If You Call Your Customers ‘Punters’, Do You Deserve to Have Any?

Picture: Crossed fingersThe meaning of words evolves. For years many people have complained about the use of ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’, such as ‘I laughed so much I literally died’ or ‘I was literally glued to the TV set’. Thanks to its overuse (incorrectly), Webster’s dictionary has now included ‘literally’ to mean literally its opposite. Another word that is currently being overused (and incorrectly) by TV reporters (especially on BBC) is ‘punter’. I’m finding myself increasingly irritated by it’s routine use to mean ‘customer’ or ‘client’. Recently I have overhead business users using it too. In this post I argue that we should resist the casual shift of meaning from customer to punter.

Punters versus customers

‘Punters’ are people who gamble, make risky investments or place bets.The word became popular in the 1980s. It’s not clear why news outlets insist on using the word ‘punter’. Maybe the think its trendy. Clearly words do come in and out of fashion such as ‘iconic’. Everything these days is iconic according to news reporters, presenters and journalists. The issue is that ‘punters’ and ‘customers’ are two separate things. A customer wants assurances that goods or services will be delivered to an appropriate standard. ‘Punters’ flip a coin!

Although in time ‘punter’ will undoubtedly find its way into the dictionary with an alternative meaning (customer), but the implication will stay. What next? Think of a service you need to visit and ask yourself ‘Do I want to be a punter?’ Are you expecting to ‘just take your changes’? Do you want to be treated like the proverbial fool, easily parted with your money?

Attitudes, Values and Actions

Customer service is one thing that a business cannot afford to short-change its customers on. Customer loyalty is not built on a punt. It’s not just a turn of phrase; it whispers contempt. We are often told to treat people as we would want to be treated. Better still to find out how people want to be treated and treat them that way instead. Our words reveal our attitudes. Our attitudes communicate our values and, in turn, shape our actions. Actions build trust. With trust comes loyalty. Businesses who treat their customers as ‘punters’ can’t really expect any of that, and certainly don’t deserve it.

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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. His clients have included BBC, Powergen, American Airlines, The Payments Council, first direct amongst others. Contact Gary Wood by email to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization. See: Testimonials from former clients.

How to be More Persuasive and Convincing: Use the Rule of Three

It’s not difficult to persuade anyone of the prevalence and significance of the number three in Western culture. It’s everywhere, from sport (three points for a win, hat-tricks),  fairy tales (Bears, Pigs, wishes), literature (Musketeers), films (Amigos, Stooges),  to religion (the Trinity), interior designers (three ornaments on a shelf) even stand-up comedy (the rule of three elements in a joke). We even say that bad new comes in threes! There is something intrinsically satisfying about the number three to our pattern-seeking brains.

In psychology there are also plenty of triads such as Sigmund Freud‘s id, ego and superego (in psychoanalysis) and Eric Berne‘s parent, adult, child (in transactional analysis). I was surprised at just how many there are, so much so, that when writing my book Unlock Your Confidence I found it useful to use a triangle device to communicate the essence of psychological theories, without getting too bogged down in the details. I tested in workshops and it was a fast and effective way of introducing new material without taking away from the hands-on, experiential nature of the workshops. People really seem to get ‘three’.

It turns out that the rule of three offers a blueprint for persuasiveness. Kurt Carlson (Georgetown University) and Suzanne Shu (University of California) in their research paper ‘When Three Charms but Four Alarms’, find the ideal number of claims to include in a persuasive argument. People, firms and products should all use the ‘charm of three’ when making positive claims. Two is not convincing and adding a fourth point is viewed as a step too far.  It actually has a detrimental effect and increases scepticism..

This post is deliberately brief as the rule of three has endless applications. I figure your time would be better spent updating your CV (resume), updating your websites, rethinking your presentations, sales pitches, marketing and advertising campaigns or just the humble negotiations in relationships. There is no need to come up with as many convincing reasons as long as your arm. Three will do nicely.

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Why There’s No Such Thing as “Too Much Confidence” or “Over-Confidence”

We often hear the phrase ‘over-confidence‘ (or ‘too much confidence’). There is no such thing!  If it seems too much or ‘over the top’ then it’s not confidence. It might be arrogance, aggression, over-compensation, blind faith or even delusions. Most importantly, it may indicate lower self-esteem. These over-the-top displays of bluff, bluster and bravado are nothing but a smoke-screen.

‘Fake it ’til you make it’ confidence is based on stress

Outer displays of ‘over-confidence’ are part of the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ approach, whereby you behave confidently until you actually believe it and until it becomes ‘part of you’. So they begin as a way to counter a lack of self-belief. Yes it’s good to take action and indeed confidence does need a leap of faith, however, real confidence, true self-assurance starts within. At its root, confidence is about feeling comfortable in your own skin. If it seems ‘too much’ it’s about covering up for discomfort. Inner confidence is cool and level-headed. ‘Over-confidence’ is hot-headed. That’s because psyched-up displays are more likely to stem from the classic stress responses of fight or flight. most notably, the fight response!

Building confidence is like building rapport

In face-to-face interactions people tend to model and match each other as they build rapport. So they may begin using similar words and gestures as the other person. This happens spontaneously. This is why, embarrassingly, you may find yourself starting to speak in a similar regional accent to the other person. A similar thing happens with confidence. When we are around truly confident people, it rubs off. Confidence is positively contagious. You begin to relax and this brings out ‘the best in you’ and you pass this on to others. The thing about body language is that if we focus on relaxing we don’t have to worry about faking it. The body language takes care of itself. If everyone is a little too ‘in your face’ and intent on ‘faking it’ then the encounter is based on lies and that can be stressful. If you are stressed, then it’s not confidence.

The difference between assertiveness and aggression

We prize assertiveness but it is often confused with aggression. The concepts are often used interchangeably but are very different things. In an assertive state we can stand our ground and make our point and still accept that another person doesn’t necessarily have to accept our view. We can be assertive and still be quite calm. On the other hand, aggression is all about making sure another person accepts our point of view. Aggression is all about force. It’s all about the fight. So if a person dominates a space and leaves no room for other opinions or for others to contribute that’s not confidence. It’s aggression or maybe even outright bullying.

Relaxation is the basis of elite performance

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn my workshops, first  I focus on relaxation. In a relaxed state we are able to access a broader range of emotional responses, skills and abilities. Professional athletes adopt a similar strategy. they begin by learning to take control of their own stress response. This doesn’t mean that they perform in a ‘semi-comatose’ state. They learn plenty of techniques to psych themselves up too. The point is that the cornerstone of elite performance is relaxation. This is what we build upon. So in my workshops, I invite people to take risks and have fun. I’m aways the first in the workshop to risk looking foolish. Usually by the mid-morning break, everyone in the group is chatting as though they are good friends. At least one person comments on that when I ask for feedback. They are surprised at how quickly the group forms. And for my part, I never cease to be amazed at how quickly people will grow and take risks if you provide the necessary conditions. Many of them have attended workshops and training courses where they have managed to get through the whole day without learning anyone’s name. That never happens in my workshops.

Fear and respect are not the same

We all learn more efficiently when we are relaxed and amongst a group of like-minded people, not when we are stressed in a group of (hostile) strangers. This is the basis of my confidence-karma approach, that is, we build confidence in ourselves as we pass it on to others. We begin by relaxing ourselves and then focusing on putting others at ease.  The most frequent challenge I get to this approach is from managers who question whether they will get respect if they ‘try to be everyone’s friend’. Nowhere in my book or workshop do I suggest we should try to be everyone’s friend. Being a boss and focusing on putting people at ease do not have to be mutually exclusive. It’s common amongst managers to confuse fear and respect. Respect is earned and fear can be overcome. You will get a lot of respect from being a person who empowers others.

No such thing as ‘too much confidence’ with the Confidence-Karma approach

So that’s why according to my approach, there is no such thing as over-confidence or too much confidence. Confidence people bring out the best in others, they don’t scare them into submission.

If you liked this post, please use the ‘like’ and buttons below and pass on the message to others or check out Gary’s other posts about confidence

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How to Find a Life Coach (and the questions you need to ask before hiring one)

How to find a life coach? Maybe that should read ‘How to avoid falling over a life coach in the street’. There are numerous training schools, coaches offering services, coaching directories and so-called accrediting bodies. As it is rather a new discipline there is no one ‘governing body’ and no agreed standard for coaching training. In some instances coaching-training providers have set up their own ‘governing bodies’ and approved their own courses! However, I suppose we have to start somewhere and in most cases the real credentials for setting up a coaching training school or organization is that they thought of it first!

This post is not intended as a demolition of the coaching profession. Its aim is to help you make an informed choice and enter into the coaching process with confidence. To this end it includes quite a few questions that you should be asking when looking for a life coach who is experienced, qualified and right for you.

Yes, it’s a long post. There’s a lot to cover and it’s still not exhaustive.

So, before deciding to find a coach the first step is to be clear about the phrase ‘life coach’ means

What is a life coach?

Anyone can call themselves a life coach. It’s a catch-all label not a protected title. Ideally a life coach is a professionally trained practitioner who assists clients to identify and achieve personal (and professional) goals. It is a professional relationship, a partnership where the client brings the agenda and the coach brings the skills and tools to facilitate the process. The aim is for the coach to help you to bring out your strengths, aid insights and help you to meet your goals (in line with your values). It’s often said that if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching.

Coaching should always focus on what it is meaningful to the client.  Ideally, the coach should have a set of skills that bring out the your strengths and insights and help you to find your own solutions. The coach brings the agenda. Any tools and techniques should always be meaningful to the client.

How do you know you need to engage a life coach?

What are the issues that caused you to think about hiring a coach? How do you imagine a coach is going to help? What will you be doing with the help of a life coach that you’re not doing now/on your own?

Decide what you need from a coach. If it’s just someone to talk to then it would be cheaper to go out with friends for a coffee.

Is it coaching or counselling that you need?

If the issues have a strong emotional component and are causing you distress so that you wouldn’t feel you could tackle goals, then some form of counselling might be a better first step. Many of the information here is useful in finding a counsellor too. If you are suffering from severe emotional upset then your GP (local doctor) is often a good place to start.

If you feel stuck, or have a sense that you want more out of life or of you have goals you want to achieve then coaching is probably the way forward. Yes, a by-product is that coaching may have a beneficial effect on emotions and on confidence and esteem. However, that should be as the result of working on your goals.

Why bother hiring a life coach at all? What are the benefits?

The coaching process works on the principle that two heads are better than one, mainly because the two heads have different roles in this professional relationship. You provide the agenda and the coach provides the tools and know-how to manage the process. A good coach should ask the right questions to get the best out of you and enable you to reach insights that it may have taken a lot longer on your own. Part of the role of a coach is to hold a mirror up to you. Sometimes a coach will challenge you (in a supportive way). In my practice I help people find solutions that work for them according to their strengths and values. It can be a very life affirming process. My aim is that when you leave the process, you do so feeling empowered and have alternative way of viewing yourself and the world. Clients are often surprised at just how quickly positive changes take place and I never cease to be inspired at what my clients achieve. That’s why it’s so important to get the right coach-client match, and the main reason for this article.

Questions to ask a before engaging a life coach

  • What coaching qualifications do you have?
  • Where did you study for your coaching qualifications?
  • How long did you study?
  • What other qualifications do you have?
  • What did you do before coaching?
  • What is your coaching philosophy and is it grounded in evidence?
  • What do you do to maintain your own professional development?
  • What is the evidence that this coaching approach works? (ask the coach).
  • What ethical framework do you subscribe to?
  • What professional bodies do you belong to?
  • Can I see myself working with this coach?

Beware of new-age and ‘esoteric knowledge’ re-branded as coaching

Some people calling themselves coaches will work in tarot and crystal readings. They may purport to use esoteric tools and techniques. So let’s begin with the most important thing. If it seems glamorous or mysterious or good old-fashioned ‘gobbledygook’ then it more likely serves the interests of the practitioner than it does the needs of client. This does not mean that they appeal to arcane ‘knowledge’ to which you do not have access. If it sounds like a load of old mumbo-jumbo, it’s not coaching. It’s more likely that someone is ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and use the buzzword of coaching to tap into the growth in coaching and to lend their own practice more credibility. Be clear ‘Tarot coaching’ is not coaching. Coaching is about helping the client tap into their own strengths and abilities. There should be no glamour and mystery! When additional paraphernalia is included this introduces a whole new system of thought that may distort or usurp your own agenda. It’s up to you to work out what the ‘real’ issues are, not the turn of a card!

Coaching training and qualifications

Anyone can call themselves a coach. Being schooled in ‘the university of life’ does not qualify someone to be a life coach. So  as well as asking about qualifications, ask where they trained and then investigate.

The standard of tuition and the quality of the content on coaching training courses may vary enormously. Some are based on sound evidence-based principles others follow a more ‘inspirational approach’ sometimes called the ‘make-it-up-as-they-go-along-approach’. So, find out a little about the coaching ‘academies’. Just because they say they are the best and appear in the little shaded area in Google rankings means nothing. You pay to get in that shaded spot.  Check out the coaching academy websites.

‘Proper’ academic educational establishments give you a clue in their web addresses. A web address academic institution is the UK ends in ” .ac.uk “. In the USA, the web addresses end in ” .edu”. If the coaching academy doesn’t have such a web address, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they offer poorer training. See if they are accredited or affiliated to an academic institution. I recommend that you think very carefully before engaging a life coach whose training does not meet these standards. There are many business-oriented training providers without the assurance that the training provided meets an approved standard. If it’s affiliated to an academic institution, it’s more likely that its quality is assured.

And just because a coach has written a book doesn’t override all the above. It’s relatively easy to publish your own e-book these days without the additional input, editorial control, assistance (or hindrance) from anyone else. Of course, the self-published e-book may be an excellent resource, so if you are intrigued check it out first and decide whether there is substance to the approach and whether you think it might work for you.

If the book has published the ‘old-fashioned’ way, there are lots of stages of development with a conventional publisher and a number of editors are involved to produce the finished book. Obviously, a conventional publisher wants to sell books and this affects what they accept. In tough economic times, publishers become a little more conservative in what they commission. It just might be that an author just hit a brick wall and decided to self-publish.

Either way, a book doesn’t override credentials and qualifications.

Different approaches and types of life coaching

There are many different approaches of coaching. I first trained in a cognitive-behavioural approach based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and so has a strong evidence-base to support it. After training in some more ‘inspirational’ based approaches, I studied solution-focused therapy which is easily adapted to the coaching setting and again has a wealth of evidence to support it. Things like NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) based courses have become very popular as the training only takes a few weeks. Although the NLP approach borrows heavily from psychology and psychotherapy there is little evidence to support it as a coaching approach. There is no evidence to support its claims of instant transformations. Yes, things can change very quickly especially with a coach who asks the right questions. However, it should be more about tapping into your strengths, abilities and insights rather than ‘re-programming’ you. People are not robots and shouldn’t be treated as such. The glamour of the ‘instant’ approach often has more to do with the coaches reputation that the client’s aspirations.

Go for a coaching approach with a track-record supported by evidence-based research, not one on the say-so of the practitioner.

Modes of coaching

There are a variety of means to deliver coaching so you need to decide what will best suit you. Coaching can be face-to-face at the coach’s practice or private rooms, it can be at your workplace, it can be over the telephone, via Skype of just by email. Of course, it can be any combination of the above.

Decide what would work best for you. If you want face-to-face coaching then it makes sense to look for a coach in your local area to avoid excessive travelling. If you think you might prefer telephone coaching then you can look further afield. The wonders of technology mean that if you have found a coach who you think is right for you  Skype means that geography isn’t important. In my practice, even the clients who prefer telephone or Skype coaching often have a face-to-face session first.

Costs: How much should you expect to pay for life coaching?

There is no recognised agreed ‘average’ amount. The only observation is that coaching tends to be more expensive than counselling. Partly, this is because coaching is more time-limited. As I practice solution-focused brief coaching, I offer coaching for one to ten sessions, with the average being four to six. If the life coaching is more interested in ‘exploring issues’ than working towards your goals, it’s not coaching. It should be relatively brief, and it shouldn’t take weeks to build up to tackling your goals. If you engage me as a coach, expect me to begin working with your goals from the first session.

The cost of coaching also depends on the experience and qualifications of the coach. So newly qualified, less experienced coaches tend to charge less than the highly qualified, experiences, in demand coaches. However, this is not always the case. Just because someone is charging £200 per hour (or more) doesn’t make them ‘one of the best coaches’. Price does not override qualifications, so always check them out using all the above questions.

The average fee for a 50 to 60 minute coaching session is about £50 to £75 ( $75 to $100). Some coaches offer services for £25-£30, others for £150 or more. It’s an idea to fix a budget and approach coaching as a tailor-made, personal or professional development programme. I wouldn’t advise signing up to indefinite monthly payment plans. We all know what happens with the gym membership. If the coach does offer monthly payments, it should be for a fixed total sum. Then you choose if you want to renew.

Life Coaching: What you’re paying for

When engaging a coach, apart from the cost of their training, it is important to consider what is involved in terms of time-cost for the coach. Coaches prepare before handing by re-acquainting themselves with the clients’ notes. Then there’s the actual session of 50-60 minutes. After that, the coach will write-up the client’s notes which may take as long as the coaching session itself. So for each single session the coach may spend at least two hours. Coaching fees reflect this time-cost.

Warning signs: Avoiding the pitfalls when looking for a life coach

  • If a coach tells you that they don’t subscribe to any ethical framework, they just do what works: walk away!
  • If a coach dismisses evidence-based knowledge as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘stuffy’ or claim that their approach is ‘above scientific understanding’: walk away!
  • If a coach has a variety of coaching plans more confusing that energy company tariffs: walk away!
  • If a coach tries to get you to sign up for an indefinite period on direct debit or standing order: walk away!
  • If the coach seems to be evasive, doesn’t seem to want to answer your questions or tells you that you aren’t asking the right questions: walk away!

Approaching the Life Coaching Directories

Many coaches advertise their services on coaching directories and although a listing on these directories is not necessarily an endorsement of the quality of their work, some directories ( but not all) require proof of qualifications. So still be cautious. Still ask all off of the above questions.

Use the coaching directories to see what’s in your area. Read the coaches’ profiles and decide which ones seem to connect with you. Can you imagine working with them? Then irrespective of what they have written on their profiles, do you homework and ask all the above questions.

Don’t just look at the coaches who appear at the top of the listings. Some of the directories charged extra so coaches appear in prime position! So have a good look through all the listings in your area.

Ask about life coaching with Dr Gary WoodHere are some directories to get you started:

(I have taken the liberty of linking to my profile entries. Just hit ‘home’ on the websites to search for other coaches)

What if you need more information on finding a life coach?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodSo there you have a sound basis on which to engage a life coach, I hope it hasn’t been too bewildering and I hope you are now better informed of some of the pitfalls. If you have any questions:

Check out books by Dr Gary Wood and his recommendations on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

How Taking Photographs Can Impair Your Memories (and what to do about it)

New research indicates that although we think of photographs as something to preserve our memories, the process of taking pictures may actually impair our memory of events. This phenomenon has been dubbed the photo-taking impairment effect  by Dr Linda Henkel (from Fairfield University, Connecticut). She states:

When people rely on technology to remember for them – counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves – it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences.

The research was carried out in museum to learn the effects of visitors’ memories of what they had seen. Participants were given a tour and asked to either photograph exhibits or simply try to remember them. When their memories were tested the following day the results showed that the photographers were less accurate in recognizing objects and memory of detail was poorer compared with those who had only looked at them.

However in a follow-up experiment participants were asked to take photographs of specific details in objects by zooming in on them. In contrast to the previous experiment the recall for detail was preserved, not just for the part of the object in shot but also for other details out of frame. So the conclusion here is that photographs do preserve memories if we take the time.

This research fits in with what we know about learning in that the deeper we process information the easier it is to recall. So for instance it is more difficult to remember a list of random words than the same number of words that have been organized by category first. It also reminds us of the value of goals. Where the participants had a more specific goal they engaged at a deeper level with the subject. Active learning is always more effective that passive learning. Setting your own goals is better letting them be set by chance. In a previous post I discussed how to get the most out of a self-help book. The key recommendation is to actively engage with the material rather than just passively reading the book. Most of my work in academic coaching helps clients to tap into the fundamentals of human psychology and employ active learning techniques.

And so to mindfulness the state of fully experiencing the present moment. The research on photo-taking impairment effect hinges on the level of engagement the participant has with the subject material. There is a great lesson in the research for life in general: take your time, create balance in life, have a goal, be actively present and focus on what is really important.

With advances in digital photography the temptation is to ‘point and shoot at anything that moves and anything that stays still! The result is that we amass lots of pictures we never look at again. In the past people would decide whether to take on holiday a camera film with 24 or 36 shots. Today that would barely a few minutes.

The famous painting by René Magritte “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”) is a reminder to us that photographs are not memories. Photographs are representations of memories. It is important to have the experience as well as click the camera shutter. With mobile (cell) phones and digital cameras the temptation is to use the device as a companion rather than engaging with ‘real-time life’ and people who are present. So before you whip out your camera or reach for your mobile consider the balance between ‘capturing the moment’ and ‘being in the present moment’.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood(In conversation with Annie Othen, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire)

Gary’s book Unlock Your Confidence’ covers mindfulness, goal setting and how to feel comfortable in your own skin. It is out now. Buy: Amazon UK  /  Buy: Amazon USA

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Practise Mindfulness and Reduce Your Phone Bill! (. . . and Build Confidence)

Social media has made social commentators or us all

Living in the modern world is not necessarily living in the present moment. I went out with a group of people recently and one person periodically reached for his phone to post a series of updates, a running commentary on the night’s proceedings. It begs the question of whether he was really there at all.  Observing people on their mobile phones and hearing about their astronomical phone bills has made me think about needs, motives and mindfulness. Can being more aware of life make you happier, more confident and save you money?

Experiencing the moment rather than observing

I ran an experiential team building course as part of a university’s management development programme. Part of assessment for the course required the students to keep a reflective diary. The whole aim of the course was to experience team building rather than sitting and listening to theories in a ‘chalk and talk’ format. So there were lots of group activities. One person just hung around at the edge of the activities writing things for her reflective diary. Despite being encouraged to join in she kept gravitating back to her diary which had really become an observation of other people since she contributed nothing. She successfully avoiding being in the room so what could she really reflect? She was just a passenger. It reminds me of the time when I was a passenger in a car, travelling back from a night out in another city  (in the early hours of the morning). The other passengers took the opportunity to go to sleep leaving the driver ‘alone’. I also started to fall asleep until the car swerved. It seems that the driver had the same idea too. I suddenly became pretty mindful and participated in the journey. Despite being tired, being in the present moment was infinitely preferable to the alternative!

Do we text so we don’t have to talk or just to fill time?

Routinely I see people alone on buses who spend most of the fifteen minute journey phoning anyone and everyone but not really saying anything. Much of the conversation, at best, involves a running commentary of the bus journey.

I’m often amazed when some people tell me how much they spend on their mobile phones. Even with staggering allowances they still manage to pay double their monthly tariff. Most of the money goes on SMS (text) messages. Every month they seem genuinely surprised by their phone bills. One of the biggest ‘culprits’ is the text conversation in which numerous texts are exchanged, one for each line of the conversation. Sometimes a text will just say ‘yes’ or ‘lol’ or a smiley face emoticon. Actually calling the person would be easier, more efficient and cheaper. Texting has become a way to keep in touch without really communicating. It’s seen as more convenient because you don’t want to spend too much time talking to someone. Ironically, there is no time saved as lives are put on hold waiting for the next line in the ongoing text saga. Time is not saved. Money is just wasted. It just creates the illusion of connecting. Often it’s just a way of pimping someone else’s time.

People run up huge phone bills because they aren’t really paying attention to the world around them. They are either trying to alleviate boredom by killing time, alleviating loneliness or blocking unpleasant emotions. Practicing mindfulness can help to deal with unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Present Moment Awareness

To be surprised by a huge phone bill means you haven’t been mindful of what you have been doing.  A pivotal moment in my own personal development was going on holiday alone. It was before mobile phones had become an integral part of our lives. I carried a paperback book and a notepad around with me. I’d guessed that sitting alone having a coffee might be awkward so I could read a book or pretend to read a page then gaze of into the distance thinking about the page I’d just ‘read’. Alternatively, I could scribble things in my note pad. Effectively I was keeping a reflective diary without actually having done anything to reflect about. After a while, I got a bit tired of getting the books out and just decided to sit there and enjoy the present moment. After all, I was sitting over looking a beautiful harbour. I credit this moment as the discovery of my confidence, my true inner confidence. I wasn’t concerned about other people and what I imagined they might be thinking. I just looked out to sea, the boats, the sky, the sounds and so on. That was enough. I realized that doing this I’d become totally comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t occur to me that the experience would be heightened by ‘sharing it’ with someone back home. That would have taken me out of the moment.

Being Mindful, Being Happier, Being More Confident (and saving money)

We hear a lot about the practice on mindfulness and usually it’s about taking time out to be still and just observe our breathing. If our minds wander we simply bring our attention back to our breathing. Research has shown that meditation and mindfulness can increase our sense of well-being including optimism, confidence and happiness. It also has a beneficial effect of stress levels and strengthens our immune system response. There are however other types of mindfulness. There are many types of mindfulness apart from being mindful of your breath in a mediation exercise. If you go for a walk in the park you can practice mindfulness of nature. A tree is no more or no less because someone has texted another person about it. It just is. Switching off the TV and paying attention to what you’re eating is mindfulness of food. Being ‘in the zone’ and being engrossed in a hobby is never made better by getting out of the zone. Indeed, the state of being totally immersed in a task is known as ‘being n flow’. The more time you spend ‘in flow’ the happier you are.

Here is a simple mindfulness exercise taken from my book Unlock Your Confidence that I use for the basis of confidence building:

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodClose your eyes, take long slow deep breaths and simply focus your attention on your breath. If intrusive thoughts pop into your mind, just acknowledge the beginning of the thought and then observe when it ends. Then bring you attention back to your breathing. That’s all. If you want you can name the thought and then let it go. You will notice that the thoughts become less frequent and the periods of stillness increase.Do it for ten to 20 minutes each day.

Ideally, commit to trying this out everyday for a month to assess the effects on your relaxation, confidence, happiness and, of course, on your phone bill. Spending more time practising being in the present moment may mean will help to still the mental chatter and intrusive thoughts so that you don’t need the distraction of endless text messages.

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders – Lao Tzu

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Overhearing Telephone Conversations in Public: The Annoyance of the Halfalogue

Why we are forced to eavesdrop on phone conversations in pubic

We have all had experience of the annoying people on their mobile (cell) phones chatting loudly in public spaces usually about nothing of particular consequence. These overhead half-conversations have been dubbed ‘halfalogues. Spend a great deal of time travelling the UK, I often encounter the halfalogue on trains particularly in the so-called quiet-zone of the train. The perpetrators may protest that their mutterings on the phone are not as distracting or as annoying as people chatting. And, yes there are some people who have two conversational volumes on trains: (i) Look at me and (ii) Seriously, you really need to look at me I’m being interesting. More often than not, they are not. However research has shown that we do find overhearing a halfalogue more distracting and annoying than overhearing a full conversation. The main reason for the increased stress to a halfalogue is that our brains are drawn to the unpredictable and try to make sense of the information. With an ordinary conversation all the information is present. With the halfalogue it is not. So it is worth being more aware of people around you. Because of our psychological make up, we can’t help but try to make sense of the overhead half-conversation. So on a long train journey, other people are held captive in the physical and psychological senses. You may think you are just being sociable by chattering away on the phone for hours on end about nothing in particular. However, what you are really doing is torturing everyone around you.

Halfalogues are annoying but are they dangerous?

On a recent bust bus journey there was a young man on the back seat of the bus intent on letting everyone on the bus know how intelligence and informed he was. As he was proudly broadcasting his views to the person on the other end of the phone, he uttered a few phrases that brought gasps, tuts, dirty looks and exclamations of ‘oh please’ and ‘for god’s sake’. On a busy bus, people were only able to hear the bits he emphasized. At one point he blurted out ‘the Germans had the right idea’ and ‘I know it’s drastic but we have just got to do what the Germans did and get rid of a few. . .’ The problem with the halfalogue is that it requires us to work hard to make sense of the information. We can’t help but trying to make sense and so employ a strategy of cognitive economy. We can’t process every single bit of information that comes our way, instead we apply scripts, schemata and stereotypes as heuristic devices. In short, we make educated guesses based on insufficient data. It’s often difficult NOT to jump to erroneous conclusions.

Context and communication

When I heard the ‘Germans had the right idea’ phrase, my contextual cues to interpret the halfalogue were the people at the front of the bus who turned around, tutted and scowled in disgust. My guess was that they had assumed some kind of racist, ethnic cleansing diatribe (halfatribe), or maybe that was tapping into my own stereotypes. After all, I only had a few phrases and audience reactions to go on. It was only after I continued to listen to the halfalogue that he uttered the phrase ‘on the terraces’. Immediately the context changed and the reactions of my fellow passengers on the bus became amusing. Although, if they had not heard the new information I just became a man on the bus grinning at someone on the phone proposing genocide. I was compelled to listen to halfalogue-man. It transpired that he was commenting on the new initiative in some German football clubs to remove some of the seats in the stadium and reinstate the more traditional standing on he terraces. So nothing to groan or grimace about unless you find football tedious in the extreme.

Lessons from the halfalogue?

Fortunately for the football commentator on the bus, the other passengers only had the weapon of ‘the dirty look’ and the ‘tut’ and the eye-roll in their arsenal. However it’s easy to imagine how this situation might have escalated. More than anything the mobile (cell) phone has done more to shatter the boundaries between public and private. So for the habitual halfalogger, it is worth remembering the impact on other people. Just be more socially aware. Our brains have not developed the capacity to avoid the annoyance of the halfalogue and probably never will. Rarely are people impressed with anyone’s analytical skills on the back of a bus or on a four hour train journey. People aren’t glancing over because they have discovered one of the greatest minds of the 21st Century. It’s annoyance that they have to subjected to drivel and further annoyance that they seem unable to drag themselves away from the witnessing the social skills equivalent of a road traffic accident.

[Gary Wood is the author of Unlock Your Confidence which aims to put a bit of social conscience back into self-help]

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Gender Stereotypes and Confidence

Confidence & Media Myths

Our concept of what it means to be confident is sometimes distorted by gender stereotypes. Confidence is often seen as a masculine type trait. This is partly because we confuse confidence with bravado. Some self-help gurus don’t help this assumption. Often the proof that someone has gained confidence is the ability to  engage daredevil stunts. However, stunts such as walking on hot coals or bungee jumping have more to with recklessness than confidence. Reality TV shows are also all about contestants putting on a show. Being brash and ‘making an entrance’ is often equated with confidence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

True, inner confidence

True, inner confidence is more about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s a lot quieter than the over-the-top displays we associate with the traditional ‘blokey’ stereotype. In fact, confidence begins from a position of relaxation. It’s rooted in quietness. The traditional female stereotype is associated with nurturing. This is another aspect of confidence. Truly confident people put others at ease. If someone’s ‘confident display’ makes other people feel uncomfortable or intimidates then it isn’t true confidence.

True confidence is the mark of a well-rounded human being

The masculine stereotype could be characterized as ‘assertive’ and the traditional female stereotype as ‘nurturing’. So true confidence is a blend of these two qualities.  If your develop your ability to relax and your skills at putting others at ease, these provide the perfect platform for assertiveness. If you’re stressed and angry and just think about yourself then the result is aggression. True confidence is the mark of a  balanced, well-rounded human being. It’s positively contagious, so pass it on.

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Coping with Challenges and Change – How Do You Do It?

Taking Stock of Transferable Skills

Working as a psychology lecturer I routinely encounter students who don’t make connections between different aspects of psychology. Working as a (life) coach I often encounter clients who don’t take stock of their transferable skills. Now, the first time I attended a meeting of the Professional Speakers Association I was asked ‘Have you done any public speaking?’ My knee-jerk reaction was to say ‘no’. At the time I had over ten years experience in teaching, I’d fronted media campaigns, appeared on radio and television and yet I still said ‘no’. In my mind I obviously didn’t class any of this experience as public speaking.  Sometimes we keep aspects of our life and experience in discrete ‘little boxes’. This may have an impact on how we view change and new challenges and our ability to cope.

How to You Deal With Change?

Consider the following questions relating to how you made previous changes in your life. Get a sheet of paper and write down your answers.

  • Knowing yourself as you do, what pattern, routine or process do you usually go through to make changes in your life?
  • What are the steps you go through in your decision making process?
  • With whom would you normally confide when considering making changes?
  • What things would you discuss with them when considering making a change?
  • What considering change, what attitudes did you have that helped make it happen?
  • Of all the strategies you have used in the past to make changes, what do you think might be the most helpful in handling the situation now?

Take time to answer them fully. It doesn’t have to be a major change, in fact, think of all types of change from switching brands of fruit juice to changing jobs.

How to Cope with Challenges?

Now spend some time considering previous challenges and successes and answer the following questions. Again take time to consider the questions fully and write down your answers.

  • Despite the challenges you encountered, how did you manage to persevere? How did you cope?
  • Where do you get the determination when others might have given up?
  • Knowing yourself as you do, what attitude to previous challenges did you have that helped make it through?
  • Considering a previous success, despite the challenge and the circumstances, how did you manage to succeed?
  • What is it that enables you to get through challenges and succeed?
  • What personal qualities, strengths and skills enable you to get challenging times?
  • What would a supportive close friend, partner or family member say are your qualities that help you get through challenges?

Solution-Focused Thinking for Challenges and Change

Making an inventory is a key strategy in solution-focused thinking and one of the things I work with clients to do in (life) coaching. When we become stressed we go into survival mode – fight or flight – which limits our perception of the options available to us. Considering our options and writing down the answers means it is more likely we will recall how we coped with past challenges and how we dealt with change. It is a key confidence building strategy.

Whenever you are faced with challenge and change, it helps if you begin by taking a few long slow deep breaths to lower your stress levels. You are then better placed to take a broader view and consider your transferable skills, strengths, skills, coping mechanisms and past successes.

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

Fit and Ready for Action

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

Coaching as Attitude Change

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

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

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

Are You Ready for Goal-Directed Action Quiz?

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

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

What do your goal-setting quiz results mean?

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

Goals as Future-Desired Outcomes

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

Goal-Setting Approaches

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

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

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