How to have a better year than your Facebook year

So what kind of year have you had? According to my year on Facebook, it’s ‘end of year review’ app makes it look as if all I ever do is eat! Of course it’s based on pictures posted and I’m careful what I share on Facebook just in case it alters its terms and conditions and my photographs end up in some dodgy advertising campaign. Nevertheless, it still feels a bit imbalanced.

Seeing my Facebook year in pictures has forced me to consider the questions ‘Did I have the year I wanted?’ ‘What do I want from the coming year and how do I go about getting it? How I answer these question comes down to my values. So how about you?  Does your Facebook summary might do justice to the year you’ve had, assuming you’ve succumbed to the lure of Facebook. What are your highlights and how did these coincide with your values?

When interviewing students for a place on a psychology course I used to ask ‘What are you going to have to give up to complete this course?’ It’s a great question to ask when pursuing any personal goals. Most people have time in their lives where they just fill that time (or kill time). Usually potential students answered that they would spend less time watching TV. Of course, less time spent on Facebook is another possibility. How do you spend time on there and does it further your goals. If you are running a business then social media can be very useful. However many people use social media to relieve boredom.

In order to focus the coming year, consider your top values in life. These will form the headlines for the year ahead. Top of my values list is ‘curiosity or love of learning’. For this to appear in my end of year review, I’m going to have to take actions to learn stuff. Another of my values is ‘making a contribution’. So I have to think about translating that value into action. Matching goals to values is an important part of personal development. Another value is making connections with people as opposed to going through the motions electronically. So I know I have read books, attended courses, run my own courses, coached people and met some new people this year. None of this is reflected in my facebook year, but i have honestly. Check out my Facebook page!

The truth is that you don’t have to take photographs of every little event in your life. We can lose out of living in the present moment whilst fiddling about getting the right lighting and camera settings. It’s enough to keep your main values as themes at front of your mind as reminders. These values become the guide for actions. So if you find yourself spending hours in front of the TV or computer screen, you can ask yourself: How is this supporting my values? Is this going to be one of the year’s highlights? Is this going to make up a large proportion of my year?

Your values become your checklist throughout the year so that you don’t get to the end of the year wondering where it went and what you did with it. So what if you’re so busy getting on with life that you don’t end up with a great album in Facebook.

Now here’s a picture of my meatball Gary Wood's Meatball Lasagnelasagne!

_________

If you liked this post, please use the buttons at the bottom of the page to share with your colleagues. You might also like this:

 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.

Advertisements

Bah Humbug. Why It’s Okay to be More Like Scrooge at Christmas

The name Ebenezer Scrooge, the principle character from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has become synonymous for embittered miserliness and especially for someone who does not embrace the ‘spirit of Christmas’. At the start of his journey he cares nothing for people and is only interested in money. By the end of the story Scrooge was a changed man. He discovered the true meaning of Christmas. His name became synonymous with altruism and generosity. He was Mr Christmas.

A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption. It is a tale of values and how to focus on what truly matters in life. It was set in a bleak time of abject poverty and the social injustice of the casualties of the Industrial revolution. The story has resonance with modern-day austerity cuts where the most vulnerable in society have had to pay for the mistakes of the most affluent (. . . steps off soapbox. . .) Back to the main point.

humbugChristmas seems to start earlier every year. Cards and decorations appear in the shops around August. It has little or nothing to do with the values that Scrooge rediscovered by the end of the tale. Modern-day Christmas is driven by the values of the pre-enlightened Scrooge. In a perverse twist and turn around, those who decry commercialism are branded ‘Scrooge’ or ‘Ebenezer’ or chided with the statement ‘bah humbug’.

It’s true that Christmas is a real hugger-mugger of a festival and means different things to different people. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens did a lot to bring together disparate traditions and associations surrounding the Yuletide season. He helped us to re-embrace the pagan and yet at the heart of the story, there is a universal sense of humanity. So we have a pagan festival, hijacked by the Christian Church, in part, unified by Dickens and now hijacked by commercialism. Christmas is something that can now only be purchased and if you don’t have money then you are excluded. No doubt it will continue to evolve and mutate with more ‘traditions’ added. Hopefully, somewhere in the mix there will be space to re-discover what Scrooge discovered: If it’s not about people then it truly is humbug.

Happy People-mas

Links:

If you found this post useful:

About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He also offers coaching worldwide through Skype. Contact Gary by email to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization. See: Testimonials from former clients.

If You Call Your Customers ‘Punters’, Do You Deserve to Have Any?

Picture: Crossed fingersThe meaning of words evolves. For years many people have complained about the use of ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’, such as ‘I laughed so much I literally died’ or ‘I was literally glued to the TV set’. Thanks to its overuse (incorrectly), Webster’s dictionary has now included ‘literally’ to mean literally its opposite. Another word that is currently being overused (and incorrectly) by TV reporters (especially on BBC) is ‘punter’. I’m finding myself increasingly irritated by it’s routine use to mean ‘customer’ or ‘client’. Recently I have overhead business users using it too. In this post I argue that we should resist the casual shift of meaning from customer to punter.

Punters versus customers

‘Punters’ are people who gamble, make risky investments or place bets.The word became popular in the 1980s. It’s not clear why news outlets insist on using the word ‘punter’. Maybe the think its trendy. Clearly words do come in and out of fashion such as ‘iconic’. Everything these days is iconic according to news reporters, presenters and journalists. The issue is that ‘punters’ and ‘customers’ are two separate things. A customer wants assurances that goods or services will be delivered to an appropriate standard. ‘Punters’ flip a coin!

Although in time ‘punter’ will undoubtedly find its way into the dictionary with an alternative meaning (customer), but the implication will stay. What next? Think of a service you need to visit and ask yourself ‘Do I want to be a punter?’ Are you expecting to ‘just take your changes’? Do you want to be treated like the proverbial fool, easily parted with your money?

Attitudes, Values and Actions

Customer service is one thing that a business cannot afford to short-change its customers on. Customer loyalty is not built on a punt. It’s not just a turn of phrase; it whispers contempt. We are often told to treat people as we would want to be treated. Better still to find out how people want to be treated and treat them that way instead. Our words reveal our attitudes. Our attitudes communicate our values and, in turn, shape our actions. Actions build trust. With trust comes loyalty. Businesses who treat their customers as ‘punters’ can’t really expect any of that, and certainly don’t deserve it.

___________

If you found this post useful:

About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He also offers coaching worldwide through Skype. His clients have included BBC, Powergen, American Airlines, The Payments Council, first direct amongst others. Contact Gary Wood by email to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization. See: Testimonials from former clients.

The Bare Necessities of Life (and Research) – What Can’t You Live Without?

I was asked (by a local radio station) to comment on the media ‘research’ story of the week: What are the things in life we can’t do with out?

(Obviously a slow week in research).

The results were:

Top 20 Bare Necessities of Life

  1. Internet connection
  2. Television
  3. A cuddle
  4. A trustworthy best friend
  5. Daily shower
  6. Central heating
  7. Cup of tea
  8. An “I love you” every now and then
  9. A solid marriage
  10. Car
  11. Spectacles
  12. Coffee
  13. Chocolate
  14. Night in on the sofa
  15. Glass of wine
  16. A good cry every now and then
  17. A full English breakfast
  18. A foreign holiday once a year
  19. iPhone
  20. A pint

Looking down the list I noticed two glaring omissions. I’d put oxygen and water pretty high on my own personal list followed closely by food. So it’s clear that questions were asked in a particular way to elicit more than just the bare necessities of life!

Gender Differences and People Studying People

A lot of press coverage has made a lot of the gender differences in responses rather than gender similarities. It’s clear for items to have appeared in the top places in the list then both men and women need to be in agreement. It’s not possible to determine if there was any interview bias in how questions were asked. Were the prompts or examples the same or was there a subtle nudge in the desired direction. This happens more than we think in any research involving human attitudes. Whole books have been written about the effects of people studying people. Prior expectation on part of the researcher influences results. Notice that ‘a solid marriage’ figures highly in the results despite traditional marriage being on the decline. It suggests that the sample is weighted towards married people or else the marriage equality (gay marriage) debate has influenced the results. Would people really mention central heating if we were having a glorious summer?

So we really need to take this ‘research’ with a pinch of salt. The warning signs should be an over emphasis on gender differences. It’s standard in most universities for undergraduates to factor in a bit of gender mainly because it’s the first thing that springs to mind and it’s easy to collect the data. Careful analysis of most of the gender differences in psychological research reveals that the crossover, that is what we have in common is greater than that on which we differ. It’s clear from the present survey that relationships and human contact figure highly for both men and women. Many items listed are about the simple pleasures in life such as a cup of tea. Yes I know that cynics might argue that people only listed cuddles (at 3) when the internet (1) and the TV (2) broke down!

An Opportunity to Reflect on Your Life and Values

So rather than considering this as ground-breaking research illuminating the modern-day human psyche, just think of it as than just a bit of fun to launch a DVD (which it is). Use it as a moment for reflection.  What is really important to you? Are there some bare necessities in your life that are getting crowded out by other pressures and pleasures. I’m always amazed when holidaying that around 8pm every evening almost everyone stops to view the sunset. It’s something we rarely seem to do when back home. It’s easy to take things for granted in our lives so that we only miss them when they are gone. Back to oxygen and water again!

So grab a nice cup of tea (or a beverage of choice) and make your own list of the top 20 things that you can easily do to improve the quality of your life. What distractions do you need to switch off to enjoy these moments of pleasure?

(In conversation with Trish Adudu, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 15/6/13)

Links:

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:

End of the World or Second Chance?

According to some ‘popular’ interpretations of ancient Mayan prophecy, the world should have ended today. Alternatively this day has ushered in a new age of enlightenment. Many people are probably so sick of hearing about the end of the world that they wished it was, just so the ‘end-of-timers’ would just shut the ‘hell’ up.

In less than two weeks we may have set new year’s resolutions and already broken them. It seems we like to make grand gestures on significant dates. So, let’s work on the hypothesis that we are entering a new age of enlightenment, only we don’t have t wait for it to come to us. I’ve already been pondering what I can do differently in the coming year and the things I do well that I can do more of.

Use this ‘un-momentous’ occasion to review your strengths, values and goals including things you have been putting off, things that you have’always wanted to do’, but never seem to make the time. Part of my job as a programme co-ordinator on a psychology course meant that I had to interview prospective candidates. The question I found most useful was ‘What are you going to give up (sacrifice) to attend this course?’ It took most people by surprise as they had perhaps figured that they would squeeze it in amongst other commitments. The problem with that approach is that you ‘spread yourself too thinly’. Giving up stuff can be a positive thing. Many of the prospective candidates would be busy, mature-aged students. The one thing they had all given up was the attitude that they were not ‘student-material’. They had let go of something negative and entertained the possibility that they just might ‘do good’ second time around.

Working with these students proved inspirational and a turning point in my career. I recognized that I would need a few extra confidence building skills and that’s how I began coaching (life coaching). I went off and did some coaching training. I brought these skills back to the class room and ran extra-curricular personal development courses that formed the basis of my book, Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It. In order to attend these courses, the students sacrificed a few weekends but hopefully gained a lot more. To complete essays they probably had to sacrifice a few evening’s television, but the sense of achievement they gained was far greater.

So what can you give up in your life to make way for something you’ve always wanted to do? Have you longed to return to learning, or learn a new language or just get out more and reconnect with people? It’s often said that when staring death in the face we don’t regret the things we have done but the things we haven’t done.

So today, as we have all collectively faced up to the end of the world, what would have been your deepest regrets? More importantly, what are you going to start doing about it today? Start by sacrificing the attitude that you can’t do it or you haven’t got the time. Make way for new attitudes. Reaffirm your values in life, that which you stand for in life, and take action.

Links:

A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Four: Self-Service Motivation & Strategy

This is the fourth of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World.

Café World (CW) is a café-themed, goals-based computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood.
CW has three points systems running concurrently, each representing a different aspect of the game and influencing strategies for play. There are coins which you earn by selling your food for a profit. There are also points that reflect your experience as a Chef. New levels unlock new recipes. There are also buzz points. These indicate the popularity of your café and how many visitors you are getting. The appearance of you café has only minimum effect on your rating. As long as you have easy access to chairs and food on the tables, then it’s easy to maintain the maximum buzz points.

So, apart from taken a total random approach, basically there are three main strategies in CW. Either you cook dishes for profit (coins) or you cook for reputation (Chef points), you cook based on your tastes in the real world.. All dishes in CW have separate points and profit ratings. Now in the early stages it is a good strategy to focus on money. This allows players to buy more tables and chairs and buy the more expensive dishes that also yield higher profits. In later stages once you have enough money, to ascend the levels it best to select dishes that yield more points, but are not necessarily the best money spinners. With the third strategy, people cook the type of food they like. So people who don’t like cheese won’t cook virtual pizza. This decision robs them of access to the dishes that would help them ascend through the levels in the game. So either, these people have not grasped that different rules apply. After all, they should be cooking for their customers and not for themselves. Maybe they are playing the game in their way and are not bothered about succeeding, just having fun.

Playing a computer game requires a degree of focus, motivation, determination, the ability to manage time and the ability to take action. It also causes us to pause and reflect about our values in life. I don’t see myself as a competitive person, but clearly I am. I did get a certain amount of pleasure from ascending the ranks and passing veteran players whose achievements seemed unattainable when I first started playing. However, playing CW also affirmed my value of cooperation. It also helped to remind my strategic skills at a time when I had unfamiliar real-world tasks to complete. It was also enormous fun, except when there were software conflicts and the program kept crashing. However, as frustrating as this was, it caused me to experiment with different browsers. I learned that the Flash application on which CW is based can conflict with other software, especially if the Flash code is not well-written. Yes, it is only a game but the principle applies to real world obstacles and problem solving. All too often people give up on their goals when life’s obstacles get in the way. Sometimes we need to find a way around the obstacle and sometimes we need to be patient. Either way, giving up is not going to get us closer to the desired result. Being resourceful or even asking for help may indeed get us over hurdles.

Focusing on values is the cornerstone of motivation for achieving goals in the real-world. What is important to you in life? What values do you stand for? Are your goals linked to your values? In the first part of this series of posts in Just Being SociableI considered the importance of co-operation as a source of motivation in my life, and the quality that motivated me to continue playing CW. Other values dear to me include fairness, curiosity and the love of learning. All of these have an impact on my motivation.

Values and motivations are not always as simplistic as in CW. However spending time to work out what is really important will help pull you along when your goals get tough. It can also serve as a challenge. If you know what is really important to you in life, then what actions are you taking that directly support these values? It’s no point valuing ‘adventerousness’ if you never embark on an adventure!

See also:

A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part One: Just Being Sociable

Psychology impacts on just about every aspect of being human, and playing a computer game is no exception. After rejecting countless invitations from strangers (a.k.a. Facebook friends) to accept imaginary gifts or send culinary items, I relented and decided to see what all the fuss was about. It was the beginning on a year playing Café World (CW).  My primary motivation was just to have fun. Some of my real world friends accepted my invitations and it became another way of keeping in touch. However,  I also quickly learned that CW is a very socially oriented game. As a social psychologist this really appealed to me.

CW is a café-themed computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. This includes requesting items, returning favours and joining forces to complete team tasks. In my “neighbourhood” I noticed that the one player points ahead of the rest, was also the most reliable in responding to requests.  In CW, even though it’s a competition, you succeed by co-operation. However, some people are slow to grasp this. There are also various challenges where players form teams to tackle time-bound catering goals.  Where there is a limited time to cook an insurmountable numbers of dishes, it isn’t possible to go it alone. It is these challenges that bring out the worst in people. There are some hilarious posts on Facebook profiles of bitter disputes that breakout over non-cooperation. Warnings and ultimatums are issued stating “If you don’t respond to my requests, I will no longer respond to yours”. People are accused of being “amateurs” and “not taking things seriously”. This minority, who take things far too seriously, complain, hassle and become quite aggressive with statements such as “How can we expect to succeed if you are not pulling your weight?”. They can become abusive. People gently point out that “it’s a game and none of us are getting paid for this”. For some, this does not seem to matter. They become so engrossed that they become the bullying celebrity chefs we so often see on television. This begs the question, if people behave like this playing a game, do they behave the same in the real world? What are they like as colleagues, team players and team leaders? Do we all play computer games by the same rules as we live our lives by? Did CW turn make these players a little too “enthusiastic” or just shine a spotlight on their behaviour?

Early on, I took the lead from the top player in our neighbourhood and I simply responded to all requests. I’m sure that some people hoped to prosper by taking without reciprocating, however I didn’t let their behaviour alter my strategy. I like the idea of succeeding by cooperation, so I just played my part and didn’t worry about the motivations of anyone else.

CW also appealed to my sense of fun and irony. Other non-players would scoff and tell me that I had too much time on my hands. I was told that I need to get a real life or run a real café. The implication was that my time should be put to better use. Part of me liked the fact that I was playing a “dumb game” and should know better. The gross assumption was that playing a computer game can tell us nothing about ourselves and other people. As I wrote at that start of this, psychology impacts on just about every aspect of being human, and playing a computer game is no exception. CW did not make me a more socially-oriented person, I was that before I started playing. I like the lesson that we can succeed in life by co-operation. Whether pixellated virtual reality of Café World or the “real world”, co-operation for me is not just a means to an end, it is an end point, a terminal value, in and of itself.

In the following parts I will consider how playing Café World can help us to reflect on goal-setting strategies, time-management, cognitive flexibility and transferable skills.

See also:

Matching Your Values to Your Vote (UK General Election 2010)

One of the things I do as a personal development coach is to help people allign their values and goals. The same applies to casting a vote in an election. It’s an important decision and really needs to reflect your values and what you stand for. Sometimes when the issues are complex it’s difficult to come to a clean, unambigous conclusion. So here are three resouces designed to help you match your values and attitudes to your vote in the 2010 UK General Election:

  1. Quiz One: Who should I vote for?
  2. Quiz  Two: Who should I vote for?
  3. Quiz Three: Who should I vote for?

My field of expertise is attitudes and attitude measure so it was interesting to see that although all three quizzes take a slightly different approach, they all came to the same answer (for me a least).  So, take a few minutes and see if they work for you too.

p.s. Unfortunately quizzes 1 & 2  have a rather ‘mainsteam, three party bias’ although quizz 3 has on option to fous on each of the four UK countries.