How I came to write a study skills book problem-page style

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I returned to education pre-Internet. Yes! That long ago! I’d always battled with the ‘no-pain-no-gain’ approach to learning and revising for exams. As I was about to study psychology, I figured that psychology had to have tips on studying itself. I wasn’t aware of any study skills books and had to make do with an Introductory textbook. Sure enough, I found a few ideas on attitudes, attention span, the context of learning, and how to take a more holistic approach to studying. This modest find inspired me to look for more hints and to apply what I found.  And, I continued to do this throughout my time as a student and then as a lecturer. Over the years I gained and honed key principles on how to learn how to learn – and how to work smarter not harder.

As a psychology lecturer, I quickly realised that no one processes information as efficiently when stressed. And, when faced with a daunting reading list, the last thing we need is a study-skills book ‘thick enough to stun an ox’! We need the signposts, the quick fixes, and the short-cuts. The challenge in writing in a book on study skills is as much as what you leave out as what you put in. A book needs get across the framework of understanding without giving exhaustive tips, techniques and examples. It needs to cut-to-the-chase. The Internet is a wonderful thing, but often we start out looking for an answer and end up looking at totally irrelevant stuff with no idea how we got there. Sometimes we need to contain and focus our curiosity.

gary_wood_outro_pic_letters copy_tilt_border copyLetters to a New Student ( Buy: Amazon UK /  Buy: Amazon USA ) is a brief book and you the reader choose how to read it. It can be read from cover-to-cover or as a troubleshooting guide. It also mimics this ‘stream of consciousness’ style of the Internet so you can follow your own path or hop around at random. The also book taps into my experience as agony uncle and advice columnist. It’s based on a series of short, informal, problem page letters. This idea came about from reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. There’s also a bit of ‘dice-living’, from Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man thrown in to create a similar experience as the old Dungeons and Dragons books. You can read the letters in any order. You can even use dice! You’ll still get the same blueprint to make the information stick with less effort. The book offers an easy-to-use ‘survive and thrive’ guide of how to work with human psychology rather than fight it.

There’s also a strong theme of getting support and managing relations, and one aim is to get students and parents on the same page. I don’t know of any other study skills book aimed at parents too. The book also offers great principles to live by, so can be enjoyed by lifelong learners and self-help readers.

Letters to a New Student hasn’t taken nearly as long to write it as it has to live it. It’s been honed over 20 years. It’s the book I wished I’d had when I started out.

May it give you a shortcut to success.

Gary Wood

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Based on material from the book Letters to a New Student. Tips to Study Smarter from a Psychologist by Gary Wood. Published by Routledge. Buy: Amazon UK /  Buy: Amazon USA 

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Solution Focused Life Coaching with Chartered Psychologist and Author Dr Gary Wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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