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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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.

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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.

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Forget New Year-New You! Why Re-Invent the Wheel? There’s Plenty Right With the Old You, Read on. . .

Every year, buoyed by the significance of the first day of a brand new year we set our New Year’s resolutions. Magazines and books scream out at us to re-invent ourselves with messages of New Year, New You. I say forget it!

I’m not suggesting that we all do nothing. I’m a committed advocate of lifelong learning. We are always moving forward, whether we take control of it or not. I’m just asking the question ‘What’s so wrong with the old you that a bit of tinkering can’t put back on track?’ These messages to embrace total self-transformation embody the message that you’ve screwed up and it’s time to put it right. It’s bull! The New Year-New You (NYNY) philosophy won’t build confidence and esteem. In fact it may have the opposite effect. In this post I aim to tell you why it’s counterproductive to indulge the gurus that advocate total transformation. I’ll also suggest what you can do instead.

You’re here. You already made it

There’s an old saying ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’. It’s sound advice. The NYNY approach sometimes goes as far as telling us to throw out the bath too! Seeing as you are already here then you must be doing something right. That’s the approach I take in coaching. We stock take. The stock in question is your skills, strengths, values and how you got to this place. The Pareto Principle states that we 20% of our actions yield 80% of the results. Through coaching or just by self-reflection you can tap into your key 20% Lots of self-help books will ask you to make massive changes on the assumption that this is the only way you will get massive results. I maintain that the small changes create knock-on effects that yield significant results. Bigger is not alway better if it’s not what you really want!

How did you get to where you are now?

In coaching I use scaling questions. Simply, I ask you to rate your overall life satisfaction on a scale from one to ten. Where one equals very low satisfaction and ten equals total satisfaction. Before focusing on ‘what might be better’ we focus on how you’ve got to this point. So if you report a satisfaction of four, I would ask you ‘How have to got to a four? How did you do that? How come it’s a four and not a three, a two or a one?’ By exploring the question from this angle, we begin to tap into that all important 20% of what works for you. It’s about jogging your memory rather than negating your life experience. Usually coaching clients recall things (almost forgotten) that help to move them forward. It’s up to the coach to uncover these gems.

Once we have established that, I ask you what you imagine things will be like, half a point along the scale, or even a quarter. The aim is to get you to thinking about small steps that you can make. I also ask what score will be good enough for you. Does it have to be a ten? For many people a 7 or 8 is good enough. After all, if it’s a ten then where is there left to go? Despite sports people claiming that they gave 110%, there is no such thing as11 out of ten! Once we have established what ‘good enough’ looks like, we can begin to set goals. These goals will include milestones or sub-goals to maintain motivation and boost confidence.

Setting goals properly can boost self-esteem

Think of a goal as a journey. After all that’s where the idea of coaching came from. In transport, a coach gets you from A to B. A life coach gets you from A to where you want to Be. For any journey, preparation is key. Part of  this involves taking stock of your skills, strengths, values and life experience. This is where New Year’s resolutions go wrong. It’s the preparation that maintains the motivation when the novelty and euphoria wear off. Begin by considering if you’ve tackled a similar goal before recall. How did it go? What went right? How long did it last? What were the stumbling blocks? It’s common for people to get discouraged if they falter. However that’s part of the process. Setting a goal is not about demonstrating you have iron will power. A great deal of the goal setting is working out how to match the process to your particular way of doing things. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ blueprint. You are the blueprint. It’s a matter of playing to your strengths and managing your shortcomings. If you try to force the ‘black-and-white, all-or-nothing, pass-fail’ approach then you learn nothing about yourself. By being more flexible and using the knowledge about yourself along the way, not only will you meet your goals, you will also boost your sense of self-efficacy in the world.

Working as a life coach, although I have a range of standard (tried and tested) questions, tools and techniques, I do not practice an ‘off-the-peg’ approach. I work with you to co-create an action plan. It’s all about matching your needs and strengths to the goal. The reasons are simple: (i) it saves time and (ii) it builds self-assurance. The idea is that you should go away from coaching feeling empowered not dependent on the coach. Yes, the coach should offer you tools, techniques and an alternative way to view your world. However all of these should add to ‘your sense of you’, not take away from it. That’s why I shun the ‘New Year-New You approach’ popularized by lifestyle magazines and self-help gurus. It’s common in advertising to see products described as ‘New Improved’. This doesn’t make sense. Is it new or is it improved? Usually it means it is an improvement on an existing product. They didn’t start from scratch. They took all that was good about the existing product and tweaked it a little to make it better. That’s exactly the approach for lifelong learning. Forget ‘New You’, just improve on an existing classic!

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIf you enjoyed this post, please use the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons below to let others know. 

If you are looking for a complete personal development course, try my book: Unlock your Confidence or else just check out my Survival Kit for New Year’s Resolutions.

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Changing ‘Yes but’ to ‘Yes and’ – Lessons in Life and Problem Solving from Improv and Brainstorming

One of the great lessons from theatre improvization (improv or impro) games is the rule of ‘Yes and’. All too often in life we ‘yes but’ everything. This is especially true of people who solicit advice for their problems only to block any suggestion. Sometimes people don’t want solutions, they just want to justify their position of not doing anything about their problems. Be clear,  ‘Yes but’  always means ‘NO’.

In improv, the basic principle is ‘yes and’. That is, we accept what’s being offered and add something to it. Offers can be anything from words, expressions, body language, descriptions and so on. The idea is to endow your fellow players with qualities and for them to do the same in return. It’s a collaborative, cooperative process. Together you spontaneously create a scenarios and characters. The humour arises from the surprises and not contriving clever lines. It’s not about making yourself look good it’s about making other people in the scene look good.

When first creating scenes in improv it’s common for beginners to block offers. So for instance, a fellow player may say ‘Would you like this balloon?’ Following the ‘yes and’ rule, you accept the balloon and expand upon it. So it may lead to a scene at the fair or a birthday party. However, if you say ‘No I hate balloons’, then you have blocked the offer and halted the scene. It may be mild panic and ‘no’ was the first thing that came into your head. It may be that you had your own idea of how things should turn out. Either way, it’s easy to see that if everyone blocked offers then no scenes can ever develop. It’s the same with solutions to problems in everyday life.

There are parallels between this basic improv principle and brainstorming for problem solving. It’s a standard practice that there should be no premature censoring of ideas.The first stage is to collect ideas however preposterous they may seem. The second stage is to sift through them. Sometimes an idea that at first seemed unfeasible, or downright silly, may inspire another idea that may lead to a solution. If we dismiss ideas prematurely we may unwittingly be dismissing solutions that spring from these ideas.

The idea of playing a ‘yes and’ game has great applications in real-life especially in times of ‘stuckness’. The crucial question to ask yourself is whether you are being a ‘yes butter’ or a ‘yes ander’? The ‘yes and’ approach will undoubtedly create options you may not have thought of,  especially in times of stress. When stressed we tend to see things in black and white and our responses become focused on survive rather than thrive. It’s amazing how our perceptions change when we relax. In fact it’s  the optimal state for learning and is why I begin my confidence building workshops with relaxation exercises, a few improv games and occasionally balloons! It gets everyone in a receptive ‘solution-focused’ mindset.

So the upshot is that it’s difficult to find solutions for life’s problems from a position of stress where you vision of the possible paths and outcomes may be limited. Solutions will emerge if you relax, adopt a ‘yes and’ approach and don’t prematurely censor possible solutions.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

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Confidence Mapping – Using Your Confidence Highs to Deal with the Lows

So often we talk about confidence as an ‘all-or-nothing’ quality. Taking this black-and-white view distorts our perceptions. Some people who are less self-assured, or with lower self-esteem describe themselves as having ‘no confidence’. But is there any such thing as zero confidence? Doesn’t it fluctuate depending on our mood, where we are and who we are with? There’s a lot of life lived out in the ‘excluded middle’, the bit between the polar opposites of ‘zero’ and ‘total’.

In my workshops I ask people to rate their general confidence on a scale from zero to ten, where zero equals ‘no confidence at all’ and ten equals supreme confidence. Some people choose zero. However, if I add a bit more detail about what zero means, I can immediately create a shift for them. I usually ask them to think of the last successful thing they accomplished, however small. Sometimes I am met with blank looks and ‘no, nothing’. However, I ask them how they managed to get to the workshop? They begin to see that confidence must have been involved. When we view the world through black-and-white filters, a great deal of detail is lost.

Mapping Your Confidence Highs and Lows

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn Unlock Your Confidence I present a chapter on Confidence Tracking, designed to explore all the stuff that an ‘all-or-nothing’ view might overlook. I call it ‘looking for what sparkles’, a phrase borrowed from the Solution Focused Brief Therapy approach, which also informs my coaching practice.

First I ask some simple questions, again these are the type of things I ask in the first life coaching session with clients. On one level they help to put people at ease and help build rapport. These are also great small-talk questions if you’ve exhausted the topics of ‘what do you do for a living?’ and ‘What do you think of the weather?’ So here are a few questions to consider:

  1. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  2. What hobbies, pastimes, and sports to do you enjoy?
  3. How do you like to relax?
  4. With whom do you enjoy spending your time?
  5. What are you favourite places to visit?

I suggest that you would feel more confident in any of these situations than being asked to speak in public, asking the boss for a raise or tackling a problem that you’ve never met before. How do your zero to ten ratings differ? So the next question is ‘What can you ‘borrow’ from any of these situations to take to a ‘difficult’ situation?

Life Spheres – Roles, People and Situations

Consider the various ‘life spheres’ you belong to: Family life, work life, social life, leisure time etc. Note where you ‘shine’ and how confidence may fluctuate. How do your ratings differ? Again, what can you borrow from the life spheres in which you feel more confident. How might you apply this to another sphere where you feel less so?

Now think about your various ‘life roles’ such as friend, parent, child, colleague etc. Again note the variations in confidence ratings. What can you take away from this to help you to deal with people who present a little more of a challenge?

What about the various people with whom you interact such as older people, younger people, children, colleagues and so on. How do your confidence ratings vary? Again, what do you deduce from this?

Working through these exercises you begin to create a map of where your confidence levels peak and where they dip. The peaks are resources that you can bring to other situations.

Recently, I did some speed coaching at well-being festivals (MInd, Body Spirit; and Mind, Body and Soul). It was part of the promotion for the book, to show how quickly the book will help you to gain insights and make changes. Each ‘client’ had just 15 minutes and one of the techniques I used was the scaling question. The notable thing is that everyone wanted to talk about ‘difficult people’ or ‘difficult interactions’. When I asked them how things differed from ‘non-difficult’ encounters, everyone recognized that they were more tense approaching these people and situations in contrast to more pleasurable encounters. I didn’t make any suggestions but everyone came up with the same solution: Relax, smile more and set the scene for a positive reaction. Often we think that we are reacting to difficult people whereas we are helping to co-create the encounter. Sometimes a little push in the ‘right direction’ is all that it takes.

At the heart of this is true empowerment  and is self-esteem building as none of this process involves learning ‘new-fangled’, convoluted techniques. Real confidence is all about tapping into your existing resources. It’s all about transferable skills, that is. finding out what you do already and then just moving it around a bit! So get mapping.

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Attitudes and the Karma of Confidence

Bringing social psychology into coaching for confidence

Attitudes, karma and confidence and are not three concepts that obviously go together. However, they are connected. It was making this connection that helped me bring my expertise in social psychology into my coaching practice to create a unique approach to confidence and esteem building. What karma, attitudes and confidence have in common is ‘action’. Ultimately, to build confidence means to increase our courage to take action. To build anything requires action otherwise it remains a fantasy. So where do karma and attitudes come in?

Karma = Action

We use the word ‘karma’ in everyday life to mean ‘what goes around, comes around’ usually in the context that people will eventually pay for their misdeeds in one way or another. However karma literally means ‘action’.

Poster: What is Confidence Karma?I’d noticed in my own career that when I worked with mature students I focused on more intently building confidence in them. It was the beginning of my coaching career. The by-product was that my confidence in my own abilities also increased. In confidence terms, what goes around comes around. And so, the concept of confidence-karma was born. Often we get the idea from reality TV programmes that we gain confidence at the expense of others. We see people making themselves look better by putting others down. This is not authentic confidence. It’s not even assertiveness. It’s actually a form of aggression. At the heart of aggression is the inability to assert oneself in a productive way. Truly self-assured people put others at ease. Fake confidence is all about the self; real confidence is all about the social.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThis became a guiding theme in Unlock Your Confidence. It may sound a bit grand but I wanted to put the social conscience back into self-help. All too often self-help books are a bit ‘me me me’. Building assertiveness, esteem and confidence in other people puts the focus outside of the self, but still keeps the self at the centre, only in a more productive way. Passing on confidence always has a knock on effect. It’s positively contagious. So where do attitudes come into the equation?

Attitudes make us ‘fit and ready for action’

In social psychology one of the key areas of study is attitudes. The word attitude means ‘fit and ready for action’. It is through out attitudes that we make sense of the world, they comprise our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. To increase the likelihood that our behaviour will change we can work on our thoughts and feelings. Attitudes are the ‘get ready’ before the ‘go’. In confidence building, I take this triangular approach and bring social psychology into my coaching practice. Ultimately one of my main aims as a coach is to get people to re-appraise their attitudes towards themselves. In so doing, you jettison attitudes about yourself that do not support your values and goals. You also get to consider attitudes that do. This builds courage. So, are you someone who seeks to build others up?  Do you compliment, praise and show gratitude? Do you have the courage to nurture and encourage?

Building Confidence is Always Good Karma

Confidence-Karma is about having the courage to see the bigger picture. We shape our social world as much as it shapes us. We can make a difference just by taking control of this cycle of influence, even if just in a small way. Just as there’s no such thing as an insignificant random act of kindness, there’s no such thing as an insignificant act of confidence building. An attitude worth adopting is: building confidence is always good karma – and for it to have real meaning to take action on it.

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For more information about coaching to build confidence contact: Gary Wood. Coaching is face-to-face in Birmingham and Edinburgh, via telephone in the UK and worldwide via Skype.

How to Say Sorry

Different ways of saying sorry?

Body Language Myth: The 55% 38% 7% Rule

I noticed that a search term that’s leading people to my blog – ‘how to say sorry with body language‘. Why not just ‘how to say sorry?

There is a suggestion – in this phrase – that saying ‘sorry with body language’ is different to ‘saying sorry with words’. Arguably this is perpetuated by the common body language myth that non-verbal signals are more important than words. It’s not true. The ‘words account for 7% of all communications’ myth is based on a distortion of the original research. So before considering the links between words and body language, let’s consider one of the most famous apologies in history.

Saying ‘sorry’ builds relationships, trust and esteem

Saying ‘sorry’ has a lot of benefits. Recognizing that you’ve made a mistake and quickly apologize for it can have the effect of boosting trust. People often use the phrase ‘that it takes guts to say sorry’. Apologizing can preserve and boost our self-esteem and our standing in the eyes of others, so it’s important to get it right. If you doubt this the recall one of the most famous apologies in history. Consider the unsuccessful ‘Bay of Pigs’ Invasion of Cuba by the USA in 1961. To put it mildly, the whole incident embarrassed the Kennedy administration. However, following the Bay of Pigs fiasco President Kennedy’s approval ratings increased substantially, leading to his comment ‘I hope I don’t have to keep doing stupid things like that to remain popular’.

There have been many public apologies by celebrities over a range of misdemeanors. As a rule the most successful apologies are where people appear genuine. A sign of this is that is a match between verbal and non-verbal aspects of the message. I say ‘appear genuine’ because we have no way of really knowing if someone is being genuine. Mostly it’s gut reaction. It’s only after the fact that ‘body language experts’ point out what everyone sensed anyway.

How to know if someone is genuinely sorry?

The phrase ‘how to say sorry with body language’ does imply that words may not be enough. The body language needs to act as a ‘convincer’. Being genuine is far easier than appearing genuine. If there is clash between verbal and non-verbal signals then the non-verbals (tone of voice and body language)

We do not need any special training to detect deceit. We process the ‘message’ both at a conscious level but also at a ‘gut reaction’ level. A mismatch between the verbal and non-verbal aspect of the messages triggers alarm signals that ‘something is not quite right. So, trying to emphasize an apology with the supposedly ‘right’ body language may end up backfiring, even if we are genuine. Disingenuousness will ‘leak out’. The best approach is to focus on the apology and letting the body language ‘take care of itself’. If you are being open then your body language will match. You will be using open gestures. You will also be taking a ‘one-down’ position. It’s not an apology if you’re towering over someone waving your hands and spit out the words or if you don’t make eye contact and have your arms folded and mumble. Open hands, palms up, nothing to hide!

Key parts of an apology

The first step is recognizing what you are apologizing for. Clearly identifying the behaviours that ‘wronged’ the other party is the first step. Next is to communicate that you understand how the other person felt. It’s basic empathy, that is, to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’. Including reference to how the other person’s feelings gives further indication that you understand the repercussions. It’s possible that the ‘injured party’ might want to fill in a bit more detail. Let them. Listen.

You may wish to add a reason but don’t make lots of excuses. Keep it short. Planning an apology offers you the opportunity to think about what really is important. When choosing the words, don’t think it needs to sound like a piece of Shakespeare. It can be short and simple.

When apologizing, don’t play with words

When people want to appear to apologize but still retain the upper hand they have a tendency to ‘play with words’. In one my first jobs there was a supervisor who seemed to be constantly on a quest for one-upmanship. Instead of saying ‘I agree’ he would say ‘I wouldn’t disagree with you’. Phrases like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ or ‘I’m sorry you have interpreted my words that way’ are not true apologies.

Focus on what you are sorry for. So for instance you may say ‘I’m sorry that my words hurt you’. You can then clarify that it was not your intention. Sometimes words don’t come out exactly as we had intended. Sometimes there are misunderstandings. Just focus on your part in the misunderstanding rather than your first thought being ‘how can I shift the blame?’

Sometimes an apology is not enough

Finally be prepared that the other person may not accept your apology. However, if it’s heartfelt and you’ve tried your best then give the other person some time to process it. It may take a while. It doesn’t mean that you have to keep apologizing for the rest of your life. Sometimes people have a greater need to hold on to the hurt rather than move on. Sometimes an apology is not enough. For some people an apology will never be enough. That’s their right and their responsibility and that doesn’t mean that you have to take responsibility for it. Be genuine, make your apology, learn from your mistakes and then move on.

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Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching

When faced with change, how we cope depends on our psychological hardiness (similar to resilience). Rather than a personality characteristic it’s more of a personality style or way of viewing the world. Whereas personality characteristics appear fixed, views can be changed. A core part of the life coaching process (and a key theme in my book Unlock Your Confidence) is to consider alternative viewpoints and change attitudes.

Poster: Building psychological resilence

Building confidence and building psychological hardiness go ‘hand-in-hand’

The concept psychological hardiness was proposed by psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi. It comprises three attitudes – the three Cs: commitment, control, and challenge. Individuals ‘high in hardiness’ are more likely to put stressful life events into perspective and tend to perceive them less of a threat and more of a challenge and as opportunities for personal development. As a consequence stressful events are less likely to impact negatively on a person’s health. The buffering effect of psychological hardiness on health and well-being has been well researched and has been demonstrated for a variety of occupational groups, from business executives to students including people working in highly stressful conditions such as fire-fighters and people in the military. Let’s consider the three Cs in turn:

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

Taken together the three components of psychological hardiness provide the motivation and confidence to look to the future to find meaning in life rather repeating the past. Often in coaching we find that small changes can have a big impact. This is one of the basic tenets of the type of solution-focused coaching that I practise.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodBuilding psychological hardiness need not be a mammoth task. It may involve simple ways in which we can reconnect with people or what some people call ‘getting yourself out of the house’. A few minutes engaged in a chat at the bus stop is a lot better than hours at home spent going over our problems. A small change can cause a dramatic shift in perspective.  Just by focusing on the small areas that we have control and exercising that control may lead to fresh insights. Just choosing to break a routine and do something slightly different or in another order can cause a shift. We can build on the smallest of shifts in coaching. The same applies to challenge. We all crave predictability in live but at the same time we appreciate the difference a bit of novelty brings. Again, a small ‘shake-up’ may be all that it takes to open up a new perspective.

Ask about coaching with Dr Gary WoodAdopting the three attitudes of hardiness (commitment, control, challenge) has been shown in research to enhance performance and health even in the face of stressful life changes. To choose the unfamiliar future over the familiar past also requires courage. Coaching provides the necessary support and strategy to help you to do just that.

What will you do today that demonstrates the attitudes of commitment, control and challenge?

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Preventing Mental Fatigue – Good Study Habits

drgarywood_blog_subscribe copyAny one who has ever studied hard knows how tiring it can be. Many consider studying to be a boring but “necessary evil”. However, boredom don’t have to come with the territory. The old adage that  “variety is the spice of life” definitely applies to study life. Furthermore, reducing the boredom can also reduce the mental fatigue.

We take in information through out five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell), but mainly through sight, hearing and touch. If we think of each of these senses as having separate energy sources to run them, it helps to explain why we suffer mental fatigue. These energy sources are rechargeable but we can drain them faster if we over use one of them. So boredom, is really a warning signal that we need to do something different. The best way to avoid mental fatigue is to switch activities regularly so that the focus is not on just one sense for long periods of time. So read through your notes, condense notes, use mind maps or spider diagrams, asking and answering questions and so on.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThe same principle applies to the business world and everyday life. Creating variety in tasks and making sure you involve more of your senses will help prevent mental fatigue. Finally, never underestimate the power of a glass of water. Keeping hydrated can help maintain optimal cognitive functioning and boost confidence.

If you found this post useful you may also like: Mental Fatigue, Well Being and Confidence. For other study related posts see the following links and please do consider using the buttons below to like this post and share with others.

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