Is Fake News Bad For Your Health? Truth, Trust and the Psychology of Wellbeing

The response to the COVID pandemic has highlighted the importance of trust and truth in healthcare generally. I begin writing The Psychology of Wellbeing just before the first cases of COVID were recorded, and completed the final edit in the middle of the first lockdown. It was not possible to avoid discussing the pandemic but I didn’t want it to dominate the book. As events unfolded, some material from the first draft was made redundant but thankfully parallels emerged between how leaders dealt with the coronavirus crisis and how we all approach ‘everyday’ healthcare. The pandemic response also helped to shine a light on how we evaluate sources of information, against a swell of fake news, conspiracy theories and ‘alternative facts’. The following video distils some of the times from Chapter 2 (Questions of Trust) and Chapter 3 (Storytelling and Sense-making) of the book.

To buy the book visit Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Trannsciption of the video ‘Is Fake News Bad for Your Health? Truth, Trust and the Psychology of Wellbeing?

In this age of information overload, it gets ever harder to make sense of critical issues of the day, such as, ‘how can we improve our wellbeing?’And to combat this overwhelm, we skim read, scan for keywords and cherry-pick the evidence. And we use trust as a way to filter out the noise.Now we all have our trusty go-to sources of information and ones we reject. But it seems many of us have ‘trust issues.’

In the UK, a major opinion poll about trust found that two-thirds of people worry that new technology will make it impossible to know if what we are seeing, or hearing, is real.
I’m Gary Wood, author of The Psychology of Wellbeing which uses self-reflection & storytelling to explore the relationship between trust, truth, and wellness, and aims to answer the question ‘Is fake news bad for our health?

Early in the COVID crisis, the UK government came under pressure to publish the model used for its approach. And, Dr Richard Horton of The Lancet, argued, ‘This transparency is essential for . . . understanding, co-operation and trust.’ But a lack of trust is not surprising when some politicians openly decry expert knowledge or else denounce anything they disagree with as ‘fake news’. It’s not a good sign when even the definition of fake is fake. And in this ‘post-truth’ age, feelings trump facts. Or rather, the choice of facts to explain the world is led by emotion. So, if it feels right then it is ‘true enough’.And this view of the world has got in the way of tackling the Covid pandemic. A lack of trust has led to conspiracy theories, suspicion and confusion between nations. As Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization commented ‘We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an “infodemic”. Because conspiracy theories have a viral quality as believing in one makes it more likely that other theories will be accepted. And false news goes viral because people spread it.

Researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) looked at how and why news spreads on Twitter. They found that false news spreads faster and reaches up to ten times more people than does the truth. And the two key drivers are novelty and emotional reaction. As false news is more often novel and surprising, it’s more likely to shared. And it’s more likely to provoke stronger emotions such as fear and disgust. By contrast, true news is met with sadness, joy, anticipation, and trust.
So, when faced with a snippet of information that both surprises you and arouses strong negative emotions, put in some cognitive distance or what we might call ‘social distancing’ for social media’.

  • Don’t react to the emotion trigger.
  • Think. Calm down first, and check the facts.
  • And to limit the cherry-picking to support our biases, use fact check websites to get balance

But is a climate of ‘distrust’ really that bad for our health?

The Psychology of Wellbeing

Being less trusting might seem like a good survival strategy, but research shows that it can harm our psychological and physical health. It’s linked to being cynical, lacking social support, and being less willing to seek medical treatment. In contrast, patients who work in partnership with health providers to share decisions and build trust are better informed. They report greater satisfaction with health care, are more likely to stick to treatment plans and so enjoy better health.

In his 2017 talk to Google, Noam Chomsky, cognitive scientist and social critic, was asked, ‘How do you think Google can and should handle the fake news problem?’ He replied, ‘By not contributing to it’. The Psychology of Wellbeing helps you to do just that. It gives you with the tools to make sense of contradictory information around wellbeing, to empower you to ask better questions.

Useful Fact-checking websites:

To buy the The Psychology of Wellbeing visit Amazon UK or Amazon US.

About the author
Dr Gary Wood
is a Chartered psychologist, solution-focused life coach, advice columnist and broadcaster. He is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has more than 20 years’ experience teaching and applying psychology, in universities, in corporate settings and in the media for magazines, radio and television. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh, UK.

Get in touch with Gary for your free consulation to discuss coaching for wellbeing, or simply to ask a question:

How do we define wellbeing? And what does it mean to you? Are you well?

One way we can bridge the gap between ‘common sense’ or everyday ideas, pop psychology and academic knowledge is to look at working (operational) definitions of key concepts – in this case, ‘wellbeing’ – to put us on the same page.

In the following short video, I discuss how we define wellbeing and how the psychological approach differs from everyday chats about wellness. And a transcript of the video follows.

Buy ‘The Psychology of Wellbeing’ at Amazon UK or Amazon US

Transcript of the video How do we define wellbeing? And what does it mean to you?

Some years ago, I had a comical stay at a bed-and-breakfast guesthouse. And on greeting the owner with ‘Good morning. How are you today?’ he replied, ‘Do you really care?’
And, at first, I was taken aback. But it is a valid point. In our routine chats about wellness, how DO we tell genuine interest from social ritual?

As more of us now spend more time thinking and talking about wellbeing, it’s crucial to ask what it is. Because if we can’t define it, then how can we understand it to improve it?

I’m Gary Wood, author of The Psychology of Wellbeing, which uses self-reflection and storytelling to explore what makes a ‘good life’.
It begins by looking at our everyday exchanges on wellness, to reveal a complex process at play. Each time, we tap into OUR definition of wellness and edit pre-existing scripts to tell our life stories as we go. And these accounts vary by our mood, by setting, by time, and with different people, as we choose to give the full story, the headline news or a just stock reply.

Now this vague approach might not matter in everyday chats, but in academic research, clarity is vital. Our goal is to study wellbeing in a systematic way to isolate the personal view from the general principles, if we can. So, a working definition puts us all on the same page.

At its most basic, wellbeing is just ‘feeling well’. It’s your experience of ‘health, happiness and prosperity’. And it includes your mental health, life satisfaction, meaning in life and how you cope with stress.

It is useful to think of wellbeing as a state of balance. That is, how well your personal resources meet your life challenges.
Also, at the centre, we need to define the thing that’s being well – the self. It’s that constant and predictable sense of you as a ‘separate, experiencing being’. Because in psychology, our sense of ‘who we are’ plays a crucial role in social interactions, motivation and our decisions around wellbeing.

Now as you unpack YOUR personal definition of wellness, it describes a widening circle from self to others. You might start with health, wealth, leisure, work-status, and relationships. Then extend your view to where you live, and community. And then wider still to the economy, the state of the environment, and the trust you put in governments.

Now, we’ll all have varying degrees of control on these aspects of wellbeing – from a lot to almost none. And much of our experience is shaped or framed by various intersecting factors, such as age, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

The Psychology of Wellbeing offers a subtle nod to a self-help book and uses mindfulness in a more critical way. It invites you to reflect on what wellbeing means to you? What factors confer a wellbeing-advantage for you, the knock-on effects for others, and what impedes your wellness story? And crucially, it helps you to explore what to do with these insights.

Buy ‘The Psychology of Wellbeing’ at Amazon UK or Amazon US

About the author
Dr Gary Wood is a Chartered psychologist, solution-focused life coach, advice columnist and broadcaster. He is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has more than 20 years’ experience teaching and applying psychology, in universities, in corporate settings and in the media for magazines, radio and television. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh, UK.

Get in touch to discuss life coaching for wellbeing:

 

The Psychology of Wellbeing – An Introduction

The Psychology of Wellbeing is the third book in my ‘Routledge triptych’. The first was The Psychology of Gender, and in the final chapter, I began to explore the idea of storytelling in psychology. And in the third book, I develop this idea and team it with the self-reflection. This gives the book a subtle nod to self-help books. It also connects it to the second book in the trio is Letters to a New Student. It’s a strong study skills book with a strong emphasis on wellbeing. And, after writing it, I developed the idea of study skills as life skills, for a workshop.

In the following short video, I introduce the main themes in The Psychology of Wellbeing and pose the questions it attempts to answer. And a transcript of the video follows.

Buy: Amazon UK  /  Buy: Amazon USA 

Transcript for The Psychology of Wellbeing introductory video:

Questions of how to ‘live the good life’ & to ‘live long and prosper’ have occupied us for thousands of years. But in recent times there’s been a massive boom in wellbeing. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry, that shows no signs of slowing.

More of us now spend more time talking about wellbeing, reading about it, researching it, and writing about it. From magazines to self-help books, from workplace reports to government papers. And with so much on offer, it grows ever tougher to sift the science from the ‘snake oil’.

So how do you decide what works, what doesn’t, and what’s just hype? How do we spot the breakthroughs from the fake news? And crucially, what does wellness mean to you?

Is it financial security or good relationships? Is it having a purpose in life and setting goals? Is it being mindful or grateful? Is it all down to positive thinking or simply good luck? And fundamentally, does it really count as wellbeing if it comes at the expense of another?

I’m Gary Wood author of The Psychology of Wellbeing. It’s a short, accessible book to bridge the gaps between ‘everyday’ ideas, pop-psychology, and academic knowledge. But instead of trying to supply all the answers, the book uses self-reflection and storytelling to build critical skills to ask better questions.

Written in the middle of a pandemic, and with a few health challenges of my own, the book asks you to look at where you get your knowledge and how you know you can trust it?

Who’s got your ear? Is it scientists, academics & doctors, self-help gurus, journalists or those politicians who tell us not to listen to the experts or trust the evidence of your senses but to take their word for it? Or maybe it’s ‘friend of a friend’ who ‘knows someone who heard something’.

The book looks at definitions of wellbeing, the self and normality, the impact of inequality, the effects of stress and how trends such as mindfulness and positive psychology can shape our happiness, and our view of the world. It also offers a critical review of the self-help industry and a plan to help you choose & use self-help books to best support your wellness goals.

But most of all, The Psychology of Wellbeing helps us to understand the wellbeing stories of others and tell better wellbeing stories of our own.

About the author
Dr Gary Wood is a Chartered psychologist, solution-focused life coach, advice columnist and broadcaster. He is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has more than 20 years’ experience teaching and applying psychology, in universities, in corporate settings and in the media for magazines, radio and television. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh, UK.

Buy ‘The Psychology of Wellbeing’ at Amazon UK or Amazon US

Get in touch
If you’d like to discuss one-to-one coaching for your wellbeing goals, please get in touch:

Buy ‘The Psychology of Wellbeing’ at Amazon UK or Amazon US

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Reflections on Writing ‘The Psychology of Wellbeing’ – based on the preface to the book

During the first UK lockdown in the Coronavirus pandemic, I was putting the finishing touches to my book ‘The Psychology of Wellbeing’. The writing process was beset with a number of health and wellness concerns of my own. I’ve discussed these in the preface to the book, and in this short promotional video. And I also ponder the relationship between readers and writers of a book. 

Buy: Amazon UK  /  Buy: Amazon USA 

Transcript of ‘Reflections on Writing the Psychology of Wellbeing’:

Sociologist William Simon writes that ‘All attempts at theorizing social life are, at the same time, works of autobiography’. And I’ve joked more than once that writing this ‘wellbeing book will be the death of me’. Because it wasn’t so very far from the truth. A major depressive episode didn’t help the writing process. Neither did another attack of sciatica and lower-back pain, a tooth broken beyond repair, and finding a lump in my armpit. And all this at the start of a pandemic.

It caused me to question if psychology had anything to say about improving wellbeing. And even if it did, was I fit and ready to write it? It certainly didn’t seem so. Also, this book is part of a bigger story – a series called ‘The Psychology of Everything’. And, I realized I’ve never stopped to ask if psychology does have something to say about everything. And yet, somehow,  here we are.

Before starting this book, I thought it was lexicographer, Dr Samuel Johnson who wrote, ‘a writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it’. But we can’t pinpoint where Johnson wrote that. We just find traces of others telling us he did. And this is a reminder to check our sources of information. But whoever said it, the sentiment holds true. Books are paths crossed in the autobiographies of writers and readers – even if we share just a page or a few lines, or a quote for an essay.

I’m GaryWood, and in this book, I tell you A story of the psychology of wellbeing. And within reason, I’ve tried to let my voice come through, albeit with fewer expletives. Because as you reflect and take the story forward, it’s vital for you to know where it came from. It’s shaped by my personal and professional experience, just as your story is shaped by yours.

Sociologist Stanislav Andreski contends that ‘anybody who searches for the truth about human affairs and then reveals it cannot avoid treading upon some toes .’And, if I’ve done my job right, it might burst a few bubbles, pull some rugs or even cause the odd existential shrug. But hopefully, it will empower too. It isn’t a ‘because I say so’ kind of book. I view writing as an act of rebellion. My approach to life coaching is the same. I encourage and challenge people to be themselves, or transcend themselves, despite themselves.

The book aims to answer frequently asked questions and offers you a critical framework to ask better ones. These are your paths of continuation for reading, writing, and researching wellness. You take up where I left off.

So here it is. Over to you.

About the author
Dr Gary Wood is a Chartered psychologist, solution-focused life coach, advice columnist and broadcaster. He is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has more than 20 years’ experience teaching and applying psychology, in universities, in corporate settings and in the media for magazines, radio and television. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh, UK.

Buy ‘The Psychology of Wellbeing’ at Amazon UK or Amazon US

Get in touch
If you’d like to discuss one-to-one coaching for your wellbeing goals, please get in touch:

Promo postcard for psychologist Dr Gary Wood's book The Psychology of Wellbeing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy ‘The Psychology of Wellbeing’ at Amazon UK or Amazon US

Self-Help Information Overload? Time to Stop Reading and Start Applying It?

pic; Ad for coaching with Dr Gary Wood - Time to Apply Self-Help InformationBuying a self-help book can be a useful and low-cost way to work on our development. Of course, not all books are created equal, but I’m bound to say that. Working as a problem-page columnist for many years one of the strategies to cope with the limitation of only have 100 words to reply, was to suggest a book. So, it made sense that eventually, I wrote some self-help books. My idea is that you should approach my books like complete personal development courses, do all the exercises, apply the insights, and take action. And for many (including me), that’s the sticking point. What do we do with the knowledge once we have it? The same applies to workshops, courses, counselling, therapy, physiotherapy, and so on. Sometimes, with too much information at our fingertips, it’s difficult to know where to begin. This blog discusses how coaching can help offers a few pointers with the overall strategy of ‘start small and be consistent and persistent’.

Little by little, a little becomes a lot

In a previous post, I offered three tips to get the most out of a self-help book and the essence of this is to approach these books with a more academic, more structured approach. Taking a step back ask yourself what do you want from the book. Is it just a little reassurance and comfort that everything will be all right in the end, or do you want to take action to help out that outcome? The same applies to workshops and blocks of counselling sessions. What is the future desired outcome for these? There’s an assumption that if we talk about things and put the time in then things will eventually fall in to place. Instead what we find is that we amass a wealth of knowledge that we don’t quite know what to do with. And, I include myself in that. The secret is to pick something, a tiny action or change, carry it out consistently and review its impact. Taking action is the quickest way to change perception.

The viewing influences the doing and vice versa

In solution-focused coaching (and therapy), we work with the idea that ‘how we view the world affects what we do in the world’. So, collecting an overwhelming amount of information only leads to feelings of overwhelm. Perhaps, the best advice I ever got as a writer is that we don’t finish books, we abandon them. If that sounds a little harsh, it means that there is always another tweak, another rewrite, and another piece of information we could add. But with that approach, there would be on books just unfinished manuscripts. It helps to break the stranglehold of procrastination if we see a goal as the next chapter, instead of absolute and ultimate truth.

How coaching helps with self-help overload

The never-ending quest for information is the quest for a certainty that does not exist! Most of our decisions in life and made with incomplete information. Mostly we work with educated guesses. In coaching, you as the client bring agenda. It’s my job as the coach to shoulder some of the burdens of organizing and planning the strategy. This approach includes making use of your knowledge, resources, strengths, and skills. My job, as the coach, is to ask questions that keep you accountable to your goals. We put our heads together and come out with solutions and steps forward. Often, the steps are quite small, but the effects can be quite profound. A small step is often all it needs to break the stranglehold of procrastination and get things moving forward. Coaching helps to get you out of the ‘spin-cycle’ of thinking-for-thinking-sake. Clients often come to me thinking they have gone round in circles, and that they have wasted time on books, workshops and therapeutic interventions. The truth is that coaching works with whatever. It’s all groundwork, and we’ll start first with whatever resonates with you the most. And, we work with the basic principle that it only takes a small step to tame the whirlwind. Once you’ve set your goals, coaching will help and support you to channel your efforts into reaching them.

So there you have it:

  • Approach self-help books in a more formal, structured way with a view to applying what you’ve read
  • Work with a coach to channel your knowledge, skills and strengths to take you towards your goals.
  • There’s no such thing as a step too small in the right direction. Just make a start and be persistent and consistent, and review the impact of the actions as you go.

Further reading

The blog posts mentioned in this post are:

About Gary Wood

Gary is a Chartered Psychologist, Solution-Focused Life Coach and author, based in Birmingham and Edinburgh UK. He helps clients achieve their goals, working face-to-face, on the telephone and via Skype.

Get in touch for a free consultation with Gary Wood, by telephone or Skype, to discuss your goals:

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When that brick wall is a mental block – how coaching can help you to grasp the goals you reach for

Pic: Advert for coaching with Dr Gary Wood - What if that brick wall is a mental block?Often our goals are in sight but seem out of reach. It might feel that you take one step towards your goals, and they seem to take a step back. I get many queries from potential clients saying just that. They talk of brick walls and mental blocks and self-sabotage. Sometimes there’s a post-mortem of what they should’ve done. In this blog post, I challenge that goals being ‘out of reach’ is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s how things should be. It’s how coaching works. 

Accepting Things the Way They Are

A few years ago, I took a course in pranayama (breathing yoga) as part of the research for a book. One phrase, from the course, stuck with me: the present moment is inevitable.  As a personal and professional development coach, my first job is to challenge clients to consider that things are as they should be and that this moment is a starting point. The alternative is to indulge in ‘why’ questions, which are abstract, philosophical questions. You can a different answer every time you ask why? And every time, they cause you to look back. Instead, in coaching, I ask lots of concrete ‘how’ questions. They will take you forward. In coaching, the first step is to accept that whatever you’ve done up until now has got you here. It’s just that you now need a different plan to take you further. And that’s what we’ll work on, together.

Our goals ARE out of reach –  at the moment

As the Robert Browing line goes ‘One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ It’s the purpose of coaching to reduce or eliminate the gap between reach and grasp. Goals are supposed to stretch us. The secret is not to set them so far out of reach that we lose hope and motivation. Conversely, if we make them too easy, we’ll tire easily, become bored and give up. Coaching aims to tread that fine line between resolution and resignation. So, if the goal is very grand, we simply break it down into a series of milestone goals that stretch you. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is just to take some action, any action, in the direction of the goal. It doesn’t matter how small that step is. I’ve pretty out the Tanzanian proverb ‘Little by Little, a little becomes a lot‘. The quickest way to change perceptions and attitudes is to take action. By the time you’ve reached the first milestone, your perspective will have changed, and you’ll be better equipped to tackle the next one.

Brick Walls and Mental Blocks

Some people talk of ‘mental blocks’ as if they are physical barriers. They aren’t. Coaching is about working with you to remove attitudes that get in the way of moving forward. It involves challenging negative thoughts and self-talk and looking at alternative metaphors, scripts and ways of describing situations. But it’s also about taking stock of skills and strengths to create a method of working and an action plan that’s tailor-made for you. In coaching, it helps to ‘suspend your disbelief’ and enter into it with an attitude of positive anticipation. Instead of asking will it work’, ask ‘how will it work?’ It’s also about trying things out like personal experiments – testing the water to assess the impact of a small step forward. Ultimately, with any attitude, it’s important to ask ‘How is this taking you forward?’ If it’s not, what attitudes will? Then, try them out and see how they work for you.

Up for a challenge?

Pic: Dr Gary Wood (Line drawing)In coaching, the aim is to help you to reach your goals or get as close to them as is practically possible. I’m Gary Wood. I’ve been coaching students since the mid-90s and private clients since the early-noughties. My coaching training and practices are grounded in evidence-based psychology. My specialism is attitude change – the cornerstone of coaching. I’ve written five books on various aspects of psychology, the most recent is Letters to a New Student on study skills, but has a lot to say about life skills. And as I coach, I love a challenge.

So, get in touch for a chat. 

If you can’t think of anything to write in the message box, just type ‘can we talk?’ and add the best days and times to get in touch.

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The Confidence Paradox – the Courage to Act

Sometimes there’s a time lag between recognizing we need help and support and, taking action to get that help and support. As a coach, it’s not unusual for potential new clients to tell me that they have been thinking about getting in touch ‘for ages’. Others describe it as ‘trying to pluck up the courage’ to get in touch, or ‘psyching themselves up’. So, the challenge for me as a coach is how I can make it easier for people to take that step. This blog post is an attempt to address that question.

The Confidence-Courage Paradox

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIt seems a paradox that some people might need to gain the confidence to seek coaching to build confidence. But it happens, and the first step is to recognize that it happens. When your confidence takes a hit, it’s tempting to see the hesitation to take action as further evidence of low confidence. This becomes another reason to ‘beat yourself up’ which in turn pushes you further away from taking action. But this is not something specific to you. It’s something common to stress. I’ve had clients show me tattered business cards of mine that they’ve carried around for months, even years. So how can we break this cycle?

Who can benefit from coaching?

Often, in the initial email, potential clients ask ‘Is this something you can help with?’ And it’s written from a very personal perspective, as though these kinds of issues wouldn’t or haven’t happened to anyone else. There’s a sense of isolation and ‘aloneness’ in the questions. And it’s reassuring that yes, such issues can be overcome. Of course, the coaching is unique to the individual, but often the problems are universal themes. Recognizing this is the first step in overcoming the ‘aloneness’. You aren’t alone. It’s not just you. That’s why I’ve written this post.

Anyone can benefit from coaching. In fact, the main thing that my clients have in common is that they want to achieve their goals. Their backgrounds and goals vary enormously, but the principles of coaching are the same. It aims to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Previous clients have included people between jobs, people looking for a promotion, homemakers, students, business people, and entrepreneurs. Sometimes it’s people who just have a vague sense that things could be better. As a coach, I’ll work with whatever you bring. So bring it on.

Not knowing where to start

Another delay in getting in touch is the idea that all goals and action plans have to be perfectly formed. No, that’s the coaching process is for. It’s not easy to make decisions and problem-solve when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. In fact, the first aim of coaching is to shoulder some of that burden. So, if you approached me, we’d first have a chat (via Skype or telephone), and typically it takes about 20 minutes. You get to ask any questions, and I explain the process. Then if you decide to go ahead, I send you a pre-coaching questionnaire. This forms the basis of the first session and offers signposts and milestones for future sessions. There’s nothing off-the-peg. As I coach, I meet you where you’re at. Then we’ll work together to get you to where you want to be.

How long does it take?

Another sticking point can be how many sessions to go for? Some clients come with a long list of goals and are concerned that they won’t be able to fit everything in. Obviously, the cost of coaching is an important factor. I offer to coach in blocks of four to ten sessions because the research indicates that this is the optimal range. In the consultation chat, I’mn often asked two questions:

  1. How many sessions will be enough so that we can cover all the issues I have?
  2. What happens of cover all the issues before the block ends, what then?

To answer both of the questions, it’s crucial first to emphasize the purpose of coaching. It’s not just about sorting out problems. It’s more about empowerment. The take-away value of coaching is that it aims to empower. Through the process of coaching, we create an action plan tailor-made to your skills, strengths, circumstances and goals. So, if we don’t cover every single issue in the block of coaching, you’ll still have a set of skills to put into practice for the remainder. If we cover all the issues before the end of the block, it means you can then look at consolidating the skills and also looking to longer-term goals.

The solution-focused approach tends to work quicker than some of the more ‘inspirational’ approaches to coaching. My background is in psychology and teaching, so everything I do as a coach is based on evidence. So we can cover a lot in relatively few sessions. Many clients express surprise as to how quickly they move forward. As a rule of thumb, if you’re at crossroads, need to refocus and a looking for a life audit, then go for four to six sessions. If you’re dealing with more significant life changes or looking to deal with more deep-seated attitudes and habits, then go for eight to ten. If in doubt, go down the middle. I’ve done a lot of work to make sure that every session counts. Even one session can move your forward. 

What’s more effective, face-to-face, telephone or Skype?

When I started coaching, I was sceptical that Skype or telephone would work as well as face-to-face. As part of my training, I had coaching. However, the coach I wanted to work with was in America, so I didn’t have the option of face-to-face. All the sessions were by telephone, and it changed my opinion. Now I work with clients up and down the UK and across the world. Lots of clients are from the US. They read my profile or have read my books and want to work with me. And, if you look at the outcome research for coaching (and counselling), one of the main factors for success is the relationship with the coach. Don’t let Skype or telephone coaching put you off.

Moving Forward

Pic: Dr Gary Wood (Line drawing)So those are some of the practical issues when stress gets in the way of making a decision. You don’t have to be confident to work on confidence, you don’t have to have a masterplan, you don’t have to agonize over the number of sessions. Just go with what you can afford and make the most of every session. The same applies to how coaching is delivered. 

Coaching can be a significant investment. It’s not cheap. I’m not a budget coach. And you might achieve the changes on your own with any intervention. It might take a little longer, but you’ll probably get there. The value of coaching is the value you place on getting there sooner, with a new set of skills that will take you further still. For further information see my posts:

Get in touch for a chat

Please use this form to request a coaching consultation – it’s just a brief, informal, no-strings chat. You don’t have to leave a message – just leave it blank. Once we’ve had a conversation, you make the decision.

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Learning Skills as Life Skills (and vice versa)

It’s tempting to view formal education as learning and then everything else that happens afterwards as your ‘real-life’. However, it’s a false dichotomy. We continue to learn throughout our lives, whether or not we want to. Recognizing this can help us to see the connection between learning skills and life skills. How we approach learning informs how we approach life and vice versa.

I was invited to speak at a learning and training event and submitted the title ‘Learning Skills as Life Skills’. The idea is based on my book Letters to a New Student ( Read a sample: UKUSA ). In this post, I offer four main factors that provide a blueprint for lifelong learning. It’s a slight reworking of the book’s structure.

Four Factors for Lifelong Learning: Attitudes, Wellbeing, Cognition, and Management.

The four factors of attitudes, wellbeing, cognition and management interact with each other. A change in one affects the others.

Pic: Four Factors of Lifelong Learning

Based on Letters to a New Student ( Read a sample: UKUSA )

Attitudes

Attitudes are the cornerstone of how we make sense of the world. In coaching, I use the principlethe viewing influences the doing, and vice versa’.  It’s a key principle in confidence-building.  How we view the world shapes what we do in the world. As coaching is action-led, it’s the doing that builds the confidence. For more on this, see Unlock Your Confidence.

A concept in psychology often relegated to a ‘stress-busting’ technique more accurately offers a philosophy for coping with life. Psychological hardiness is made up of three attitudes – the three Cs. These are control, challenge and commitment.  In short, emphasize what you can control, reframe problems as challenges (or goals) and commit to connecting with other people, and show a curiosity about the world.

Having to study when we’d prefer to be doing something else can lead to feelings of resentment. This attitude makes it more challenging to process and retain information. Learning is inevitable. It’ll happen whether or not we set our own goals. When facing a deadline, often, I’d much prefer to be doing something else. But I remind myself that it’s an opportunity to achieve a personal-first or a personal-best. With students, I ask them to consider how formal learning is a luxury. It’s similar for life-tasks, such as ironing or washing dishes or paperwork. They seem to take longer with feelings of resentment. The secret is to find an attitude that changes the emotional tone. Hence my Zen-Ironing. It’s a nice metaphor for smoothing out the wrinkles of life. Ok, so that might be stretching it. But it works.

Wellbeing

When faced with a demanding goal there’s often a temptation to put wellbeing on hold. The illusion is that if we don’t bother about wellbeing, the time saved can be used on the task. We can then catch-up on wellbeing when the task is over. However, this is stress-based, survival thinking. If we treat self-care as a foundation rather than an add-on, it can have a beneficial effect on mood and cognition. Investing in your wellbeing supports learning (and life). Sleep, diet, exercise, hydration, and relaxation exercises all interact. Together they will aid peak performance so that you make the most of your time add. Neglecting wellbeing means you’ll gain a bit of extra time to use inefficiently. 

Cognition

Often we stumble on to study techniques that work for us. These might be time-consuming, boring and inefficient, but because we have had some degree of success with them, we are reluctant to give them up. However, rather than leading with personalization, it’s crucial to learn basic principles of human psychology, and then put your twist on it. That way, you work with psychology rather than fight it – working smarter, not harder. The three simplest things to implement are:

  1. Work in shorter blocks to give your brain time to digest the information.
  2. Vary your learning techniques to keep it interesting. Boredom is a choice.
  3. To process the material at a deeper level, ask and answer questions rather than rely on rote learning

For more information see Letters to a New Student ( Read a sample: UKUSA ).

Management

Some might find it difficult to ask for help, when studying, or in life. It’s not a weakness or an admission of failure; it’s resource management. Most people like to help, so why deny the opportunity? And, you will get the chance to ‘pay it forward’. Knowing when to ask for help and who to ask are essential learning skills and life skills. Begin by making a list of your go-to people. 

Whether it’s life or learning, time management is essential – plan to do whatever you need to do, and do it. It’s also crucial to plan in the downtime, and most importantly, your wellbeing. What’s not so obvious is managing moods and motivation. It’s not just about aside the time; it’s adopting supportive attitudes and using techniques to get in the mood. And, sometimes that means just getting on with it. Who says we always have to be ‘in the mood’. Do it, and let the mood catch-up!  After a period of writers’ block, I learned that a ten-minute walk first thing in the morning sets me up for the day. I also know that the worst thing for my productivity is switching on the television in the morning for the news. For me, first thing in the morning, no news is good news. 

And finally, there’s the driver of all peak performance – goal-setting. It shouldn’t get to the point that we feel ‘bludgeoned’ by goal-setting. Goals are a means to an end. They provide the structure and the momentum to keep moving forward. They should stretch you but not overwhelm you. There are many posts on this blog about goal-setting – check them out.

Meaning: The Meta-Principle

The over-arching principle in learning and life is to make it meaningful to you. Use the four basic principles of attitudes, wellbeing, cognition and management, and adapt to your circumstances, strengths and values. 

Summary

So those are the basics of using ‘learning skills as life skills’, and vice versa. To find out more, read the book or drop me a line to find out about academic coaching or life coaching. In the meantime, here’s a summary of the main points:

Pic: Book cover for 'Letters to a New Student' by Dr Gary Wood

  • Frame your experiences with positive mental attitudes.
  • Take care of yourself – Exploit the mind-body connection.
  • Work with cognitive psychology rather than against it.
  • Be proactive – Manage time, moods and motivation.
  • Finally, make it meaningful to you.

About Dr Gary Wood

Pic: Dr Gary Wood (Line drawing)Dr Gary Wood is a Chartered Psychologist, solution-focused life coach, and broadcaster specializing in applied social psychology. He is on the British Psychological Society’s ‘media-friendly psychologists’ list and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Gary has taught psychology in several UK universities and is widely quoted in the media. As a consultant, he works on health and social policy research projects and reports, for government bodies, broadcasting ‘watchdogs’, NHS Trusts, charities, and media companies.

Books by Gary Wood

  • Letters to a New Student (Read a sample or buy: UKUSA ).
  • Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It (See UK / USA)
  • Unlock Your Confidence (See UK / USA)

Get in touch to discuss academic coaching or life coaching:

Pic: Business card for Dr Gary Wood - Get in touch to discuss coaching.

 

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

letters_3d

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

____________

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 

To find out more about one-to-one-coaching with Gary Wood, get in touch using the form below:

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

Planning for Retirement: Meaning and Happiness Goals

When I was 14, I asked my granddad if he had any regrets. He had two. First, he regretted having a tattoo. Second, he regretted not planning for his retirement. The first one made sense, and I’ve never had a tattoo. However, at 14, the second one made no sense to me at all. I thought retirement was when you just have a hard-earned rest and spend a lot of time ‘with your feet up’. After a few months of retirement, my granddad went back to work, part-time. The other time he spent reading, which is probably where I got my love of books. And now, as a coach, I see many clients wanting to deal with retirement planning. This blog aims to set the scene and provide the background for retirement planning. It deals with the attitudes with which we approach life changes and the value of setting happiness and meaningfulness goals.

Attitudes – Psychological Hardiness

Some people cope better in times of uncertainty and social psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi identified three central attitudes that determine how we ‘come out the other end’. Or, as they call it, psychological hardinessThese attitudes – the three Cs – are commitment, control, and challenge. In the context of retirement, commitment is about connecting with others and having a curiosity about the world. Control is about taking stock and emphasizing what you can control, however small.  Often in coaching, we often start by looking at the ‘taken-for-granted’, small stuff. It’s a bit like ‘panning for gold’. Challenge is about approaching problems as projects and setting goals that stretch us.

Happiness and Meaningfulness

In coaching, it’s essential to match the clients’ goals to their values.  A tenet in my coaching practice is that everything should be meaningful to the client. So there are no grand symbolic gestures required, just practical steps in line with clients’ goals. And, values – the things they stand for in life – are important drivers. They give meaning. In recent years, Positive Psychology has contributed a great deal to our understanding of how to create positive emotions, such as happiness and optimism. Psychologists Julie Round and Jolanta Burke in a small longitudinal study explored the wellbeing of recent retirees using expressive writing and goal-setting. They focused on hedonia (happiness) and eudaemonia (meaning and purpose in life). The classic book, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘Chick-sent-me-hi’) deals with how to achieve happiness through goal-setting. The idea is that we set goals that put us into the state of ‘flow’ – the times when we become totally absorbed with something and lose a sense of time and of ourselves. So, the more we can set goals to put is into a state of flow, the happier we are. All this creates a platform to explore desired retirement outcomes using Round and Burke’s expressive writing exercises.

Future Desired Outcomes

Imagination plays a key role in coaching. It feels different to ask ‘What will you do?’ than asking ‘What kind of things do you imagine might work for you?’ Expressive writing and journaling are a great way to ideas and options for ways forward. For their study, Round and Burke suggest writing over four separate days. Here are their exercises, simplified slightly:

  1. Describe your best-retired self, imagining all your dreams have come to pass.
  2. Explore the key building blocks of your life at their future best (home, family, community, leisure etc.)
  3. Imagine that everything has gone to plan. How will things look in five years’ time?
  4. Imagine everything has turned out as you would like. Write about your 80th birthday party. Think about how it looks, smells, feels and sounds. Who’s there with you?

These exercises can help you to take stock of what’s already in place for your best-retired self and highlight areas that need attention and some groundwork. These insights form the basis of your goal setting – things that will add happiness and meaning to retirement. Start with where you’d ideally like to be, then count back the steps to where you are now. Pick one theme and set a small goal for the first logical step. Setting small goals and taking action on them little and often is more effective than an ad hoc ‘blowing-hot-and-cold’ approach. as the Tanzanian proverb says ‘Little by little, a little becomes a lot’.

Coaching for Retirement Planning

If you’d like to discuss coaching for retirement planning, please get in touch (via the form below) for a free, no-strings telephone (or Skype) consultation chat. It usually takes about 20 minutes and even if you decide not to proceed with coaching it can be useful for signposting next steps.

BooK: Don't Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet ItReferences and Further Reading

Here are the sources referred to in this blog post and a few recommended books. Most of the material here around goal-setting in covered in my two books. See below:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The Psychology of Happiness: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness. London: Rider. See Amazon UK orAmazon US

Maddi, S. R., & Kobasa, S. C. (1984). The Hardy Executive: Health Under Stress. Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Irwin. (Currently out of print). For a summary see blog post: Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching

Round, J. & Burke, J. (2018). A dream of retirement: The longitudinal experiences and perceived retirement wellbeing of recent retirees following a tailored intervention linking best possible expressive writing with goal-setting. International Coaching Psychology Review, 30 (2), pp. 27-45.

Seligman, M. (2017).  Authentic Happiness. Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. See Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

Wood, G. (2008). Don’t Wait for Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It. Tools and Techniques for Positive Lasting Change. Chichester: Capstone. See Amazon UK or Amazon USA

Wood.G. (2013). Unlock Your Confidence. Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through the Confidence-Karma Method. London: Watkins Books. See Amazon UK or Amazon US

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