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

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.

A Short Exercise in Self-Belief (and banishing self-doubt)

Most people at some time are plagued by self-doubt. Many people struggle to accept compliments and praise. A key factor is practice. Certainly, in Britain there’s a saying that self-praise is no praise at all. I’d like to counter that with the adage that ‘charity begins at home’ and offer a short exercise in self-belief.

Book: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThe feedback I’ve had from a number of people in my workshops is that they find the self-compliment exercise from my book (Unlock Your Confidence) is particularly hard to do. All I ask that you look in the mirror, look yourself in the eye pay yourself a compliment. I consider this to be a litmus test of confidence and esteem. And true, it also transgresses the social more of never having anything nice to say about yourself.

What kind of a rule is that? It’s certainly not a basis for greater self-assurance or self-efficacy – the sense that we are effective agents in the world.

Instead, try this:

  • Recently, I’ve adapted this idea and ask people to set a stopwatch for just 60 seconds.
  • Close your eyes and compliment yourself against the clock. See how many compliments and things to praise yourself about that you can cram in to 60 seconds. It does matter if you repeat yourself, just keep going for the full minute.
  • When you’ve mastered that, try it for two minutes and work your way up to three minutes.
  • Now try 60 seconds in front of a mirror with eyes open.

As with any skill, you get better as your practice, so build it into part of your daily routine. Before you get out of bed each morning, close your eyes and praise yourself for 60 seconds. Use the technique before challenging tasks too.

This technique helps to balance out the cultural bias towards negative self-talk. In my confidence building workshops people describe themselves as feeling ‘lighter’, ‘more energized’ and ‘more optimistic’. Of course I’ve tried it out myself, and indeed there is a shift in my energy and posture. So try it yourself (for a month) and let me know how you get on. What impact does it have on self-doubt, self-belief and self-efficacy?

Combine this with my Getting the Gratitude Attitude Exercise ( with Free PDF Diary Sheet)

Links:

If you found this post useful:

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About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

How to Find a Life Coach (and the questions you need to ask before hiring one)

How to find a life coach? Maybe that should read ‘How to avoid falling over a life coach in the street’. There are numerous training schools, coaches offering services, coaching directories and so-called accrediting bodies. As it is rather a new discipline there is no one ‘governing body’ and no agreed standard for coaching training. In some instances coaching-training providers have set up their own ‘governing bodies’ and approved their own courses! However, I suppose we have to start somewhere and in most cases the real credentials for setting up a coaching training school or organization is that they thought of it first!

This post is not intended as a demolition of the coaching profession. Its aim is to help you make an informed choice and enter into the coaching process with confidence. To this end it includes quite a few questions that you should be asking when looking for a life coach who is experienced, qualified and right for you.

Yes, it’s a long post. There’s a lot to cover and it’s still not exhaustive.

So, before deciding to find a coach the first step is to be clear about the phrase ‘life coach’ means

What is a life coach?

Anyone can call themselves a life coach. It’s a catch-all label not a protected title. Ideally a life coach is a professionally trained practitioner who assists clients to identify and achieve personal (and professional) goals. It is a professional relationship, a partnership where the client brings the agenda and the coach brings the skills and tools to facilitate the process. The aim is for the coach to help you to bring out your strengths, aid insights and help you to meet your goals (in line with your values). It’s often said that if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching.

Coaching should always focus on what it is meaningful to the client.  Ideally, the coach should have a set of skills that bring out the your strengths and insights and help you to find your own solutions. The coach brings the agenda. Any tools and techniques should always be meaningful to the client.

How do you know you need to engage a life coach?

What are the issues that caused you to think about hiring a coach? How do you imagine a coach is going to help? What will you be doing with the help of a life coach that you’re not doing now/on your own?

Decide what you need from a coach. If it’s just someone to talk to then it would be cheaper to go out with friends for a coffee.

Is it coaching or counselling that you need?

If the issues have a strong emotional component and are causing you distress so that you wouldn’t feel you could tackle goals, then some form of counselling might be a better first step. Many of the information here is useful in finding a counsellor too. If you are suffering from severe emotional upset then your GP (local doctor) is often a good place to start.

If you feel stuck, or have a sense that you want more out of life or of you have goals you want to achieve then coaching is probably the way forward. Yes, a by-product is that coaching may have a beneficial effect on emotions and on confidence and esteem. However, that should be as the result of working on your goals.

Why bother hiring a life coach at all? What are the benefits?

The coaching process works on the principle that two heads are better than one, mainly because the two heads have different roles in this professional relationship. You provide the agenda and the coach provides the tools and know-how to manage the process. A good coach should ask the right questions to get the best out of you and enable you to reach insights that it may have taken a lot longer on your own. Part of the role of a coach is to hold a mirror up to you. Sometimes a coach will challenge you (in a supportive way). In my practice I help people find solutions that work for them according to their strengths and values. It can be a very life affirming process. My aim is that when you leave the process, you do so feeling empowered and have alternative way of viewing yourself and the world. Clients are often surprised at just how quickly positive changes take place and I never cease to be inspired at what my clients achieve. That’s why it’s so important to get the right coach-client match, and the main reason for this article.

Questions to ask a before engaging a life coach

  • What coaching qualifications do you have?
  • Where did you study for your coaching qualifications?
  • How long did you study?
  • What other qualifications do you have?
  • What did you do before coaching?
  • What is your coaching philosophy and is it grounded in evidence?
  • What do you do to maintain your own professional development?
  • What is the evidence that this coaching approach works? (ask the coach).
  • What ethical framework do you subscribe to?
  • What professional bodies do you belong to?
  • Can I see myself working with this coach?

Beware of new-age and ‘esoteric knowledge’ re-branded as coaching

Some people calling themselves coaches will work in tarot and crystal readings. They may purport to use esoteric tools and techniques. So let’s begin with the most important thing. If it seems glamorous or mysterious or good old-fashioned ‘gobbledygook’ then it more likely serves the interests of the practitioner than it does the needs of client. This does not mean that they appeal to arcane ‘knowledge’ to which you do not have access. If it sounds like a load of old mumbo-jumbo, it’s not coaching. It’s more likely that someone is ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and use the buzzword of coaching to tap into the growth in coaching and to lend their own practice more credibility. Be clear ‘Tarot coaching’ is not coaching. Coaching is about helping the client tap into their own strengths and abilities. There should be no glamour and mystery! When additional paraphernalia is included this introduces a whole new system of thought that may distort or usurp your own agenda. It’s up to you to work out what the ‘real’ issues are, not the turn of a card!

Coaching training and qualifications

Anyone can call themselves a coach. Being schooled in ‘the university of life’ does not qualify someone to be a life coach. So  as well as asking about qualifications, ask where they trained and then investigate.

The standard of tuition and the quality of the content on coaching training courses may vary enormously. Some are based on sound evidence-based principles others follow a more ‘inspirational approach’ sometimes called the ‘make-it-up-as-they-go-along-approach’. So, find out a little about the coaching ‘academies’. Just because they say they are the best and appear in the little shaded area in Google rankings means nothing. You pay to get in that shaded spot.  Check out the coaching academy websites.

‘Proper’ academic educational establishments give you a clue in their web addresses. A web address academic institution is the UK ends in ” .ac.uk “. In the USA, the web addresses end in ” .edu”. If the coaching academy doesn’t have such a web address, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they offer poorer training. See if they are accredited or affiliated to an academic institution. I recommend that you think very carefully before engaging a life coach whose training does not meet these standards. There are many business-oriented training providers without the assurance that the training provided meets an approved standard. If it’s affiliated to an academic institution, it’s more likely that its quality is assured.

And just because a coach has written a book doesn’t override all the above. It’s relatively easy to publish your own e-book these days without the additional input, editorial control, assistance (or hindrance) from anyone else. Of course, the self-published e-book may be an excellent resource, so if you are intrigued check it out first and decide whether there is substance to the approach and whether you think it might work for you.

If the book has published the ‘old-fashioned’ way, there are lots of stages of development with a conventional publisher and a number of editors are involved to produce the finished book. Obviously, a conventional publisher wants to sell books and this affects what they accept. In tough economic times, publishers become a little more conservative in what they commission. It just might be that an author just hit a brick wall and decided to self-publish.

Either way, a book doesn’t override credentials and qualifications.

Different approaches and types of life coaching

There are many different approaches of coaching. I first trained in a cognitive-behavioural approach based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and so has a strong evidence-base to support it. After training in some more ‘inspirational’ based approaches, I studied solution-focused therapy which is easily adapted to the coaching setting and again has a wealth of evidence to support it. Things like NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) based courses have become very popular as the training only takes a few weeks. Although the NLP approach borrows heavily from psychology and psychotherapy there is little evidence to support it as a coaching approach. There is no evidence to support its claims of instant transformations. Yes, things can change very quickly especially with a coach who asks the right questions. However, it should be more about tapping into your strengths, abilities and insights rather than ‘re-programming’ you. People are not robots and shouldn’t be treated as such. The glamour of the ‘instant’ approach often has more to do with the coaches reputation that the client’s aspirations.

Go for a coaching approach with a track-record supported by evidence-based research, not one on the say-so of the practitioner.

Modes of coaching

There are a variety of means to deliver coaching so you need to decide what will best suit you. Coaching can be face-to-face at the coach’s practice or private rooms, it can be at your workplace, it can be over the telephone, via Skype of just by email. Of course, it can be any combination of the above.

Decide what would work best for you. If you want face-to-face coaching then it makes sense to look for a coach in your local area to avoid excessive travelling. If you think you might prefer telephone coaching then you can look further afield. The wonders of technology mean that if you have found a coach who you think is right for you  Skype means that geography isn’t important. In my practice, even the clients who prefer telephone or Skype coaching often have a face-to-face session first.

Costs: How much should you expect to pay for life coaching?

There is no recognised agreed ‘average’ amount. The only observation is that coaching tends to be more expensive than counselling. Partly, this is because coaching is more time-limited. As I practice solution-focused brief coaching, I offer coaching for one to ten sessions, with the average being four to six. If the life coaching is more interested in ‘exploring issues’ than working towards your goals, it’s not coaching. It should be relatively brief, and it shouldn’t take weeks to build up to tackling your goals. If you engage me as a coach, expect me to begin working with your goals from the first session.

The cost of coaching also depends on the experience and qualifications of the coach. So newly qualified, less experienced coaches tend to charge less than the highly qualified, experiences, in demand coaches. However, this is not always the case. Just because someone is charging £200 per hour (or more) doesn’t make them ‘one of the best coaches’. Price does not override qualifications, so always check them out using all the above questions.

The average fee for a 50 to 60 minute coaching session is about £50 to £75 ( $75 to $100). Some coaches offer services for £25-£30, others for £150 or more. It’s an idea to fix a budget and approach coaching as a tailor-made, personal or professional development programme. I wouldn’t advise signing up to indefinite monthly payment plans. We all know what happens with the gym membership. If the coach does offer monthly payments, it should be for a fixed total sum. Then you choose if you want to renew.

Life Coaching: What you’re paying for

When engaging a coach, apart from the cost of their training, it is important to consider what is involved in terms of time-cost for the coach. Coaches prepare before handing by re-acquainting themselves with the clients’ notes. Then there’s the actual session of 50-60 minutes. After that, the coach will write-up the client’s notes which may take as long as the coaching session itself. So for each single session the coach may spend at least two hours. Coaching fees reflect this time-cost.

Warning signs: Avoiding the pitfalls when looking for a life coach

  • If a coach tells you that they don’t subscribe to any ethical framework, they just do what works: walk away!
  • If a coach dismisses evidence-based knowledge as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘stuffy’ or claim that their approach is ‘above scientific understanding’: walk away!
  • If a coach has a variety of coaching plans more confusing that energy company tariffs: walk away!
  • If a coach tries to get you to sign up for an indefinite period on direct debit or standing order: walk away!
  • If the coach seems to be evasive, doesn’t seem to want to answer your questions or tells you that you aren’t asking the right questions: walk away!

Approaching the Life Coaching Directories

Many coaches advertise their services on coaching directories and although a listing on these directories is not necessarily an endorsement of the quality of their work, some directories ( but not all) require proof of qualifications. So still be cautious. Still ask all off of the above questions.

Use the coaching directories to see what’s in your area. Read the coaches’ profiles and decide which ones seem to connect with you. Can you imagine working with them? Then irrespective of what they have written on their profiles, do you homework and ask all the above questions.

Don’t just look at the coaches who appear at the top of the listings. Some of the directories charged extra so coaches appear in prime position! So have a good look through all the listings in your area.

Ask about life coaching with Dr Gary WoodHere are some directories to get you started:

(I have taken the liberty of linking to my profile entries. Just hit ‘home’ on the websites to search for other coaches)

What if you need more information on finding a life coach?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodSo there you have a sound basis on which to engage a life coach, I hope it hasn’t been too bewildering and I hope you are now better informed of some of the pitfalls. If you have any questions:

Check out books by Dr Gary Wood and his recommendations on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

End of Year Review: Most Popular Psychology and Coaching Posts of 2013

Top ten most visited psychology and coaching blog for 2013 for this blog, a mixture of newer posts and a few classics. It’s good to see that a number of this year’s confidence and esteem posts made it into the top ten. Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog and if you have any suggestions for blog post topics please use the form below.

Here’s the Top Ten Blog Posts for 2013

  1. Body Language Myth: The 7% – 38% – 55% Rule.

  2. Sex and Gender are NOT the Same Thing! All Gender is a Drag!

  3. Preventing Mental Fatigue – Good Study Habits

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

  5. 4 Ways to Deal with Overwhelming Life Challenges

  6. Treating Low Self Confidence and Low Self Esteem as ‘Self Prejudice’

  7. How Taking Photographs Can Impair Your Memories (and what to do about it)

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

  9. 3 Top Tips: How to Get the Most from a Self Help Book

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

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.

Use the form below to send an email about your training or coaching needs or to suggest a blog post topic (psychology and coaching):

Why Other People Matter and How Building Social Networks Supports Personal Growth, Confidence and Self-Esteem

The hierarchy of needs proposed by Abraham Maslow has transformed our understanding of motivation. It is so ubiquitous in training courses that I, jokingly apologize for including it in my confidence and esteem building workshops. When my book Unlock Your Confidence was going through the editing process, the editor even questioned whether I needed to include a diagram at all!

Maslow Hierarchy of NeedsHowever I felt I was adding something to the use of Maslow’s hierarchy. It’s a simple observation but a crucial one that the various needs are organized on a scale from ‘survival to growth’. This allowed me to link Maslow’s work with other psychological theories that inform confidence building. It also helps to answer the criticism that self actualization (the need for each of us to reach our own true potential) is an inherently self-centred concept. In this post I show how the hierarchy of needs fits in with the concept of psychological hardiness and the broaden and build approach to personal development. All of this psychological concepts inform my confidence-karma approach to personal development. First, let’s look at the needs pyramid.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Self-Esteem and Belongingness

The hierarchy is expressed as a pyramid with basic needs at the bottom and higher need of self-actualization at the top. The emphasis of the basic needs is survival such as food drink, rest, sex and so on. At the next level we have safety and security needs. Further up we have love and belonginess needs, then esteem needs, then cognitive needs (finding meaning), then aestetic needs (appreciation of beauty) and finally at the top we have the need to reach our potential. Maslow’s theory emphasizes that the lower needs must be satisfied before we can attend fully to the next level up.

Esteem needs are half-way up the hierarchy and if we are not meeting our needs at the lower levels, self-esteem is harder to achieve. At this level is also self-efficacy, the sense that we are effective agents in the world. This is closely allied to self-confidence. What we learn from the needs pyramid is the importance of the idea of taking care of physical needs (that is, self-care) as stepping-stones (or building blocks) to confidence and esteem. It’s difficult to feel good about ourselves if we do not feel healthy. It’s difficult to be effective, active agents in the world if we are hungry, thirsty and tired.

What is also notable about the need’s hierarchy is that love and belonginess precede esteem needs. So connecting with other people is also a building block for esteem and confidence. It is important to recognise that many emotions and character traits are only meaningful in the context of other people. When you are on a desert island it’s difficult to feel shy or outgoing when it’s just you, the sea, the sand and the coconuts! Other people give meaning to what we think of as our personalities. The importance of connecting with people is also a key part of coping with changes in your life as we consider next.

Psychological Hardiness and Social Interaction

The need to belong fits with the concept of psychological hardiness, similar to resilience – the ability to bounce back, psychologically from life’s challenges and change. Hardiness acts as a buffer for heath and well-being and involves adopting the three key attitudes of commitment, control and challenge. The main attitude relevant here is commitment, that is, attitude of taking a genuine interest in other people and having a curiosity about the world and getting involved with people and activities. The opposite of commitment is alienation, which involves cutting yourself off and distancing yourself from other people. Co-operation and sharing and encouraging positive emotions is also an important tenet of positive psychology.

Broaden and Build – Thriving Rather Than Just Surviving

By this theory of personal development we should focus on investing time in positive emotions to create a buffering effect for stress. It also helps us to accessa broader pool of possible responses in stressful situations rather than the typical fight or flight responses. It’s easy to see how aggression, anger and competition have immediate short-term gains in terms of survival. However, co-operation and altruism have a key role in building social networks. All off the greatest an most significant things in history have been acheived through co-operation. When we are stressed we have a very narrow view of the world. When commit to relax we are able to reach a broader range of human emotions and cognitive responses and connect with others. It’s the difference between thriving and merely surviving. Confident people put other people at ease. We learn more effectively when we relax. It brings out the best in people.

The Confidence-Karma Approach to Confidence and Esteem Building.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodMaslow’s hierarchy of needs, psychological hardiness and the broaden and build approach are the basis of confidence-karma. In short, we build confidence in ourselves as a by-product of turning our attention outwards and building confidence in others. As a social psychologist it is not surprising that I am going to emphasize the value of promoting the social sides of our psychological make-up over the ‘self-serving’.  However with this approach you get both! To find out more see: Unlock Your Confidence. Find the Keys to lasting Change with the Confidence-Karma Method.

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4 Ways to Deal with Overwhelming Life Challenges

Facing up to a new challenge can be overwhelming especially when it seems like totally unchartered territory. Sometimes we doubt ourselves and overlook our past experiences and transferable skills. This leads to a dip in self-confidence. However, often, the only difference between a new challenge and an old challenge is perception. If we perceive something as novel then we might assume that it needs a novel approach whereas what it needs is an application of what we already know. We tend to process information by making connections and create scripts or templates that help us to cut down on the amount of novel information we need to process. It’s a form of cognitive economy.  When faced with a problem or a challenge, we don’t start with a blank slate. We attempt to fit new experiences into old scripts. However when under stress we often don’t make important connections with our life experiences. This means that self-doubt overshadows self-assurance.

Changing Attitudes – Changing Perceptions

We make sense of the world through out attitudes. By changing our attitude we gain a different perspective. This is at the heart of my approach to (life) coaching. My first foray into coaching was as a teaching fellow at my first university job. My open door policy meant that students often dropped in for a chat. Often conversations were about feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of studying. My job was to work out whether I could help or whether I needed to refer the students on. Often, a chat was enough.

I adopted this approach long before I had any formal coaching training and I still use the approach today. It is based on four principles: relax, consider choice, evaluate past experiences, and goal-setting.

  1. Relax. Stress has the effect of reducing our options. It throws us into survival mode where the main choices are fight or flight. However this means that other important options and connections can get overlooked. By taking a few long, slow deep breaths we short-circuit the stress response so that we are able to explore a range of responses. This is known as the Broaden and Build approach to personal development.
  2. Consider choices. Sometimes challenges seem to offer no choice. We feel forced or pressured with no control over our circumstances. I’ve lost count in my own life when I faced challenges that seemed too overwhelming that I wanted to give up. This is especially true of just about any course or path of study I have undertaken. However, this is perfectly normal. It acts like a safety valve to know that giving up is an option. The first time I used this technique was with a student who arrived at my office door quite distraught. She said that she couldn’t cope with the pressure and just wanted to go down to the coach station, get on a bus and get away from it. I took a risk and asked ‘where would you go?’ This took her aback and she replied ‘I don’t know. Blackpool? Anywhere’. I simply pointed out that it was an option. She could not bother with forthcoming exam and just go to Blackpool (an English seaside town) instead. She then started to ask questions about her future to which I replied ‘Well, you’re going to have to come up with some different plans, it’s up to you’. It was then that she realised that she was choosing to put herself through the ‘ordeal’ of examinations. It wasn’t long before she decided she needed to ‘take her leave’ (but not to Blackpool). She said ‘I can’t hang around all day chatting, I’ve got an exam to revise for’. Realising that it was a choice altered her perception of the challenge.
  3. Past successes – Make a list of occasions where you felt overwhelmed in the past and how you managed to get through it. How did you do it? What skills or personal qualities did you use? This will help you to put the new challenge into context. Start with a few long slow deep breaths and get as much down on paper as you can. Take time to add to the list. In my coaching I often follow up a question with ‘anything else?’ I’ll do this several times. This prompt invariably inspires more thoughts and insights. Sometimes during a coaching session a client will think of something else they have forgotten. It’s also true that insights often occur right at the end of a session. Reviewing past successes and skills is a key way to boost self-efficacy, our sense that we are effective agents in the world and not passive victims.
  4. Goal-setting. It’s a core principle of goal-setting to break bigger goals into smaller milestones. A longer term goal comprises a series of shorter term goals. There’s no such thing as a insignificant first step. Simply by making a start you alter your perception of a goal. Once you have tackled the first step, the second step becomes clearer. Also, sometimes chipping away at a problem from a few different angles can help to highlight the ‘vulnerabilities’ of a seemingly impenetrable challenge. Making a start before you can see all the way ahead begins to create a path.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThese four strategies are key to coping with challenges and building confidence, self-efficacy and esteem. Together they form a solution-focused, skills-oriented approach that has the effect of changing attitudes and therefore altering perceptions.It is through this different set of lenses that we are able to access our core strengths, transferable skills and personal experiences.

For further information see Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood.

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Self-Coaching: Exploring Exceptions to ‘The Rule of Absolute Hopelessness’

When we are stuck in the middle of a problem, it’s sometimes difficult to see a way forward. In  (life) coaching, it is often helpful to explore exceptions to the ‘rule of absolute hopelessness’. Stress throws us into survival mode and can negatively impact on our cognitive abilities. We don’t process information so well.

Questioning techniques (borrowed from Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Solution Focused Brief Therapy) help us to challenge our sense of overwhelm and to seek little glimmers of hope. Here are some suggestions for questions that you can ask yourself. They are also useful in working with others. If you are working with others, the questions need to be used sensitively. It’s important that other people feels as though they have been heard. If you are working on your own issues, you could get someone to ask you the questions, or else get a notebook and spend time writing down your answers.

  • Consider / Tell me about the times when you did not experience the problem so intensely.
  • Consider / Tell me about the times when you cope better despite the problem.
  • Consider / Tell me about the times when the problem doesn’t feel so great, when you feel more in control of things if only for a short time.
  • Consider / Tell me about the times when you refuse to let it get you down and control your life.
  • When was the last time you did something enjoyable and refused to let the problem get in the way of having a good time, even if only for a while.

When working with coaching clients, I invite them to take part in an observation exercise. I simply ask them to notice the times, between sessions when the problem/issue is not so intense or when it doesn’t bother them so much. The aim is not to take action or change things but purely to take note.

Ask about life coaching with Dr Gary WoodOften these observations form the basis of ways forward. Inevitably throughout our lives we will experience a sense of ‘stuckness’. Often it’s a sign that we are in new territory and learning something new. Exploring the exceptions can help to draw out the seedlings of transferable skills including coping skills. If there’s a sense of having been there before, exploring the exceptions can help instigate new learning and new ways of coping.

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Coping with Challenges and Change – How Do You Do It?

Taking Stock of Transferable Skills

Working as a psychology lecturer I routinely encounter students who don’t make connections between different aspects of psychology. Working as a (life) coach I often encounter clients who don’t take stock of their transferable skills. Now, the first time I attended a meeting of the Professional Speakers Association I was asked ‘Have you done any public speaking?’ My knee-jerk reaction was to say ‘no’. At the time I had over ten years experience in teaching, I’d fronted media campaigns, appeared on radio and television and yet I still said ‘no’. In my mind I obviously didn’t class any of this experience as public speaking.  Sometimes we keep aspects of our life and experience in discrete ‘little boxes’. This may have an impact on how we view change and new challenges and our ability to cope.

How to You Deal With Change?

Consider the following questions relating to how you made previous changes in your life. Get a sheet of paper and write down your answers.

  • Knowing yourself as you do, what pattern, routine or process do you usually go through to make changes in your life?
  • What are the steps you go through in your decision making process?
  • With whom would you normally confide when considering making changes?
  • What things would you discuss with them when considering making a change?
  • What considering change, what attitudes did you have that helped make it happen?
  • Of all the strategies you have used in the past to make changes, what do you think might be the most helpful in handling the situation now?

Take time to answer them fully. It doesn’t have to be a major change, in fact, think of all types of change from switching brands of fruit juice to changing jobs.

How to Cope with Challenges?

Now spend some time considering previous challenges and successes and answer the following questions. Again take time to consider the questions fully and write down your answers.

  • Despite the challenges you encountered, how did you manage to persevere? How did you cope?
  • Where do you get the determination when others might have given up?
  • Knowing yourself as you do, what attitude to previous challenges did you have that helped make it through?
  • Considering a previous success, despite the challenge and the circumstances, how did you manage to succeed?
  • What is it that enables you to get through challenges and succeed?
  • What personal qualities, strengths and skills enable you to get challenging times?
  • What would a supportive close friend, partner or family member say are your qualities that help you get through challenges?

Solution-Focused Thinking for Challenges and Change

Making an inventory is a key strategy in solution-focused thinking and one of the things I work with clients to do in (life) coaching. When we become stressed we go into survival mode – fight or flight – which limits our perception of the options available to us. Considering our options and writing down the answers means it is more likely we will recall how we coped with past challenges and how we dealt with change. It is a key confidence building strategy.

Whenever you are faced with challenge and change, it helps if you begin by taking a few long slow deep breaths to lower your stress levels. You are then better placed to take a broader view and consider your transferable skills, strengths, skills, coping mechanisms and past successes.

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One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp

One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

One's reach should exceed one's grasp or what's a heaven for? - Robert BrowmingBased* on a quotation by Robert Browning the sentiments expressed are important for personal growth and happiness. Heaven doesn’t necessarily need to have a religious connotation. We can just take it to mean ‘higher purpose’ or ‘fulfilment of values’. As a coach, one of the things I do is to help people complete MBA application forms. For the top business schools, candidates are required to write a number of short essays relating to themselves. Some people are bewildered by the numerous questions and all the nuances of wording. However, invariably when we break it down, there are often three main questions: (i) What are your goals, (ii) What are your values, and (iii) What’s the relationship between your goals and values.

At the heart of this Browning quotation is the relationship between goals and values. Now happiness may be one of your core values. There’s a strong connection with goals, happiness, and personal growth. Goals need to stretch us. If we make goals too easy, we become bored and lose motivation. If we make them too tough, then we give up and lose confidence. So we need to reach for something we can’t presently grasp but is still within sight. Computer games succeed or fail on this principle. If a game is too easy, it will be cast aside in no time. If it’s too difficult, players simply give up. Getting the balance just right is what makes people coming back to a game. There’s enough progress to maintain motivation.

A common experience of computer game player is becoming so engrossed in a game that we lose all sense of time. In psychological terms this is known as ‘being in flow‘. I’ve mentioned this concept in earlier posts. Coined by the positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, he regards it as a key to happiness. That is, we set goals that stretch us in areas that interest us and usually support our values. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman refers to our strengths as ‘values in action. According to him, this living to our strengths and values leads to Authentic Happiness.

So, the Browning quotation is a useful motto for personal growth. Yes it’s something to be passed on Facebook and Twitter for daily inspiration. It’s also a great principle to live by and work towards.

*Note: The original Browning quotation is ‘Ah! Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ I’ve just de-gendered it.

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