Use Your Diary as a Reminder of Strengths and Opportunities Throughout the Year

Although I use my ‘phone and computer diaries for basic reminders, I still use a paper-based desk diary. Maybe it’s because there are more mechanical and cognitive processes involved in writing in a diary that I find it helps to make information more memorable. I still use good old-fashioned handwriting to help me to remember lectures and talks too.

So if you were ‘lucky’ enough to get a paper-based diary as a gift make use of it by making it your strengths and gratitude diary. Whenever you get an opportunity to use your skills and strengths, write it in your diary. When something positive happens, write it in your diary. When you get the chance for a random act of kindness, write it in your diary. Do this throughout the year so that at the end of the year you get to really take stock of the good things in your life.

It’s easy to remember the ‘bad stuff’ and culturally we often say that ‘bad news comes in threes’. This sets up the expectation to look for the negative. There is no standard multi-pack for good news, so using your diary can help to balance the negative filters. This also helps to increase optimism. Also, taking stock of your strengths and skills can help to boost self confidence and esteem. 

Use the diary technique in conjunction with my gratitude and anticipation experiment (with a free PDF). It’s a standard exercise I use in coaching and training to acknowledge the ‘good stuff’ and help retune our filters to positive opportunities.

Links:

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Survive New Year’s Resolutions and Thrive with Goals – A Survival Kit.

The start of a new year is brimming with significance inspiring us to commit to life changes (new you) but often fizzles out after a few weeks, sometimes days. All too often the enthusiasm is short-lived. Life changing goals shouldn’t be a once a year thing, they should be something to which we are committed and work at all year round. If you really want to see an end result, a future desired outcome, then you are going to need more than good intention. Life doesn’t just happen once a year, so why should goals? As a personal development coach (life coach) I draw on my research in social psychology. A large part of coaching is about attitude change. So, here are some of my blog posts to help change your attitude to new year’s resolutions and put your focus on personal development goals, with well formed action plans:

  1. Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s Resolutions & ‘Yes’ to Positive Lasting Change
  2. Is New Year’s Day the Best Time to Make Life Changing Resolutions?
  3. Ten Good Reasons to Make a Life Change. . . Apart From “It’s the 1st of January” 
  4. Look Before You Leap – They That Hesitate Are Lost! Be Bold but be Scientific
  5. Life, Fun, Gratitude and Regret… a call to action
  6. One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp

  7. End of the World or Second Chance?
  8. Kung Hei Fat Choi – Reviewing, Refining & Renewing Your New Year’s Resolutions

  9. Psychological Hardiness, the Confidence to Embrace Change and Coaching

  10. What Does “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it.” Mean?

Links

Coaching with Gary Wood

Life Coaching Directory: Dr Gary Wood

A Letter to New Students – How to Study (for Success)

Dear New Student,

You are about to embark on an exciting journey so I thought I’d offer a few pointers that have served me very well in my learning journey so far. Returning to education as a mature student, I took an evening class in psychology. I quickly realised that psychology had to have insights about the most effective ways that humans learned. So the first thing I did was to scour the psychology books. I figured I would get psychology working for me right from the start. Working with our human abilities and capacities is a way of working smarter but not necessarily harder. Recently, I overheard two new students discussing future plans on the bus recently including how they intended to approach studying, particularly lectures. Both were very keen on getting digital recorders with voice recognition software. Both confessed to be “not very good at taking notes”. So, that is their first mistake.

How to Approach Lectures
It’s a common misconception that the purpose of lectures is to communicate lots of information that you “capture” in someway and regurgitate in essays and exams. Not so. The lecture is not supposed to replace your independent study, it is supposed to set the scene for it. Lectures are merely springboards to learning not an end in themselves. Until our heads have USB sockets, somethings are best done the old-fashioned, but psychologically informed way.

Learning is not just about recognition and recall, it is about understanding and application. Once you understand something and can apply it you won’t struggle to remember it. We process information at different levels. Some information stays at the surface and is quickly forgotten. The stuff that we encode and process at a deeper level is more permanent. So if you make an effort to learn how to make notes more effectively in lectures, you become more actively engaged in the lecture. If you switch on your digital recorder, then you can sit back and daydream and let the machine do the work. The problem is that when you come to listen back to it, most of the visual cues are gone. There’s also a tendency not to bother to transcribe the recording because you “can do that at anytime”. There’s also an ethical point. You do not have the right to record other people without their express permission. So what is the most effective way to get the information into your head?

Make notes in lectures. Don’t aim to take down every word. The aim of the lecture is just to get a feel for the topic and to become familiar with concepts and terminology. The purpose of the lecture is to set the scene for your own reading. Once you realise this, the pressure is off to capture every word. If the lecture raises a question in your mind, jot the question down too. If you get chance, ask the lecturer the question at the end of the class. Get used to asking lectures in front of the whole class. Someone else probably wants to ask the same question too. People may even approach you afterwards and you may start your own study groups. Never underestimate the importance of explaining stuff to other people. It’s not giving your knowledge away. As you find different ways to explain things, it deepens and implants the knowledge even more deeply for you. I used this approach at University and did much better than people who tried to keep all their knowledge to themselves. So be a sociable learner.

Aim to review your lecture notes as soon after the class as possible, and always within 48 hours. Add everything else you can remember and any thoughts or questions that occur to you. Underline things you don’t fully understand. Then go to the library and find the relevant books, find a space to sit down and add to your basic notes. Clarify things you don’t understand and answer any questions you have written. Rushing to be the first to get the books and having them gather dust for weeks is not learning! 

Now this sounds like a lot of work. And, yes it probably is more work that switching on a digital recorder. However, which method will give you the best foundation. The active approach I have outlined is like learning how to swim. The passive, lazy-ass, technological approach may only just prevent you from drowning. Don’t rely on the life-jacket when you can learn how to swim. Yes the active approach to learning is more time consuming, but as you begin making more connections in the information, you develop more memory hooks to hang new material on. Once you’ve learned one stroke in swimming, different strokes don’t require the same degree of effort. Sometimes it seems as if facts, figures and dates seem to remember themselves because you have provided a foundation.

Your Own Imaginary Lectures
So what to do with your expensive digital recorder? Well, use that in your own private study time to record your own voice. Now this seems crazy, but practice giving imaginary lectures on key topics. Imagine you have an audience and talk to them on your chosen topic for 20 minutes. Try to do this without notes or just glance at your notes but do not read from them. The aim is to keep going for 20 minutes. If you can’t do it, then take this as a sign that you need to add to your notes and read around the subject a little more. Repeat this process until you can deliver the 20 minute lecture. You could then try it out in your study groups. What this technique does is create a little stress. This increased arousal helps improve performance. It also forces to use your own words and make connections. After you’ve recorded the lecture, play it back and make notes of the new thoughts, insights and words you used. 

Finally, a note on notes. When you revise for your exams, do not just read from your notes over and over gain. This just aids recognition not recall. Yes, you could probably recognise your notes if some on read them out to you, but you would be able to spontaneously tell anyone their contents. Always take an active approach to learning, such as drawing diagrams and mind maps, coming up with memory hooks, progressively condensing notes and saying them out loud at the same time, as well as giving the imaginary lectures. All of these require more than one cognitive process an so the information is encoded more deeply. Besides that, just reading through your notes, passively, is very, very boring. If you find studying a bore then it’s up to you to get creative and make it interesting.

I hope this advice helps you as much as it helped me. I’ve included a few links below with more study skills tips that I use with students in academic coaching. I’ve also included a link to my book which contains lots of techniques for elite performance, including a section on learning styles. 

I wish you well in your academic career. 

Yours lifelong learnedly,

Gary Wood

PS. More links for study skills below, and if none of these answer your question, please submit suggestions for future study skills posts in the comments box.

Links:

What Does “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it.” Mean?

Pic: Advert for Coaching Services from Dr Gary Wood“What does “don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it” mean?” has been appearing in the list of searched terms on my blog quite a lot, recently. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain it more fully, without you having to buy the book to find out. You may have uttered the phrases ‘someday my numbers will come up’ or ‘someday my ship will come in’. These words are based on the idea that a stroke of luck with change our fortunes. Now wishful thinking is fine but it should be just the start. What often eludes us is knowing exactly where to start to turn things around in our lives. It might be that you feel overwhelmed. It might be procrastination. Whatever it is, you need an action plan. It’s the ‘swimming out to meet your ship’ that alludes to the all-important action. You can trust your life to the fickle hand of fate or rise to the challenge of taking matters into your own hands. The phrase ‘don’t wait for your ship to come in. . . swim out to meet it’ means ‘don’t wait around for fate, identify your goals and take action to achieve them’. This is the essence of life coaching. After wishful thinking there needs to be planned, purposeful, decisive action.

Book: Don't Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!

In the book (with this title), I break the phrase down into three stages of goal-achievement:

  1. Don’t Wait. . . represents INSIGHT. . . and the recognition that something needs to change.
  2. Your Ship. . . which acknowledges OWNER-SHIP. . . It’s your ship, your dream, so it’s up to you to do something about it.
  3. Swim Out To Meet It. . . represents ACTION.
The book recognizes that it’s not easy and offers a series of tools and techniques for positive lasting change, based on the underlying principle “It’s your life so take it personally”. So the formula for change is:
Positive Lasting Change = Insight + Ownership + Action

I use this basic principle in my coaching practice where I work with clients through this process, using a strengths-based, solution-focused approach. Recognizing that action takes courage, I’ll begin with the green shoots and nurture them in line with your goals. That’s how we build motivation and confidence.

Ask about life coaching with Dr Gary WoodSo that’s it. ‘Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It‘ is basically a challenge, a call to action. You can still believe in destiny, fate or the cosmic order, but there’s nothing to say that you can’t give fate a helping hand. In fact, it’s a must.

If you want to find out more about coaching with me, get in touch for your free telephone/Skype consultation.

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Any questions, please get in touch:

A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Five: Managing Time & the Spice in Your Life

This is the fifth of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World.

Café World (CW) is a café-themed, goals-based computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. As discussed in Part Four (Self-Service Motivation & Strategy), playing any game requires a strategy and that includes how to make the best use of time.
My strategy was to make the best use of my time. I allocated one hour per day. This was half hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. I admit that I was not always disciplined in sticking to this. Goals In CW overlap like soap-opera story lines stringing the player along to the next goal and the next and the next. It’s easy to lose track of time and spend more than one intends to. Now, after a month or so, I had honed my strategy to cook dishes with the highest points on the maximum number of stoves. So, in the final weeks, I was advancing one level per day on one hour’s playing time per day, aside from occasional lapses in discipline. I found myself advancing rapidly through the levels. However, I noticed that some players were able to advance two or three levels per day. To achieve this, one must treat CW like a job and play several hours per day, seven days per week. Now this is a double edged sword, for I can see how playing CW can be considered an achievement. It does require strategy, cooperation and a time investment. However, the amount of time it requires to become a star player means there is no time left to pursue real world goals.

Intrigued, I looked at the Facebook pages for the people in my neighbourhood. Players making modest to high advancement in CW had a mixture of posts for other applications, groups and friends. For those making very rapid progress, their Facebook profiles were virtually filled with CW posts, throughout the day. Now, the concept of Work-Life balance has become a popular concept in personal and professional development. The concept of Café World-Life balance is lesser known. As the old saying goes ‘Variety is the spice of life’. This means that we have to spice our lives with more than the virtual reality of Café World.

We all want to be good at something, make a contribution and enjoy recognition for our achievements. Being great at playing CW is indeed an achievement but it should not be an end in itself. Part of the reason for writing this post is to make point that a sense of fulfilment in life can be attained by making the most of our transferable skills. Playing CW requires focus, motivation and determination and action. It also presents us with a moment for reflection.As I have revealed in this series of posts, I certainly learned something about myself and playing CW served to remind me of my life skills, at the time I was facing unfamiliar tasks in the real world. It certainly helped me reconnect with my playfulness, something as adults we often forget.

Spending hours playing CW is not necessarily a bad thing, but if it becomes the focus of our day, it robs us of the opportunity to apply these skills to real world goals. If ‘significance’ is an important value in your life, then consider what other ways this value may be supported. If you are aiming to reduce boredom, then consider other ways to make life more interesting, particularly those which support your goals. Bordeom relief is a form of emotion-focused coping. Playing CW can help to block out negative emotions, temporarily. However, emotion-focused coping should only really be a short-term solution. It’s a quick fix but it doesn’t cut to the heart of the problem, that is, boredom. Instead, it just deals with the symptoms. Negative emotions can effectively put us on a sort of remote control. We are controlled by the negative emotions and act in habitual, quick-fix ways to relieve the symptoms. (See my post Dicing with Boredom. . . and Coping Styles). So is playing CW, for hours each day, a way of coping for you?

Control-focused coping is about addressing the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. Café World, hopefully, will have help remind you of your transferable skills. In this series of posts we have considered values (Just Being Sociable), goal-setting (Goal-Setting On the Table), cognitive flexibility (Non-Stick, Non-Stuck, Cognitive Flexibility), motivational strategy (Self-Service Motivation & Strategy) and in this post, the use of time and emotion-focused coping. The question is, how do you apply these insights and your skills to get more of what you want out of the real world?

See also:

Getting the Gratitude Attitude (Free PDF Diary Sheet)

Where as ‘bad news comes in threes’, or so it’s said, there doesn’t seem to be any comparable unit of measurement for good news. This perceptual bias of vigilance for the bad stuff at the expense of the good stuff means that our perception of the world may become distorted.

The daily hassles and uplifts theory of stress maintains that it is often the small stuff that strongly influences our stress levels. At the end of the day we mentally weigh up the hassles versus the uplifts. The result is a ‘good day’ or ‘one of those days’.

So given that we’re led to believe that ‘bad things come in threes’ maybe we need to look three times as hard to find the good stuff. That’s where The Gratitude Experiment helps. I use this technique in my training and coaching practice. It’s a simple exercise to help you to develope the gratitude attitude and focus more on the good stuff, and to balance out those hassles and uplifts.

To get started, download the free PDF diary sheet which is from my self-help and coaching book: ‘Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It’). Now run off a few copies. Start with a week’s worth or better still a month’s worth. Then, every evening list three things that you were grateful for during the day, no matter how small. It could be a compliment, a perfect cappuccino, a bit of scenery, anything. You could also list three people you were grateful to that day. The second part, each morning, is to list three things you are looking forward to that day. Resist the temptation to write the same things everyday; add something new. The overall idea is to retrain your perceptions to include more of the good stuff. At the end of the week or month, assess what changes there have been in your life. The idea is also featured  Richard Wiseman’s :59 Seconds, and is grounded in evidence-based research.*

Focusing on the blessings instead of the burdens can help to improve optimism and increase happiness, and it’s so simple to achieve.

I’ve posted on this topic before but knowing that it’s sometimes the smallest of obstacles that prevent us from making changes, I’ve included a PDF download to make it just a little easier to give ‘The Gratitude Experiment’ a go. So try it and out and pass it on to family and friends and feel free to post a comment of your results.

 Links

Notes: * R.A.Simmons & M.E.McCullough (2003). ‘Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, pp 377-89.

I’m not anti-self-help. . I’m anti ‘yo-yo self-help’. Saying ‘Yes’ to Action Plans & Goals!

Judging from the flurry of activity on my blog posts about New Year’s resolutions, I’m guessing ‘nerves are becoming frayed’ and ‘will power’s on the wane’. However it’s no time to give up. . . it’s time to take stock, recoup and move forward. Stumbling on your new year’s resolutions is not about ‘failure’, it’s about feedback. And when I write ‘Say ‘No’ to New Year’s Resolutions’, I’m not anti-personal development’. Far from it. I’m just anti ‘yo-yo self help’. There’s a big difference. Making positive changes in our lives is not about random ‘getting caught up in the moment’ vague wishful thinking. Real life changes require real planning. Your will power is not the problem; your planning is, that’s all. You can fix that. Creating a compelling action plan gives you an opportunity to develop confidence in your strengths and skills.

So if you find your resolve weakening, don’t take this as an indication that you should give up on your goals. Instead, take this opportunity to use this feedback to adjust your action plan. If what you are doing is not working for you, make the necessary adjustments and try again. Don’t wait until next year or next month or any other symbolic date. Use the feedback while it’s ‘hot’ and take action, now!

The following links will help:

Links:

See my other personal development posts.

See my other posts on goal-setting.

Book: Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!

Other personal development books at: PsyStore.

Ten Good Reasons to Make a Life Change. . . Apart From “It’s the 1st of January”

Making life changes just because it’s the 1st January may be the impetus to take the first step, but will it be enough to carry you through when the going gets tough, or when things don’t go exactly to plan, or when you meet obstacles or when you stumble or falter along the way. The answer of course is no! The main problem is. . .it just can’t be January 1st everyday of the year. Everyday can’t be brimming with symbolism and significance. It’s clear you’ll need more to go on!

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that the ritual gets in the way of the reality. We assume the first day euphoria will last, and we assume that all we need ‘will power’ to carry on. It won’t last and will power wears down. It’s like a rechargeable battery that needs topping up, regularly. The question is: ‘With what?’ The answer lies in getting in tune with what motivates you.

Start by listing TEN reasons for making a life change or setting a goal. Now consider whether these are internal (intrinsic) motivations or external (extrinsic). External motivations are things like money, praise, chocolate, adoration and so on. The motivations come from outside of yourself. The big question is: ‘What happens when the external motivations dry up or run out?’

Internal motivations are all about your values and come from within. Job satisfaction is an internal motivator. You’re doing a good job from a inner value of ‘doing a good job’ not because someone is paying you or coercing you into to do it. Wanting to feel healthier and have more energy are better motivators that gaining praise from others. You really must be doing it for yourself.

So what figures most highly on your list of motivations? Are there more internal than external or vice versa. The key to staying motivated is looking for more internal sources of motivation, as these are less likely to run out. So if you need to go back and rewrite your list, or add a few more internal motivators. You are far more likely to succeed in your goals if you are doing it for yourself. Keep adding to your list as you go along.

New Year’s resolutions often rely on one external motivation. . .it just happens to be the first day of the year in the Western world. Each day you continue with your life change is a day further away from January 1st. Of course if it’s going to help give you the kick-start of confidence you need, then use it. However, remember that it’s only the spark that ignites the flame. To fuel the flame you need to focus on your internal motivations!

Links:

Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s Resolutions & ‘Yes’ to Positive Lasting Change

New Year, new you? No chance, no change?

Every New Year our attention is drawn to personal change, which we translate, into intention in the form of resolutions. So why do they fizzle out? What’s the problem? Yes, we  start with good intention and take action, but the problem is that, more often than not, we simply don’t have a well-thought out action plan. We need a well-defined target, not a fuzzy vague ‘over there somewhere’. New Year’s resolutions simply don’t work for a number of very good reasons. So, let’s begin by looking at six common problems with them, and how to put them right:

Negativity
‘Losing’, ‘giving up’, ‘cutting out’ and ‘cutting down’ all have negative connotations. However, we tend to respond better to positively stated goals, such as ‘aiming for a target weight’ or ‘increasing healthy foods‘ or ‘increasing variety in foods‘ and ‘boosting energy levels‘.

Vagueness
Classic New Year’s Resolutions are always rather vague and wishy washy. So, it’s difficult to reach a target that’s not clearly defined.  So once, you’ve got your positively worded direction, it’s best to get specific. What exactly are you going to do to hit your target. What are the behaviours? Target specific actions, such as drinking seven glasses of water and going to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes each time.

Immeasurable
In order to measure your progress you need to make your goals measurable. Ask yourself lots of ‘how’ questions, such as ‘how much’, ‘how many’, and how often’. Just doing something ‘more often’ is vague and immeasurable. Also build up to your target so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Build steady progress into your routine, and where possible break larger goals down into smaller milestones.

Unachievable
Each year we psych ourselves up for the new year. It feels so now or never.   Of course we need goals that are going to stretch us or else we’d soon get bored. However, it’s pointless setting impossible goals. Our goals need to be achievable. Are your goals within your capabilities?

Unrealistic
It’s common to tackle too many things at once or over-plan every minute of your day. Be realistic and pick one thing at a time to work on. That way you build your confidence.

Open-ended (never-ending)
If you goal is your ‘preferred end state’ then you need a ‘preferred end date’. Putting a time scale on it helps with motivation. It provided a sense of ‘urgency’ about the goal.

The SMARTER approach to New Year’s Resolutions is to set SMARTER goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
  • Enthusiastically (positively) worded
  • Regularly-reviewed

Goal-setting is not a one shot deal. It’s a process. If you find your progress is slower than expected or you find yourself not hitting those milestones when expected, then GO BACK AND REVIEW! It’s only failure if you fail to use the feedback. Have a look to see if your goals really are realistic and achievable for your person circumstances. If you need to, make changes are try again. Don’t wait until next New Year’s day. . . get right back to it straight away.

Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s resolutions and using SMARTER as well as other goal-setting tools and techniques (such as PAR and GO-FLOW) means that instead of vague statements of wishful thinking, you will have concrete, action plans to channel your resources. So make your final resolution to ditch resolutions and start setting goals. . . not just once a year when you’re caught up in the New Year fever. . .but any time you want to take charge and make changes. . . positive lasting change!

[Adapted from Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!‘]

Links:


Is New Year’s Day the Best Time to Make Life Changing Resolutions?

The first day of a brand new day brims with symbolism and significance as we ring out the old and ring in the new. What better day to make life changes? The whole ‘brand new year, brand new you’ philosophy certainly gets us started but is it enough to carry us through? And, if it’s the only thing driving you then could it be more of a millstone around your neck rather than a motivational milestone?

All too often we hit an obstacle on our ambitions resolutions and think ‘Ah f**k it, I’ll try again next year!’. The concept of a ‘resolution’ has become so tied up with ‘New Year’ that it’s difficult to think of making them at any other time but the new year. So let’s look at what the various meanings of ‘resolution’:

A resolution is a decree or a declaration. It’s a promise, an oath, a pledge, and a vow. Resolution means determination, steadfastness, tenacity and firmness. A resolution is the upshot, the solution, the answer. It’s the positive outcome. It’s the preferred end state.

Looking at these various definitions, there’s nothing about investing everything in one particular day. We can resolve to show resolve at any time. January 1st is an arbitrary day. In England before 1752 the ‘civil or legal year’ began on 25th March. So is that why the tenth month ‘October’ sounds as if it should be the eighth? Added to this we have the start of the tax year, Chinese New Year, Jewish New Year, Muslim New year, the new year that starts with your birthday. . .and so on. There are plenty of new year’s day’s to chose from. But why wait? Isn’t the first of the month a good enough place to start? What about any Monday? Any day with ‘day’ in its name? Come to think of it, any day that you chose to make a resolution becomes imbued with significance.

However, if you are one of those people who likes to go with ‘tradition’ and plan to make your New Year’s resolutions, why not get a bit of practice in beforehand? The success of resolutions hinge on the degree to which you are prepared. So before you get carried away by taking on too much, why not give your resolutions a test run to see how realistic they are? Also ask yourself this question: ‘What contingency plan do you have in place, should you meet an obstacle or stumble?’ Do you give up and wait until next year, or do you make adjustments and get right back to it, irrespective of the date? Do you resolve or resign?

Better still, say ‘No’ to new year’s resolutions, embrace the various definitions of  ‘resolution’ and resolve to set goals instead!

[Adapted from’ Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It!]

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