3 Questions to Help You Set Deadlines for Your Personal Goals (and how to remain accountable to them)

The Twelve of Nevermber - the date for your goals.Many clients tell me that they find it easier to work to an externally set deadline. Personal projects seem to drift along without end, especially when life gets in the way. So what can be done about it? The short answer is to set your own deadline and build in accountability to the process. In this brief post I offer three simple questions that I ask clients. These questions will help you to overcome procrastination, set your own deadlines and increase your motivation.

When would it be too late, to achieve your goal?

  • 1. By what date will you be disappointed that you have not completed this project or reached this goal? In other words ‘what date’s too late?’

This gives a possible end date by which procrastination has gone too far. A goal is really only a goal if it does have a target date. Until then it’s just wishful thinking. An end-point allows you to move out of the ‘intention phase’ and to begin making concrete plans.

Now that you have a latest possible date, it helps to review the reasons. How come this feels too late? If you pass this date, how do you imagine you feel? What are the other negative associations with passing this date? What are the negative consequences of dragging things out until the last-minute? It helps to get something in black and white, so make a list. This becomes something that you can add to and review from time to time. Sticking to your goal will help you to avoid all of this down the line.

What’s your delighted date?

  • 2. For you to be absolutely delighted and elated, by what would you have to meet this goal?

Together with the first question, you now have range for the target date for your goal. the nest change is to inject a little realism.

What date is most realistic to complete your project?

There’s a phrase I use in coaching that I use to preface questions: ‘Knowing yourself as you do’. Coaching should be from a position of realism and self-knowledge. In the ubiquitous SMART goals, the A and the R represent Achievable and Realistic.

  • 3. So, knowing yourself as you do, what would be the most realistic date, between your ‘disappointed’ and ‘delighted’ deadlines for you to complete this goal/project?

This allows you to take into account obstacles, or just aspects of everyday life. The example I often use is starting a healthy eating plan on 23rd December when you also want to enjoy Christmas.

Goal completion: Delighted to Satisfied to Disappointed

Not only do these three questions give you a range of dates to use, they also have an emotional value attached, which helps to address some of the impetus that comes with external goals. This may be enough for you to pick a date, put it in to your diary, program the count down on to your phone or stick a note to the front of the fridge. The question then becomes, how do you maintain the momentum? Aside from engaging the services of a life coach will keep you accountable to your goals, there are techniques you can use by yourself.

The first step is to acknowledge the importance of this target date. If you nurture the attitude that it can move if something else comes along, then it will keep moving. Think about what you do if you are no likely to meet an externally set goal? What’s your process? As soon as you know your are not able to meet the original deadline, you estimate how much longer you would need and then contact the outside person to renegotiate a new deadline. However, the odds are that there will be some room for manoeuvre but not much. It’s important that you use the same criteria to re-set your own goals. If you don’t the over-arching message is ‘this is not important enough’. If you make a habit of reinforcing the ‘not important enough’ message it’s unlikely that you will meet the goal.

Using a formalised procedure for goal-setting

Some people find acronyms useful, others loathe them. There are a lot of them about, with SMART and GROW being the most famous. My own addition to the goal-setting acronyms is GO-FLOW. It’s a development of the GROW acronym. I came up with to fit in with the water-based theme of my book Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It!  GO-FLOW stands for: Goal, Observation, Feelings, Limitations, Options, Will. For more information see: Going For Your Goals or Going with the Flow.

There are many goal setting tips on this site (See: Goal-setting Posts ). The important thing is to find a formalised system to help you keep track of the goals. One development of the SMART goals formula I use is SMARTER: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Enthusiastically Phrased and Reviewable. Goals evolve as we progress, especially with regard to achievability and realism.  However if you need to readjust target dates it shouldn’t be done with a shrug of the shoulders. it should go through a formal process, even the act of putting the new date on a calendar or in your diary. ‘Whenever I can fit it’ means the goal is unlikely to be met.

Rewards as accountability

The most powerful of tools for shaping and changing behaviour is simple rewards. Working on goals should be a thankless task, so it’s important to break down bigger goals into smaller steps and build in a series of rewards as you complete the steps. When you are rewarded it makes it more likely that a behaviour will be repeated. So give yourself something to look forward to as you progress with your goals, obviously keep the reward proportionate to the achievement. You should save the bigger celebration for the end.

It can be more difficult to meet goals that do not have external deadlines. The main difference is that we often approach external deadlines more seriously. This post has offered a process and ideas for creating more compelling personal deadlines to make sure that  perpetual postponing is not inevitable.

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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 for your goals, with Gary Wood, please get in touch using the form below:

Why Thomas Edison as a Role Model for Personal Development is Only Half the Picture

Picture of rival  inventors Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison

Rival Inventors: Nikola Tesla (R) and Thomas Edison (L)

You may have seen or heard the motivational quote to encourage persistence that cites the example of  inventor Thomas Edison. It’s doubtful that the encounter ever happened and the numbers of attempts reported by self hep gurus certainly vary. The story goes that Edison was asked how it felt to fail a 1000 times to invent the light bulb. Edison is said to have answered ‘I didn’t fail, I discovered 999 things that didn’t work’ or ‘the light bulb was an invention that took 1000 steps’. The general message is that you shouldn’t give up. You should never quit. Yes, persistence is important but so is your approach.

There were many fitting tributes to Thomas Edison when he died with one notable exception of Nikola Tesla, which was quoted in The New York Times (in 1931):

If he had a needle to find in a haystack he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, but would proceed at once, with the feverish diligence of a bee, to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. … I was almost a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.

Of course Tesla, also an inventor, was purportedly a bitter rival of Edison. However the point Tesla makes is that Edison didn’t have to spend a 1000 attempts to solve a problem if he had refined his approach.

In recent years there has been much debate about the contributions of the two inventors most notably the Oatmeal comic has championed Tesla at the expense of Edison. Many of its claims are hotly contested by an Edison biographer. It’s not the aim of this post to attempt to settle the debate. I have provided the links so you decide. The aim of this post is to make the point is that for any personal or professional endeavour there needs to be a marriage of scientific method and persistence.

Book: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodI returned to studying psychology as a mature student and one of the first things I did was delve into the introductory textbook’s chapters on cognitive psychology. It made sense to me to use psychology to study psychology. In a few hours I discovered lots of tips that teachers had never told me. Up until this point my efforts at studying at all been about persistently plodding along. Cognitive psychology taught me a few short cuts. I had in Tesla’s words applied a little theory and calculation. Instead of the fly that repeatedly collides with a window trying to get outside, I’d become a baby learning to walk. The baby is a better metaphor for learning that the fly. My subsequent interest in (life) coaching came through teaching a class of mature students studying psychology. I had a chance to pass on my insights for study skills. I also learned better ways of building confidence and motivation by starting to train as a life coach.

The blind persistence approach is often encourage by the ‘positive thinking’ movement. Edison has become the self-help gurus’ because he most closely resembles the modern day entrepreneur, whereas Tesla died penniless. Now of course an attitude of persistence is important however it’s equally important to have an action-plan that begins with a working hypothesis. We need a blend of Edison and Tesla. Persistence, a focused and organized method plus an eye on the material world.

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About Gary Wood

Dr 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.

How to have a better year than your Facebook year

So what kind of year have you had? According to my year on Facebook, it’s ‘end of year review’ app makes it look as if all I ever do is eat! Of course it’s based on pictures posted and I’m careful what I share on Facebook just in case it alters its terms and conditions and my photographs end up in some dodgy advertising campaign. Nevertheless, it still feels a bit imbalanced.

Seeing my Facebook year in pictures has forced me to consider the questions ‘Did I have the year I wanted?’ ‘What do I want from the coming year and how do I go about getting it? How I answer these question comes down to my values. So how about you?  Does your Facebook summary might do justice to the year you’ve had, assuming you’ve succumbed to the lure of Facebook. What are your highlights and how did these coincide with your values?

When interviewing students for a place on a psychology course I used to ask ‘What are you going to have to give up to complete this course?’ It’s a great question to ask when pursuing any personal goals. Most people have time in their lives where they just fill that time (or kill time). Usually potential students answered that they would spend less time watching TV. Of course, less time spent on Facebook is another possibility. How do you spend time on there and does it further your goals. If you are running a business then social media can be very useful. However many people use social media to relieve boredom.

In order to focus the coming year, consider your top values in life. These will form the headlines for the year ahead. Top of my values list is ‘curiosity or love of learning’. For this to appear in my end of year review, I’m going to have to take actions to learn stuff. Another of my values is ‘making a contribution’. So I have to think about translating that value into action. Matching goals to values is an important part of personal development. Another value is making connections with people as opposed to going through the motions electronically. So I know I have read books, attended courses, run my own courses, coached people and met some new people this year. None of this is reflected in my facebook year, but i have honestly. Check out my Facebook page!

The truth is that you don’t have to take photographs of every little event in your life. We can lose out of living in the present moment whilst fiddling about getting the right lighting and camera settings. It’s enough to keep your main values as themes at front of your mind as reminders. These values become the guide for actions. So if you find yourself spending hours in front of the TV or computer screen, you can ask yourself: How is this supporting my values? Is this going to be one of the year’s highlights? Is this going to make up a large proportion of my year?

Your values become your checklist throughout the year so that you don’t get to the end of the year wondering where it went and what you did with it. So what if you’re so busy getting on with life that you don’t end up with a great album in Facebook.

Now here’s a picture of my meatball Gary Wood's Meatball Lasagnelasagne!

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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.

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

We are told that to open up conversations we should use open questions, that is, questions that begin with ‘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 suggests) that we should use the other open question forms (instead of ‘why’) for solution finding. The question is ‘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 WoodManagers 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, why 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.

When I was writing Unlock Your Confidence I carefully worded 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’. My questions sometimes seem odd. However they are supposed to. I want people to think about things in a different way. I want to shake up perceptions and assumptions. ‘Why’ questions won’t do that. They just lock us into the problem whereas I want to focus on the 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 key words 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 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 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 broaden range of cognitive and emotional responses on which we can build.

So that is why you should use ‘why’ sparingly and opt for a broaden 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 and you can see the results here. No prizes for guess what the question was.

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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 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. Contact Gary Wood by email to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

 

Displacement Activities: How We Use Them to Maintain Confidence and How to Use Them for Problem Solving

Displacement activities are things we choose to do instead of doing the things we are supposed to be doing. Many of us have at sometime succumbed to the lure of de-scaling the kettle over the call of a pressing deadline. When I was writing Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come in Swim Out to Meet It  I was struggling with one chapter and woke up one morning with the bright idea that the bathroom needed redecorating. Of course I justified it because of the water connection: bathrooms and ships are quite similar, and I did use a bit of blue paint to create a nautical theme. In this post, we’ll look at the reasons for choosing displacement activities as well as how they can actually be useful in problem solving.

We engage in displacement activity when tasks seem overwhelming, boring, or when we resent having to do them at all (negative attitude). Sometimes we do them when we feel stuck, figuring that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Sometimes we’ll defend ourselves by arguing that what we are doing is essential to the main task.

Feeling overwhelmed, so doing something else instead

Overwhelming tasks and goals affect our confidence. When things seem too daunting the temptation is to do something else instead. Self-efficacy is the sense of how effectively we operate in the world. Choosing a simpler more manageable task helps maintain our sense that we can get things done, even though these tasks may have nothing to do with our main goals. The cornerstone of goal-setting is to break big goals down into smaller manageable chunks.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Over the years of working with students, the ‘study timetable’ seems like essential preparation but often becomes a displacement activity. I’ve seen study time tables so beautifully illustrated it would put the illuminations of medieval monks to shame with the intricacy and sophistication of the designs. The timetables are often laminated although I have no idea why they need to be splash proof! Yes it’s important to prepare but it should not displace the main goal.

To prepare effectively for a task we first need to know what the task entails and what we are going to need to complete it. A good metaphor for goal setting is a recipe (or a scientific experiment). We need to clearly state what ingredients we need and the step-by-step procedure to get an end result.

How attitudes can move us forward or hold us back

When we judge a task to be boring, we’ll pretty much do anything else to avoid it. It’s another key theme I use in academic coaching with students. Sometimes we get a sense of overwhelm when the task ahead appears monotonous. Some students protest that studying for exams is plain boring. However, this is their choice. By finding more interesting ways to study and by incorporating all of our senses, we can take away some of the sense of overwhelm and change our attitude to the task. We process information more effectively if we approach the task with a positive attitude. After all if we have to do something then resenting it only makes it more painful. By finding a way to make a task more manageable and more interesting we can boost our sense of self efficacy.

Displacement activities and problem solving

Sometimes when trying to solve a problem we just get stuck. In this case, a bit of displacement (more accurately ‘distraction’) might actually help. Have you ever noticed when you have hit a block with a problem that the solution just seems to pop into your head when you’re doing something else? This is a recognised phenomenon in psychology. Our brains continue to work on the problem in the background. It’s known as incubation or as I call it ‘putting things in my cognitive slow cooker’. It works best when you have really tried to solve a problem as hard as you can. In essence you’ve already given it your best shot. Now admittedly my ‘decorating the bathroom’ was a bit extreme. However, I had been working on the book for more than fourteen hours a day for over a week. It got to the point where I just needed to do something else. So to get the most out of this psychological phenomenon pick something that uses a different set of skills to the main task, that is, create some variety/balance. Alternatively, just go for a walk in the park. Taking a break gives our brains a chance to absorb the information.

In Summary

When we are drawn to displacement activities at the start of a task it is the sign that we need to change our attitude, look for redeemable qualities in the task, use more of your skills and senses to make the task more interesting, break the task down into smaller milestones and just take action.

The sense of self-efficacy gained from displacement activities is just a quick fix. It deals with the negative emotions associated by the sense of overwhelm but it is by taking control of the situation that leads to lasting confidence.

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If you found this post useful:

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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Do coaching and counselling mix?

When new clients approach me one of the first questions is whether coaching or counselling would be best suited to their needs. Getting the right sort of professional support from the outset is important. Coaches should be primarily concerned with goals not emotional distress. It doesn’t help as their seem to have sprung up a lot of coaches who deal with depression. Even more worrying is the proliferation of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) practitioners who claim to deal with serious psychological issues and have also branched into coaching. The boundaries between coaching and counselling have become blurred. It all gets rather confusing for the prospective client. When people are troubled they don’t always seek out the most appropriate help, just the nearest one. In this post I’d like to address the main issues with these blurred lines.

Coaching, Counselling and Psychotherapy

Coaching differs from counselling and psychotherapy in that coaching is usually about the ‘here and now’ and the future. Counselling usually covers, past, present and future and includes an element of distress or psychological disturbance. Psychotherapy is often longer term and deals with more severe disturbances. In essence coaching is about goals.  It’s a commonly heard phrase that ‘if there ain’t goals, then it ain’t coaching‘. Coaches are not therapists and should refer clients on to suitably qualified professionals.

I work in a centre with counselling professionals and if I feel a client’s needs are best served by counselling then I refer them to a colleague, with an option to return to coaching, of course.

Crossover between coaching and counselling

Some coaching approaches are based on psychotherapy models such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). I took a training course in SFBT to seeing  how I might apply it to coaching. I didn’t have to try very hard. Infact, many of the techniques translate so well into the coaching arena that they need little or no change. So we might say that SFBT has an element of coaching. The same can be said for CBT, with its emphasis on perceptual and behavioural change.

What about having coaching and counselling at the same time?

There are debates on whether coaching, counselling and therapy should be mixed in the same session. For SFBT and CBT they already are to some degree. So for counsellors and psychotherapists applying coaching skills might offer a useful bridge to focus on the future. I’d suggest that, ideally, counsellors or psychotherapists would refer a client on to a coach after addressing the emotional issues.

ask_about_coaching copyFor coaching clients even though the coach may have the skills, the focus of coaching should be goals and not dipping in and out of the past. To do so will only confuse the client. Yes, the coach may have to address emotional upset as issues ‘touch a nerve’ but it should not be the primary focus.

There is no reason why a client cannot attend counselling and coaching in the same time frame as long as the approaches complement each other as long as boundaries between the two remain clear.

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If you want to explore coaching, I urge to read my earlier post: How to Find a Life Coach (and the questions you need to ask before hiring one). If you like to discuss my coaching services please contact me.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIf you found this useful or interesting:

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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Is there a positive takeaway message behind the cynical celebrity endorsement? David Beckham and Lego

In a seemingly quiet day in the news, David Beckham reveals that he likes to unwind and relax with expensive building brick construction kits (Lego). The story has made most of the British tabloids.Some have pointed out that this is rather an expensive ‘addiction’. I suspect it has nothing at all to do with addiction and everything to do with money and column inches in the press. The story screams of free advertising and celebrity endorsement. Imagine how much it would cost in advertising for Lego? Furthermore, if Mr Beckham has ever paid for these £200 (plus) construction kits of famous buildings and landmarks, it is unlikely that he will have to do so in the future!

The therapeutic importance of play

So is there a message for ordinary people? Yes. Despite the cynical nature of the story, it’s actually about the human capacity to play throughout our lives. Play is a significant method in learning about the world from an early. We get to try out scenarios and express ourselves in a low threat way. Why should we be surprised that David Beckham likes to play? After all he has made a career out of playing a game and dressing up. Other famous people like to play. Who can forget ‘Prince of Darkness’ Ozzy Osbourne’s fondness for ‘colouring in’ the reality programme, The Osbournes? We only have to think of grandparents playing with their grandchildren to see how easy it is to forget to act your age. Play is incredibly therapeutic. It is also used in the training setting, where role-play, loved by some and loathed by others, is a mainstay. Play is good for us, whatever our age or income bracket.

The importance of goals and the concept of ‘flow’

As a hobby, construction kits and jigsaw puzzles also offer us ready-made goals. The goal is simple: just make it look like the picture on the front of the box. When we are motivated to do a task that stretches us, it puts us in a state of flow. This is a state where we lose sense of our selves and lose all sense of time as we become totally absorbed by the task. Another phrase for this is ‘being in the zone’. According to positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-Zent-Me-Hi), ‘being in flow’ is a state of happiness. The more time spent in flow, the happier we are.

Takeaway value – play more – create flow

So yes, this celebrity endorsement story does have takeaway value. The answer does not lie in lashing out on expensive toys. You don’t have to ‘break the bank’ to get a similar beneficial effect. Instead, just get a hobby. Find something that absorbs you and uses your skills and helps to develop those skills. If you already have a hobby, spend a bit more time doing it. Spent more time in flow. That’s it.

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If you enjoyed this post and found it useful:

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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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

4 Ways to Deal with Overwhelming Life Challenges

Facing up to a new challenge can be overwhelming especially when it seems like totally unchartered territory. Sometimes we doubt ourselves and overlook our past experiences and transferable skills. This leads to a dip in self-confidence. However, often, the only difference between a new challenge and an old challenge is perception. If we perceive something as novel then we might assume that it needs a novel approach whereas what it needs is an application of what we already know. We tend to process information by making connections and create scripts or templates that help us to cut down on the amount of novel information we need to process. It’s a form of cognitive economy.  When faced with a problem or a challenge, we don’t start with a blank slate. We attempt to fit new experiences into old scripts. However when under stress we often don’t make important connections with our life experiences. This means that self-doubt overshadows self-assurance.

Changing Attitudes – Changing Perceptions

We make sense of the world through out attitudes. By changing our attitude we gain a different perspective. This is at the heart of my approach to (life) coaching. My first foray into coaching was as a teaching fellow at my first university job. My open door policy meant that students often dropped in for a chat. Often conversations were about feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of studying. My job was to work out whether I could help or whether I needed to refer the students on. Often, a chat was enough.

I adopted this approach long before I had any formal coaching training and I still use the approach today. It is based on four principles: relax, consider choice, evaluate past experiences, and goal-setting.

  1. Relax. Stress has the effect of reducing our options. It throws us into survival mode where the main choices are fight or flight. However this means that other important options and connections can get overlooked. By taking a few long, slow deep breaths we short-circuit the stress response so that we are able to explore a range of responses. This is known as the Broaden and Build approach to personal development.
  2. Consider choices. Sometimes challenges seem to offer no choice. We feel forced or pressured with no control over our circumstances. I’ve lost count in my own life when I faced challenges that seemed too overwhelming that I wanted to give up. This is especially true of just about any course or path of study I have undertaken. However, this is perfectly normal. It acts like a safety valve to know that giving up is an option. The first time I used this technique was with a student who arrived at my office door quite distraught. She said that she couldn’t cope with the pressure and just wanted to go down to the coach station, get on a bus and get away from it. I took a risk and asked ‘where would you go?’ This took her aback and she replied ‘I don’t know. Blackpool? Anywhere’. I simply pointed out that it was an option. She could not bother with forthcoming exam and just go to Blackpool (an English seaside town) instead. She then started to ask questions about her future to which I replied ‘Well, you’re going to have to come up with some different plans, it’s up to you’. It was then that she realised that she was choosing to put herself through the ‘ordeal’ of examinations. It wasn’t long before she decided she needed to ‘take her leave’ (but not to Blackpool). She said ‘I can’t hang around all day chatting, I’ve got an exam to revise for’. Realising that it was a choice altered her perception of the challenge.
  3. Past successes – Make a list of occasions where you felt overwhelmed in the past and how you managed to get through it. How did you do it? What skills or personal qualities did you use? This will help you to put the new challenge into context. Start with a few long slow deep breaths and get as much down on paper as you can. Take time to add to the list. In my coaching I often follow up a question with ‘anything else?’ I’ll do this several times. This prompt invariably inspires more thoughts and insights. Sometimes during a coaching session a client will think of something else they have forgotten. It’s also true that insights often occur right at the end of a session. Reviewing past successes and skills is a key way to boost self-efficacy, our sense that we are effective agents in the world and not passive victims.
  4. Goal-setting. It’s a core principle of goal-setting to break bigger goals into smaller milestones. A longer term goal comprises a series of shorter term goals. There’s no such thing as a insignificant first step. Simply by making a start you alter your perception of a goal. Once you have tackled the first step, the second step becomes clearer. Also, sometimes chipping away at a problem from a few different angles can help to highlight the ‘vulnerabilities’ of a seemingly impenetrable challenge. Making a start before you can see all the way ahead begins to create a path.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThese four strategies are key to coping with challenges and building confidence, self-efficacy and esteem. Together they form a solution-focused, skills-oriented approach that has the effect of changing attitudes and therefore altering perceptions.It is through this different set of lenses that we are able to access our core strengths, transferable skills and personal experiences.

For further information see Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood.

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Why Do We Feel Better in the Sunshine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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