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)

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7 Item Study Skills Survival Pack

I’ve gathered my student-focused study skills based post into one convenient place. They cover most things from lectures, exams and revision as well as essay writing. As a psychology student,I have used these techniques myself and they have served me well. As a psychology lecturer, I’ve taught them to countless students too. Many of the principles are informed by evidence-based psychology, teaching theory and learning practice. They also form the basis of academic coaching I offer to students (see link below).

  1. A Letter to New Students – How to Study (for Success)
  2. Writing Good Essays: First Impressions Count (. . . and gain you marks)
  3. Writing Good Essays: First Impressions Count (. . . and gain you marks) – Part Two
  4. Writing a Critical Essay Does Not Mean “Rip to Shreds” Armed only with an Introductory Textbook
  5. Preventing Mental Fatigue – Good Study Habits
  6. Study Skills Top Tips
  7. Music to Study By

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Job Interview Essentials

Like all skills, interviewing well takes practice. It also helps to recognise that interviewing is a two way process. Often people assume that it’s all about being interviewed by a potential employer to assess suitability as an employee. However, it’s also your opportunity for you to assess whether a particular employer is a match for your skills, strengths, values and personality. So be prepared to ask questions to check out the employer and the organization. This requires self-reflection and a bit of research on your target employer. It starts by reading the job specification, the person specification and finding our more about the organization.

Possibly in an effort to make the process a little less boring for themselves, interviewers may dream up creative questions that sound more difficult than they really are. Some interviewers may not be experienced or comfortable interviewing which may be reflected in questions that add very little to the process. So, it’s worth being clear about what the interview process aims to achieve. Top Executive Recruiters agree that interviews need to assess three key topics: Strengths, Motivation and Fit. These translate into three main questions:

  1. Can you do the job?
  2. Will you love the job?
  3. Can we work with you?
Interview questions are most often these three themes ‘dressed up’ to varying degrees. Getting to the yes/no answers requires sifting the evidence. As an interviewee you need to provide evidence of skills, qualifications and experience to demonstrate that you can do the job. This is not about repeating what’s on your CV, it’s about giving examples that demonstrate how you have applied your skills and strengths. It’s also helpful to identify transferable skills. I use a number of tools and techniques to help clients to identify their strengths. It’s the basis from which all else proceeds. It’s also worth considering when things didn’t go smoothly. How did you handle ‘failure’? How did you move forward?
‘Loving the job’ is all about motivation. What will continue to make the job worthwhile when the going gets tough, apart from the money? The job may fit in with your values, that is ‘what you stand for’ or may tie in with your long term goals. It’s all about knowing what makes you tick, what gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you going when the going gets tough. I’ve coached students in applications to MBAs to the highest ranking Universities in the world. Most of the questions are about goals and values. Knowing yours is absolutely essential for job interviews. Again, I use values elicitation exercises with clients and also to see if existing goals are supporting these values.
As well as providing insights into our motivation, knowledge of our values can also help us determine how well we may fit in with organizations and teams. You may have all the skills for the job but if you have a strong social conscience and the organization is a ‘do what ever it takes’ enterprise, then there may be a values clash.
As well as self-evaluation you also have to do your home-work on the organization. Don’t be like the woefully unprepared candidates on the TV show Dragon’s Den who pitch an idea for stationary not knowing that one of the dragon’s sells paper-clips or pitching a new dessert not knowing that one of the dragon’s once owned an ice-cream van. It shows a lack of professionalism and respect. There is no excuse for not doing an internet search and finding out about your potential employer. It’s the only way you are going to properly assess that there will be a match.
Self-knowledge and a little background research can transform the interviewing process so that it’s no longer a mystical ordeal but instead a personal and professional development opportunity.
For further information see:

Writing a Critical Essay Does Not Mean “Rip to Shreds” Armed only with an Introductory Textbook

For many people the words ‘critical’ and ‘criticism’ have negative connotations. Of course it’s not helped by the impression many people have of professional critics who spend their lives reviewing the accomplishments of others. Tales are told of critics who can ‘make or break’ plays or restaurants who can with the flick of a pen and a few well chosen acid-tongued ‘put downs’. It’s therefore perhaps not surprising that when students are faced with the prospect of writing their first critical essays that they think they have to don a black cape and mask and go MwaahhHHHAHAHAHAHA a lot.

Critical essays should offer balance. They are not  opportunites for students to be ‘smart arses’ armed only with the knowledge on an introductory textbook. Many students fall into this trap. The general rule is: the more you’ve read the more critical you can be. If you try to dazzle with insights and wit based on a chapter in a textbook, it simply comes across as immature academic development, laziness and arrogance.

Often students rely too heavily on introductory texts because it is easy. It’s important to recognise that they serve the function only to introduce you to a topic, not become the fount of all of your knowledge. The publishing process in academia is notoriously slow. With the review process, it may take two years to get research into a journal. Then the textbook authors get their hands on it and after the editing and publishing process the information finds its way to you. By that time it is already out of date. Remember that textbook authors are often generalists rather than specialist researchers. So, once the textbook has set the scene and context, you should head for the journals.

Another main problem is that students are not necessarily taught how to write critical essays and so fall back on erroneous assumptions of what it means to be critical. This is more often than not ‘rip it to shreds’. Rarely, if ever, is this a wise approach. So what it?

Start by imagining that you are writing the essay of an intelligent fifteen year old. If you’re ask to ‘critically analysis’, don’t launch in with ‘theory X is a load of old rubbish and Dr X has a drink problem and was molested by gibbons when he was a child”. Instead begin by giving the reader a neutral account of the theories in question. Once you have established that, you can give an account of the pros (positives) of the theories, and then the cons (negatives). Obviously, reading around a topic will help to develop your critical skills as you  encounter different perspectives. You are hardly likely to get this level of detail in a textbook.

This approach will communicate to your tutor that you are developing good academic skills. Yes it’s more work, but you aren’t studying to regurgitate what you already know or to demonstrate that you can get by for three of four years paraphrasing one book. Unfortunately some students do try this approach. Learning is about pushing the boundaries of what you know, and hopefully you may come up with critical analyses that is not in the textbooks.

Library cards to the ready and step away from that introductory textbook!

You can also find other insights of study skills and essay writing in my other posts:

Writing Good Essays: First Impressions Count (. . . and gain you marks)

First impressions count. So, it’s important when writing essays not to lose marks by not creating a good first impression. If an essay ‘looks the part’, it has a chance of being marked more favourably than one that looks like it was churned out the night before the deadline. Now, this is not a cue to rush out and buy expensive folders or ribbons or write on papyrus. Of course, it helps if the essay doesn’t look as if it has been wrestled from a toddler or used as a coaster. However, the most important thing is that it looks as if it might be a good essay by a diligent student. Here are five pointers that will gain you extra marks by just playing by the rules:

(i) Follow the submission guidelines and be conservative. If the guidelines ask for 12 point font on one side of the paper and 1.5 line spacing, then don’t submit something that can only be read with a magnifying glass. Different universities/colleges/departments/tutors have different rules about things like sub-headings. Obey them. The paper should always be white, not cream or powder blue or pink or monogrammed or ‘wibbley-edged’. Just basic paper, preferably recycled so you can do your bit for the planet. Although you won’t be marked down for  not being ‘green’. . . you may well be if the paper is the colour of lark’s phlegm. As your academic career advances,  if you submit a paper for publication in a journal, there will be submission guidelines. If you don’t follow the rules you won’t even be considered, so get into the good practice now.

(ii) Learn to use the appropriate referencing system. In psychology it’s usually the Harvard (author-date) system. You shouldn’t guess or make-up your own version. You learn the correct referencing format including how to to cite references in the text. Even with references included, you still have to be able to read the essay out loud. You don’t abandon the standard rules of punctuation. Learning the referencing system from the start will save you lots of lost marks on each essay. It also communicates to the essay marker, that you are a diligent student. This may mean that your essay is looked upon more favourably than one which looks like it was referenced by someone who doesn’t give a damn.

(iii) Write a good introduction. You will note that I didn’t begin this piece with ‘In this blog post I will outline how to pick up extra points on essays’. That would have been exceedingly dull. Do a little work to set the scene. It only takes about 50 words to set the context for the essay. It’s standard for all journalists of newspaper and magazine articles. Now you don’t have to be sensational, but you do have to evoke interest. Imagine your essay is found by someone who has to sleep on a park bench. Those first 50 words might mean that they take the time to read your essay to take their mind off the cold. If it starts ‘In this essay I will discuss’. . . chances are it will go straight up the vest or down the pants for insulation.

Your introduction, where possible, should contain the essay question paraphrased, so that anyone reading the essay will know exactly what the question is, without having to look at the question. It will also help you to stick to the point. Finally, your introduction should contain a brief statement of the path your essay will take – a very brief summary of what to expect. All of this makes your essay easier for the reader (marker) to process and it looks more professional. This good impression may mean that the marker may be a little more forgiving.

(iv) Follow the simple three point- rule. In your essay, (i)Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em (Introduction); (ii) Tell ’em (Main Body); (iii) Tell ’em what you’ve told ’em (Conclusion). The introduction as we have seen, sets the scene. In the main body you present your evidence. In the conclusion you briefly summarise the material you have already introduced and offer a conclusion. Think of it like a court case. Opening arguments, evidence then closing arguments.

(v) Write a good conclusion. This follows pretty much the same pattern as the Introduction. You briefly summarise the main themes in the main body. Again you offer a paraphrased version of the question and you offer a conclusion based on the evidence introduced in the main body. Now’s not the time to sneak in a few tasty morsels than you saved for the grand finale. If it’s evidence, it goes in the main body. Again think of a court case. You don’t start calling your star witness during your closing arguments.

Of course, you still have to write a good main body and support all of your points with up-to-date references from a range of sources. However, the five pointers above will ensure that the main body is received in a more positive light. To ignore these pointers is to needlessly throw marks away. Simply presenting your essay in a more professional and appropriate way could take your mark up into the next grade band. The sooner you present yourself as a serious or diligent student, however far from the truth that may be, the sooner you will stop losing valuable marks.

Contact info@drgarywood.co.uk to discuss one-to-one academic coaching for study skills, essay writing and  exam techniques

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