How to have a better year than your Facebook year

So what kind of year have you had? According to my year on Facebook, it’s ‘end of year review’ app makes it look as if all I ever do is eat! Of course it’s based on pictures posted and I’m careful what I share on Facebook just in case it alters its terms and conditions and my photographs end up in some dodgy advertising campaign. Nevertheless, it still feels a bit imbalanced.

Seeing my Facebook year in pictures has forced me to consider the questions ‘Did I have the year I wanted?’ ‘What do I want from the coming year and how do I go about getting it? How I answer these question comes down to my values. So how about you?  Does your Facebook summary might do justice to the year you’ve had, assuming you’ve succumbed to the lure of Facebook. What are your highlights and how did these coincide with your values?

When interviewing students for a place on a psychology course I used to ask ‘What are you going to have to give up to complete this course?’ It’s a great question to ask when pursuing any personal goals. Most people have time in their lives where they just fill that time (or kill time). Usually potential students answered that they would spend less time watching TV. Of course, less time spent on Facebook is another possibility. How do you spend time on there and does it further your goals. If you are running a business then social media can be very useful. However many people use social media to relieve boredom.

In order to focus the coming year, consider your top values in life. These will form the headlines for the year ahead. Top of my values list is ‘curiosity or love of learning’. For this to appear in my end of year review, I’m going to have to take actions to learn stuff. Another of my values is ‘making a contribution’. So I have to think about translating that value into action. Matching goals to values is an important part of personal development. Another value is making connections with people as opposed to going through the motions electronically. So I know I have read books, attended courses, run my own courses, coached people and met some new people this year. None of this is reflected in my facebook year, but i have honestly. Check out my Facebook page!

The truth is that you don’t have to take photographs of every little event in your life. We can lose out of living in the present moment whilst fiddling about getting the right lighting and camera settings. It’s enough to keep your main values as themes at front of your mind as reminders. These values become the guide for actions. So if you find yourself spending hours in front of the TV or computer screen, you can ask yourself: How is this supporting my values? Is this going to be one of the year’s highlights? Is this going to make up a large proportion of my year?

Your values become your checklist throughout the year so that you don’t get to the end of the year wondering where it went and what you did with it. So what if you’re so busy getting on with life that you don’t end up with a great album in Facebook.

Now here’s a picture of my meatball Gary Wood's Meatball Lasagnelasagne!

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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.

Future Me – Write Yourself a Letter From the You in Six Months Time

I was asked to comment on a lovely project by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio which they called ‘Future Me’. They asked five people to write a letter to themselves from their six-months-in-the-future self. The letter contains elements of how they see themselves in six months time and advice they would give to the present-day-me to get them to achieve these future goals.

Knowing yourself as you do. . .

By looking six months into the future you are thinking about medium term goals, so it’s important not to be too ambitious. Goals always need to be realistic and achievable. The nice thing about this letter approach is that it taps into our knowledge of ourselves. In my coaching practice, I often begin questions with ‘Knowing yourself as you do. . . ‘. This helps clients to tap into their own personal expertise in their own lives. It’s typical of the solution-focused coaching approach. It’s all about building on existing strengths and abilities.

Should we always be chasing goals?

If we don’t set our own goals then life will dictate them for us. So it’s good to set your own agenda. However, goal-setting shouldn’t be at the expense of enjoying the present moment. It has become something of a cliché but nevertheless true that the journey is just as important as the destination. So take time to enjoy each step of the process not just the end result. In my life I have studied for quite a few exams but I also approach it from a point of gaining understanding rather than just cramming my head full of facts for the end result. I learn a lot about myself in the process. Sometimes that can be even more valuable than the piece of paper at the end. So with goal-setting it’s important to strike a balance.

Write your own future me letter

Begin by just sketching out some idea of how you want things to be in six months. It should involve thing over which you have some control over in life. Winning the lottery would obviously be great but how do you actually plan to do this short of breaking into Lottery HQ and fiddling with the balls using a complex series of magnets, not that I have actually thought about this!

Once you have an idea of where you want to be, realistically, write a letter to yourself, giving yourself the good advice and encouragement that you might give to someone else. It might be something more tangible like getting a new job or saving money or getting to your ideal weight. It could also be something not quite so measurable such as gaining confidence. Once you have written the letter, read it though then put it in a safe place ready to read it again in six months time.

Now take action on your own advice

As a psychologist and a coach I don’t subscribe to this passive approach of sitting back and waiting for things to happen. My job is to help people to make things happen. This means taking action. The letter is a signal of intention and is a tool to help you to tap into your resources. It’s not an excuse to opt and let the ‘universe’ take care of your wishes. The universe may be very busy! The universe doesn’t offer a life-back guarantee, in that you can’t get the life back that you wasted waiting. A better approach is to begin acting as if the ‘future-me’ is happening and actively help it along. Make the future-me letter a self-fulfilling prophecy. Try it out for yourself.

[Based on a conversation on air with Annie Othen BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio, 09 August 2013]

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodLinks:

Καλό μήνα! – Have a Good Month – Review and Renew Your Goals

Kalo Mina – Have a Good Month

Being an ardent Grecophile, I have adopted the Greek traditional wish of Καλό μήνα! (Kalo mina) which means ‘Good Month’. Good months don’t just happen of their own accord. It prompts me to consider what would need to happen over the coming month to rate it as a ‘good month’ and what can I do to plan for it and make it happen. It doesn’t necessarily have to be any massively significant event or achievement. Good months are made of more good days than bad days. Good days are made of more daily uplifts than daily hassles. A series of small positive outcomes can make your day.

Goal setting with the PAR approach

The (goal-setting) process for having a good month has three parts: P.A.R. that’s:

  • Plan – create an action plan for your goals for the month ahead.
  • Action – Do something each day to achieve your goals
  • Review – Towards the end of the month, review your action plan and consider what adjustments you need to make the following month a good one.

This approach fits with the coaching principle of ‘feedback not failure‘. The prevalent model of goal-setting – the New Year’s resolution – fails because we adopt an all-or-nothing approach. The first stumble is seen as a failure. It is not! It is feedback that our goals action plan needs an adjustment. The first day of the month offers an opportunity to review and renew your goals. It’s always a work in progress.

So consider what progress you will make towards your goals and how this helps to make up a better month, a good month.

 Καλό μήνα!

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Being Happy: Memories and Goals

In a recent radio interview I was asked about the process by which we recall happy moments in our lives whilst less happy times tend to fade. Of course, it’s not the same for all everyone. Some people are adept at recalling past events as reasons for not engaging with the present or the future. I’m not referring here to recalling serious trauma but more the refusal to move on in the coaching context.

Working with mature students there have been numerous examples of people who have held on to the callous remarks of (poor) teachers. It took some of them 30 years to go back into the classroom. It wasn’t that they had suddenly found the confidence to do so, it’s just that the ‘pain’ and regret of not doing so became greater. As well as teach the syllabus it was also my job to convince them that it was the right decision. These students are the main reason I got into (life) coaching.

Social Media and Memories

A recent research study at Portsmouth University by Alice Good and Claire Wilson suggests that we use social media like Facebook, not just to interact with others but also to interact with our former selves. Some people spend a great deal of time looking through the old photographs the post on networking sights. The process of looking back can create have an emotional buffering effect especially during tough times. It can create a sense of well-being and optimism to help us to deal with present challenges and to face the future.

Constructed Memories

The human memory is not an infallible storage device. Cognitive psychologist  Frederic Bartlett demonstrated in the 1930s that memories are highly constructed. When things don’t make sense or when there is missing information, we fill in the gaps based on memory default values based on our experiences of likelihood, Often our memories bear little relation to what actually happened, which is why the accuracy and reliability of eye-witness testimony (in the justice system) has been challenged by psychology, most notably by cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. In cognitive-behavioural therapy questioning techniques centre on cognitive distortions, most often on black-and-while, absolutist thinking. Similarly by exploring exceptions to negative evaluations, in the solution-focused approach, we can reveal small nuggets of possibility to build upon. In classic psychoanalysis we have he concept of defence mechanisms, where sometimes memories of painful experiences are blocked at an unconscious level in order to protect us emotionally and psychologically. Often memories seem to have a life of their own.

Being Happy

Happiness is no longer just in the realm of pop psychology, it has become a legitimate topic in academic psychology led by pioneering Positive psychologist Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. For Seligman, happiness is about living our lives according to our values and strengths. For Csikszentmihalyi happiness is about setting goals that stretch us and put us into a state of flow. ‘Flow’ is that state of total engagement in what we are doing, when we are totally ‘in the present moment’ and lose a sense of time and of ourselves. We can actively do something about our own happiness. Along with confidence-building it is one of the main motivations for seeking (life) coaching.

The Past-Present-Future Balance

As with all aspects of life, balance is key. It’s good to reminisce and look back and be reminded of the good times. The best times in our lives are often when we most in tune with our strengths and values. For some people the past has a powerful lure, so much so that it taints the present and the future. Philosopher Walter Benjamin said that ‘History is an angel blown backward through time’.  It means that, essentially, we walk backwards into the future. We cannot help but look back but still need to move forward. It’s important to value the past for its lessons, for uncovering our strengths and for providing us happy memories to see us through challenging times. Perhaps it’s greatest value is to help propel us into the future. There lie new opportunities to live according to our values, to use our skills and strengths and more opportunities to experience a sense of flow, those moments where time appears to stand still. Over the past few years there has been an explosion of interest in mindfulness – the ability to live in the present moment for what it is without letting it get crowded out by the past or the future. It’s all a delicate balance that becomes a whole lot easier when we take a few moments out of our day to settle our minds and take a few, long, slow deep breaths. Taking control of our stress/relaxation is the first step to confidence and happiness.

(In conversation with Annie Othen, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 21/3/13 )

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How to Guide Your Decision Making With Your Value System

Faced with innumerable decisions we need a system to filter out the ‘wheat from the chaff’. What’s most important to you and what can you let go? Fortunately, you already have such a system. It’s called your value system. Each of us live by a set of principles shaped by our society and culture but with our own particular spin. Our values help us to focus on the essentials. Life is a bit like a supermarket. There are the budget supermarkets that have just one of everything on the shelves and there are the major supermarkets that have ten of everything on the shelf? Do we really need to choose between ten brands of ketchup when the contents are pretty much the same? The Pareto Principle states that 20% of our efforts yield 80% of the results. If we focus on the core 20% we get more time to relax, provided of course you don’t agonize over the choices for a relaxing activity.

When I work with (life) coaching clients we focus on core values and how goals support these. It’s fairly obvious to anyone who knows me that curiosity and learning are amongst my top values. Equality and ethics are also important to me. That’s how I got to slim down my list of shopping brands. There are just some that I refuse to buy because of what I consider to be their company’s unethical practices. So take a while to consider what  are your top ten values, the guiding principles in your life. When you have made a list of ten, cross out the bottom five and concentrate on the top five. When faced with decisions and goals, ask yourself: ‘Will doing this support my values?’ Obviously there will be exceptions. Any system needs to be flexible. However it will give you a focus if you stick to these core values 80% of the time.

Another tool I use is the ‘Absolutely Yes or No Rule’. This will help to maintain your focus. If when faced with a choice if the answer is not ‘absolutely yes’ then it is automatically ‘no’. This is particularly useful if you find it hard to say ‘no’ to people. However make sure you don’t say ‘no’ just because you find the task a little daunting. Instead ask: ‘Is this a new experience?’ ‘Will I learn anything new from it?’ Again be flexible and stick to the rule a least 80% of the time.

If you sit quietly for a moment and bring your attention fully back into the room you will begin to notice sights, sounds and sensations that you routinely blank out. This is because we cannot possibly pay attention to every tiny bit of information that comes our way. Therefore our attention is selective. We focus on the important stuff and blank out the noise. Using our value system can help us to do that when faced with too many decisions and a limited amount of time. So what are your values in life and how will you let them lead your decision making?

(In conversation with Annie Othen, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 4/1/13)

Links:

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

Kung Hei Fat Choi – Reviewing, Refining & Renewing Your New Year’s Resolutions

Has your resolve has already weakened and have resolutions already been abandoned, or  are about to be? Well, take the opportunity of the new lunar year (Chinese New Year) to renew your vows.

The first day of January is always brimming with significance but the euphoria soon evaporates when the reality of a poorly thought-out goal strikes. What is it a realistic and achievable goal or do you need to review, refine and re-target?

Try this:

(i) Apply the SMARTER formula to be sure that the goal is well formulated (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound, Enthusiastically Worded, Reviewed)

(ii) Was the goal realistic and achievable or just too ambitious. Do you need to revise your expectations? This isn’t admitting failure, it’s all about responding to the feedback.

(iii) Review your motivations. Write down ten good reasons for achieving this goal. Think of internal rewards that tap into values rather than external rewards such as money or possessions.

(iv) Take action and start again. You may have to review and renew your goals again. It’s all part of the goal setting process.

Wishing you every success with your goals for the coming year, and following  are some previous posts to review, refine and renew your goals.

Kung Hei Fat Choi

Links:

Look Before You Leap – They That Hesitate Are Lost! Be Bold but be Scientific with Your Goals

Each new year brings a new impetus to make life changes: the perennial ‘New Year, New You’ mindset. Unfortunately, the changes are rarely maintained long term. The motivation gained from the special date (1st January) weakens with each passing day, and is not enough to sustain us when we stumble. All too often a glitch in the plan is interpreted as absolute failure, whereas in real life there are few if any absolutes. More often we live our lives based on a serious of approximations.

Each year we embrace the ‘It’s now or never, they that hesitate are lost’ philosophy over the ‘look before you leap’ philosophy. To maximising our chances of getting positive lasting change we need to embrace both. No, that’s not a contradiction. Yes, by all means leap towards positive change but also have a game plan. Work out an action plan that maximises your chances or staying on track and, above all, be flexible.

New Year’s Resolutions and Goals are better approached like a scientist.

Scientists do a lot of preparation for experiments and come up with a best guess. In life we are all scientists too. Babies learn to walk, talk and get to grips with a bewildering complex world with a scientific trial and error approach. So when faced with making life changes, do your homework. There are numerous formulae out there such as SMARTER to sharpen up that best guess. It may be accurate the first time around in which case you have to do it all over again to demonstrate it wasn’t a fluke. You may also have to make some refinements to get it even more accurate. Of course, you could be way off the mark in which case you use that feedback and redesign your experiment by coming up with a better guess, Then you test that out. This approach builds motivation and confidence in your goal setting skills.

So if you find your resolve weakening one week or two weeks into your New Year’s Resolution or even one day in, then act quickly, use the feedback and make an adjustment  to your plan.

Be Bold, Be Scientific. Be Successful.

Here are a few past posts/links to help you stay on track:

A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Four: Self-Service Motivation & Strategy

This is the fourth 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.
CW has three points systems running concurrently, each representing a different aspect of the game and influencing strategies for play. There are coins which you earn by selling your food for a profit. There are also points that reflect your experience as a Chef. New levels unlock new recipes. There are also buzz points. These indicate the popularity of your café and how many visitors you are getting. The appearance of you café has only minimum effect on your rating. As long as you have easy access to chairs and food on the tables, then it’s easy to maintain the maximum buzz points.

So, apart from taken a total random approach, basically there are three main strategies in CW. Either you cook dishes for profit (coins) or you cook for reputation (Chef points), you cook based on your tastes in the real world.. All dishes in CW have separate points and profit ratings. Now in the early stages it is a good strategy to focus on money. This allows players to buy more tables and chairs and buy the more expensive dishes that also yield higher profits. In later stages once you have enough money, to ascend the levels it best to select dishes that yield more points, but are not necessarily the best money spinners. With the third strategy, people cook the type of food they like. So people who don’t like cheese won’t cook virtual pizza. This decision robs them of access to the dishes that would help them ascend through the levels in the game. So either, these people have not grasped that different rules apply. After all, they should be cooking for their customers and not for themselves. Maybe they are playing the game in their way and are not bothered about succeeding, just having fun.

Playing a computer game requires a degree of focus, motivation, determination, the ability to manage time and the ability to take action. It also causes us to pause and reflect about our values in life. I don’t see myself as a competitive person, but clearly I am. I did get a certain amount of pleasure from ascending the ranks and passing veteran players whose achievements seemed unattainable when I first started playing. However, playing CW also affirmed my value of cooperation. It also helped to remind my strategic skills at a time when I had unfamiliar real-world tasks to complete. It was also enormous fun, except when there were software conflicts and the program kept crashing. However, as frustrating as this was, it caused me to experiment with different browsers. I learned that the Flash application on which CW is based can conflict with other software, especially if the Flash code is not well-written. Yes, it is only a game but the principle applies to real world obstacles and problem solving. All too often people give up on their goals when life’s obstacles get in the way. Sometimes we need to find a way around the obstacle and sometimes we need to be patient. Either way, giving up is not going to get us closer to the desired result. Being resourceful or even asking for help may indeed get us over hurdles.

Focusing on values is the cornerstone of motivation for achieving goals in the real-world. What is important to you in life? What values do you stand for? Are your goals linked to your values? In the first part of this series of posts in Just Being SociableI considered the importance of co-operation as a source of motivation in my life, and the quality that motivated me to continue playing CW. Other values dear to me include fairness, curiosity and the love of learning. All of these have an impact on my motivation.

Values and motivations are not always as simplistic as in CW. However spending time to work out what is really important will help pull you along when your goals get tough. It can also serve as a challenge. If you know what is really important to you in life, then what actions are you taking that directly support these values? It’s no point valuing ‘adventerousness’ if you never embark on an adventure!

See also:

A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Two: Goal-Setting on the Table

This is the second of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World. For Part One of A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World, see: Just Being Sociable

Café World (CW) is a 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. This includes requesting items, returning favours and joining forces to complete team tasks. Goals are often divided into sub-goals. On completion, players are rewarded with new recipes or kitchen appliances, such as coffee machines, slow cookers, pizza ovens and sushi bars.

The way goals are organized in CW provides insight into how we should structure our real world goals. CW has larger goals divided into several sub-goals, with each step building on the previous one. In both CW and the real world it helps build motivation to tackle larger goals. They seem less daunting and are encouraged to build on our successes. That’s where CW gets it right. Where CW gets it wrong is by overwhelming players with so many goals all requiring action. That’s when tempers become frayed and insults in the “neighbourhood” start to fly.  Of course, the demands of real life often divide our attention and our resources. We talk of “spreading ourselves too thinly” (to use a catering metaphor). However, for goal-setting in personal development, it is better not to take on too many things on one time. Progress builds motivation whereas feeling overwhelmed negatively impacts on motivation. Goals should be achievable and realistic. Sometimes in CW there is just too much going on and so people either have to select just a few goals to pursue or else give up playing.

Many of the CW goals are also time-bound. Having a target date is important to focus our attention and resources. It gives a sense of urgency and can add to the motivation. However, if the deadline is totally unrealistic, it causes negative stress and adversely affects performance. A little stress (eustress) is a good thing and boosts performance. Too much stress (distress) inhibits performance. CW often miscalculates the time players need to complete the team tasks. Inevitably this leads to panic as player frantically try to complete the game and shout at the people who are ‘just not pulling their weight”. So, having a realistic target date from the outset is important. Goals should stretch us, but not to breaking point.

So playing Café World can act as a goals tutorial. The secret is to actually apply these insights to real-life and take action. When it works well it follows the SMART acronym for goal -setting. I’ve added a couple of extra letters to make goals SMARTER:

  • Specific – you know exactly what it is you are aiming for, such as a turbo-powered stove or the right to cook a new recipe
  • Measurable – thea fixed number of steps and a fixed number of things to collect or cook
  • Achievable – the goals are possible within the realm of Café World.
  • Realistic – this is sometimes here CW gets it wrong. Do you realistically have enough friends and enough hours in the day to achieve these goals?
  • Time-bound – Again this is where CW gets it wrong. Sometimes the special tasks don’t allow enough time.
  • Enthusiastic – all goals in CW have a positive emphasis. They are about moving forward and achieving something, not moving away and avoiding something.
  • Reviewable (or Regularly Reviewed) – sometimes players give feedback on unachievable target dates and the game-makers adjust the dates. This is what exactly what we need to do: review and adjust rather than give up.

So, the challenge is to leave the safety of Café World and apply the principles to the less predictable real world, where they rewards are greater. . . and not pixellated. Start small, be SMARTER.

For more on goal-setting see:

To discuss your goal-setting and coaching needs contact Gary Wood on Facebook (Page)