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

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

The top ten:

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

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

 About Gary Wood

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

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Bah Humbug. Why It’s Okay to be More Like Scrooge at Christmas

The name Ebenezer Scrooge, the principle character from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has become synonymous for embittered miserliness and especially for someone who does not embrace the ‘spirit of Christmas’. At the start of his journey he cares nothing for people and is only interested in money. By the end of the story Scrooge was a changed man. He discovered the true meaning of Christmas. His name became synonymous with altruism and generosity. He was Mr Christmas.

A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption. It is a tale of values and how to focus on what truly matters in life. It was set in a bleak time of abject poverty and the social injustice of the casualties of the Industrial revolution. The story has resonance with modern-day austerity cuts where the most vulnerable in society have had to pay for the mistakes of the most affluent (. . . steps off soapbox. . .) Back to the main point.

humbugChristmas seems to start earlier every year. Cards and decorations appear in the shops around August. It has little or nothing to do with the values that Scrooge rediscovered by the end of the tale. Modern-day Christmas is driven by the values of the pre-enlightened Scrooge. In a perverse twist and turn around, those who decry commercialism are branded ‘Scrooge’ or ‘Ebenezer’ or chided with the statement ‘bah humbug’.

It’s true that Christmas is a real hugger-mugger of a festival and means different things to different people. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens did a lot to bring together disparate traditions and associations surrounding the Yuletide season. He helped us to re-embrace the pagan and yet at the heart of the story, there is a universal sense of humanity. So we have a pagan festival, hijacked by the Christian Church, in part, unified by Dickens and now hijacked by commercialism. Christmas is something that can now only be purchased and if you don’t have money then you are excluded. No doubt it will continue to evolve and mutate with more ‘traditions’ added. Hopefully, somewhere in the mix there will be space to re-discover what Scrooge discovered: If it’s not about people then it truly is humbug.

Happy People-mas

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About the author

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, try this:

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

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

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

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

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About the author

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of everyday mindfulness

Food

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

Taking Up A Hobby

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

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

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

Mindfulness is about engaging more fully with life

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

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

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About the author

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

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

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

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

Feeling overwhelmed, so doing something else instead

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

Preparation, preparation, preparation

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

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

How attitudes can move us forward or hold us back

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

Displacement activities and problem solving

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

In Summary

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

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

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About the author

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

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Do coaching and counselling mix?

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

Coaching, Counselling and Psychotherapy

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

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

Crossover between coaching and counselling

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

What about having coaching and counselling at the same time?

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

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

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

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

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

About the author

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

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Why We Are All Trans-(binary)-gender and the Myth of Cisgender

In many ways, this post seems at odds with recent psychology and coaching posts. However it’s really just a piece about how we think about the world and our inherent need to classify. Over the past few years I’ve noticed the word cisgender (and its variants used) and for a while have thought how deeply unhelpful it is. It is a flow of consciousness and no doubt will change over time. Constructive comments and insights are most welcome.

Defining cisgender

Cisgender offers a complement to transgender. It refers to people whose gender assigned at birth matches their own experience and sense of identity. The problem with cisgender is that it introduces yet another binary into how we think about sex and gender. It should also be noted that gender is not assigned at birth. A peek at the genitals is not gender. It’s a biological classification. It’s sex. They are different things.

Binary categories

Dichotomous thinking tells us very little of what is happening in the real world. It obscures more than it illuminates.We take a whole continuum of experence, turn it into binary opposites and throw out the middle bit. We then proceed to argue and explain how we can push everything from the excuded middle into our artifical socially constructed categories.

Transgender and its assumptions

Transgender is a description of when our gender identity (and experience) doesn’t match that assigned at birth. The question is, whose does?  The assumption is that transgender refers to the minority and cisgender to the majority. This is unhelpful and inaccurate. I maintain that we are all transgender since we all deviate from the norm to differing degrees. There is a spectrum of non-conformity. Cisgender can only refer to the elusive few who embody the traditional gender stereotype appropriate to a given culture (and their comfort with it). Cisgender is also heteronormative since ‘normal’ gender is straight! So I question whether gay or bi people can be cisgender.

Cisgender obscures the fact that many ‘normal’ people struggle with notions of gender identity and gender conformity.  Many people do not live up to gender expectations. Many have grown up being bullied because they don’t ‘make the grade’ but don’t necessarily want to ‘switch sides’. I know some apologists for the term will argue that it’s intended to be neutral. The problem is that labels are rarely neutral and rarely used in the way ‘intended’. Once you apply binary categories, the grey areas are lost and (unfavourable) comparisons are inevitable. We have experienced diatribes about white privilege, about (biological) sex privilege and now we have cisgender privilege. To a person supposedly from all privileged categories who is still struggling to put food on the table, aerie-faerie academic-speak isn’t very helpful. Binaries always over-simplify.

Sex and gender are not the same thing

In 2009 at the time of the Caster Semenya World Championship controversy I wrote Sex and Gender are NOT the Same Thing! All Gender is a Drag!   The newspapers at the time, even the ‘quality press’ wrote about gender testing, when there is no such thing. Gender, as we know, is the social interpretation of biological sex. There isn’t really a test for that unless you count Kate Bornstein‘s questionnaire in My Gender Workbook and I hardly think that sports bodies will use that. They are more interested in chromosomes and hormones and the like, that is, biologcal sex. I was relieved that after taking the Borthstein’s test that I was designated gender outlaw. I was disappointed that I never made it to gender freak. However, I am reassured that I am definitely not cisgender! Although Bornstein’s test is rather facetious and the questions are all loaded, it makes some very important points. On a many occasions I got my students to complete the test. The strength of feeling that it provoked, especially among mature students was surprising.  Once they got the idea that the test was deliberately provocative, it challenged more hidden assumptions about sex and gender better thab any formal lecture could. The debates afterwards were always highly spirited.

More than two genders

Kate Bornstein and Martine Rothblatt were among the most influential writers for my doctoral research, alongside Alfred Kinsey, anthropologist Mary Douglas, psychologist Else Frenkel-Brunswik and Mark Simpson, the man who coined the term metrosexual. These are not names you find together everyday. As I was examining gender stereotypes, it’s not surprising that I looked to the work of trans* writers (Bornstein and Rothblatt). Interestingly Kate Bornstein was a trans woman (that is, male to female). However, more recently ‘she’ has stopped referring to herself as a woman. So this means it difficult to write about ‘hir’, unless I use the third gender term coined by Rothblatt.

In Bortstein’s scheme, there are not two genders. There are multiple genders, since the social interpretation of sex has so many variables to consider: sexuality, race, age, nationality, culture, class and so on. There is no norm except an illusive stereotype and how many people conform perfectly to that? More importantly, how many people struggle TO conform?

Metrosexuality is all about gender

Mark Simpson’s notion of metrosexuality is interesting because it’s really all about gender. It is about ‘heterosexual’ men who adopt the fashions and stylings of the ‘modern’ ‘homosexual’.  David Beckham is the poster boy for the metrosexual whose career as football player (alpha-career) allows us to ‘forgive’ him sitting around, pouting in his underpants wearing nail polish. The average ‘normal’ traditional man working in as less glamorous job might not be so easily forgiven.

A sprectrum of gender

In a previous post (Never Mind. . . the Great Procrustean Binary Gender Swindle) I referred to a trans woman blogger who had a lot of thought provoking things to say about binary gender. Unfortunately the blog was met with abuse from some trans people and it closed. She was saying pretty much the same Kate Bortstein is today. The main cut and thrust was that whereas many trans people decry the binary gender system, they are still advocates for it. If gender is a social interpretation of biological sex, how can you have surgery on your gender? Quite simply, you can’t. Is there not a third or fourth space we can occupy? Is there not a whole spectrum of gender?

All gender is a form of drag. It takes lots of plucking, posturing and preening and can be performed independently of genital arrangements. Many people have chosen to live as intersexed, third gender roles. None of this is a criticism (or judgement) of individual experiences. It is a criticism of how we construct sex and gender debates. These inform the many ‘hoops’ that trans people have to navigate in order to make a transition. Speaking recently to trans people they suggested that it is easier to get through the system if they present as ‘traditional types’. This trans men (female to male) wearing eyeliner get a tougher time than those in football tops.

Book Cover: The Psychology of Gender by Dr Gary WoodThe gender binary system is the epitome of idealism. For as long as we keep imposing binaries we obscure alternative viable options. I’ve analysed data from needs surveys for trans people and worked with trans people in coaching and workshops. What struck me most was the range of genders on display. Some more traditional and some more alternative with a spectrum of difference in between, From the needs analyses, it was sometimes difficult to summarise representative viewpoints. One of the overriding factors was individual experience. The commonalities were the need for respect, fairness, courtesy and acceptance. You don’t have to be transgender or cisgender to appreciate this.

Intolerance of ambiguity

Else Frenkel-Brunswik devised the concept of Intolerance of Ambiguity.  In essence it describes our varying need to apply binary categories and control for uncertainty. The critics wo say that we cannot function without labels are perhaps a little more intolerant of ambiguity. However in gender terms I fail to see how ‘he’ and ‘she’ or ‘transgender’ and ‘cisgender’ are helpful. What do these labels tell us? Yes, they allow us to point at things and name them out loud but what else? What of the ‘middle bit’ where the real people reside? Why should linguistic convenience override phenomenology. In gender terms, ambiguous means trans-normative.

Cisgender, no thanks.

As a term, cisgender came into being as an alternative for non-trans. Some writers prefer non-trans as it centres trans as the norm. Now while I agree that trans is the norm, I have a much broader definition of what trans means.I appreciate that we have to use linguistic devices to highlight the embedded assumptions in gender, it has merit but not at the expense of denying individual experience. Language frames our understanding of the world and we have to work within its limitations.However, I for one, deny that cisgender has anything meaningful to say about my experience. Give me ‘gender outlaw’ any day! Thank you Kate Bornstein.

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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. His PhD was entiled ‘Attitudes to Sexuality, Gender Stereotypes and Intolerance of Ambuiguity. The ideas found their way into his first book Sex, Lies and Stereotypes.

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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) and confidence 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.

Book: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

Read a sample of Unlock Your Confidence at Amazon UK or Amazon USA

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 want to avoid you. So when is enough, enough?

In an 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

This quiz is only intended to stimulate thought and discussion. It is not a scientific assessment. The cut-off points described below only give general feedback. If your 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 your 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 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 it’s better to engage a professional stranger (counsellor or therapist) to tell all.

For more information on first impressions, small-talk and self-disclosure, check out Unlock Your Confidence ( To read a sample visit Amazon UK or Amazon USA). Or, see other blog posts on confidence-building and life-coaching by Gary Wood.

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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 the author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution-focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

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

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

The therapeutic importance of play

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

The importance of goals and the concept of ‘flow’

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

Takeaway value – play more – create flow

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

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If you enjoyed this post and found it useful:

About the author

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

Links:

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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