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 managment 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 benefical 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.

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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

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

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

Get in Touch

 

 

Writer’s Block & the Psychology of Gender

It’s been a quiet year on the blogging front for me in 2017. Most of my writing efforts have gone into breaking through a pretty stubborn bout of writers’ block.  How I overcame it also has strong parallels with life’s roadblocks.

Losing Motivation and Other People

Writing is a strange process. It requires hours of solitary confinement, a period of collaboration and compromise and then a period of handing over the finished project to fate, or a fate worse than death – other people who ‘play the numbers game’ and treat your creative efforts as numbers on a spreadsheet. The whole project becomes a team effort without shared accountability.  Ultimately, even if as an author you do everything for the book, by the book, if anyone in the team doesn’t do their bit the book can sink without. An important lesson I learned was that no matter who screws up, the buck always stops with me. This led to a pretty compelling sense of ‘what’s the point?’ My spirit to write was strong, but the motivation was weak, and the flesh ‘couldn’t be bothered’. It was probably what positive psychologists term learned helplessness. When you come to the point that you lose all sense of agency, then you stop trying. (You’ll probably get a strong sense that I’m choosing my words carefully here). So what did I do?

I got to the point where not writing something was not an option. So, I figured that writing about something I know a lot about would help overcome the block. I chose to revisit the subject of gender. On paper, it seemed like a good idea. And indeed it started well. However, I hadn’t quite taken stock of how much the subject of gender had moved on. It’s in a state of flux with everyone ‘jockeying’ for ascendancy.  It’s said that sometimes things need to get worse before they can get better. It’s precisely what happened. I spend too much time in online chat forums where the self-appointed guardians of gender terminology expend a lot of energy chastising the ‘less-informed’. I’ve read of people getting death threats for not hitting the space bar! The writer’s block grew markedly worse. I became fixated on how each word and sentence might be interpreted and taken out of context until I sat, day after day, staring at a blank screen. Eventually, I got to the point where I realized that no matter what I write, someone, somewhere will disagree with it. I just had to refocus on my goal. This was to write a book called The Psychology of Gender aimed at an audience who wanted something between self-help and academia.

Routine and Perception

Over the years I had developed a predictable writing routine, but it had begun to fail me. It took longer and longer to get started, and the results of each session were meagre, that is, if I managed to write anything at all. So in response, I changed everything. I abandoned my office and occupied space in a local café. Instead of my habitual 3pm to 9pm slot, I switched it for 7.30 am to 1.30pm.  I’d always thought of myself as an afternoon person and transformed into an enthusiastic morning person. Perhaps ‘enthusiastic’ is a bit of a stretch. In finding the right café, I ‘auditioned’ quite a few. The one I settled on was 1.3 miles from my home, and I think the early morning walk also helped to get ideas flowing.

People have asked me about the distractions writing in public spaces compared with my home office. Well, it balances out. At home, I have access to an endless supply of tea and coffee and usually take full advantage of it. At a café, there is, in theory, an endless supply of tea and coffee but I think twice having one every fifteen minutes, as I would do at home. There is also only so much I can carry with me, so I tend to think about which books I am going to need, rather than having everything at my fingertips. At a café, there are no sofas to lie on, no CD collections to flick through, no musical instruments to noodle about on. To pass the time in a café, I work. Although there is background music I usually listen to my own playlists through earphones. I found that when the music stopped, I continued working with the headphones on. This has now become a way to mute distractions. I work with the headphones in and the music off. It seems to help me to concentrate. It also signals to other people that I am busy, well, at least that’s the theory. Sat in my usual spot one day, I was typing on my laptop; I was wearing my reading glasses, I had headphones on, with books and journal articles on the table. Out of the corner of my eye, a stranger mouthed something to me, I looked up, took off my headphones, and he said ‘Are you busy?’ No these are my new earrings, I thought but didn’t say anything. I just politely affirmed that I was and took a moment to have a little chat. Just because I’m busy doesn’t mean I can’t be human. It turns out the stranger was a retired publisher.

Finding Your Process In Writing and In Life

Finding a writing process and finding a way to manage life is not so very different. Both evolve. Things that once worked might cease to work. Although there are constants, flexibility is the key. Alvin Toffler in Future Shock argued that a defining capacity of human beings is our ability to learn, un-learn and re-learn. We often need to renegotiate our processes and adapt, both to changing circumstances and to our ourselves as lifelong learners. At the same time, we need to keep focusing on our own goals and values at any given time. We night have core values that never change. These are our terminal values, the endpoints. Alongside these are our instrumental values that might change. These are the values that get us to the endpoints.  Also, it helps to adopt the three attitudes that comprise psychological hardinessThese are a commitment (to other people and the world), emphasize control rather than powerlessness, and focusing on challenge (rather than security). All three of these attitudes are evident in the way I ‘mixed things up’.

Book: The Psychology of Gender - By Dr Gary WoodThe Outcome

So what is the outcome of this deliberation? Well, that would be The Psychology of Gender (See UK / US)! It was definitely a labour of love. However, at the end of it, I have found a writing process that will also take me through the next book for which I wrote a proposal a few weeks after I’d handed in the gender manuscript. Most of the time, even in the face of distractions I have remained civil and also made a few friends along the way. And whether it’s embraced, treated with indifference or torn to shreds like Orpheus in a Bacchanalian frenzy, I’ll live to tell another tale!
To discuss coaching for writing, coaching for life in general or training in the psychology of gender, please get in touch: info@drgarywood.co.uk
Visit the sibling site The Psychology of Gender to find out more about the book. See also Twitter: @gender_psych
Pic: Gender questioning coaching with Dr Gary Wood

End of Year Review 2016: Top Psychology and Coaching Posts

Pic: Social Psychologist, Dr Gary Wood discusiing gender stereotypes

In 2016 I’ve been involved with many writing projects (& reports) and so the blog took something of a back seat. So, still at number one in the top ten most visited psychology, coaching and confidence posts of 2016 is the body language post. However it’s amazing that I often hear the body language repeated as if fact. So maybe there are still a few more years’ worth of sharing left in it!  Apart from the Orange, Silver, Purple, and Month poem (don’t ask), many of the posts are based on tools and techniques I use in my coaching practice, which have also found their way into my books:

  1. Body Language Myth: The 7% – 38% – 55% Rule.
  2. What Does “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it. Mean?
  3. Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching.
  4. What Rhymes with Orange, Silver, Purple, and Month?
  5. Why You Shouldn’t Ask Why? And What Open Questions You Should Use Instead.
  6. A Simple Technique for Dealing with Overwhelming Negative Thoughts and Feelings.
  7. Tips for Handling Compliments and Praise ( – giving, receiving and why it’s important).
  8. Three Top Tips: How to Get the Most from a Self Help Book.
  9. Why There’s No Such Thing as “”Too Much Confidence” or “Over-Confidence.
  10. Self-Disclosure: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right? Are You an Open or Closed Book?

The most popular page visited on the blog is What is Solution Focused Coaching? This is usually visited as a prelude to people getting in touch to find out how the solution focused coaching approach would help them with goals. Although 2016 has been viewed as ‘a bit of a disaster’  by many, I’m still amazed and humbled by the clients I have worked with. Many of them set themselves ‘making a difference’ goals and many have achieved some amazing results despite the doom and gloom pervading 2016. For many of them, this became an added motivation at a time when the world needs more people who make a positive difference.

I’m looking forward to working with more courageous people in 2017! And if you’d like to find out how solution focused coaching can help you, your goals and your organization, then do get in touch.

Best Wishes and Bright Moments

Gary Wood

3 Questions to Help You Set Deadlines for Your Personal Goals (and how to remain accountable to them)

The Twelve of Nevermber - the date for your goals.Many clients tell me that they find it easier to work to an externally set deadline. Personal projects seem to drift along without end, especially when life gets in the way. So what can be done about it? The short answer is to set your own deadline and build in accountability to the process. In this brief post I offer three simple questions that I ask clients. These questions will help you to overcome procrastination, set your own deadlines and increase your motivation.

When would it be too late, to achieve your goal?

  • 1. By what date will you be disappointed that you have not completed this project or reached this goal? In other words ‘what date’s too late?’

This gives a possible end date by which procrastination has gone too far. A goal is really only a goal if it does have a target date. Until then it’s just wishful thinking. An end-point allows you to move out of the ‘intention phase’ and to begin making concrete plans.

Now that you have a latest possible date, it helps to review the reasons. How come this feels too late? If you pass this date, how do you imagine you feel? What are the other negative associations with passing this date? What are the negative consequences of dragging things out until the last-minute? It helps to get something in black and white, so make a list. This becomes something that you can add to and review from time to time. Sticking to your goal will help you to avoid all of this down the line.

What’s your delighted date?

  • 2. For you to be absolutely delighted and elated, by what would you have to meet this goal?

Together with the first question, you now have range for the target date for your goal. the nest change is to inject a little realism.

What date is most realistic to complete your project?

There’s a phrase I use in coaching that I use to preface questions: ‘Knowing yourself as you do’. Coaching should be from a position of realism and self-knowledge. In the ubiquitous SMART goals, the A and the R represent Achievable and Realistic.

  • 3. So, knowing yourself as you do, what would be the most realistic date, between your ‘disappointed’ and ‘delighted’ deadlines for you to complete this goal/project?

This allows you to take into account obstacles, or just aspects of everyday life. The example I often use is starting a healthy eating plan on 23rd December when you also want to enjoy Christmas.

Goal completion: Delighted to Satisfied to Disappointed

Not only do these three questions give you a range of dates to use, they also have an emotional value attached, which helps to address some of the impetus that comes with external goals. This may be enough for you to pick a date, put it in to your diary, program the count down on to your phone or stick a note to the front of the fridge. The question then becomes, how do you maintain the momentum? Aside from engaging the services of a life coach will keep you accountable to your goals, there are techniques you can use by yourself.

The first step is to acknowledge the importance of this target date. If you nurture the attitude that it can move if something else comes along, then it will keep moving. Think about what you do if you are no likely to meet an externally set goal? What’s your process? As soon as you know your are not able to meet the original deadline, you estimate how much longer you would need and then contact the outside person to renegotiate a new deadline. However, the odds are that there will be some room for manoeuvre but not much. It’s important that you use the same criteria to re-set your own goals. If you don’t the over-arching message is ‘this is not important enough’. If you make a habit of reinforcing the ‘not important enough’ message it’s unlikely that you will meet the goal.

Using a formalised procedure for goal-setting

Some people find acronyms useful, others loathe them. There are a lot of them about, with SMART and GROW being the most famous. My own addition to the goal-setting acronyms is GO-FLOW. It’s a development of the GROW acronym. I came up with to fit in with the water-based theme of my book Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It!  GO-FLOW stands for: Goal, Observation, Feelings, Limitations, Options, Will. For more information see: Going For Your Goals or Going with the Flow.

There are many goal setting tips on this site (See: Goal-setting Posts ). The important thing is to find a formalised system to help you keep track of the goals. One development of the SMART goals formula I use is SMARTER: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Enthusiastically Phrased and Reviewable. Goals evolve as we progress, especially with regard to achievability and realism.  However if you need to readjust target dates it shouldn’t be done with a shrug of the shoulders. it should go through a formal process, even the act of putting the new date on a calendar or in your diary. ‘Whenever I can fit it’ means the goal is unlikely to be met.

Rewards as accountability

The most powerful of tools for shaping and changing behaviour is simple rewards. Working on goals should be a thankless task, so it’s important to break down bigger goals into smaller steps and build in a series of rewards as you complete the steps. When you are rewarded it makes it more likely that a behaviour will be repeated. So give yourself something to look forward to as you progress with your goals, obviously keep the reward proportionate to the achievement. You should save the bigger celebration for the end.

It can be more difficult to meet goals that do not have external deadlines. The main difference is that we often approach external deadlines more seriously. This post has offered a process and ideas for creating more compelling personal deadlines to make sure that  perpetual postponing is not inevitable.

If you enjoyed this post and/or found it useful then please use the ‘like’ and share ‘buttons’. Your comments are also welcome.  

Links:

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 About Gary Wood

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

To find out more about coaching for your goals, with Gary Wood, please get in touch using the form below:

Living with Freedom, Living a Better Life, and Coaching

Pic: Breaking the chainsIt’s often said that life coaching is all about goals – usually goals to a better life. Recently I read an interesting booklet called Getting All Emotive Online by Phil Byrne & Neil Henry. It’s about on-line marketing and something they wrote about ‘freedom’ really resonated with what I aim to offer in my  (life) coaching practice. I realized that maybe that message didn’t always come through clear enough in my web presence and in consultations with potential clients. So in this post, I aim to address that and consider how coaching should be all about helping people to live a life of freedom. Let’s start with a definition of freedom.

What is freedom?

Dictionary definitions state that freedom is:

  • The power or right to act, speak, or think as you want
  • Absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government
  • The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved
  • The state of being unrestricted and able to move easily

The implication with all of these definitions is that threats to freedom are external. However, as a psychologist I’m more interested in the interpretations of threat and how we internalize threats in the form of attitudes.

What are attitudes?

Attitudes structure the human experience – they are the way we feel and think about things. At their simplest form, they are likes and dislikes. We are drawn to the things for which we have a positive attitude and repelled by things for which we hold negative attitudes. The literal meaning of attitude is ‘fit and ready for action’. So attitudes prime us for action. Although attitudes don’t necessarily lead us to behaviour they do help to create the mind-set to make it more likely. It’s easy to see how an attitude of ‘If I don’t try then I can’t fail‘ is likely to inhibit action. These are the kinds of self-defeating attitudes that we address in coaching.

Coaching as attitude liberation

Pic: Self actualizationByrne & Henry suggest that there two types of freedom: ‘Freedom to‘ and ‘freedom from‘. Although they discuss these in the context of marking, these two types of freedom are also relevant to coaching. In my coaching practice, I draw heaving on my research expertise in social psychology – particularly attitude change. Crucially this involves moving clients towards ‘freedom to’. This is freedom to seize opportunities, freedom to make the most of your abilities and freedom to pursue you goals and ambitions.

Often the path to ‘freedom to’ means addressing some ‘freedom froms’. This might be freedom from low self-esteem, freedom from self-doubt, freedom from putting yourself down with negative self-talk, and so on. Coaching can empower you to act, speak and think as you want. It can remove psychological restrictions and the feelings of being trapped by the past or the expectations of others. Coaching offers a means to weaken the hold of the ‘freedom froms’ and make, more likely, the freedom to meet your goals, the freedom to make more of your strengths, skills and inner resources . Goals are the means to an end. Ultimately coaching is about securing the freedom to have a better life.

Links (other posts about coaching and personal development):

If you enjoyed this post and/or found it useful then please use the ‘like’ and share ‘buttons’. Your comments are also welcome.  

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 About Gary Wood

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

To find out more about coaching with Gary Wood or to book a free telephone or Skype consultation, please complete the form below:

Are Zero-Hours Contracts Bad for Your Health?

Pic: Social Psychologist Dr Gary Wood on BBC's Inside-OutFor the BBC Inside-Out  (08/2/2016) programme I was asked this question: are zero-hours contracts bad for our health?  In this blog post I expand on the themes in the programme, offer some examples of pertinent psychological theories, suggestions as to what appropriate research might look like, and offer some links for further information on zero-hours contracts.

The Benefit of Flexibility?

Having worked in a zero-hours contract research job as a student, I valued the flexibility. It operated as a semi-formal arrangement where I had to phone in each week to see what hours I could get. It varied from week to week and often we were at the mercy of a capricious supervisor. For me, it wasn’t so bad. I just had to grin and bear it and grovel a little and in those days students had grants too. I wasn’t going to starve if I couldn’t get as many hours as I needed in one particular week. The work was repetitive and boring and the working conditions wouldn’t exactly meet today’s health and safety guidelines, but It was flexible and many of the people there were really good fun to be around. In many ways it was ideal for my circumstances at the time but for many people it was there many source of income.

The Benefits of Zero-Hours Contracts to Employers

Today’s zero-hours contracts are a very different arrangment. I got paid for the hours I worked and only had to be on-site for those hours. In the modern day versions, employees have had to be on-site and only paid for the hours they are required to work. This means they could spend all day at the work-place and may not earn a penny. Some ’employers’ even though they asserted no liability to provide work still demanded exclusivity clauses that prevented people from seeking gainful employment at other jobs. It’s easy to see how this arrangement benefits the ’employer’ but what are the likely impacts on the employee?

The Psychological Impact of Zero-Hours Contracts

When asked the question ‘are zero-hours contracts bad for our health?’, a number of psychological concepts and theories came to mind:

  • Reactions to stress
  • Martin Seligman and ‘learned helplessness’ (being able to exercise control)
  • Abraham Maslow and the hierarchy of needs (survival and security needs)
  • Barbara Frederickson and the concept of ‘broaden and build’.

There’s a whole body of evidence that demonstrates the links between stress and ill health, including depression and a suppression of the immune system. This happens when stress becomes a chronic (i.e. long-term) condition. If we accept the argument that one of the reasons people go to work is to provide for basic survival needs and security, it’s not difficult to see the detrimental impact of not being able to predict income (and working hours) from one week to the next.  Not being able to effect changes in our circumstances can lead to ‘learned helplessness’, which in turn may lead to depression. To be able to thrive rather than merely survive, we need to be able to build on other emotions and feelings, other than fear. It’s difficult to think aspiration when you can’t even meet basic needs.

Evidence of the Mental Health Impacts of Zero-Hours Contracts

Exploring the Parliament.uk website someone proposed the question (No 19559, December 2015): To ask the Secretary of State for Health, if he will make an assessment of the effects of zero-hour and uncertain hour contracts on the mental health of people holding such contracts.

The reply, from Alistair Burt MP (Department of Health) was short and to the point:

The Department has no plans to make any such assessment. Research undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that, compared to the average employee, zero hours contract workers are just as satisfied with their job (65% versus 63%) and happier with their work-life balance (62% versus 58%).

The research was carried out in 2013. However, the imposition of zero-hours contracts is becoming a increasing trend. It is therefore important to continually monitor the situation. Research findings in 2013 are only  remain valid if the situation remains static. Alistair Burt’s answer focuses on the people who are happy with zero-hours contacts, mainly because they value the flexibility. But what of the people who do not chose to work in this way but are forced into it by necessity?

Research also conducted in 2013 by the Resolution Foundation reaches the opposite conclusion:

[I]t is clear that for the majority of those employed on zero-hours contracts this freedom and choice are more apparent than real. For those individuals who require a minimum number of working hours per week to ensure their family is financially secure or those who, confronting severe power imbalances in the workplace, fear that turning down hours as and when offered will result in future work being withdrawn, life on a zero-hours contract is one of almost permanent uncertainty. For those who have had their hours zeroed down on the basis of a perceived unwillingness to work the hours their employer requires or following the lodging of a workplace complaint, this uncertainty can be coupled with the anxiety that comes from exploitation.

What Further Research Do We Need?

The key factor is whether people choose zero-hours contracts or have these contracts forced upon them. When chosen it is most likely that the flexibility the contracts supports a chosen life style. This is in stark contrast to people who have no choice to accept the contracts in order to survive. Clearly the impacts n mental health are going to be different for each of these cohorts. This is what we should be comparing in research. It’s spurious if not down right dishonest to compare ALL people on zero-hours contracts with ALL people in secure employment.

Of course, not everyone in secure employment is happy with their job. Some people might like to be in a better job. Others might be unhappy because their job does offer the flexibility to support their lifestyle. Also, it wouldn’t be surprising to find people who’d prefer not to work.

So ideally, we’d to consider four groups on a range of mental-health measures:

(i) Zero-hours contacts – satisfied with terms and conditions (by choice);  (ii) zero-hours contracts – dissatisfied with terms and conditions (or not by choice) ; (iii) Secure contracts – satisfied with terms and conditions, and (iv) Secure contracts – dissatisfied with terms and conditions.

This would be the simplest model and would not just rely on comparing descriptive statistics, such as percentages. Part of my job involves research design and analysis. Often many people’s idea of research is just comparing percentages. Sadly, it’s what I’m most often asked to do. However this should be only the first phase. The stage that gives us answers is the inferential phase. This is where we can meaningfully talk about statistical significances between the different groups. The very basic research design above should be the absolute minimum. Merely comparing percentages barely qualifies as statistical foreplay.

Conclusion: Are Zero-Hours Contracts Bad for Your Health?

We don’t currently have the research data to answer this question. We can only infer from anecdotal evidence and from what we already know about human psychology. Although we shouldn’t equate common sense with a scientific approach, what seems most likely is that conditions that restrict an individual’s ability to take control over basic survival and security needs is likely to have a detrimental psychological impact.

Considering the political impact, some have argued that zero-hours contracts take us backwards to the working practices in a bygone age. Here’s a summary by Professor Roger Seifert – University of Wolverhampton Business School (for full article see link below):

In the Victorian era there were sweatshops, child labour, few worker rights, and casual employment with no guaranteed income. We view this with horror as a sign of gross inequality, ruthless exploitation, and as bad times in which the rich and powerful were able to maintain their idle privilege through laws, customs, and a deeply religious conservatism where everyone was born into and knew their place.

Scratch the surface of our modern world and we can find signs that progress has not been as spectacular as we like to believe.

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If you enjoyed this post and/or found it useful then please use the ‘like’ and share ‘buttons’. Your comments are also welcome.  

If you are concerned  about or affected by the impact of zero-hours contracts, here are some useful links:

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About Gary Wood

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

How Do You Know You Are Ready For Life Coaching? (and is it right for you?)

Are you ready for life coaching with Dr Gary WoodYou might be considering personal or professional development coaching for any number of reasons and whether it is right for you, at this particular time. Maybe you have goals that you want to move towards. It could be that there are a number of life circumstances from which you want to move away. You might be at a crossroads or just have a vague feeling that things could be better. The bottom line is that you approach a coach because you want to live a better life. So, how do you know whether coaching will help you find the solutions you need?

Too many questions already? Pause for a moment and take a few long slow deep breaths. Now continue.

Are you ready, willing and able to make the changes to meet your goals?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodCommon to these reasons is the idea of change. That’s what coaching is about. Change in attitudes, this includes changes in feelings, thoughts and actions. Before making any changes it’s important to consider the age-old trinity of ‘ready, willing and able’.  In my book Unlock Your Confidence, I devote a section to this triad and use a technique known as a scaling question to help bring a sharper focus. I then offer a series of follow-up questions. pic: Ready for life coaching scaling question diagram

By rating each of these dimensions on a scale from zero to ten, it can help to see where the resistance lies.

It could be that you do not the resources or feel that the actions required to make changes are not within your ability. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting things clear in your head. Often the problem is stress (anxiety). It tends to have the effect of causing you to underestimate your skills and strengths or to view solutions in black and white. There’s often great value in exploring the grey areas.

Stress can cause you to think in terms of survival and override your creativity. Because the coach bears some of the burden of helping you to organize your thoughts, this makes it easier to access your creativity. Gaining freedom over stress will help you to shift from survive to thrive. The reason I emphasize deeper breathing techniques is that they are the quickest way to short-circuit the stress response.

Once you have pondered the scores for each of the scaling questions, a few follow-up questions can offer further clarification:

  • What tells you that you are at this state of readiness / willingness / ability ?
  • What you done to get this far? What’s already working for you, no matter how small?
  • If you’ve scored a zero on any of the scales, what has to happen for the first green shoots to show?
  • What number on the scale would you consider ‘good enough’ to be ready / willing / able to make changes?
  • What do you imagine would be happening a half point along the scale?

Coaching is all about goals – better life goals. It’s often said that if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching. Different coaches approach goal setting in different ways. Some favour a formulaic approach using acronyms (such as SMART and GROW), others use more approaches that are more conversational or  ones that get you to use your imagination. Having trained in a number of coaching models (performance coaching, cognitive-behavioural coaching and solution focused coaching) we can work to find an approach that best suits you. (If you’re not sure, we can try out different approaches).

Is there ever a perfect time to embrace change?

Most of the decisions we make in life are based on imperfect information. That’s why in coaching I often ask ‘what would be good enough?’

Perfectionism is part of a black and white view of the world that can be paralyzing. Part of that involves the thought ‘what if coaching doesn’t work?’ ‘What if I’m not ready and waste this opportunity?’ Sometimes it’s nice to options in reserve – like a life boat. Again, it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Many coaches offer a free consultancy ( I do). It allows you to ask questions and get an idea if and how a particular coaching approach would work for you. On the last working day of each month, I offer free speed-coaching sessions. A mini-coaching session (20 minutes) for you to see how it works.

Is the coach right for you?

Making a decision from a perspective of stress is not ideal  (except if you’re in imminent danger). When stressed we tend to view the world in black and white. It also leaves us susceptible the lure of the nearest ‘life-saver’, rather than the ultimate one. So, before making an important decision, take a few deep breaths again, then make some notes of the kind of questions you want answered before contacting a coach. Here’s a link to my earlier post that might help: How to Find a Life Coach and the Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring One.

If you find the coach’s answers acceptable then you might want to proceed. It doesn’t have to be a full course of coaching. You might just want to try out a single session then decide whether to continue with a course. One session might be all that it takes to help you to move forward.

Alternatives to hiring a life coach

The most obvious alternative to hiring a life coaching, apart from doing nothing at all, is reading a personal or professional development book. The advantages of this are that books are more economical and flexible – you can dip in and out, as and when you wish. The downside is that there’s less of an imperative to make life changes – there’s less commitment. Often we use books to help us to think about things in different ways but stop short of taking action. With personal and professional development it’s not just the thought that counts! It’s how we put those thoughts into action. Reluctance to take action is the biggest barrier to change (back again to ‘ready, willing and able). One-to-one coaching means you are more likely to act on new insights, since agreed actions between sessions is a key part of the process.

In another earlier post I offer a blue print for reading self-help books. To sum it up, the best approach is to suspend your disbelief, read it from cover to cover, do all the exercises and then assess the impact. Doing this will help to spark a perceptual shift as you get to view your current situation from a slightly different angle.

Conclusion?

The aim of this post is to help you to decide whether or not life coaching is right for you, whether you feel it will help you to live a better life and whether you are ready for coaching at this particular time in life. You might decide to dig in and go it alone with renewed vigour. You might decide to buy a book. You might decide to try the ‘two heads are better than one’ approach of working on goals with a friend. Finally, you might decide that the best way forward is to engage the services of a professional coach. With all three options, if you desire to make changes the important things are to: get fresh insights, take ownership and commit to take action.

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Pic: Ask about coaching with Dr Gary WoodIf you enjoyed this post and/or found it useful then please use the ‘like’ and share ‘buttons’. Your comments are also welcome. If you wish to ask any questions about this post or coaching in general, or wish to book a free consultation, please use the form below.

Further Reading:

 About Gary Wood

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

To find out more about coaching with Gary Wood or to book a free telephone or Skype consultation, please complete the form below:

End of Year Review: Top 10 Psychology, Coaching and Confidence Blog Posts for 2015

Ask about life coaching with Dr Gary WoodThe top ten most visited psychology, coaching and confidence posts of 2015 for this blog are a mixture of newer posts and a few classics. Many of the posts are based excerpts from my books on tools and techniques I use in my coaching practice.

  1. Body Language Myth: The 7% – 38% – 55% Rule (2009)
  2. What Does “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it.” Mean? (2011)
  3. Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change, and Coaching (2012 
  4. Sex and Gender are NOT the Same Thing! All Gender is a Drag! (2009)
  5. Tips for Handling Compliments and Praise ( – giving, receiving and why it’s important) (2014)
  6. Preventing Mental Fatigue – Good Study Habits (2012)
  7. Tips for Making Small Talk, Confidently: Why do it and how to do it (2014)
  8. Treating Low Self Confidence and Low Self Esteem as ‘Self Prejudice’ (2013)
  9. Why You Shouldn’t Ask Why? And What Open Questions You Should Use Instead (2014)
  10. Tips for Making Small Talk, Confidently: Why do it and how to do it (2014)

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

 About Gary Wood

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