Living with Freedom, Living a Better Life, and Coaching

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

What is freedom?

Dictionary definitions state that freedom is:

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

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

What are attitudes?

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

Coaching as attitude liberation

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

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

Links (other posts about coaching and personal development):

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

__________

 About Gary Wood

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

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

Advertisements

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.

__________

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:

__________

About Gary Wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there ever a perfect time to embrace change?

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

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

Is the coach right for you?

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

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

Alternatives to hiring a life coach

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

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

Conclusion?

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

__________

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

Further Reading:

 About Gary Wood

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

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