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!

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Calmer – Confidence – Compassion Meditation (with Script) for Dealing With Difficult People

In psychology we know that the states of anxiety and relaxation cannot co-exist. This has become the mainstay of behavioural therapy for dealing with phobias and other anxiety disorders. We can also adapt this approach when dealing with ‘difficult people’. Some may argue that there’s no such thing as a ‘difficult person’ only ‘difficult behaviour’, However, when we are on the receiving end of someone whose habitual patterns of behaviour cause us distress, the distinction really doesn’t matter.

In the, Dhammapada, a collection of Buddhist sayings, there’s one that says ‘ Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness’. This saying was the inspiration for a the Loving-Kindness meditation that is used in the Broaden-and-Build in positive psychology. The idea is that we gain more by actively cultivating positive emotions rather than forever trying to ‘mop up’ negative feelings.

I’ve adapted the loving-kindness meditation for my confidence building approach which is based on our ability to feel comfortable in our skin, that is, to be able to relax. True inner confidence comes from stillness, whereas the busy ‘in your face’ over-confidence is often masking anxiety. Another key theme is in my approach is the concept of confidence-karma. This is the idea that we build confidence in ourselves as we build it in others. So this is how I devised the calmer-confidence-compassion meditation for my confidence building workshops. The idea that it helps to lay the foundations for positive interactions, even with the people we find objectionable.

The Calmer-Confidence-Compassion Basic Script

  • Begin with long, slow deep breaths to relax. As you breathe out, repeat the word ‘calmer’
  • Start directing feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself
  • Smile and mentally repeat the mantra ‘calmness, confidence and compassion’ for a few breaths
  • Reflect on your positive qualities, and make a positive statement about yourself
  • Continue to direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself
  • Now direct your attention to someone (not a family member or friend), who you admire and respect; it could be respected public figure or a spiritual leader
  • Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling at you (and sending back feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion). Take a moment to experience the positive feelings.
  • Now imagine a close friend, a family member or a loved one and direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them.
  • See them smiling and redirecting the feelings back to you, taking a moment to experience the feelings
  • Now imagine a neutral person to whom you have no special feelings, such as a shop keeper or the person who delivers the post.
  • Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling to you (and sending feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion back). Take a moment to experience the positive feelings.
  • Now consider a ‘difficult person in your life’, someone you are currently having issues with.
  • Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling to you (and sending feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion back). Take a moment to experience these feelings.
  • Now bring your attention back to you and direct the feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself. Smile and repeat the mantra (‘calmness, confidence and compassion’).
  • After taking a few long, slow, deep breaths, open your eyes and return your awareness to your surroundings

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThis is  an edited version and represents the first stage in a three stage process (The full version can be found in Unlock Your Confidence).

The order is always the same:

  • begin with yourself
  • then focus on a famous figure whom you revere and you don’t know
  • then a family member, friend or loved one
  • then a neutral person – a casual acquaintance you know by sight
  • the difficult person
  • back to yourself

Practised regularly it will open up opportunities to take small, significant actions to boost and build confidence in others. It will also help to begin to change your perceptions of difficult people in your life. You may not see a dramatic transformation but you may well see a few glimmers of light.

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If 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:

A Celebration of Romance, Time to Feel Smug or the Time to Set Romantic Goals? St Valentine’s Day.

Undoubtedly there are mixed feelings about St Valentine’s Day. For some people it’s a celebration of their relationship and for others it’s a once-a-year wake-up call to do something romantic. For others it has nothing at all to do with love but just another opportunity for businesses to fleece us of our hard-earned cash through this annual, somewhat gaudy guilt trip. For many, currently not in a romantic relationship, it’s a time to feel ‘singled out’ for a bit of self-esteem battering. So what are we to make of it?

The 14th of February is a day just like any other to which we have attached meaning. Thankfully, it’s not a ‘one meaning fits all’ day. We buy out of the overly commercial aspects and create meaning of our own. We can have an alternative St Valentine’ Day. So it might be an oppotunity to expand your definition of love.

Self-Love on Valentine’s Day

There’s a lot more to love than the romantic kind. We can start with self-love. No, not in that sense, but if it that floats your boat, at least finish reading this post. What I’m taking about is being kind to yourself. If you happen to be single, then focus on the good things about being single. An arbitrary day shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself. Do something nice for yourself today. Do something that maybe you have been putting off.

Love: Generally not Specifically

Love is more than buying your partner a greeting card. Think about all the people to whom you are connected. Think about something nice that you can do for them today. If you are single, then get together with single friends and celebrate friendship. Reconnect with a long lost friend and make a phone call. Give someone encouragement to follow an ambition or goal. Give someone a compliment or praise. Show gratitude and give thanks for what you have and the people in your life. Just do something that’s not about you but about other people.

First Day of the Romantic Year

Whether you are in a traditional relationship, an alternative relationship or single, use today as the first day of the romantic year and set some goals. How would you like things to be over the coming year? What would be the tiny steps that things have begin to change in line with your goals? What small step can you make today to make this start to happen? Sometimes we take ourselves for granted, take others for granted and take our current situations for granted. Maybe today is the day to stop this and to engage more. Here are links to all of my goal-setting posts.

If not of this helps then wear black and play Death Metal music all day. Whatever you do, have a good day.

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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.

Links:

3 Techniques to Help You Get Out of Bed Every Day and ‘Rise and Shine’ – Even on a Monday Morning

Every Monday, on social media we are greeted with the ubiquitous ‘I hate Mondays’ status updates and posts. In an earlier post I focused on the question of changing perceptions to deal with the ‘Monday blues’. In this post, I’ve put together three simple techniques to help you ‘rise and shine’ – even on a Monday.

One of the ideas I use in coaching and training is the idea of the personal experiment. You try out a new technique or take a particular action on a regular basis and then asses the effects after a set period of time. So here are the three ‘rise and shine’ techniques:

1. Gratitude and Anticipation Experiment

This actually starts the night before. Before you go to sleep, write down three things for which you were grateful that day (gratitude phase).  The next morning, as soon as you wake, write down three things you are looking forward to that day (anticipation phase). Do this for a whole month. (see Getting the Gratitude Attitude (Free PDF Diary Sheet for full details). The idea is that this technique helps to frame your each day in a positive day.

2. The ‘Rise and Shine Breath’

You’ll be happy to learn that The Rise and Shine Breath is performed whilst still enjoying the comfort of your bed. Read it through a few times to familiarize yourself with the technique. My version, which combines deep breathing with an early morning stretch. It’s surpisingly effective. Here it is:

  1. Breathe in through your nose with you arms clenched in fists at your shoulders, like you are about to lift weights (chest press). Smile. As you breathe in let your stomach out so that your lungs are filled.
  2. Now as you breathe out through your mouth, making an ‘aaaah’ sound, like a sigh and push you arms up to the ceiling. Open your hands and stretch out your fingers.
  3. Pull your arms back to your shoulders with clenched fists. Pull down as if there is resistance and breathe in as before.
  4. Do about 7 to 10 of these.
  5. Smile. Now breathe in deeply (through your nose) and hold your breath for the count of ten seconds or a little longer if you can comfortably do so.
  6. Breath out forcefully through your mouth whilst pulling your stomach in. Do three of these.
  7. It’s now time to sit up. Repeat points 1 to 4 sitting up. Do another 7 to 10 of these. Then repeat 5 & 6.
  8. Optional extra: If you’re still not ready to get up, do another 7 to 10 breaths standing up repeating points 1 to 6.
  9. You are now ready to face the world! (or at the very least to get you up and in to the shower).

3. Morning Power Shower Visualization

This energizing visualization doesn’t require any extra time investment. It’s done in the shower. As you stand under the water, imagine a beautiful empowering, refreshing, energizing, invigorating light streaming from the shower-head (as well as the water). The light may be white, pink, golden or pale blue: you choose. Imagine this light-charged energy washing away negatively, tiredness and charging you up for the day. The light activates your skills and strengths and inspires you to take action. Use whatever positive thought you wish. Recount the three things you are looking forward to.

End of Month Review

At the end of the month, review the impact these three techniques have made to your willingness to get up each morning. If they don’t totally work for you, consider what aspects of them that do work and create your own version and add your own techniques. Also, if Mondays are still a problem for you, consider how you might arrange the day or what you mind add to make it more tolerable.

Of course, you could go back to posting ‘I don’t like Mondays’ messages on Facebook and Twitter and haveing a day of self-fulfilling prophecy.

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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.

Links:

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

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

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

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

Self-Disclosure Quiz

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

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

Scoring the Self-Disclosure Quiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is safe for for self-disclosure?

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

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

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

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

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If 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:

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.

Links:

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

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

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

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

Begin by asking the following questions:

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

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

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

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

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About the author

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

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

It’s all a matter of give and take

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

The Gifts of Compliments and Praise

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

Do you:

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

Which option most closely matches your reaction?

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

Gracious acceptance of praise and compliments

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

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

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

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

Why do people offer compliments?

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

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

How to pay a compliment

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

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

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

Compliments and praise and stress relief and confidence building

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

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

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

About the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small-talk is also about listening not just talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are suitable subjects for small-talk?

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

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

What subjects should be avoided for small-talk?

Here are some topics that you should avoid:

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

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

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

Casual conversations: How to get started

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

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

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

Small-talk and body language

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

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

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

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

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