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)

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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.

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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.

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10 Tips for How to Thrive Not Just Survive at Christmas

Christmas is supposed to be a celebration and a season of good will to all but often turns into a nightmare as expectations and the pressure of managing relationships mount. Many of us have an extensive to do list but rarely does ‘go easy on yourself’ make it on to the list. So what can we do, to take the pressure off and enjoy Christmas rather than just endure it. Here are my tips:

  1. Get some perspective – it’s only one day. Unrealistic expectations and trying to cram in too much on will spoil any day. So, focus on what is really important to you at Christmas and don’t get too sidetracked by the trappings and the trimmings. In my job as a ‘life coach’, I work with clients to assess their values. It’s a great strategy for dealing with Christmas. Think about the meaning rather than the gloss. Sometimes less is more. The Pareto Principle states that 20% of our efforts yield 80% of the results. Think about the 20% that will make it a special time. ‘Less is more’ applies at Christmas more than any other time. You could also follow the Quentin Crisp principle ‘Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses; drag them down to your level’.
  2. Take a lead from children – no matter how expensive the toys, the kids will end up playing with the box. You’re not really buying designer label clothes for children. If they are scared to get things dirty and can’t play, then it’s all about you.  Very young children enjoy the simpler pleasures in life. Follow their lead.
  3. Practise gratitude (and don’t criticise) – be thankful for what you do have rather than obsessing over what you don’t have. The list of things that make a ‘perfect’ Christmas seem endless but as you strip away the trappings you will be surprised that they are actually surprisingly few. Again, a very good way to approach life in general. If someone does something nice for you then say thank you. Don’t let the first thing to come out of your mouth be a criticism. Don’t be a food critic or an anything else critic. Before you open your mouth, ask if your ‘pearls of wisdom’ will add to the festive cheer. Ask if your ‘constructive criticism’ will make the recipient feel valued or deflated. If things are not perfect then focus on the gesture. So if your first thought is to moan about the sprouts, let it be followed quickly by the thought that you may just get to wear them!  In other words, don’t be a @£$£!!
  4. Count to Ten  – this is a useful strategy of dealing with ‘difficult’ family and friends. They may have different expectations. So if Uncle Percy complains about the sprouts, just count to ten before you react.You may think to yourself  ‘Yes, but they are better than the sprouts you’ll be getting when we put you in a home’. Cruel, but helpful if it helps to let the comment wash over you. Some people are just awkward, just accept it and let it wash over you.
  5. Breathe –  when we are stressed our breathing tends to be more shallow. So if anything starts to ‘get to you’ at Christmas, then take yourself away from the stressor and take a few long, slow deep breaths. This will help to interrupt the stress cycle.
  6. Go for a walk – Sitting in a confined space with lots of family and friends can be stressful, especially if you’re the one doing everything.  So wrap up warm and go for a walk. A bit of fresh air and a change of scenery can work wonders. The same applies for any working day during the year. Research has shown that a walk in nature can help to boost feelings of self-esteem and well-being.
  7. Give and take – it’s a tad simplistic to say that the whole world is divided into givers and takers, but Christmas tends to exaggerate everyday life patterns. So if you are a giver and feel you have to run around after everyone, take a deep breath and sit down and give other people the opportunity to give something to you. If someone offers to make you a cup of tea or do the washing up then have the good grace to let them. You’re not a bad host if a guest wants to get out the rubber gloves and the dish mop. Conversely, if you tend to take, take, take at Christmas, don’t just sit in the corner like a blancmange, get off your backside and offer to do something for someone else. A small gesture can be more valuable than a gift of underwear,  gloves, socks and deodorant! So let the takers give a little more and the givers take a little more.
  8. Gluttony and guilt – some people feel guilty over the sheer volume of food consumed over Christmas. Firstly it’s important to recognise that it’s the only feast in the UK calendar. All cultures have times of feasting. However, also don’t overdo it. Sometimes we fall into the trap of buying ‘Christmas’ foods that get wasted, such as boxes of dates. If you like dates, go ahead and buy them. If not, then don’t buy them on the off-chance that great Aunt Brenda might fancy one. If she likes them that much, she’ll bring her bloody own! Christmas food can be notoriously rich and fatty which can lead to acid indigestion. We have this idea that hedonism was all over indulgence. Hedonism was really about pleasure and that meant everything in moderation. Having a hangover or heartburn is not pleasurable. Hedonists didn’t get them because they didn’t over indulge. Again, sometimes less is more. Balance out the rich foods with fresh fruit and vegetables. You don’t have to cram everything into one day, so pace yourself. Also, make sure you stay hydrated and drink water. Being dehydrated can make you irritable and distort judgement and perceptions.
  9. Lonely this Christmas – many people spend Christmas alone which for some becomes unbearable. It’s important to remember that a lot of this has to do with attitude and perception. First ask yourself what you’d normally do on this day of the week, because it really is just one day.Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood I know of people who just treat Christmas day as a break from routine and have actually spent the day de-cluttering your home. Catch up on your reading, get your foreign language CDs out, anything that you don’t normally have time to do. Be kind to yourself a have a few treats lined up. Just have a ‘you’ pamper day, free from people. It could be your own personal one day retreat. It’s all about thinking outside of the box. It could also be a personal development day, so you could spend the day setting your goals for the coming year. Alternatively, you could check out opportunities for volunteering at a homeless shelter for instance. Giving something to others can be give a real boost in self esteem and confidence. Christmas is also only one day and everything is pretty much back to normal the next day, so keep it in perspective.
  10. Look forward – if you have had a bereavement during that year, take a moment to celebrate the life of that person. However take it further and take time to reflect on what you will do with your life to honour that person and that relationship. Focus on what inspiration that person gave you that you can use to take your life forward. At Christmas I always think about my Nan and Granddad who gave me the happiest moments in childhood. I learned from both of them the importance of compassion and giving something to others. From my granddad, I gained the love of reading and learning. My PhD and three books have been dedicated to them. It’s tangible proof that their lives had a profound effect on me. Undoubtedly, the first Christmas after the death of a loved one is the most difficult, so put a moment aside to think about how you take your life forward from the influence and inspiration they brought.

So these are my top ten tips for thriving not just surviving Christmas. I wish you all the best for the coming year and invite you to check out my posts on goal setting and new year’s resolutions.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood(In conversation with Caroline Martin, BBC WM, 19/12/2012)

Give someone the gift of confidence this Christmas/New Year with Gary’s book Unlock Your Confidence.

Buy: Amazon UK  /  Buy: Amazon USA

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Life, Fun, Gratitude and Regret… a call to action

Sometimes life gets us down. We get stuck in a routine, become overwhelmed by circumstances or paralyzed  by fear. We claim not to know what we want except we know that we don’t want more of ‘this’. Knowing that you do not want more of the same is a start. Describing what we want to move away from is the first step in describing what we want to move towards. It also helps to take stock of what we already have. It’s often described in self-help speak as acquiring the attitude of gratitude. Simply be focusing on what we are thankful for (however small), helps to retune our perceptions to potential positive opportunities. It’s become a key strategy in my confidence building approach (See Unlock Your Confidence).

I saw ‘International Fun Smuggler’ Mrs Barbara Nice’s show at Edinburgh Fringe. Mrs Nice takes great delight in celebrating the small things in life (and it’s difficult to come away from her shows feeling anything but uplifted). In the show she also touched on the regrets in life. These provide clues to what we might do to escape ‘more of the same’. Bronnie Ware, palliative nurse recorded the top five regrets of dying patients and at first glance seemed all rather un-sensational. However they provide a recipe for living without regret. Here are our biggest regrets:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Consider how you allow the expectation of others to limit your choices and perpetuate more of the same. Consider what small thing you could do today that brings you a tiny bit closer to your idea of your true self. It could be starting a new hobby or attending an evening class. Start with a small thing to build your confidence and create momentum. Do it today.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Consider how you can create a little balance in your life. What do you do to relax? What small things can you let go to make time for yourself? When I run confidence building workshops I ask about the moments when people have more confidence invariably they report times when they are relaxing and having fun. In Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In…Swim Out to Meet It, I wrote that a melody consists not just of the notes, but also of the rests in between the notes. Taking time out can improve efficiency at work and can have a knock on effect in other areas of your life. What will you do today to create some moments of fun or relaxation?

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Often bottled up feelings can lead to resentment and bitterness and sometimes people turn those feelings in on themselves. Many people spend years in work meetings saying nothing until one day they speak up. At that time it didn’t matter if anyone else agreed, it was just enough for them to ‘say my piece’. Like anything else, if you have little practice at expressing your feelings (saying your piece) then start small, with something almost inconsequential, as long as it’s a first step. Expressing our feelings will engage others in feedback. Sometimes they will agree and sometimes they won’t. Either way the act of speaking up and dealing with the feedback is a way of building self-esteem. Of course, it can be positive expressions of feelings such as gratitude to another person.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Sometimes we take friendships for granted and let other aspects of our lives get in the way. The same applies to family members. We just assume that they will always be there. They become part of our ‘psychological furniture’ rather than real people. There have never been so many ways to communicate as there are today. A group text message to all of your contacts is not staying in touch. It’s going through the motions. When looking back over our lives we realize that all the things in life that, at the time, mattered more than people, don’t. Forget Facebook (for a while) and focus on facial expressions and vocal inflections with real people, off line. So who can you reconnect with, voice to voice, face to face?

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Getting the ‘gratitude attitude’ helps to create a foundation for happiness as does making time to have fun. It’s interesting that the regret here is ‘let myself’. This implies that the opportunities were there but not seized. A key way of finding more happiness to set goals that stretch in areas of life that interest us. In his classic book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-sent-me-high) offers a simple message. To be happier we just need to spend more time ‘in flow’. These are the moments when we become so totally engrossed in what we are doing that we lose all sense of time. We set goals to improve our personal best and develop skills, engaging blissfully in the present moment. So what would that be for you? What start can you make today?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodNothing here requires massive life changes. All that it takes is small affirmative steps. In my coaching practice, the emphasis is on creating small, shifts in perception and action. It has always amazed that clients do far more between coaching sessions that we agreed or that either of us expected. It’s not bungee jumping or fire walking that transform lives, but small steps of persistent action in the desired direction.

What will you do today, to build happiness and regret-proof your life?

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Give Up the Routine and Predictable for Lent – Give Up On Giving Up

Lent, in the Christian calendar is marked by prayer, penance, repentance, charity andself-denial, for forty days leading to up Easter. It is usually summed up in the phrase ‘giving up something for Lent’,  and is often seen as a test of will-power. However, there is more than one way to ‘give up’ and make sacrifices. So if we consider Lent from a secular, personal development angle, you don’t have to be religious to observe lent.

One aspect of prayer is about giving thanks and practising gratitude. So over, the next 40 days, take a moment each day to take stock and be thankful what the things, situations, opportunities and people in your life. To help, here’s a link to my Gratitude and Anticipation Experiment. Another aspect of prayer is giving time to reflect quietly, so you could also include 40 days of meditation, for a couple of minutes, three times a day. Try my Two-Minute Stress Buster and give up on stress.

Penance and repentance are about facing up to mistakes and seeking forgiveness. So use the next 40 days to build bridges with people and put things right. Also, spend the next 40 days forgiving people whom you feel have wronged you. Sometimes we hold on to past hurts and don’t allow ourselves to move on. Also, spend the next 40 days giving up on collecting new hurts. Start by forgiving yourself. Give up on beating yourself up about past mistakes. Give up on holding on to the past. Give up on that inner-self talk that puts you down.

Charity involves giving something to others. It’s easy to give money (when you have it to spare), but more difficult to actually give time. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. So, over the next 40 days you could do a random of act of kindness each day.

Self-denial is what is most associated with Lent, but need not be about giving up our favourite treats. Instead, think about giving up routine by trying something new. We often get stuck in a rut, so use the next 40 days to deny ourselves that ‘luxury’. Opt for novelty over familiarity. Increase variety of the foods. Get more exercise. Read a book or start learning a new language. Deny the part of the self that likes to get stuck in a routine. Give up on saying ‘that’s just the way I am‘.

Think of any aspect of your life or self that you’d like to develop such as confidence, social skills or self-esteem. Give up on the feelings that are holding you back and take the first steps to try the very things you’d like to do. Give up on excuses.

At the start of the 40 day experiment, rate your happiness on a scale of zero to ten. Rate your life satisfaction and also optimism of the same zero to ten scale. At then end of the 40 days, rate your happiness, life satisfaction and optimism again. What’s changed. Is there any thing that you’d tried during the 40 day experiment that you’d like to continue doing?

Give up on giving up. . . but not just for Lent.

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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.