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24078048 Old Version Career Paralysis Pt 1 Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get Stuck Making Career Decisions

24078048 Old Version Career Paralysis Pt 1 Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get Stuck Making Career Decisions

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Career Paralysis

Part 1:
The 5 ways our
brains get stuck
when making
career decisions
Part 1 of a presentation designed to be downloaded and cherished viewed in ‘slide show’
mode, by psychologist Rob Archer
Is this you?
You want a job
But not just any job...
You want a job that
actually fulfils you.
You want meaning.
Something you can look back on with pride
(Big but)
BUT
You don’t want to lose your
lifestyle
And you’re
worried
about
stepping into
the unknown.
Should you be taking more of a risk?
You think to yourself...
If so, how big a risk?
Isn’t it all too late?
Some days you
feel like you’re
going round in
circles...
...you’re beginning to wonder
who you really are...
...and now even the simplest decisions
are starting to seem difficult.
If so, you are not alone...
Nearly 70% of us do not feel engaged at work.
Over half of us would start over if we felt we could.
...it’s our
brains
that are
to blame.
(They can’t cope).
And it’s not our fault...
Let me explain...
This presentation explains why ‘career paralysis’
happens, and what you can do about it.
So, where do we start?
I work with many people who feel
dissatisfied in their careers yet don’t
know which direction they should move.
I’m Rob, an occupational psychologist.
I specialise in helping people find their
best career direction.
This is me.
Let’s start at the very beginning.
A very good place to start.
“Our brains evolved for a very different
world from today. A world in which
people lived in very small groups, rarely
met anybody different from themselves,
had short lives with few choices and
where the highest priority was to eat
and mate today.”
Professor Dan Gilbert,
TED Conference,
December 2008
The point is, the kind of problems
our brains evolved to solve
are
very different to the kind of
problems we face today.
Career choice is a good example.
In the agricultural age you did whatever your
parents did. Baker, Taylor, Butcher, Smith.

There was no such thing as ‘career choice.’
In the industrial
age social mobility
increased.
But social mobility
still depended on
social class and
education.
So career choice was
only an issue for
nice chaps like
William and Rupert
here.
In the information age our choices expanded rapidly.
You’d be tested and then scientifically ‘matched’ by computer to
your ideal career.
Thankfully, computers came along to help.
This approach had two assumptions:
a static work environment and a static self.

This approach had two assumptions:
a static work environment and a static self.

Mind, you, what would I know? The computer told me I should have been a dental hygienist.
7. ...and the recession is
accentuating all of these
trends.
2. the job for life almost dead
3. and the portfolio career on the
rise.
4. People want meaning at work,
not living for the weekend.
5. Jobs are being created in areas
not even heard of 2 years ago.
1. The job market is volatile
But nothing is static any more.
6. More people than ever are
starting their own business
So the good news is…
historically speaking, career
opportunities have never
been greater.
Most of us could be whoever we want
to be.
But the bad news is...
Our brains are
not set up to
deal with this
new type of
career
decision.
We’re good at survival thinking
But less good when
we need to choose
between lots of
options...
...or think anew
about our lives
and careers.
Understanding our mind’s cognitive
biases is the best foundation for making
better career decisions.
What I’ve learned over the last 6 years:
Me =
square peg
Dental
Hygienist =
round hole
The 5 ways our
brains get stuck
when making
career decisions
Too much choice
overwhelms us
1
We usually think of choice as a good thing.
But Barry Schwartz showed
that too much choice actually
stresses us out.
1
It’s the ‘Paradox of Choice’.
1
The paradox of choice means decision making is more
difficult. And when we do make decisions, we’re
less happy with them.
1
Result:
we feel overwhelmed by the options open to us
and scared of the loss that comes with choice.
... And we always wonder what
might have been...
1
We’re negatively
biased
2
Imagine one of your ancient ancestors sees a
dark blob out in the distance.
We evolved to think negatively.
Is it a bear or a blueberry bush?
2
We evolved to think negatively.
Is it a bear or a blueberry bush?
An optimist might have seen a blueberry bush.
If she was right she’d eat more of her 5-a-day for lunch than her pessimist
friend.
Our minds evolved with one priority: ‘safety first’.
But if she was wrong...she’d be lunch!
2
Negative thoughts are 3 to 4 times ‘stickier’
than positive (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Evidence:
We need 5 positive comments to every negative for a
happy marriage (Gottman, 2008).
We hate losing twice as much as we love
winning (Kahneman & Tversky 1990).
We are psychologically inflexible. If we try
not to think about something unpleasant – we
think about it even more. (Hayes, 1990).
2
Result:
We’re far more
aware of our
weaknesses than
our strengths.
2
We prioritise the short
term over the long term.
3
We think we make rational decisions reflecting our values…
We think wrong.
For example, a massive 90% of people support organ donation, but some countries
have far higher organ donation rates than others.
It’s because the countries on the right have on ‘opt out’ donation policy, whereas in
countries on the left you have to ‘opt in’. So basically, no one bothers.
Why?
OK, but what about professional decisions?
One experiment asked Doctors what would happen
if they read a patient’s case notes on the day of their
operation and found...
3
...that one important drug had not even been tried.
What do you think the Doctors did – proceed with
the operation, or stop the op to try the drug?
Important drug
not even tried
(drum roll...)
Operation
3
Most stopped the op to try the drug.
3
But what happened in the same scenario except
where two different drugs had not been tried?
3
This time, most of the Doctors let the operation go ahead!
Yet the only change was that the complexity of doing the
‘right’ thing had slightly increased...
3
was offering 3 types of subscription:
1. Web only - $59
2. Print only - $125
3. Print & web only - $125
Here’s another example:
3
Which would you
pick?
1. Web only - $59
2. Print only - $125
3. Print & web only - $125
1. Online only
2. Print only
3. Online &
print
3
Most people went for the print AND online
subscription.
84%
0%
16%
And not surprisingly,
no Economist reader
chose the middle
option.
1. Web only - $59
2. Print only - $125
3. Print & web only - $125
1. Online only
2. Print only
3. Online &
print
3
1. Web only - $59
2. Print only - $125
3. Print & web only - $125
1. Online only
3. Online &
print
So what did
people do
when this
option was
removed?
3
1. Web only - $59
2. Print only - $125
3. Print & web only - $125
1. Online only
3. Online &
print
32%
68%
Most changed their minds!
3
Conclusion: we tend to make decisions based on short term
comparisons, not on what we actually value.
So how does this relate to career decision making?
For a start, short terms comparisons mean we are highly
influenced by what others do and say.
But our short term bias also leads us into a trap...(take a deep breath).
3
1. We move away
from things that
cause us discomfort
e.g. move away from:
• Anxiety
• Doubt
• Insecurity
Eek!
Motivation works in only two directions:
3
2. We move
towards things
we value
e.g. move towards:
• Meaning
• Freedom
• Creativity
Woohoo!
Motivation works in only two directions:
3
Away from
discomfort
Towards values
Most people say they want to
move this way in their career
3
Away from
discomfort
Towards values
Yet when they do what
usually shows up first is...
discomfort!
Eek!
3
That’s right...
The short term result of moving towards our values is usually
negative thoughts and uncomfortable emotions.
So guess what most of us do next?
Oh, the humanity!
3
Away from
discomfort
Towards values
We head back in the other direction,
away from discomfort.
3
Away from
discomfort
Towards values
And guess what?
We usually feel relieved.
3
Away from
discomfort
Towards values
But here it gets really messy...
we avoid the things that make life worthwhile.
If we make it a priority to avoid difficult emotions
Away from
discomfort
x
3
Away from
discomfort
Towards values
But here it gets really messy...
?
we avoid the things that make life worthwhile.
If we make it a priority to avoid difficult emotions
Away from
discomfort
x
We risk always wondering ‘what if?’
3
Towards values
But here it gets really messy...
And if we consistently avoid difficult emotions this eventually leads to
even greater unhappiness (and even depression).
we avoid the things that make life worthwhile.
If we make it a priority to avoid difficult emotions
Away from
discomfort
We risk always wondering ‘what if?’
?
3
By prioritising happiness in the short term
over things we really value in the long term
Result:
By prioritising happiness in the short term
over things we really value in the long term
we lose control over our lives.
Result:
Our brains think in
linear patterns.
4
For example, here
we see a triangle
where none exists.
Harmless enough?
4
In 1945 psychologist Karl Duncker
gave participants a candle, a box of
nails, and several other objects.
He asked them to attach the
candle to the wall.
4
Very few of them thought of using the
inside of the nail box as a candle-holder
and nailing this to the wall.
The participants were “fixated” on the box’s
normal function of holding nails.
Duncker found that participants tried to nail
the candle directly to the wall or glue it to the
wall by melting it.
4
In decision making, this is called
‘functional fixedness’.
Functional fixedness has since been shown to apply to
our own identities.
4
Result:
This leads to a feeling or belief that
we can only do what we’ve
always done.
4
We trust our minds to fix
the problem.
5
Our minds are incredible...
That’s why we’ve left other species far behind.
But we’ve seen our minds are far from infallible!
Bad with choice Negatively biased Short term Functionally fixed
Our minds evolved to scan the horizon for threats and anticipate problems.
They have one clear objective: stay safe!
5
Yet we often seem to forget this.
Instead, we tend to automatically
believe what our minds tell us.
5
“I’m too
tired to go
for a run”
For example, you
come home knackered
from work and you
think...
5
“I’m too
tired to go
for a run”
Outcome:
Don’t go for a run.
Although tiredness does not
physically prevent us from going for
a run, we tend to fuse our thoughts
with reality.
5
“I’m too old
to change
career”
This is known as cognitive
fusion and it affects all
areas of our lives.
5
“There are no
jobs anyway”
This is known as cognitive
fusion and it affects all
areas of our lives.
5
Although this presentation may be light-
hearted, there is no doubt the depth of anxiety
and confusion caused by career paralysis.
I’ve certainly been there and bought the T-shirt.
We trust our minds to fix the
problem, but when it doesn’t, we
start to look for reasons why.
We start to think it’s our
fault – there’s something
wrong with us!
We look for a culprit,
and often conclude
that we need to try
and ‘fix ourselves’
before we do
anything else.
I used to tell myself:
Secure
Certain
Assertive
Confident
Motivated
Knowledgeable
etc etc....

I can’t change career because first I need to feel more...
5
So I tried to ‘sort my head out’. Think more positively!
I told myself ‘once I feel more certain, then I can make progress’.
A lot of people think like this.
“Once I get rid of these
nasty thoughts / feelings
then I can act”.
But research has shown that trying to
avoid negative thoughts and feelings…
…actually increases their intensity
and frequency.
Harvard psychologist Dan Wegner
calls this the brain’s ‘ironic process’.
(Hence, the ‘ironic process’ of
insomnia).
The more we try not to think
about something, the more we
think about it.
Away from
discomfort
Towards values
And don’t forget, moving towards values
always involves difficult thoughts.
5
By trying to avoid our fears we make
the problem worse.
Result:
The 5 Cognitive Biases That Cause
Career Paralysis:
We prioritise the short term over the long term.
We’re negatively biased.
Too much choice overwhelms us.
We think we can only do what we’ve always done.
We trust our minds to fix the problem.
1
2
3
4
5





I want to change
career! But...
Which way do I go?
I could never do that!
This stresses me out!
I should stick with what I know
I need to sort my head out first
Or put another way...
Result: Career Paralysis
Career Paralysis:
How to untangle
thoughts and find your
direction
So what now?
Read Part 2...
It’s full of practical tips, suggestions and free resources.
Please note! You may have to download this presentation and view
in ‘slide show’ mode for the links to work. I’m sorry - I don’t make
the rules you know.
Rob Archer is an occupational
psychologist based in London.
He offers coaching, training and
assessment to help individuals and
businesses get unstuck and make
meaningful change.
99
Get in touch:
SEND me an e-mail
CONNECT on LinkedIn
READ my useful Career Change Blog
MARVEL at my grown up Website
Go to part 2 of this
presentation.

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