James Woodworth https://jameswoodworth.com Boost Your Social Confidence Thu, 14 Jun 2018 11:24:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.1 https://i0.wp.com/jameswoodworth.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/favicon.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 James Woodworth https://jameswoodworth.com 32 32 143133438 Are you Surviving or Thriving? https://jameswoodworth.com/are-you-surviving-or-thriving/ Thu, 14 Jun 2018 11:24:28 +0000 https://jameswoodworth.com/?p=1142

Resilience is often referred to as the ability to bounce back from adversity. But the question is – how high are you going to bounce following a major set-back? When we talk about bouncing back we are referring, generally speaking to bouncing back to the way we were before the set-back. Most people, following a major set-back will undoubtedly suffer in one way or another and the quality of their life may very well diminish as they come to terms with what has happened to them. Some will succumb to the pressure and may never again enjoy the quality of life they enjoyed previously. Some will survive but won’t succumb – these people will, in other words, bounce-back. They will bounce-back, more specifically to where they were before the set-back.

There are also people, however, who don’t just bounce-back and survive – they bounce-back and thrive! These people bounce up and settle at a point representing a level of well-being appreciably higher than the one they experienced previously. These people aren’t just surviving they’re thriving!

So, what are the defining characteristics and qualities of those who thrive following a major set-back and to what extent can we all learn to thrive?

The positive psychologist Sonja Lyubormirsky (2007) with reference to the work of O’Leary and Ickovics (1995) discusses the personal characteristics and qualities of those who thrive the following trauma. These people experience what psychologists call post-traumatic growth. The characteristics and qualities of those who experience post-traumatic growth, according to Lyubormirsky include:

  • Renewed belief in their ability to endure and prevail.
  • Improved relationships – in particular, discovering who one’s true friends are and whom one can really count on; some relationships pass the test, while others fail.
  • Feeling more comfortable with intimacy and a greater sense of compassion for others who suffer.
  • Developing a deeper, more sophisticated and more satisfying philosophy of life.

The ability to recover and bounce back to normality is, of course, an achievement and it ought to be recognised and celebrated – to thrive, however, is even better.

It needs to be acknowledged, however, that thriving after a traumatic experience is not easy – those who thrive following a trauma will, in fact, put in a great deal of effort and hard-work to improve the quality of their life. They may not find thriving easy but they will persist and work at it until their goal is achieved. They want to live a healthy, successful, fulfilling life. They may not find all the answers they are looking for as they seek a life that has value, meaning and purpose but the journey alone, no matter where it takes them will leave them feeling a great deal better following the trauma.

A number of questions emerge when we think about post-traumatic growth. For example, is the ability to thrive following a trauma an innate quality that some people naturally have or is it a quality we can we all learn to develop? The simple answer to these two particular questions is, I believe, ‘yes’ – thriving is an innate quality we all possess, just think for example how naturally resilient and determined an infant is. During the first few years of life they will learn, through dogged determination to master two incredibly skills – walking and talking but they don’t leave it at that – they keep going, constantly learning and developing. Later in life, a person may lose, for one reason or another their motivation to thrive but it can be revived and renewed and the relatively new science of positive psychology as seen in the work of psychologists such as Sonia Lyubormirsky is showing us how.

Thriving following a traumatic event, as already mentioned is not necessarily easy, in fact, in many respects, it can be incredibly challenging but it is nevertheless possible – it’s just a question of the attitude we choose to take towards the situations we face. A cancer patient may, for example, experience a great deal of physical pain and discomfort while undergoing treatment and yet this person may still report feeling extraordinarily positive and optimistic about the future.

Experiencing a high degree of subjective well-being is one of the defining features of living a life that has value, meaning and purpose and one can live a purposeful life despite experiencing pain both physical and emotional. Thriving is not about avoiding the difficulties of life – it’s about confronting and dealing with life in a resilient, optimistic and hopeful way.

References:

Carver, C.S. (1998).Resilience and thriving: Issues, models and linkage. Journal of Social Issues, 54, 2, 245 – 266.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness: A Practical Guide to Getting the Life you Want. London: Piatkus.

O’Leary, V.E. & Ickovics, J.R. (1995). Resilience and thriving in response to challenge: An opportunity for a paradigm shift in women’s health. Research on Gender, Behaviour and Policy, 1, 121 – 142.

James Woodworth
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Getting the Best From Your Inner Coach https://jameswoodworth.com/getting-the-best-from-your-inner-coach/ Thu, 14 Jun 2018 11:21:12 +0000 https://jameswoodworth.com/?p=1157

 

Having a coach or a mentor can be very useful indeed. In fact, it doesn’t really matter how well we are doing in life we would all benefit from having a coach or a mentor to work with – a respected and trusted individual to whom we can talk, a skilled helper with whom we can share our deepest desires, concerns, aspirations and goals, an experienced expert who can give us the feedback, advice and guidance we need.

Think of the world’s greatest athletes and sports performers – they all have a coach, don’t they? Consider of a moment the most accomplished and successful business leaders and entrepreneurs in the world – do these individuals have a coach or a mentor to look up to? You bet they do!

Having a mentor or a coach can be very useful indeed – but the fact of the matter is the mentor or coach we hire can’t be there for us all day every day. There will be times, in other words, when we need to be able to get by without a coach. This is when your inner coach comes into play. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, although it’s critically important to have a coach the most important coach you will ever have in the one that exists inside your head – your INNER COACH!

We talk to ourselves all the time – the self-talk, or internal chatter that goes on within our heads is critically important. Our self-talk can be helpful and beneficial or not; we can talk ourselves up or we can talk ourselves down. Either way the way we talk to ourselves is hugely influential – it can boost our self-confidence, self-belief and self-esteem, it can encourage and motivate us, it can praise us, compliment us and reward us, it can be kind and compassionate towards us. Our self-talk, however can also be negative, pessimistic and hurtful. It can be spiteful, cruel and hurtful. Our self-talk can berate us and tell us off.

Personifying our self-talk can help us, not only to understand it’s role but can enable us to create the kind of self-talk we want. For example, let’s imagine for a moment that your self-talk is the voice of your inner coach. This inner coach could be a scary PE teacher constantly criticising you, telling you off and putting you down or your inner coach could be kind, friendly, and compassionate – someone who is positive, optimistic, encouraging and motivating, someone you can talk to knowing they will listen attentively offering practical advice, appropriate guidance and words of wisdom when you need them.

What kind of an inner coach do you have – one who is always putting you down because he is never satisfied with your performance or one who is kind, encouraging and motivational? If your inner coach is like a scary PE teacher then you need to sack him and hire a coach who has your back, someone who will cheer you on from the side-lines, someone who will be honest and straightforward, someone you can respect, admire and trust.

Your inner coach is a part of who you are – he’s an extension of how you see yourself. You wouldn’t create and internalise a cruel, punitive inner coach if you genuinely liked, trusted and respected yourself. The constant berating and telling off that goes on inside your head is the result of having low self-esteem, low self-belief and a general lack of social confidence. You want to do well but as soon as you think of doing something brave, exciting, challenging and new – something that could radically improve the quality of your life that bitter and twisted inner coach inside your head immediately jumps up and starts criticising you with statements such as; “Who do you think you are? Do you really think you could do that? Come on, you couldn’t possibly do it and do you know why? Because your rubbish that’s why, your useless, you’re a loser!” The cruel, inner coach within you just wants to ridicule, belittle and discourage you and he does this because he’s a bully, a dictator and like all dictators he trades in propaganda and propaganda as you know is information that is biased and misleading – it’s biased towards what the dictator wants you to know, not what’s true.

Just because your inner coach says you’re hopeless, useless, and a complete waste of space and oxygen doesn’t mean you are – that’s just what your inner coach thinks. And moreover, what your inner coach thinks is just what your inner thinks and thoughts aren’t facts.

This cruel, inner coach will obviously hold you back and stop you achieving your full potential so best to get rid of him and employ an inner coach who is kind and supportive rather than an inner critic who is always putting you down. And it’s up to you to create this coach and you can do this through paying attention to your self-talk. You can make sure your making statements that support and help you such as; ‘I can and I will do this.’ ‘If someone else can do it so can I’ and ‘I may not do it now but I can learn to do it soon’ and so on.

You also need to pay attention to the questions you ask yourself. For example, asking unhelpful, unbeneficial questions leads to unhelpful, unbeneficial answers. For example, unhelpful, unbeneficial questions such as; ‘Why am I so stupid?’ ‘What is wrong with me?’ and ‘Why I am always screwing up?’ will lead to unhelpful, unbeneficial answers such as; ‘Because I’m a complete idiot … I’m helpless and useless … I’m incompetent, that’s why.’ And answers such as these, as you can see are of no value whatsoever.

So, you need to get into the habit of asking yourself better questions because asking helpful, beneficial questions leads to helpful, beneficial answers. This, after all is one of the benefits of hiring a coach – good coaches ask good questions and it’s partly through the asking of good questions that good coaches are able to facilitate change within the client. The kind of helpful, beneficial questions you can ask yourself might be; ‘What might I learn from this?’ ‘What is good about this situation?’ ‘What needs to happen for me to improve?’ ‘Who can help me?’ ‘What options are open to me?’ ‘What could I do to improve the situation?’ And so on. One of the benefits of asking empowering questions such as these of ourselves is they encourage us to take responsibility for ourselves – in other words we start to hold ourselves accountable for our lives rather then relying on others to help us out.

When we truly accept, choose and take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and behaviours our motivation, commitment, self-belief and confidence grows and we start to get better results in life. When we are told what to do, when others take responsibility for us we become disempowered and helpless.

Let’s say I tell you to do something and you follow my advice and fail – your likely then to blame me for your misfortune. You may say something along the lines of; ‘I did actually what you said and it didn’t work. Its all your fault!’ As you can see – refusing to take responsibility leads to blaming others when things go wrong. The victimology this leads to is extremely disempowering. Let’s say for argument sake I said to you; ‘There is a cute girl over there – go and ask her for her ‘phone number.’ You do so. You ask her for her ‘phone number but she rejects you. You come back telling me of your experience.

Now, let’s say we change the dynamics a little and I say; ‘I need you to challenge yourself in some way. It’s up to you what to do. What are you willing to do?’ And you decide to start a conversation with a girl. You choose a cute girl walking down the street – you stop her, introduce yourself and ask her if she knows of a good coffee shop close by. She starts to tell you but you stop her and admit that you don’t really want a coffee – that was just an excuse to stop her and talk to her because you thought she was really cute and you couldn’t let her go by without saying something to her. It just so happens you exchange numbers and agree to meet up for a coffee next week. You see, the reason why this encounter was a success is because you took responsibility for your actions rather then being told what to do.

Asking good questions of yourself is encouraging and motivational, it creates choice and encourages responsibility. Asking good questions is one of the cornerstones of great coaching including great inner coaching.

 

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The Real vs the Imaginary https://jameswoodworth.com/the-real-vs-the-imaginary/ Thu, 14 Jun 2018 11:21:08 +0000 https://jameswoodworth.com/?p=1150

How Getting Perspective Can Help Conquer Fear and Anxiety

Introduction

We all feel scared, worried and anxious from time to-time, we all have our own personal obstacles, hurdles and pot-holes to negotiate our way around. This needn’t be a problem – a healthy, beneficial attitude is all we need if we are to deal effectively with the challenges of life.

This short blog explores a number of issues concerning fear and anxiety in terms of what they are and how they can be dealt with. The role of self-talk, the constant chatter that goes on inside our heads constantly and how we can utilise our self-talk in a helpful, beneficial way is also discussed.

Fear and Anxiety

Fear and anxiety are similar but they are not the same so what are the similarities and differences between them?

Fear

Fear is a powerful, unpleasant, distressing emotion we experience when we believe we are in danger from serious risk or harm. The perceived threat is, moreover, real and present in the here and now.

Fear is a useful emotion to have – it warns us about the danger we are facing providing us, therefore with the opportunity to protect ourselves and survive. We may do this through either:

  • Standing still hoping the danger will go away;
  • Running away from the impending threat if we don’t think we can defeat it or;
  • Confronting the threat if we do believe we can defeat it.

We experience fear when we believe we are in danger – this is beneficial to us if and only if the beliefs we hold about the perceived threat are based on what is real. We learn, moreover from our experiences – having confronted a perceived threat, we log that experience so we know what to do should we need to protect ourselves from such a threat again in the future.

Fear is, therefore a useful emotion to have. Problems can arise however, when the beliefs we hold about a perceived threat are not based on what is real but on what we imagine.

Imagine for a moment you have a 5-year old daughter. Your daughter comes downstairs one night saying there is a monster under her bed. She is scared and says she would like to sleep with you in your bed that night. What do you do? Do you:

  1. Agree with your daughter that there is indeed a monster under her bed and that yes, she can sleep with you that night. Or;
  2. Reassure her by taking her back to her room and showing her that there is no monster under the bed after which you tuck her up in her own bed?

I feel fairly confident you would choose the second option. You understand, first of all, that colluding with your daughter would be unhelpful and unbeneficial to say the least; and secondly, you understand that your daughter’s anxiety is simply the product of her imagination and the sooner this is brought to her attention the better. You understand that your daughters fear will go away as soon as she realises there is nothing to worry about it. No threat, no fear.

The fear your daughter experiences would, interestingly enough, be the same whether there is, or whether there isn’t a monster under her bed. Either way, the fear will go away when she realises she is no longer in danger.

Most of us have had similar experiences – we may believe, for example, that we are being followed by a thug who we think is going to mug us or that there is a burglar in the back-garden planning to break into the house only to find out, following further investigation that the potential mugger is simply a late-night office worker rushing to catch the night bus home or that the noise we heard in the garden was only our neighbours cat on the prowl.

The fear we initially experience goes away as soon as we realise we aren’t in danger – no threat, no fear. Likewise, the little girls fear will also fade and eventually disappear when, following the guidance of a non-colluding parent she bends down, looks under her bed and sees that there is no monster under her bed or anywhere else for that matter. There never was a monster in her room, but there was one in her imagination. Testing the reality of the situation enabled the child to stop imagining there being a monster under her bed. Likewise, with the imagined thug or burglar – as soon as we stop imagining there being a threat the fear goes away.

Fear, therefore is based largely on a threat we believe to be a real – a threat that exists, moreover in the here and now. Fear, however, can also be based, as we have seen on what we imagine to be real. Fear arising from what we imagine to be real is the result of certain beliefs we hold – we may believe we are in danger when we are not. These particular beliefs are not based on what is true but on what we believe to be true. These beliefs are misguided, erroneous, irrational, and simply incorrect – nor are they based on anything that actually exists in the here and now, they are based, on the contrary, on what we imagine to be the case, including what we imagine may happen in the future. The difference between what is believed to be real as opposed to what is imagined also highlights the differences between fear and anxiety.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a powerful, unpleasant, distressing emotion we experience when we believe we are in danger from serious risk or harm. The perceived threat, however, is not real and nor is it present in the here and now. Anxiety is directed, more importantly towards what we believe may cause us harm – it protects us therefore from events in the future that may threaten, endanger or cause us harm.

It’s important, as we have seen that we learn from our experiences. Having experienced a fearful event in the here and now, we need to learn from that event so we can prepare ourselves, avoid or protect ourselves against that event should it happen again. This can, within itself be useful but it can also lead to anxiety – we can, for example, become hyper-vigilant as we worry and stress about up-and-coming events. Feeling apprehensive and worried about up-and-coming events are examples of the anxiety we feel following fearful encounters that were real. We may find ourselves rehearsing future events, working out what we should do or what we could do to avoid or defeat the perceived threat.

Anxiety can, like fear be useful in this respect. Feeling anxious about making a speech can motivate us to prepare the speech well, feeling anxious about driving at high speed encourages us to concentrate and pay attention, feeling anxious about an exam can encourage us to study well, and so on. So, anxiety can be useful but it can also cause us a lot of harm.

Unhelpful, unbeneficial, anxiety is an emotion that serves no useful purpose whatsoever. There is no benefit at all in worrying endlessly about events that might happen in the future but almost certainly will not.

Most anxiety is, in this sense, anticipatory anxiety – is characterised by intense feelings of stress and worry about what is believed might happen in the future. The events that concern the sufferer rarely materialise but this makes no difference to the suffering – the sufferer still feels anxious.

Feelings of anxiety are always directed towards problems that are imagined to exist in the future – problems moreover that very rarely, if ever materialise. We fall into the trap of worrying and feeling anxious about problems we think might happen when in reality they hardly ever appear. This constant worrying will be reflected in our thinking – particularly ‘what if’ thinking. Examples might so something like this:

“What if the plane crashes on take-off?”

“What if I lose my job during the next round of redundancies?”

“What if the pain I’m feeling in my stomach is cancer?”

“What if I forget my lines?”

“What if I’m ignored and nobody talks to me?”

The anxiety we feel, as we have seen is nearly always anticipatory anxiety – we imagine ourselves under threat, we imagine ourselves facing danger, we imagine ourselves being harmed and we imagine ourselves not being able to cope. Anxiety, as with imagined problems leaves the sufferer feeling hopeless, helpless and out of control psychologically and emotionally which of course just fuels the sufferer’s anxiety.

The anxious feelings we experience are created therefore by the anxious thoughts we have. Our thoughts create the feelings we have which in turn drives our actions. Anxious thoughts create anxious feelings resulting, more-often-than-not, in avoidance or safety seeking behaviours. The key, therefore, to overcoming anxiety is recognising and changing the unhelpful, unbeneficial thoughts that create the anxious feelings in the first place. And we can do this through disputing the rationality of the anxious thoughts we create which in turn will enable us to reduce our anxious feelings. We can, for example, dispute the anxious thoughts we are experiencing by saying something along the lines of:

“What is the probability of this happening?” “How likely is it that this will happen?” “Where is the evidence to support my fears?” We can also ask ourselves questions such as “And if it did happen could I cope?” “If I don’t believe I could cope then what can I do to improve my coping skills?” “What skills and resources do I need in order to deal with situations such as this?” “What do I need to do to develop the skills and resources I need?”

Anxiety and Self-Talk

This, within itself, reminds us of the importance of self-talk – the constant chatter that goes on inside our heads each-and-every day. How we talk to ourselves, how we interpret events and experiences, how we explain situations to ourselves is critically important. The extent to which we are able to defeat anticipatory anxiety depends largely on how we talk to ourselves. For example, if I tell myself that certain situations make me feel anxious and that situations such as these are awful, intolerable, and unbearable then I’m unlikely to make much progress in overcoming my anxiety. I’ve just talked myself into a corner with thinking that is rigid, inflexible and completely inconsistent with reality. Is the situation really awful or is it really just a bit unpleasant? Is the situation really intolerable or is it simply a tough and difficult challenge? Am I really stressed or am I simply under a bit of pressure? Is this situation making me anxious or am I making myself anxious through the way I’m choosing to ‘see’ the situation?

A situation can only be experienced as being awful, intolerable or unbearable if it’s believed to be so – it’s our beliefs that drives, not only our self-talk but how we come to interpret events and experiences. Changing our self-talk can help change, not only what we believe but how we experience events and experiences. Telling ourselves that a situation is challenging but not intolerable makes all the difference in the world. This isn’t a question of denying the reality of the situations we find ourselves in – I’m not suggesting you tell yourself that the everything is rosy in the garden when it isn’t.

On the contrary, life can be tough at times but this is not the same as saying that it’s awful! Also, just because I want to feel happy, confident and relaxed all the time, doesn’t mean I have to – I can accept the fact that I may feel challenged at times. Being honest with ourselves and accepting the reality of the situation we find ourselves in is critically important. For example, although I would like to feel relaxed and happy all day today I accept the fact that this may not be possible. I may, for example, feel a bit frustrated or challenged at some point during the day which means if I do then that’s okay because I’ve made an allowance for it. I’m not going to give myself a hard time just because I didn’t feel wonderful all day long.

Someone wishing to overcome anxiety may tell themselves that they ought to feel relaxed all day, that they shouldn’t be feeling anxious, that they should feel happy and relaxed all the time. But this kind of thinking, as we have seen is incredibly rigid, inflexible and inconsistent with reality – the reality of the matter is people do feel anxious from time to time. The rigidity and inflexibility of this kind of thinking is simply going to lead the person in question to being disappointed with themselves the moment they start to feel anxious.

They will berate themselves saying something along the lines of; “I told myself I would feel relaxed all day today and I’ve just caught myself getting a bit anxious. I’m rubbish at managing my thoughts and feelings.” This same person could talk to themselves in a more kind and charitable way saying something along lines of; “I would like to feel calm and relaxed all day today but I don’t have to. I can make room for a little bit of anxiety. If I do create an anxious thought I won’t tell myself off for doing so, I’ll simply deal with it. I’ll delete it and replace it with something more beneficial.”

It goes without saying that we all want to feel relaxed, happy and content – nobody wants to feel worried, anxious or sad if they can help it but the fact of the matter is we are unlikely to feel wonderful all the time. Acknowledging that we may feel a bit worried, sad or anxious at some point during the day means that when we do feel these negative emotions popping up we are unlikely to give ourselves a hard time over it. And, more importantly, we are far more likely to banish them and replace them with thoughts that are positive, empowering and beneficial.

Helpful, empowering thoughts and beliefs teach us to accept that we are human which by implication means we are fallible and prone to making mistakes from time to time. We will, of course, succeed many, many times during our lives but the fact of the matter is we will also fail. Accepting that we are fallible also boosts and protects our sense of self-worth – what we feel about ourselves doesn’t become dependent, in other words, on whether we succeed or not – we can, for example, fail and still feel good about ourselves.

Accepting that we occasionally fail helps defeat perfectionism, all-or-nothing thinking, and the absolutist thinking that inevitably leads to stress and anxiety. We simply cannot succeed or feel great all the time and insisting that we should will simply lead us to feel bad about ourselves when we fail.

A helpful, empowering thought or belief about ourselves might go something like this:

I accept myself for who I am. I’m not perfect nor do I want to be. I’m a human being which means I’m fallible and prone therefore to making mistakes and failing. My sense of self-worth is not dependent upon whether I succeed or fail. If I succeed, great! But if I don’t that’s okay too – I’m not going to give myself a hard time over it.”

When we truly love someone we love that person unconditionally – we love them for who they are, there are no conditions attached. We don’t love them any less when they fail or make a mistake. The psychologist Carl Rogers coined the term unconditional, positive regard to define this type of acceptance.

Self-acceptance involves unconditional, positive, self-regard – our sense of self-worth isn’t dependent on other words, on whether we succeed – we regard ourselves highly even when we fail and make mistakes.

It goes without saying that helpful, empowering thoughts and beliefs are the best ones to have if we want to succeed in life but success cannot, of course, be guaranteed – we cannot insist upon it. Having helpful, empowering thoughts and beliefs and a realistic outlook on life including accepting the fact that we may screw up from time to time means we are far more likely to deal effectively with failure when it happens – we are far more likely to get up, dust ourselves down, explore what went wrong, and get on with living our lives if our beliefs are healthy and empowering that is. Rigid, inflexible thoughts and beliefs, by comparison, lead to feelings of shame, guilt, frustration, self-loathing and of course, anxiety when we fail.

Conclusion

Life can be tough at times but the challenges we face needn’t get us down providing we face these challenges with the right mental attitude that is. Our beliefs play a critical role in establishing a mental attitude that will enable us to deal effectively with the challenges of life. Healthy, beneficial beliefs as represented in our self-talk help us to get perspective, to see situations from differing points of view. When we know, we have options open to us; when we think and believe we can succeed and achieve; when we imagine ourselves doing well; when we talk to ourselves in a helpful and beneficial, then and only then can we move forward with optimism and hope.

James Woodworth
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The Great Escape https://jameswoodworth.com/the-great-escape/ Fri, 02 Mar 2018 09:35:10 +0000 https://jameswoodworth.com/?p=1020

Breaking Free from the Prison of Fear, Self-doubt and Self-criticism

You may genuinely want to improve the quality of your life – you may want to be in a relationship; you may want to increase your circle of friendship; you may want a better job, or a pay raise; you may want greater energy, motivation or greater self-belief, or you may just want to feel better about yourself, to like yourself more and to know that you are a lovable and likable person. But for whatever reason you simply can’t seem to be able to achieve these ambitions.

Something is getting in the way. It’s like you’re trapped inside a prison and it’s not just any old prison but a maximum-security prison – a cruel, rigid, authoritarian institution designed specifically to keep people like you firmly stuck where you are.
The prison that holds you captive isn’t a real prison of course but a metaphorical prison. A prison of the mind. And moreover, this is a prison from which I know you desperately want to escape.

Wanting to escape the prison represents your desire to break free of the constraints that are holding you back such as shyness and a lack of social confidence. I know you have a deep-rooted desire to change – you want to overcome your shyness and develop great social confidence, we all do. The desire to change is certainly there but wanting to change and actually changing are two different things – something is holding you back. Let’s have a look at what that might be.

Let’s imagine for a moment what this prison of the mind might ‘look’ like – it has for example, a small square exercise yard in the centre surrounded by four huge brick walls. Distributed around the top of these walls are several observation towers and in each of these towers there’s a mean-looking prison guard scowling down on you as you stand in the middle of the yard looking up thinking about what life might be like beyond the prison walls.
The mean looking prison guards, aren’t just looking down on you – they seem to understand what your thinking – that your thinking of trying to escape and just as you start to have these thoughts one of the mean looking guards shouts down to you saying:

“I hope you’re not thinking of trying to escape. Who do you think you are? You’ll never do it. Let’s face it – you simply don’t have what it takes do you? Your stuck here for ever, you loser!”

Your wanting to escape, as we have seen represents your desire to change. And the mean looking guards represent your self-talk, the negative, self-deprecating self-talk that always seems to be with you, putting you down, telling you off, destroying your dreams, desires and aspirations.
Needless-to-say, you take on board what the officer says and give up on any thought of escaping. However, you really do want to escape – your desire to change will not go away and you start to think again of escaping. The prison officer picks up on your new-found optimism and again he responds through talking you down only he does so more aggressively this time saying something along the lines of;

“Don’t you dare try and escape! If you do try and escape I will do everything in my power to stop you and I will stop you. I’ll make sure you fail. And, moreover, I’ll make you look like a complete idiot for just trying!”

And what do you do when the prison guards shout at you and put you down? You comply of course – you do exactly what they say by getting back into line. You decide to stay in prison but it’s not the life you want. That said, at least it’s familiar to you. Every day is the same. Everything is organised for you. Life in the prison is boring but at least you know where you stand.

You don’t like being in this prison, but you can’t help admitting to yourself that it it’s also strangely comforting. The prison, you come to realise represents your comfort zone. You also understand however that the most exciting experiences of life, the greatest opportunities that life has to offer you don’t lie within your comfort zone – on the contrary, they lie beyond your comfort zone and that the only way you are ever going to overcome your shyness and create great social confidence is to push beyond the limit of your comfort, to escape, in other words, this mental prison you’re in.

The guards may threaten you, bully you and push you around but they can’t take away your dreams – they can’t stop you wondering about what life might be like on the other side of those prison walls. Those nasty prison guards simply can’t take away your desire to change no matter how hard they try.

Your desire to change grows – you find yourself developing greater and greater determination. You remind yourself that you’ll never achieve your goal of having greater confidence if you stay trapped in your comfort zone and so you make a bold move – you move closer to one of the prison walls. You feel scared, of course, but you’re feel excitement as you start to think about making a dash for freedom. The guards, you tell yourself can’t stop you now and in a moment of tremendous courage you quickly scale one of the prison walls.

Suddenly you find yourself standing on the top of the wall! You’re no longer wondering what lies beyond the wall – you can see what lies beyond the wall. For the first time you are starting to explore life beyond your comfort zone – yes, your scared, but more importantly you’re also excited!
Just before you jump and make your break for freedom you become aware of the guards. They can see you’re about to escape and so they start shouting at you telling you to stay exactly where you are. Your heart is racing but not through fear but though excitement! You’re not going to listen to some pesky little prison guard any more – you tell yourself you’re going to make a break for freedom at last!

You jump off the wall and start your escape! But what about the strict, scary prison guards who have seen you escape – what are they going to do? Are they just going accept this prison break? Of course not! The prison guards come running after you – and they’ve got dogs and guns. You try your hardest to get away, but the guards track you down and catch you. You tried to escape and failed. The guards shout at you and put you down. They are relentless in their abuse;

“How dare you try and escape! Who are you to think you can live a fun and interesting life! Look at you! You screwed up didn’t you? You tried and failed. When are going to learn that you‘re nothing but a complete loser?”

You feel down, despondent and rejected as your dragged back to the prison. Self-doubt, self-criticism and thoughts of despair fill your mind but in time your confidence begins, once more, to grow. Your desire to have great social confidence is still with you. Encouraged by this you try once more to escape only this time you have a better plan in place. You wait until the guards have an afternoon siesta and while they’re asleep you make a run for it only this time you make it. By the time the guards wake up and realise what’s happened it’s too late – your long gone! You make it to freedom.
One of the first people you meet when you finally stop running is a wise old man. He takes an interest in you. He’s curious to know your story and listens intently to what you have to say. He also suggests that what you’ve told him are just the first few chapters of your story and that it’s you to you to write the next part. You agree – you make the decision your story isn’t finished yet – in fact, it’s still evolving, and, moreover, your story isn’t going to be some woeful tale of a sad loser who nobody liked or wanted to talk to but an inspirational story of a shy guy who took bold action and changed his life, the story of an ordinary dude who achieved extraordinary things through breaking free from the constraints of fear, self-doubt and self-criticism. A story that one day he will call The Great Escape. So, what is the next chapter of your story going to be and when are you going to start writing it?

James Woodworth ATPC

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Moving Beyond Small Talk https://jameswoodworth.com/moving-beyond-small-talk/ Fri, 02 Mar 2018 09:08:44 +0000 https://jameswoodworth.com/?p=1014

Own Your Story & Aim to Connect

A very funny comedy sketch show appeared on television in the UK during the late 1990’s called The Fast Show. The programme featured a large number of unforgettable characters. Amongst the most memorable were Ralph and Ted. Lord Ralph Mayhew is a well-spoken country squire and Ted is one of his estate workers. The sketches show Ralph trying but failing repeatedly to establish an intimate relationship with Ted who in return finds his employer’s advances extremely embarrassing and awkward to say the least. The combination of Ralphs inept, but well-meaning attempts to engage Ted in conversation and the awkwardness Ted clearly feels in having to talk to his employer creates moments of timeless comedy but the sketches are also extremely painful to watch. Anybody who has ever struggled to start and maintain a conversation will identify with Ralph and Ted.
Do you, for example, worry about how to start conversations and keep them going? Do you worry all the time that you won’t get beyond the other person’s response after you’ve cheerfully said; ‘Hey! How it’s going?’ Do you worry about small talk secretly dreading the superficial, frivolousness of it all? Well, if so then I’m sure you’ll find this blog of interest – so, if you’re ready, let’s read on.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

It’s often said that one of the key strategies in having a successful conversation is to let the other person know you’re genuinely interested in them, that you really do like them and that you really do enjoy being in their company. And one of the easiest ways of doing this is to ask the other person lots of open questions – questions designed to get the other person to talk freely about themselves, their experiences, interests, ideas, opinions, and so on. And as they do so you will of course respond with positive enthusiasm – you’ll raise your eyebrows, smile and nod gracefully at key moments. And when you’re not asking questions you’ll be summarising and reflecting-back in your own words what the other person has been saying to show them you really have been listening – you get the picture.

Putting the other person first and making them feel special in this way is an excellent attitude to have in general and is great for building rapport – it can also lead to some really great exchanges but it’s not the only way to initiate, build and maintain great conversations. Also, although the other person may feel relaxed and safe in your company as you give them your full attention they may also come away from the exchange feeling that, although they enjoyed the encounter they are none the wiser as to who you are – that they know nothing about you. They’ll feel this because the whole of the conversation was about them and as a result they’ve learned nothing about you!

The Comfort of Questioning

It goes without saying that one of the reasons you may ask lots of questions in this way is because your scared, not only of talking about yourself but of making small talk. You may find small talk cringingly difficult to do not least of all because you don’t know what to say or how to take the conversation to a more meaningful level – and so you tell yourself it’s best to just ask questions.

Asking questions also ensures you don’t have to talk about yourself and one of the reasons why you don’t want to talk about yourself is because you don’t believe you have anything interesting to say and the reason why you don’t believe you have anything interesting to say is because you think you’re not a particularly likeable or interesting person – which of course is not true, but you don’t know that.

Don’t get me wrong, asking questions is good – active listening is great, but these strategies and techniques alone are unlikely to result in lasting and meaningful conversations and the reason for this lies in the importance of connection.

You see, in order to create and build great conversations we need, not only to connect with the other person but to enable the other person to connect with us and one of the best ways of doing this is by sharing the conversation with them. Both parties, in other words need to be talking and sharing information. We need to share our information with the other person – we need therefore to be prepared to talk about ourselves including, for example, what interests us and we to do this in a fun, informative and enjoyable way. ‘Hang on a minute …’ I hear you say ‘That’s the whole point. I’m not an interesting guy am I. I’m boring. I’ve got nothing of value to share with others. My mind goes blank when I think of talking about myself that’s why I always ask lots of questions. Besides, if I talk about myself won’t others will think me egoistical and self-centred? Its rude and self-indulgent to talk about myself isn’t it?’

Okay, I hear what you’re saying but I’m sorry, I have to disagree. You’re not boring! I can say this with great confidence because I happen to believe nobody is boring. People may think and believe they’re boring but just because someone might think their boring doesn’t make it true!
So, if you really do want to be socially confident – if you really would like to be a great conversationalist, then you are going to have to eradicate the belief that you are boring. You need to work on building the belief that you really are an interesting guy who is fun to be with – that you have great ideas, opinions and attitudes others will find intriguing – that you’ve had fascinating experiences others will want to know about! Building these empowering beliefs will make it easier for you to talk about yourself and to engage in the kind of meaningful conversations both parties will enjoy.
Now, I’m not suggesting you just talk about yourself all the time because you’re right – nobody likes a self-centred egotist. As I have said, you need to share the content of the conversation with the other person – you need to have an equal say in how the conversation goes. In order to do this you need to change the story you’ve been telling yourself all these years about the ‘fact’ that you’re a boring person nobody like’s. A statement such as ‘I’m boring’ remember is not a fact – it’s just an opinion, an opinion you may hold about yourself. You’re in the habit of telling yourself stories about how dull and uninteresting you are but these stories are just that – they’re stories and more specifically these stories are fundamentally fictitious. You’ve in the habit of telling yourself stories and these stories are simply not true – in fact they’re complete fiction.

Own Your Story

The problem is you’ve been telling yourself stories like this for such a long time you’ve ended up believing them, but just because you believe these stories doesn’t make them true, just because you’ve been telling yourself these stories for a long time doesn’t make them true either.
Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that a little bit of small-talk isn’t such a bad thing – it gets the conversation going for a start but if you stay at the level of small-talk then it’s unlikely that the conversation will move to the level that would make the exchange truly memorable for you and the person you’re conversing with. In order to move beyond small-talk you need to take some ownership of the conversation, you’ve got to take some responsibility for leading the conversation and taking it in a direction which moves it beyond the superficiality of small-talk.
The problem is, those who lack social confidence tend to adopt a rather passive position – they allow the other person to run the show. Hence them asking lots of questions – we ask questions to let the other person be centre stage. The other person ends up bossing the conversation and you let them do so by gently nodding, smiling and agreeing. In order to get beyond the superficiality of small-talk YOU need to take some control, you need to step up and take some responsibility in leading the conversation in a way that interests you.

‘That sounds great …’ I hear you say, ‘but how am I supposed to do that!’

I understand your concern and yes, the thought of leading a conversation can be scary. In fact, its takes real courage and determination to step up to the mark in this way. You see – the thing is, hiding behind questions leaves you feeling safe – you’re not talking about yourself after all, you’re not revealing anything about yourself to the other person but the problem is your playing safe and as Marianne Williamson famously said, you playing safe; ‘… does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you.’
Playing small does nothing to boast your confidence – in order for you to boost your confidence you need to step up and take conversations by the scruff of the neck which by implication means stepping outside the comfort of asking questions, it means sharing information about yourself which does of course feel a bit scary – you’re apt to ask yourself some questions too, questions such as; ‘Who am I to think I could start a great conversation and keep it going? And even if I could do that and get more involved what will others think of me? What if they think I’m boring and self-centred!’ but as we have seen, there’s no value in adopting a negative, self-deprecating stance such as this.

‘What kind of a stance would be more helpful and beneficial then?’ I hear you say. Well first-of-all, let’s get beyond the illusion that your boring and uninteresting because you’re not. To help you understand this I want you to make 5 statements about yourself that relate to topics of personal interest, ability or competence. For example, I was working with a client recently who thought he was really boring and that he had nothing interesting to say about himself. However on doing the doing the above exercise he came up with the following 5 statements:

1. I am musical – I play the guitar really well. Mainly rock.
2. I am fascinated by languages and can speak reasonably good Spanish but would like improve upon this.
3. I am interested in travelling – I would like to visit Central and South America to practise my Spanish and to find out more about the culture of this part of the world.
4. I am good at soccer and enjoy sport in general – I also enjoy working out in the gym.
5. I am fascinated by cinema and love classic, avant-garde films.

All the above statements were true. Knowing this – how could he possibly see himself as boring? It’s true to say that none of the above are particularly original or all that extraordinary but that’s the whole point – you don’t have to be the most exciting guy in the whole world to be of genuine interest to others. You just need to know your value as a human being and to know that you are valuable!

In addition to the above get into the habit of picking up on information on a daily basis that could be of use to you in a conversation. This could include aspects of your own experience, or it could be something of universal interest. For example, on the day I wrote this blog; a 16-year old girl got life in prison for the manslaughter of a child, Malcolm Young, one of the founding members of rock band AC/DC died, Prince Harry got engaged and a volcano erupted in Bali (there’s always something to talk about!)

Anyway, let’s come back to you – get in the habit of bringing to mind what interests you, what you’re passionate about. Most people agree that enthusiasm is an attractive quality. Think of someone you might have seen on TV banging on about something they felt really passionate about, something that really excited them – you felt their energy right? You were struck by how charismatic they were. Well you have this energy too – it’s this energy that will not only move you but will move others.

Aim to Connect

I referred earlier to the importance of rapport – the graceful dance of communication that flows between two people when those two people are truly connected. Yes, we can certainly create rapport through paying full attention to the person facing us, but we can also create rapport, really great rapport through connecting to the other person and one of the best ways of connecting is through sharing our experience with them. You see, although it’s nice to listen attentively to others just listening or asking questions is unlikely to build a true and lasting connection because the flow of the conversation is one way. The person you’re talking too may be giving you a lot of energy but you won’t necessarily be giving any back due to your lack of engagement. By sharing your experience with others, by showing people who you are you significantly increase the changes of not only connecting but of making an impact on that other person.

Asking questions is great – you should ask questions, you should take an interest in the person standing opposite you but you also need to share what you know, you need to give something of yourself to the other person – give them something to play with, to interact with, to respond to otherwise the conversation will be one-dimensional.

Okay, so you’re ready to share – you agree you’ve got content to talk about but ‘how do I do it?’ I hear you say. Remember what I was saying earlier about passion, enthusiasm and energy. You see, it’s not just about sharing – you need to share with passion, enthusiasm and energy. I’m not saying you have to jump up and down waving your arms around like some demented half-wit but think about – if you mumbled; ‘I am musical, I play the guitar’ while shuffling about looking at the floor you’re unlikely to create much of an impression. But if you declared with some energy; ‘I love music and I play the guitar. Mainly rock – hey, did you hear about that dude in AC/DC – he died today. I was quite shocked. They’re not one of my favourite bands but they certainly knew how to rock! What about you. Do you like music? … Oh, you like classical music mainly. That’s really cool because I have just taken up flamenco. It’s difficult and a real challenge but I’m enjoying it. I’m thinking of travelling around central and south America after I’ve graduated and it would be great to check out the traditional music there. How about you – have you travelled much?

This is how you magnetise your audience even if your audience is just one person – through sharing your enthusiasm with others. And here’s the thing – don’t wait until someone asks you a question before you get involved in the conversation. Be bold – make a statement and see where it takes you.

Shy individuals not only worry about starting conversations – they worry about their ability to keep the conversation going. One of their biggest concerns is that the other person won’t find what they have to say interesting and so when the opportunity to engage in a conversation arises they shy away, they try to avoid the situation as much as they can. Of course, one of the major problems a shy person faces is they worry their mind will go blank and they won’t think of anything to say and of course if you’re experiencing a great deal of stress and anxiety then that is exactly what will happen- your mind will go blank! This is because it’s really hard to think straight when you’re really scared – that anxious mind of yours is far more concerned in trying to get you out of the situation as quickly as possible. Its looking for an escape route not a bunch of interesting statements to say about yourself. However, if you genuinely believed in your ability to start and maintain interesting conversations, if you had genuine rock-solid confidence then you wouldn’t be scared or anxious of people and social situations and your mind wouldn’t go blank.

You may of course be scared of people and social situations but remember at all times that one of the best ways of developing confidence and self-belief is to take bold action and confront your fears. The worse thing you can do is to avoid what scares you as avoidance and seeking safety just makes matters worse. The fact of the matter is – every time we challenge ourselves, every time we try something new we will experience fear. I’m sorry, I wish it didn’t have to be this way but I’m afraid that’s the bottom line – in order to overcome our fears we have to confront what scares us. The good news is – having confronted our deepest, darkest fears we are more than likely to come to the conclusion that what we thought was scary wasn’t half as scary as we thought it was. And in time, due to us testing the basis of our fears we will come to the conclusion that we are not in danger and eventually our fear diminishes. So, go on, challenge yourself – don’t just ask questions the next time you’re having a chat with someone. Get involved in the conversation – you may be surprised how much more enjoyable it is when you share and connect with others.

James Woodworth ATPC

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Despicable Who? Despicable Me? I’m Not Despicable! https://jameswoodworth.com/despicable-who-despicable-me-im-not-despicable/ Fri, 02 Mar 2018 08:15:32 +0000 https://jameswoodworth.com/?p=993

3 Simple Steps to Challenging Negative, Self-deprecating Self-talk

I love animations – they’re so inventive, clever and entertaining. My love of animations started, I think with Toy Story, a film I came to adore but there are lots of others I’ve come to enjoy too, Finding Nemo, Cars, Wall-E, Madagascar, The Lion King to name but a few. One of my absolute favourites is Despicable Me.

It’s a great film but I can’t help wondering about the title of the film – Despicable Me. The title of the film reminds me of all the self-deprecating descriptions I used to give myself when I lacked social confidence; ‘Stupid ME,’ ‘Awkward ME,’ ‘Loser ME,’ ‘Idiot ME,’ – I would tell myself I was rubbish, hopeless, inadequate, not good enough – the only insult I can’t remember calling myself was despicable!

Self-deprecating self-talk is a common characteristic in those lacking in social confidence. We ‘talk ourselves down’, we criticise ourselves, we judge ourselves harshly and to make matters worse we assume that the negative view we have of ourselves is shared by others. And we worry, all the time about what others think of us, that they will disapprove of us and consider us inadequate in some way – which in turn will result, we believe in them rejecting us.

We know also that being rejected really, really hurts, and so we try our very best to avoid the pain of rejection and the easiest way to do that is too shy away from the possibility of this happening and we can easily do this simply by avoiding people as much as we possibly can.

Avoiding and seeking safety may lead to a momentary sense of relieve but it’s not a useful strategy in the long run – it does nothing to help us overcome our lack of social confidence. On the contrary, avoidance actually makes matters worse – not only do we tell ourselves we are hopeless, helpless and inadequate but we berate ourselves for being weak and pathetic – for not being stronger, braver and more ‘manly’.

There are however, a number of strategies we can all use to help eradicate the destructive nature of negative, self-deprecating self-talk.

Firstly, we need to remember that any anxiety we feel about talking to people and being rejected is largely the product of our imagination. We imagine bad things happening and to make matters worse we have a tendency to brood and ruminate upon our imagined thoughts and as a result we take a pesky little nuisance thought that in reality is of little consequence and we blow it up out of all proportion – our thinking, in other words becomes catastrophic.

A much better strategy would be to imagine our interactions with others being helpful and beneficial – mentally rehearsing successful interactions can really help in this respect.

Secondly; we need to test the proposition that people really do think us ‘inadequate’ and ‘not good enough’? Where, for example is the evidence to prove the proposition that people think we’re inadequate’ and ‘not good enough’? I think you’ll find, as I have on many occasions that there is none (and even if people do think badly of us, so what? that’s for them to deal with!) You need to take this on board. It’s also worth bearing in mind that people, generally speaking, are actually very nice, kind and friendly! We may worry that people will reject us because we think they’re cruel and unkind but in my experience, this just isn’t the case. You can test this for yourself – get into the habit of smiling at people, I think you’ll find most people will smile back, wish someone a ‘good morning,’ engage in small acts of kindness – I think you’ll find your efforts will be rewarded handsomely – people will be nice back to you.
Thirdly; try and shift the emphasis away for your own concerns and focus your attention instead on the other person, be responsive to them, show them your genuinely interested in them. You can do this by asking yourself certain questions such as; ‘What can I do to enable this person feels relaxed and comfortable in my presence?’ ‘How can I make this person feel special, unique and attractive?’ ‘What does this person want, what do they need?’ and so on.

We all have certain needs and those needs must be met. One of the most powerful needs we have is the need to belong – to feel connected to others. A person who feels genuinely connected to you is unlikely to think your boring or inadequate in some way, on the contrary, your ability to make them feel good about themselves will make you a very attractive proposition indeed. Think of it like this – is a person who feels good in your presence going to reject you? Of course not, on the contrary, they’re going to want more of you!

Putting the other person first is also a great way of shifting the attention away for yourself and towards the other person – rather than worrying about what others might think of us we can start to get some evidence on what people actually think of us, that we are, for example kind, caring and considerate, and who won’t want to hang out with someone like that?
So, my advice to you is this; be bold, take positive constructive action and learn to believe, not only in yourself but in the common goodness that exists in others.

James Woodworth APTC

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