Forget New Year-New You! Why Re-Invent the Wheel? There’s Plenty Right With the Old You, Read on. . .

Every year, buoyed by the significance of the first day of a brand new year we set our New Year’s resolutions. Magazines and books scream out at us to re-invent ourselves with messages of New Year, New You. I say forget it!

I’m not suggesting that we all do nothing. I’m a committed advocate of lifelong learning. We are always moving forward, whether we take control of it or not. I’m just asking the question ‘What’s so wrong with the old you that a bit of tinkering can’t put back on track?’ These messages to embrace total self-transformation embody the message that you’ve screwed up and it’s time to put it right. It’s bull! The New Year-New You (NYNY) philosophy won’t build confidence and esteem. In fact it may have the opposite effect. In this post I aim to tell you why it’s counterproductive to indulge the gurus that advocate total transformation. I’ll also suggest what you can do instead.

You’re here. You already made it

There’s an old saying ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’. It’s sound advice. The NYNY approach sometimes goes as far as telling us to throw out the bath too! Seeing as you are already here then you must be doing something right. That’s the approach I take in coaching. We stock take. The stock in question is your skills, strengths, values and how you got to this place. The Pareto Principle states that we 20% of our actions yield 80% of the results. Through coaching or just by self-reflection you can tap into your key 20% Lots of self-help books will ask you to make massive changes on the assumption that this is the only way you will get massive results. I maintain that the small changes create knock-on effects that yield significant results. Bigger is not alway better if it’s not what you really want!

How did you get to where you are now?

In coaching I use scaling questions. Simply, I ask you to rate your overall life satisfaction on a scale from one to ten. Where one equals very low satisfaction and ten equals total satisfaction. Before focusing on ‘what might be better’ we focus on how you’ve got to this point. So if you report a satisfaction of four, I would ask you ‘How have to got to a four? How did you do that? How come it’s a four and not a three, a two or a one?’ By exploring the question from this angle, we begin to tap into that all important 20% of what works for you. It’s about jogging your memory rather than negating your life experience. Usually coaching clients recall things (almost forgotten) that help to move them forward. It’s up to the coach to uncover these gems.

Once we have established that, I ask you what you imagine things will be like, half a point along the scale, or even a quarter. The aim is to get you to thinking about small steps that you can make. I also ask what score will be good enough for you. Does it have to be a ten? For many people a 7 or 8 is good enough. After all, if it’s a ten then where is there left to go? Despite sports people claiming that they gave 110%, there is no such thing as11 out of ten! Once we have established what ‘good enough’ looks like, we can begin to set goals. These goals will include milestones or sub-goals to maintain motivation and boost confidence.

Setting goals properly can boost self-esteem

Think of a goal as a journey. After all that’s where the idea of coaching came from. In transport, a coach gets you from A to B. A life coach gets you from A to where you want to Be. For any journey, preparation is key. Part of  this involves taking stock of your skills, strengths, values and life experience. This is where New Year’s resolutions go wrong. It’s the preparation that maintains the motivation when the novelty and euphoria wear off. Begin by considering if you’ve tackled a similar goal before recall. How did it go? What went right? How long did it last? What were the stumbling blocks? It’s common for people to get discouraged if they falter. However that’s part of the process. Setting a goal is not about demonstrating you have iron will power. A great deal of the goal setting is working out how to match the process to your particular way of doing things. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ blueprint. You are the blueprint. It’s a matter of playing to your strengths and managing your shortcomings. If you try to force the ‘black-and-white, all-or-nothing, pass-fail’ approach then you learn nothing about yourself. By being more flexible and using the knowledge about yourself along the way, not only will you meet your goals, you will also boost your sense of self-efficacy in the world.

Working as a life coach, although I have a range of standard (tried and tested) questions, tools and techniques, I do not practice an ‘off-the-peg’ approach. I work with you to co-create an action plan. It’s all about matching your needs and strengths to the goal. The reasons are simple: (i) it saves time and (ii) it builds self-assurance. The idea is that you should go away from coaching feeling empowered not dependent on the coach. Yes, the coach should offer you tools, techniques and an alternative way to view your world. However all of these should add to ‘your sense of you’, not take away from it. That’s why I shun the ‘New Year-New You approach’ popularized by lifestyle magazines and self-help gurus. It’s common in advertising to see products described as ‘New Improved’. This doesn’t make sense. Is it new or is it improved? Usually it means it is an improvement on an existing product. They didn’t start from scratch. They took all that was good about the existing product and tweaked it a little to make it better. That’s exactly the approach for lifelong learning. Forget ‘New You’, just improve on an existing classic!

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIf you enjoyed this post, please use the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons below to let others know. 

If you are looking for a complete personal development course, try my book: Unlock your Confidence or else just check out my Survival Kit for New Year’s Resolutions.

Links:

Other life coaching posts by Dr Gary Wood

Advertisements

Briefly Describe the Problem Then Focus Intensely on Solutions

Feeling ‘Listened to’

Talking about problems allows us to hear the problem outside of our own inner dialogue. Simply by finding the precise words to explain our problems to another person can cause a shift in perceptions. Some people seek coaching based on a perception that it is a lot like counselling. Of course, there are cross-overs in terms of some of the basic assumptions of Carl Rogers’s Person-Centred Therapy. Rogers talks about creating the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions for change’ and recognizes clients as the experts in their own lives. The therapeutic relationship is also paramount. It’s unusual to be another human being and feel totally ‘listened to’. It rarely happens in everyday life.

General description of the past and a detailed picture of the future

Now some clients, encouraged by the therapeutic relationship, feel the encouraged to explain in the finest details the issues that brought them to seek counselling. The idea is that greater understanding helps to facilitate change. In coaching it’s not necessary to know how you got here in the minutest of detail. As part of my coaching training I underwent the coaching process as a client. I quickly realized that I favoured the convoluted explanation to ensure that the coach understood every minute detail of the problem, how it had arisen and so on and on and on. The coach asked me ‘Where is this taking us?’ The question stopped me in my tracks. Early in my coaching practice I had experienced clients who felt the need to give me the fullest possible picture. This simple principle of ‘where is this taking us’ helped me to shape the sessions to better focuses them on the future. My own version of the intervention is ‘I’m getting a very clear picture of what you want to move away from. I’m less clear about what you’d like to move towards. Perhaps you could fill in a few of those details’. There is a fine line between hearing the client and getting bogged down in so much detail that all avenues of possible solutions are closed off.

If there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching

Coaching is ultimately about goals. There’s a mantra often quoted that ‘if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching’. It’s been a long recognized research finding that all forms of therapy have pretty much the same outcomes. It’s called the equivalence paradox. However I would argue that some therapeutic models lend themselves as better bases for coaching than do others. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a problem-focused type therapy that emphases changes in the ways we perceive the world and the way we act in it. Gestalt therapy is focused on the ‘here-and-now’ which has parallels with coaching. However with psychodynamic approach with its emphasis on unconscious processes the common factors are not so clear.  A former psychodynamic practitioner colleague proposed a model of coaching called ‘Cognitive-Analytic Coaching’ as an alternative to CBT. Apart from being a somewhat unfortunate acronym, the strong emphasis on analysis seems at odds with basic principles of coaching. There might be lots of thinking and analysing but the action element appears underplayed. It’s almost an afterthought.

Meaningful and practical steps to change

TV therapy-based programmes invariably pay homage to cod-psychoanalysis and often parents or teachers get the blame for everything. However it’s not necessarily the case that this insight will inspire any move forward in life. It might help to reinforce helplessness and become the justification for things to stay as they are. As well as digging over the past such programmes are also heavy on the symbolism. It just so happens that symbolic gestures look good on camera. However it’s unlikely that the programme producer asks the ‘client’ if standing at the seashore, letting balloons go at sunset chanting to the great baloon god is personally meaningful. Such TV-friendly dispays create the illusion of doing something without actually doing anything at all. Unfortunately, some ‘inspirational’ models of coaching follow a more ‘poetic’ approach to personal development. However, evidence-based coaching has a stronger emphasis on meaningful empowerment and practicalities. In my practice, any kind of exercise is based on client insights and always meaningful to them. If a coach tries to cajoles you in to trying ‘hocus pocus nonsense’ against your better judgement, then find another coach. Bullshit never takes precedence over meaningfulness.

Following the 80:20 principle

Coaching is often about making small significant insights rather than waiting for ultimate mysteries in life to be revealed. In my practice I operate the 80:20 principle to structure coaching sessions. This is in line with the CBT approach and the Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) approach. So, you would describe the problem or issue for 20% of the session and in the remaining 80% we would explore solutions. It follows the principle that the more we talk about the problem, the bigger it gets. Giving more time to solutions (even tiny little ones) can create a shift and begin building confidence and motivation right away. Solution-Focused Brief Coaching is about creating a different mindset. The coaching relationship begins with the coaching helping you to explore things from different perspectives. As the coaching process continues, you the client, get to learn the solution-focused perspective so that it becomes an automatic alternative to the problem-oriented mindset. Part of this mindset is to consider the smallest shifts and smallest actions to tackle the issue rather then trying to tackle the whole problem head on. Often a seemingly insignificant change leads to a significant change in perception.

Links:

Other coaching and confidence blog posts from Gary Wood

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:

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

Links: