriented questions. ‘Why’ tends to be more abstract and ambiguous. It taps into motivations, attitudes and values. ‘Why’ is philosophical. So, when we are pressed for time, do we really want a philosophical discussion? Why would you want to do that?

Can we never use ‘Why’?

My research supervisor early in my career challenged me about my fondness for exclamation marks. I thought it made me sound engaging, dynamic and passionate. He said it was like laughing at my own jokes. ‘Why’ like exclamation marks should be used sparingly – the equivalent of ‘to really make a point’. In coaching, I rarely use it and if I do, I use it more as a device to get a reality check to be able to shift to a different way of thinking about an issue. In any one coaching session with a client, we spend 20% of the time describing the problem and 80% of the time focusing on solutions. To this end, ‘why’ isn’t very useful at all.

What to use instead of ‘why’

In solution-focused skills training instead of ‘why,’ we use ‘how come?’. It’s rather casual and some might argue that it’s a bit ambiguous or clumsy. However, it appeals to the other person’s insights in a non-threatening way. So if someone is considering making a life-change, asking ‘why’ is often a way of communicating disbelief, implying that it’s the wrong decision. However, people become more invested in declensions if they are allowed to think them through and own them. They may come to realize that the time is not right to make a change. However, it will be their decision. They won’t always be wondering ‘what if?’ So instead of ‘why’ you might ask:

  • ‘What is it that attracts you to this option at this time?’
  • ‘How did you arrive at this decision?’
  • ‘Where might you get further information?’
  • ‘Who else might you ask?’
  • ‘What tells you that now is a good time to make this change?’
  • ‘What other options have you explored?’

All of these questions open out the issue in a way that ‘why’ never will. ‘Why’ may reduce people to the appearance of blithering idiots who don’t appear to know their proverbial arses from their elbows. By substituting ‘why’ with the other open questions, you help draw out a person’s inner resources. ‘Why’ may be quick, but the other open questions, especially ‘how’ promote concrete action. ‘Why’ may often trigger a stress response which puts us into a state of survival (the classic ‘fight or flight’ response) where we are only able to access a limited range of cognitive responses, namely those related to survival. ‘How come?’ is a more relaxed approach which is more likely to enable us to evoke a broader range of cognitive and emotional responses on which we can build.

So that is why you should use ‘why’ sparingly and opt for a broadening range of open questions to tap into a richer source of practical information that helps people learn and move forward.

Finally, as if really need to emphasize the point, here’s a scene in the cult 60s TV series The Prisoner (with Patrick McGoohan) where he challenges the Orwellian super-computer. The protagonist inputs his question and you can see the results here. 

To discuss coaching and how to ask better questions, get in touch using the form below.

Updated: 18 October 2019.

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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 the author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He also offers coaching worldwide through Skype. To get in touch with Gary to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization, use the form below:

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