7 Attitudes Towards Human Nature and How They Affect Self-Esteem

For his classic book Assumptions about Human Nature, social psychologist Lawrence Wrightsman conducted extensive research into how we judge human nature and the social world. Other commentators on his research have argued that the ‘self-accepting’ (higher self-esteem) person tends to view the world as a friendlier place than does the self-rejecting person (lower self-esteem). In this post we consider seven attitudes about human nature:

  1. Agree or disagree? People are basically honest and trustworthy.
  2. Agree or disagree? People are basically altruistic and try to help others.
  3. Agree or disagree? People have a lot of control over their lives.
  4. Agree or disagree? People have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Agree or disagree? Most people will speak out for what they believe in.
  6. Agree or disagree? You can’t accurately describe a person in a few words (that is, people are simple to understand)
  7. Agree or disagree? People’s reactions differ from situation to situation (people are unpredictable)

Black-and-white thinking indicates a degree of cognitive inflexibility and has been implicated in emotional issues (disturbance). Challenging this kind of binary thought is a key principle in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and in life coaching based on the CBT model. One of the techniques is to explore exceptions to the ‘rule’.

Begin by asking the following questions:

  1. Do your responses (to the 7 attitudes) make for a safe and friendly world or an unsafe and hostile one?
  2. How do these attitudes shape your social interactions, especially in relation to confidence building?
  3. Which of these attitudes are most likely to act as an obstruction to your personal development and goals?

Consider each attitude in turn and explore exceptions to the attitude, such as, ‘People have a lot of control over their lives’. Consider the ways however small where you have control over your life. Also considering ‘People have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses’. What are your strengths? Continue through the seven attitudes to consider exceptions to all attitudes that have a less favourable view of human nature. Each time consider how each attitude impacts on your self-acceptance (esteem).

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn my coaching practice, I take a solution-focused approach which means that we focus on strengths and opportunities. As a client you will also look at your values, the principles and ideals you stand for in life. One of the challenges is to consider how attitudes and actions support your values and in turn support your goals. In confidence coaching (and in my book Unlock Your Confidence) a key theme is to consider how attitudes impact on confidence and esteem.

In solution focused coaching there is a maxim: the viewing influences the doing, and vice versa. This means that how we view ourselves, how we view the world and how we view other people, will influence what we do with our lives, our actions. The literally meaning of ‘attitude’ is ‘fit and ready for action’. Having the courage to take action is at the root of confidence.

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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 coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

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Tips for Handling Compliments and Praise ( – giving, receiving and why it’s important)

It’s all a matter of give and take

Subscribe to Dr Gary Wood's psychology and coaching blogSome people are generous in dishing out compliments and praise but find it harder to be on the receiving end. Other people complain of never receiving compliments or praise and they are also the ones less likely to give them. However if we view the whole subject of praise-giving as a part of communication then it fails under the same rules. It’s a matter of give and take. For the social engine to run smoothly, you have to be comfortable and confident at both: the give and the take. In this post we’ll look at how to give and receive compliment and praise.

The Gifts of Compliments and Praise

Check out coaching and confidence building events from Dr Gary WoodThe ability to accept praise and compliments graciously is not usually thought of as a skill. Many people feel uncomfortable doing so. Consider your own reactions to compliments or praise.

Do you:

  1. Argue with the person and demand they take it back?
  2. Argue for the contrary evidence, listing your faults and failings?
  3. Laugh in embarrassment and say ‘it was nothing’?
  4. Ignore the praise/compliment altogether?
  5. Look embarrassed, grunt or mumble an acknowledgement, but do not make eye contact?
  6. Say thanks, hurriedly or sharply, and quickly move the conversation on?
  7. Make eye contact and accept graciously (smile and say thank you)?

Which option most closely matches your reaction?

If you answered (1) to (6) response, instead consider that it wasn’t a compliment or praise, but that someone gave you a gift. Now I’m guessing you don’t snatch it out of their hand and throw it in the bin saying ‘Well that’s a load of old rubbish’. Treating compliments and praise as gifts, how has your answer changed?

Gracious acceptance of praise and compliments

It’s socially appropriate to accept graciously. You don’t have to believe the compliment. Self-esteem is nothing but an evaluation. Just by acknowledging positive feedback you begin to entertain the possibility that maybe there is something positive to comment on. It begins to change your perception of your self.

read_confidence_posts_r_jus copyAccepting praise: It is just a question if practice?

Difficulty in accepting compliments and praise is not always about confidence and esteem. It could just as easily be a lack of practice. If you were raised in a environment where compliments were rare, then you don’t gain the experience of accepting them. Therefore you just need to catch up on lost time and practice more now.

Try this exercise: Praise yourself in the mirror at the end of a good day or as you have successes. Look yourself in the eye and say ‘Well done’ or ‘you did well today’. If you cringe it’s a sure sign that you need more practice doing it (and accepting compliments in general). Continue doing it until it doesn’t make you cringe. Afterwards, continue doing it anyway.

Why do people offer compliments?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodCompliments are good conversation starters and help to build rapport. They help to establish reciprocal liking (‘I like you because you like me’). If you say something nice then people will think you are a nice person and are more likely to be nice in return. It doesn’t always work but that’s the guiding principle.

Compliments and praise also act as positive reinforcement. That is, they can be a form of reward and encouragement. So they acknowledge a particular behaviour as something that’s positive and as something that should be repeated. Psychological research tells us that rewards are more effective than punishments in shaping behaviour. Saying thankyou is also a reinforcer. If people feel appreciated they are more likely to repeat whatever received the thanks.

How to pay a compliment

I remember my first advice to someone to use a compliment. A school friend really fancied this girl and didn’t know how to approach her. I suggested that he casually pay her a compliment. I think our definitions of casual were very different. He waited for her to come out of the toilets and then leapt out, made her jump, and blurted out ‘I like your frock!’. I suppose given the circumstances, it could have been worse, Needless to say, that love remained unrequited.

If you are giving a compliment, there are a number of basic principles:

  • Most important of all, it should be genuine (that includes not ‘fishing for compliments’, that is giving a compiment to get a compliment)
  • If it’s an ice-breaking type compliment keep it simple and keep it small. It’s better to say to someone ‘I like your brooch’ rather than some over-blown, phony and quite transparent attempt to ingratiate yourself. People will accept small compliments more readily than grand displays. The aim is to give someone a little uplift, not embarrass the hell out of them.
  • Don’t follow one compliment after another, ‘and I like your hair, and I like your bag, and I like your shoes’ and so on. Yes, we get the message, you like lots of things. It sounds obvious but people often fall into this trap when trying to impress someone. If you are attracted to someone or want them to like you, the stakes are higher, stress levels increase and perspective goes out of the window. You don’t want to people to grow weary of saying thankyou.

Compliments and praise and stress relief and confidence building

Compliments and praise have other social functions. According to the daily hassles and uplift theory of stressrather than being caused by critical life events, stress is the result of those petty niggles and hassles that stack up during the day. The antidote is to create more daily uplifts during the day so that the uplifts cancel out the hassles. So by paying compliments and giving praise you could be helping to reduce people’s stress levels. You can ‘make someone’s day’. You also get the feel good feeling of doing a kind deed.

In my approach to confidence, we gain it by passing it on. Stepping outside of yourself to give to others does have an esteem boosting effect. In turn people will perceive you as more confident if you are the one instilling confidence.What goes around, comes around. It’s what I call confidence-karma.

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So there you have all the basics: treat compliments and praise as gifts, practice regularly, be genuine, don’t go for overkill, keep it simple, enjoy the positive knock-on effects.

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 coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychological Hardiness and Social Interaction

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

Broaden and Build – Thriving Rather Than Just Surviving

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

The Confidence-Karma Approach to Confidence and Esteem Building.

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

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4 Ways to Deal with Overwhelming Life Challenges

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

Changing Attitudes – Changing Perceptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Having a downer on yourself’ means that you put a negative spin on your appearance, abilities and competencies in various situations. It’s essentially a form or prejudice directed towards your self which colours how you view the world, including self-confidence,  and what you do in the world.

Why self prejudice?

What is auto-prejudice?

Reviewing my notes after a session with one coaching client, I saw that I had scribbled ‘prejudice’ in the margin. However it wasn’t in the way that we usually understand the word.  It wasn’t negative attitudes towards a target group. Instead, I noticed a pattern of the deeply ingrained negative attitudes that the client directly towards herself. For this I coined the term auto-prejudice. This is a form of ongoing negative auto-biography, a story that we tell yourself and others about yourself. It frames your life.

Prejudice literally means ‘to pre-judge’, and as with all forms of prejudice , auto-prejudice forms a perceptual filter by which we process all information about ourselves. So the stuff that affirms the negative view is readily accepted while anything that contradicts the negative is either ignored, discounted or explained away. Defining negative attitudes to the self as auto-prejudice opened up a whole body of research that I could bring into my (life) coaching practice. One of the things I’m particularly pleased about in my book Unlock Your Confidence is that I was able to draw on training programmes that address discrimination. The only difference is the target of discrimination is your self.

The Social Psychology of Coaching

My earliest research in social psychology had been in attitudes, stereotypes and the way we view the world. In particular I explored the impact of The Authoritarian Personality by Theodore Adorno and colleagues. The main factor I explored was the concept of Intolerance of Ambiguity (researched by Adorno’s colleague Else Frenkel-Brunswik). To put it simply, some people have a stronger need for certainty and black-and-white thinking than others. For some people it causes distress when things don’t fit into discrete categories. Sometimes this distressed is reduced by denying the grey areas to create cleaner boundaries.

The tendency to make cognitive distortions is a key feature of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These are basically logical errors in the interpretation of what life presents us with. Sometimes people select only the evidence they consider relevant, that is consistent with the negative attitude. Sometimes they go beyond the evidence to reach conclusions that are not supported under closer scrutiny. Part of CBT treatment involves a logical disputing by checking the evidence to gain a sense of balance and challenge distorted views of the self and the world.

It’s part of our psychological make-up to think in stereotypes. We can’t process every single bit of information that comes our way. Instead we operate on cognitive economy. Stereotypes create a framework to reduce cognitive overload. The problem is that often they contain false assumptions. Often a stereotype operates a filter that leads us to accept things that confirm the stereotype and reject or modify things that refute it. This is particularly pertinent to self-esteem. Many people are also burdened by a strong cultural mantra that ‘self praise is no praise at all’. So what we have is a strong tendency to evaluate ourselves in a negative way.

What do attitudes and confidence have in common?

Many people declare that they would take more chances in life if only they had the confidence. The implication is confidence precedes action. To a certain degree this is true. The study of attitudes reveals a link between thoughts, feelings and actions. The literal meaning of attitude is ‘fit and ready for action’. So, life-affirming feelings and thoughts are more likely to lead to life-affirming actions. Part of being confident is having the courage to take action. However it’s a circular model. Taking actions can change attitudes (thoughts and feelings). Taking action can build confidence. This is at the heart of the ‘fake it ’til you make it model of confidence. My approach is to take a three-pronged approach to work on thoughts, feelings and actions to build confidence.

My job as a coach to help clients reassess the stereotypes they hold about themselves. This is achieved by a logical, rational approach to help you to reassess the data they use to form and maintain your negative attitudes. Auto-prejudice will sift the evidence to find things to maintain the negative view and convince you that ‘if you don’t try then you can’t fail‘. Auto-prejudice focuses on the problem so that the problem just gets bigger and bigger. Coaching provides the antidote by exploring solutions.

Solution Focused Coaching

In a typical coaching session I will spend 20% of the time with you exploring the problem and 80% of the time exploring solutions. When I was undergoing my coaching training during a coaching session my coach I got locked into describing a problem in the finest of detail. After a while my coach asked quite bluntly ‘where are we going with all this?’ At least that is how I heard it. However, it gave me the jolt I needed to switch to solution thinking. It’s clear the coaching works better if the coach and the client work together. There is little point if the client’s aim is to convince the coach that ‘life is crap and all action is futile’. My own softer version of the intervention is ‘I’ve got a really clear idea of the problem and what you want to move away from. What’s less clear is what you want to move towards? Perhaps we could spend some time on that?’ A simpler intervention is ‘So what do you want instead?’ For me coaching is about helping people engage with a different view of themselves in the world. It is also the main aim of this blog and my books.

Putting pen to paper and putting things into practice

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodUnlock Your Confidence is my attempt to bring together my academic background with my coaching and teaching practice. It’s my personal and professional journey in confidence building. I often say that it took me longer to live it than it did to write it. It’s also a very collaborative affair. I love the idea that the reader continues to write where the author left off. I’m aware that some people like to adopt a more analytical approach and so I have included material that I wouldn’t necessarily bring into a coaching session such as defense mechanisms and elements of Transactional Analysis.  The aim is take things a bit further than the average self-help book. So what I’ve attempted to do is to distill the essence of theories and concepts to generate new insights that will inspire you to action. In this way, the book maintains the 80:20 rule. It’s still mostly concerned with tackling auto-prejudice and entertaining solutions rather than incubating problems. What is explicit throughout the book is the use of solution-focused language. The aim is that by repetition you will learn and embrace an alternative way of viewing the world and your place in it.  As you challenge your own self-limiting attitudes there is always a knock on effect. So the book also provides a blue-print for passing on these insights to others. It’s what I call Confidence Karma. You gain confidence by building it in others.

A key theme in the book and in my coaching approach is ‘Little by little, a little becomes a lot’. So if you have enjoyed reading this blog post please share it with friends and colleagues on your social networks. 

Follow on post: Adapting Prejudice Reduction Plans from Social Psychology to Build Confidence

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Is Stand-Up Comedy a Science?

Is Stand-Up Comedy a Science? No, that’s not a joke. Watching confident, established comedians ‘trying out new material’ reveals the use of scientific methods. This approach is also taught on stand-up comedy courses. In this post I’ll outline some key issues in science, how comedians adopt these principles to hone their craft and how this approach can be applied to all areas of personal and professional development.

Science is all about probabilities not absolutes

One of the biggest misconceptions about science is that it deals in absolutes. It doesn’t. Scientific method is all about probability. Scientists don’t prove anything but simply demonstrate, statistically, that there’s a slim possibility that their results occurred due to chance. Scientists design experiments to control for noise, those extraneous variables that may confound results. The aim is to demonstrate a strong probability that there is a cause and effect between variables (by eliminating chance). For the stand-up comedian, the aim is to demonstrate that a joke causes laughter.

Objectivity versus subjectivity in science and comedy

It’s often stated that science is all about objectivity. In my own research work (as a social psychologist) I challenge this notion. I maintain that science is about bounded subjectivity. If you claim to be objective you are still taking a stance. This is not objectivity. The only true form of objectivity is indifference. Scientists as human beings will have a vested interested in the outcome of their research. There is a whole body of research in psychology to demonstrate experimenter effects. Sometimes scientists are blinded by their own unconscious biases and see the results they want to see. The idea of ‘bounded subjectivity’ is a useful concept for stand-up comics. It’s ludicrous to suggest that comedians don’t care about the results of their efforts. However, it’s helpful to control for unconscious bias. This is achieved by trying jokes out in front of different audiences, at different times and in different places.

The science of stand-up comedy

Watching professional (and gifted amateur) stand-up comedians emphasizes the value of taking a detached, scientific approach. A stand-up comedian begins by writing some material (jokes) and then tests them out in front of an audience. It begins with what makes the comedian laugh (subjectivity) and then the hypothesis that ‘this stuff will make other people laugh’. Testing the material yields results: people laugh or they don’t. People may laugh in unexpected places. This feedback is useful in refining comedy hypotheses. Of course it’s important to replicate the experiment and test the material out on a number of samples and in different contexts (bounded subjectivity). In research terms this is similar to controlling for confounding variables. With this approach, it’s the smallest of changes that can make a joke work on a more consistent basis. I have seen comedians who repeated try out a joke (that they particularly like) without a change and without a laugh, over and over again. If they took the time to use the feedback they might see where to make the adjustment.

The art of not taking it personally

I’ve heard my scientist colleagues complain that they got bad results, which emphasizes the lack of objectivity. Science is often built on a determination to get the ‘right’ results. ‘Mistakes’ in science can be expensive. I’ve also seen comedian friends allow a ‘bad gig’ to send them into a ‘depression’ for days. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard for comedians is The Eleven O’Clock Rule by British stand-up comedian, Sarah Millican. Put simply, after a gig, you have up until eleven o’clock the next day, irrespective of whether it’s a ‘disaster’ or a ‘triumph’. You can either whine or gloat until then. After that, you move on.

One comedian who also adopts a scientific approach is Tom Stade. I was lucky enough to attend a new material night and Mr Stade turned up as a special guest to try out new material. He takes to the stage and switches on a digital recorder, places it on a stool and then he’s off. After ‘bringing the house down’, he turns, switches off the recorder and off he goes. I saw him perform the same material in a more polished form a few months later and get even more laughs. Many comedians would have been overjoyed with the first attempt. I suspect there were a few recordings between the first and subsequent version. Tom Stade is economical with words. He doesn’t waste them. Pauses and gestures and tone all wring laughter from the material. Another more extreme example of a scientific approach is Emo Philips where not a single word is wasted. His idiot-savant like manner disguises the absolute precision.

Some comedian friends adopt  a scientific approach and record everything, as you are advised to do on comedy courses. Others ignore the advice and keep delivering the same punch lines in the same way and come off stage bemused and frustrated when they don’t get the laughs they think it deserves. One comedy friend set himself the goal of coming up with a great five minutes of material and continually honed this material. His persistence paid off as he persistently wins gong shows up and down the country. I’ve seen others, randomly throwing together sets and complaining when it doesn’t ‘go down a storm.

The scientific approach just doesn’t have to apply to the material but also about other aspects of the performance, such as what needs to happen for me to have fun at the gig, relax and create rapport with the audience? The science shouldn’t take the heart out of it, just help to encourage continuous development and help to create a bit of distance, a buffer zone between the disciple and the discipline, the art and the artist.

Extending the scientific approach to personal and professional development

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodI went on stand-up comedy course, in part, as research on my book Unlock your Confidence. The same approach works for all goals in any area of personal and professional development. Use personal experiments to ‘try things on for size’ with the threat of failure. It’s all about the feedback. There’s no beating yourself up when things go wrong or taking things to personally. Just as with the stand-up comic, the lack of a laugh (‘the right result’) shouldn’t reduce you to tears. Neither should it be taken as an indication of self-esteem. It’s just a sign that you need to make adjustments and try again. Building confidence in anything takes two types of courage: the courage to take the first step and the courage to persist (in line with feedback). Confidence is a process.

Be scientific, be detached, be persistent, collect data, use the data, refine your approach, have fun!

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Attitudes and the Karma of Confidence

Bringing social psychology into coaching for confidence

Attitudes, karma and confidence and are not three concepts that obviously go together. However, they are connected. It was making this connection that helped me bring my expertise in social psychology into my coaching practice to create a unique approach to confidence and esteem building. What karma, attitudes and confidence have in common is ‘action’. Ultimately, to build confidence means to increase our courage to take action. To build anything requires action otherwise it remains a fantasy. So where do karma and attitudes come in?

Karma = Action

We use the word ‘karma’ in everyday life to mean ‘what goes around, comes around’ usually in the context that people will eventually pay for their misdeeds in one way or another. However karma literally means ‘action’.

Poster: What is Confidence Karma?I’d noticed in my own career that when I worked with mature students I focused on more intently building confidence in them. It was the beginning of my coaching career. The by-product was that my confidence in my own abilities also increased. In confidence terms, what goes around comes around. And so, the concept of confidence-karma was born. Often we get the idea from reality TV programmes that we gain confidence at the expense of others. We see people making themselves look better by putting others down. This is not authentic confidence. It’s not even assertiveness. It’s actually a form of aggression. At the heart of aggression is the inability to assert oneself in a productive way. Truly self-assured people put others at ease. Fake confidence is all about the self; real confidence is all about the social.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThis became a guiding theme in Unlock Your Confidence. It may sound a bit grand but I wanted to put the social conscience back into self-help. All too often self-help books are a bit ‘me me me’. Building assertiveness, esteem and confidence in other people puts the focus outside of the self, but still keeps the self at the centre, only in a more productive way. Passing on confidence always has a knock on effect. It’s positively contagious. So where do attitudes come into the equation?

Attitudes make us ‘fit and ready for action’

In social psychology one of the key areas of study is attitudes. The word attitude means ‘fit and ready for action’. It is through out attitudes that we make sense of the world, they comprise our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. To increase the likelihood that our behaviour will change we can work on our thoughts and feelings. Attitudes are the ‘get ready’ before the ‘go’. In confidence building, I take this triangular approach and bring social psychology into my coaching practice. Ultimately one of my main aims as a coach is to get people to re-appraise their attitudes towards themselves. In so doing, you jettison attitudes about yourself that do not support your values and goals. You also get to consider attitudes that do. This builds courage. So, are you someone who seeks to build others up?  Do you compliment, praise and show gratitude? Do you have the courage to nurture and encourage?

Building Confidence is Always Good Karma

Confidence-Karma is about having the courage to see the bigger picture. We shape our social world as much as it shapes us. We can make a difference just by taking control of this cycle of influence, even if just in a small way. Just as there’s no such thing as an insignificant random act of kindness, there’s no such thing as an insignificant act of confidence building. An attitude worth adopting is: building confidence is always good karma – and for it to have real meaning to take action on it.

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For more information about coaching to build confidence contact: Gary Wood. Coaching is face-to-face in Birmingham and Edinburgh, via telephone in the UK and worldwide via Skype.

Why Do We Feel Better in the Sunshine?

I recently did a spot on local radio to answer the question ‘Why do we feel better in the sunshine?’ In the midst of a heat wave we can’t help but notice that spirits are up and people generally seem more upbeat. The staff at my local coffee shop look forward to the sun even though they are working indoors. Why? Well when it’s sunny, the customers are less grumpy. If  only one thing, they are not moaning about the bad weather. Research has found that a walk in nature can lift the spirits and boosts measures of self-esteem. People report feeling better. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, sunshine makes us more likely to want to do something active, such as going for a walk. Our skin’s Exposure to sunshine produces vitamin D. A deficiency in vitamin D is associated with mood disorders, as well osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease . Vitamin D has a beneficial effect on the immune system. So overall, a few minutes exposure to the sun each day can have a beneficial effect.

Sunshine also helps to regulate serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin plays an important part in the regulation of learning, mood, sleep and also may have a role in mood disorders. We have lower serotonin levels in winter which may help to explain why we feel more grumpy during gloomy weather. Melatonin regulates sleep patterns. So overall, if we can sleep in the heat, sunshine helps to regulate bodily (circadian) rhythms. Also raising mood may also have a knock on effect for pain management, so together with the serotonin and vitamin D, may have a positive effect on many physical conditions just as arthritis and rheumatism.

Psychologically, our pattern seeking brains look for congruence. Usually we associate bright days with happier times and gloomy days with unhappy times. So, at the first glimpse of a bit of sun we make this perceptual shift.  Also, judging from what some people wear it appears that a bit of sunshine can help to increase our body confidence, or make us feel more brazen, whichever way you care to view it. There’s been an e-card doing the rounds on the internet that says ‘In this heatwave, please dress for the body you have rather than the body you wish for’. People appear more daring and less self-conscious in the sun.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodAll of this demonstrates that it only needs small changes to boost confidence and self-esteem. Obviously we can’t control the weather but we can (be more daring and) control our exercise which may have the same effects as a sunny day. Taking care of the small stuff to create a knock on effect is one of the main themes in my approach to coaching and in my book Unlock your Confidence

As the weather is our main topic of small talk and there is just no pleasing some people, was moaning about the weather has almost become a national sport. I saw a Facebook comment that read ‘It’s just too hot. If I’d wanted it this hot, I would have gone abroad!’ However there are many people who will seize this opportunity and make the most of it, which is also great advice for building confidence and esteem.

Overall, psychologically, the sunshine just makes us more relaxed. Being relaxed is an optimal state as it takes us out of survival (stress) mode and into a mindset where we think more broadly and creatively. So the overall message is make the most of it and while in a more laid-back state take this time to reflect on longer term goals.

(In conversation with Annie Othen  BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 09 July 2013)

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Confidence In Small Steps

Little by little, a little becomes a lot

In most aspects of our lives we learn in small, incremental steps. Occasionally we might experience a eureka moment or a momentous life changing event but by and large, it’s step-by-step. The Tanzanian proverb ‘Little by little, a little become a lot’ has become a firm favourite of mine. It’s the approach I use in my coaching and it forms the basis of my book Unlock Your Confidence.

Inevitably even small changes have a knock on effect. By focusing on the small stuff we see immediate changes. This builds confidence and motivation.

Every day confidence is built in everyday life

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodSome confidence building courses centre around daredevil stunts such as walking on hot coals or bungee jumping. The problem is we rarely need those skills in everyday life. A more productive approach is to review your values, take stock of your strengths and set goals that are personally meaningful to you. This gives you a sense of what drives and motivates you, what tools you have to propel you forward and a clear picture of the final destination. You can apply this to every aspect of your life. Using this approach even the tiniest step becomes significant. Often people recognize that they got to where they are now by stages, it rarely happens overnight. Taking the courage to tackle the small challenges in life build the confidence to tackle with bigger issues. It’s important that we retain the sense that the biggest challenges in life are comprised of tiny pieces. Little by little, a little becomes a lot. it applies to the problem and it equally applies to the solution – the way forward.

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Gender Stereotypes and Confidence

Confidence & Media Myths

Our concept of what it means to be confident is sometimes distorted by gender stereotypes. Confidence is often seen as a masculine type trait. This is partly because we confuse confidence with bravado. Some self-help gurus don’t help this assumption. Often the proof that someone has gained confidence is the ability to  engage daredevil stunts. However, stunts such as walking on hot coals or bungee jumping have more to with recklessness than confidence. Reality TV shows are also all about contestants putting on a show. Being brash and ‘making an entrance’ is often equated with confidence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

True, inner confidence

True, inner confidence is more about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s a lot quieter than the over-the-top displays we associate with the traditional ‘blokey’ stereotype. In fact, confidence begins from a position of relaxation. It’s rooted in quietness. The traditional female stereotype is associated with nurturing. This is another aspect of confidence. Truly confident people put others at ease. If someone’s ‘confident display’ makes other people feel uncomfortable or intimidates then it isn’t true confidence.

True confidence is the mark of a well-rounded human being

The masculine stereotype could be characterized as ‘assertive’ and the traditional female stereotype as ‘nurturing’. So true confidence is a blend of these two qualities.  If your develop your ability to relax and your skills at putting others at ease, these provide the perfect platform for assertiveness. If you’re stressed and angry and just think about yourself then the result is aggression. True confidence is the mark of a  balanced, well-rounded human being. It’s positively contagious, so pass it on.

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