End of Year Review 2016: Top Psychology and Coaching Posts

Pic: Social Psychologist, Dr Gary Wood discusiing gender stereotypes

In 2016 I’ve been involved with many writing projects (& reports) and so the blog took something of a back seat. So, still at number one in the top ten most visited psychology, coaching and confidence posts of 2016 is the body language post. However it’s amazing that I often hear the body language repeated as if fact. So maybe there are still a few more years’ worth of sharing left in it!  Apart from the Orange, Silver, Purple, and Month poem (don’t ask), many of the posts are based on tools and techniques I use in my coaching practice, which have also found their way into my books:

  1. Body Language Myth: The 7% – 38% – 55% Rule.
  2. What Does “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it. Mean?
  3. Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching.
  4. What Rhymes with Orange, Silver, Purple, and Month?
  5. Why You Shouldn’t Ask Why? And What Open Questions You Should Use Instead.
  6. A Simple Technique for Dealing with Overwhelming Negative Thoughts and Feelings.
  7. Tips for Handling Compliments and Praise ( – giving, receiving and why it’s important).
  8. Three Top Tips: How to Get the Most from a Self Help Book.
  9. Why There’s No Such Thing as “”Too Much Confidence” or “Over-Confidence.
  10. Self-Disclosure: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right? Are You an Open or Closed Book?

The most popular page visited on the blog is What is Solution Focused Coaching? This is usually visited as a prelude to people getting in touch to find out how the solution focused coaching approach would help them with goals. Although 2016 has been viewed as ‘a bit of a disaster’  by many, I’m still amazed and humbled by the clients I have worked with. Many of them set themselves ‘making a difference’ goals and many have achieved some amazing results despite the doom and gloom pervading 2016. For many of them, this became an added motivation at a time when the world needs more people who make a positive difference.

I’m looking forward to working with more courageous people in 2017! And if you’d like to find out how solution focused coaching can help you, your goals and your organization, then do get in touch.

Best Wishes and Bright Moments

Gary Wood

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.

 

A Simple Technique for Dealing with Overwhelming Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Sometimes feelings and thoughts can overwhelm us. We might feel totally consumed by an emotion. The way we describe and give an account of these thoughts and emotions are important. However language is imprecise and doesn’t always do justice to the way we think or feel. In this post I offer a simple technique (that I use in my coaching practice) that may help when we feel encompassed by our thoughts and feelings. It’s based on appealing to the different parts of you. It won’t effect a miracle but it may help to usher in a little hope.

Broaden and Build

Book: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn times of stress we think in terms of absolutes. In the classic ‘fight or flight’ survival mode we draw on a limited range of options. If it feels like an emergency we don’t have time to consider all options. By contrast when we are more relaxed we are able to access a broader range of cognitions. This is the essence of Barbara Frederickson’s Broaden and Build theory of positive emotions. In everyday life we speak about ‘taking a deep breath’ before tackling a challenging task. This is the basis of meditations and mindfulness techniques that abound and something I discuss in greater depth in my book Unlock Your Confidence. However, I am concerned with linguistic techniques here.

Partitioning the emotion

One technique I use with my coaching clients, I borrowed from the theory and practice of focusing, initially created by Eugene Gendlin (and developed by Ann Weiser Cornellsee link below for her book). It’s a form of body-mind therapy that has the individual look inwards to listen to the messages the body gives us. Through the process, people describe the feeling and basically free associate. Part of the process involves naming the part of the body from which the feeling appears to emanate and use the phrase  ‘part of me’. So instead of ‘I’m angry’, you would say ‘part of me is angry’. This seems an accurate representation of what we often do when experiencing mixed emotions, especially in relation to relationships with loved ones. Yes we love them but part of us is sometimes infuriated by them.

Once you have partitioned the feeling, it immediately invites you to consider the part or parts of you that are not feeling a particular way.  In coaching sessions it helps the client consider their issues from a broader range of internal perspectives. Invariably the dialogue follows the pattern ‘You know, yes part of my is angry and rightly so and secretly part of me is relieved or delighted’ and so on. Using ‘part of me’ acknowledges that we are multi-faceted beings and that cannot be reduced to black and white, either-or states. It doesn’t deny the feeling. It acknowledges it  in a way that allows other aspects of your experience to have a voice too. It helps to provide a useful platform from which you can move forward. Together with other solution-focused principles it can help break the stronghold of overwhelm. As with any technique, it becomes more effective if you make it a habit, not use it when you need it. It’s a way in which our language shape our thoughts and build our confidence (and esteem) by revealing all aspects of ourselves.

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Also, check out these similar posts:

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  • If you want to find out more about focusing, check out Ann Weiser Cornell’s excellent book: The Power of Focusing (see on Amazon UK or Amazon.com

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

Combining Business with Pleasure: A Cup of Coffee as a Measure of Confidence

I was delighted to contribute a blog post to Coffee Birmingham. The site is dedicated to raising the profile of Birmingham’s independent coffee shops. The post is entitled Confidence, Coaching and a Cup of Coffee. Essentially it’s about how a simple thing such as visiting a coffee show can be a measure of confidence. It was great fun writing it as I managed to combine a few of my passions and link them to my coaching practice. Please check it out: http://coffeebirmingham.co.uk/coaching/ and do leave at comment and share with your friends and colleagues.

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 (life) coaching practice and research consultancy. He is fan of great coffee and wrote most of his book  Unlock Your Confidence over innumerable flat whites. Use the form below to contact Gary to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization. Meeting up over a coffee is a distinct possibility!

A Short Exercise in Self-Belief (and banishing self-doubt)

Most people at some time are plagued by self-doubt. Many people struggle to accept compliments and praise. A key factor is practice. Certainly, in Britain there’s a saying that self-praise is no praise at all. I’d like to counter that with the adage that ‘charity begins at home’ and offer a short exercise in self-belief.

Book: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThe feedback I’ve had from a number of people in my workshops is that they find the self-compliment exercise from my book (Unlock Your Confidence) is particularly hard to do. All I ask that you look in the mirror, look yourself in the eye pay yourself a compliment. I consider this to be a litmus test of confidence and esteem. And true, it also transgresses the social more of never having anything nice to say about yourself.

What kind of a rule is that? It’s certainly not a basis for greater self-assurance or self-efficacy – the sense that we are effective agents in the world.

Instead, try this:

  • Recently, I’ve adapted this idea and ask people to set a stopwatch for just 60 seconds.
  • Close your eyes and compliment yourself against the clock. See how many compliments and things to praise yourself about that you can cram in to 60 seconds. It does matter if you repeat yourself, just keep going for the full minute.
  • When you’ve mastered that, try it for two minutes and work your way up to three minutes.
  • Now try 60 seconds in front of a mirror with eyes open.

As with any skill, you get better as your practice, so build it into part of your daily routine. Before you get out of bed each morning, close your eyes and praise yourself for 60 seconds. Use the technique before challenging tasks too.

This technique helps to balance out the cultural bias towards negative self-talk. In my confidence building workshops people describe themselves as feeling ‘lighter’, ‘more energized’ and ‘more optimistic’. Of course I’ve tried it out myself, and indeed there is a shift in my energy and posture. So try it yourself (for a month) and let me know how you get on. What impact does it have on self-doubt, self-belief and self-efficacy?

Combine this with my Getting the Gratitude Attitude Exercise ( with Free PDF Diary Sheet)

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About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

Has mindfulness become a dirty word? And why it’s just really about connecting more fully with everyday life

Is mindfulness becoming a dirty word? Has it become the most over-used concept since Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Judging from some of the comments I hear in coaching consultations and training, for some people it has taken on all the baggage that goes with the idea of meditation. It’s the idea that it’s all very impractical ‘head in the clouds, aerie-faerie nonsense’ that lacks meaning or relevance for everyday life. In this post I challenge some of these negative misconceptions by offering some down-to-earth examples of mindfulness in action.

How we define a concept shapes our attitudes towards it. Sometimes mindfulness is presented as something we need to add to our already-busy lives. However, it’s really just about ‘present moment awareness’. When you watch a sunrise or a sunset, your full attention is on the present.That’s mindfulness. When you become totally absorbed in your hobby (or goals), that’s mindfulness.

There are many things we do on ‘auto-pilot’. When we first learn a new skill we have to pay attention to the details. When the skill becomes automatic our minds can wonder. You might listen to two singers or musicians of equal technical ability both perform a piece and prefer one over the other. One you might describe as ‘really feeling it’ and the other as ‘just going through the motions’ or ‘phoning in the performance’.

Examples of everyday mindfulness

Food

Research has shown that mindfulness has a positive impact on the more mundane pleasures in life such as eating. This is a particular ‘hobby of mine and it’s been said that I’m often far too vocal about my appreciation of a good meal (although I stop short of a ‘When Harry Met Sally’ mment). When we really pay attention and appreciate the food we tend to eat fewer calories than when slumped in front of the TV shovelling in the food on autopilot. Think how much popcorn we consume at the cinema when our attention is elsewhere. So any healthy eating could start with actually making a conscious attempt to pay attention to the food. Food is best served with the lights on and the TV off.

Taking Up A Hobby

Who can forget the sight of Ozzy Osbourne sitting in his kitchen colouring-in (in the first season of The Osbournes reality TV show)? However recent research suggests that the ‘prince of darkness’ was on to something. Colouring-in can be good for us. In effect it puts us in a state of mindfulness as pay attention to the task of ‘not going over the lines’. Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, found that people who pursue creative activities outside the workplace deal with stress better and performance improves at work, even humble ‘colouring-in’.

In book Unlock Your Confidence I mention how a simple walk in nature can boost feelings of self-esteem. According to writer Richard Louw connecting with nature boosts creativity and health. Not surprisingly, research also shows that spending time gardening can also increase feelings of well-being. They ground us in the present moment.

This all fits in with the concept of ‘flow’ in positive psychology. Put simply ‘flow’ is the state of total absorption in a task or activity when we appear to lose all sense of time. According to positive psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced ‘Chick-sent-me-high’).spending time in ‘flow’ is a definition of happiness.

Mindfulness is about engaging more fully with life

Mindfulness doesn’t have to feel like an alien activity. You can connect with the present moment in very ordinary ways that support your everyday life. The difference is that you connect more fully with your life.

So next time you hear the world mindfulness in a training course, in a magazine, book or on TV, just take it as a prompt to ask ‘where’s my attention now? Is it on the activity in hand? If not, take it is a signal to reconnect and engage with what you are doing.

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About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

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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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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Self-Help, Personal Growth and the Reluctance to Take Action

You can have a bookcase full of self-help books and attend all the top personal development courses but if you don’t put them into practice then what is the point?

My approach to personal and professional development is solution focused and action oriented. It’s often said that if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching. Goals need action plans but to mean anything they have to be followed through. Of course many people get this. People approach me for coaching because they are fired up and ready to go. However, occasionally, I get inquiries from people who are more interested in how I can magically transform them and instill instant motivation and preferably just bring about change without ‘the pain’ of action. The short answer is ‘I’ll work with you and help you to achieve your goals but I won’t work against you!’

My first insight into the ‘transformation by reflection’ rather than action came in the review of my book Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It’. Some bright spark reviewer on Amazon described it is an average self-help book because ‘you do need to apply the advice within if you are to gain something‘. At the time I was surprised at this review. Since this I have encountered similar sentiments in different arenas. I have had inquiries from potential coaching clients who state boldly that they know all about goal setting but ‘just lack motivation’ and don’t know why. When I mention values they usually reply that they know all about values too. Maybe some people are invested in being enigmas or maybe there is just a stronger motivator in their lives other than achieving their goals. Maybe some people feel the need to explore and analyse their feelings and delve into the past. That’s fine but it ain’t coaching.

In my confidence workshops, I use warm-up exercises. These are low threat opportunities to have a little fun and build group cohesion. Occasionally, someone will decide to ‘sit these out’ or on occasion pretend to go to the toilet and never return. For the majority of the people who do take a chance they usually reap the rewards. They feel connected to the group and usually have a good laugh in the process. There’s nothing like a laughter as the perfect platform for learning. Over-reflection and rumination are not the solution they are more likely to be the problem. We need to balance reflection with some action.

I was asked to run a staff development session on how to motivate other people. So I thought I’d offer some skills on motivational interviewing. However the word came back that they ‘don’t want motivational interviewing. We’ve already done that’. My immediate thought was ‘so why don’t you use it then?’ I soon found out why. Instead I offered to do solution-focused coaching skills. The word came back that this sounded fine as long as there was no role play, ‘they don’t like role play’. Role play is the mainstay of coaching and counselling training. I suspect that the motivational interviewing training didn’t contain any practical exercises. They never got to experience the techniques in action and so judged their efficacy on incomplete knowledge (just their thoughts and feelings). I don’t know anyone who ever learned to ride a bike by hearing about it and thinking about it. You have to get on the damn thing and fall off a few times!

Often the solution is to go against our pre-judgement (prejudice) and just try the techniques out anyway. It’s part of the approach of treating new learning experiences as personal experiments. It doesn’t matter if they don’t totally work for you. It’s just important to get some feedback. It’s true that we are not all the same but there are basic psychological principles that apply to us all. We discover our unique way of learning without a broad psychological framework. A key principle is that at some point we need to take action.

Coaching offers a tailor-made personal development programme and at the heart of it is co-operation. It’s a collaborative process. It shouldn’t be the coach working against the client. The coach is the co-pilot not a hostage negotiator! Most of my coaching training involved experiencing the techniques in training. I even went through coaching to support my training. I didn’t have to do it. I just seemed logical that I had to fully experience the process from the perspective of a client.

Much of coaching and training is about attitude change. The three components of attitudes are: feelings, thoughts and actions. Sometimes people focus too heavily on feelings and so avoid moving outside their comfort zone. However, it is only by taking action that we get to fully explore our feelings. Feelings and thoughts are internal. Actions are external. Actions represent fresh input to consider. They can help us to redefine our sense of ourselves. That’s when change can take place.

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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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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.

Links:

How to Cope, Bounce Back and Thrive in Times of Change and Uncertainty

Some people seem to cope with change better than others, even though change is inevitable. Change is happening all the time. The ancient Chinese book of philosophy and guidance, The I Ching is known as ‘The Book of Change(s)’, recognizing that we are living in a state of potentiality. How we cope with change and how we bounce back is largely down to perception. Change can be a threat, an opportunity or a time for reflection. In this post we’ll look at some of the psychology behind change and consider a few tips for coping better adapting and thriving in the face of uncertainty.

Black and white categories and cognitive-economy

We make sense of the world, mainly through selective attention and simplification. We wouldn’t be able to cope if we had to process every bit of information that comes our way, so we run a sort of cognitive economy filter. One of the way we simplify is to carve the world up into black and white categories, just like those TV barristers who demand yes or no answers to their questions. These black and white categories are really a model of the world than an accurate representation of the world. Dealing with black-and-white thinking is a key theme in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). If we adhere to rigidly to these categories then emotional problems may occur. It’s one of the things I tackle in my confidence building workshops. Seeing confidence as an ‘either-or’, ‘have-or-have-not’ state is not very useful. Often there is a lot to be gained by considering the grey area, the excluded middle. This is often where real-life is live and where we can find solutions.

In/tolerance of Uncertainty

In psychology there are various concepts to describe a preference for black-and-white categories, such as Personal Need for Structure and Tolerance of Ambiguity. As with all aspects of psychology, the human experience inhabits a spectrum of difference. We all need structure to varying degrees, that same with our tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty. Those who are more tolerant fare better in times of change. It’s tempting to use the ‘that’s just the way I am’ card, but it is possible to work our tolerances. We can adapt to change by changing our attitudes and perceptions. Again, this is a key theme in CBT.

Competing Needs: Novelty versus familiarity

If you’ve ever attended a training course, chances are you’ve encountered Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. After our biological needs have been satisfied, one of the fundamental needs is our need for security. A key aspect of security is that things are familiar and predictable. However, just to mix things up, if you’ve ever observed a baby or a toddler you’ll know that they are drawn to new things. This doesn’t change as we age. Throughout our lives we balance novelty and familiarity. Often they are at odds with one another. We do a kind of mental accounting to assess whether we should play it safe and stick with what we know or take a chance.

The buffering effect of Psychological Hardiness

When I was writing and researching Unlock Your Confidence, I happened upon the concept of psychological hardiness (like resilience) and how it provides a buffering effect for health and well-being when dealing with stressful life changes and times of uncertainty. Much of the research was carried out with people in stressful jobs, such front-line services fire-fighters and people in the military. Three key attitudes were found that help some people cope with uncertainty and change better than others. These are the three Cs of: commitment, control and challenge.

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

Keeping a journal to cope with challenges and change

Journaling is a simple and effect technique of coping with challenges and change. When stressed our focus and thoughts narrow to survival options. This means that we overlook past experiences that could be the key with coping with a current situation. Journaling helps on two ways: (i) It helps you to organize your thoughts as you are going through the situation, (ii) It provides a permanent record of your personal coping strategies. Keeping a journal is also one of my top three tips for getting the most out of a self-help book.

Cognitive tricks for coping in times of uncertainty

It’s tempting to write off techniques as mental tricks. I’ve heard people claim that such methods are just fooling ourselves and are not authentic. I’d argue that the exact opposite is true. We use mental tricks all the time to make sense of the world. We actively filter things out. Taking control of our lives is in part about being aware of how we structure our experience. It’s also about being more aware of the range of our experience. One trick that I used when I moved home and found it difficult to settle into a new routine was to pretend I was on holiday. So I set myself a time limit of two to three weeks and I’d be as flexible as I have to be on holiday. I’ve been island hopping in Greece a few time where you have to make the choice of : be flexible or have a lousy time. Part of being on holiday is exploring the surroundings, finding stuff you liked doing and tolerant things that ‘get on your nerves’. This change in attitude was all it took to help me to settle in. I’ve shared this idea with countless people (friends, family and clients) and it has worked for them too.

Another technique I use with clients is the personal experiment. When we agree a possible way forward or solution, I don’t ask clients to commit to it with every fibre of their being. It makes much more sense to treat it as an experiment and try it on for size. So we agree a time span and then after that we have a review and discuss how the experiment went. This removes an implicit sense of failure. At the end we are discussing the results as feedback, such as what didn’t work, what did work and what adjustments we can make.

Distraction is also a useful technique. When my parents moved house, my mother found it difficult to adjust. I’d tried for a few years trying to persuade her to do an evening course at college. They moved house in the middle of the summer and that year she decided to ‘take the plunge’ and sign up for a course in flowering arranging. It’s become her passion in life. Moving house became a blessing in disguise as it was her way to discover a passion and a new talent. Taking up a hobby is about choosing to do a newt hing. This sense of choice fits in with the psychological hardiness attitude of control.

Seeking Professional Help: Coach or Counsellor?

If you feel you can’t make a break through on your own then it maybe time to consider engaging the help of a professional. Obviously with something like a bereavement then a few cognitive tricks may not cut it. When the issue or problem sparks strong overwhelming emotions it may help to talk things over with a counsellor (or a psychotherapist). Keeping a journal is also useful as when things get better you will have a record of how you got through it.

When I get enquiries about (life) coaching this is one of the main things I discuss with you. Is it a general sense of dissatisfaction or is it overwhelm that reduces you to tears? Are the emotions making you want to press forward or is there a stronger need to talk through the emotions and make sense of them? There are really three ways to deal with this: (i) go ahead with counselling and consider coaching a later date when you have worked through the emotions: (ii) have separate coaching and counselling sessions (iii) have coaching. I work within a group of other professionals so am able to make referrals. I wouldn’t be doing you or myself any favours by always going down the coaching option. It’s about what is right for the client.

These are just a few insights and pointers to help you to turn again. However, there is not a one-size fits all approach. The beauty of coaching is that it’s a totally tailor-made personal development course. It’s not an off-the-peg experience. You bring the agenda and the coach (that’s me) provides the tools and techniques in a way that’s meaningful to you. I practice solution-focused coaching and in a typical session we would describe the issue for 20% of the time and for the other 80% we explore solutions. In this way, things start moving right from the first session. In fact, some people only need one or two sessions.

So review you life and write down some ways in which you have coped with change and uncertainty in the past that rely on your abilities, skills and strengths. These become your own personal toolbox in challenging and uncertain times. Coaching is a way to help you discover more ways in which you cope, adapt, bounce back and thrive.

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.

Links: