Career Paralysis

:
The Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get Headstuck 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?

Got a busy job...

a good job.

Which you really should be grateful for...

But which you hate.

So you re looking for a

new 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.

BUT
(Big but)

You don t want to lose your lifestyle

And you re worried about stepping into the unknown.

You think to yourself...

Should you be taking more of a risk?

If so, how big a risk?

Isn t it already too

late?

Some days you wonder where on earth your life is heading.

You feel like you re losing touch with

who you really are...

...and 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.

And it s not our fault...

...it s our brains that are to blame.
(They can t cope).

Let me explain...

I m Rob. I m an Occupational Psychologist specialising in helping people get out of career paralysis.
This is me.

I work with people who feel like this at work.

Let me explain...

I m Rob. I m an Occupational Psychologist specialising in helping people get out of career paralysis.
This is me.

This presentation explains why career paralysis happens, and what you can do about it.
So, where do we start?

Let s start at the very beginning.
A very good place to start.

Professor Dan Gilbert, TED Conference, December 2008
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.

The point is, the kind of problems our brains evolved to solve

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 you did whatever your parents did. Baker, Taylor, Butcher, Smith.

Agricultural Age

In fact, there was no such thing as career choice.

Top hole!

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.

Thankfully, computers came along to help.

You d be tested and then scientifically

matched by computer to...

your ideal career!

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).

But nothing is static any more.
1. The job market is volatile 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. 6. More people than ever are starting their own business 7. ...and the financial crisis is accentuating all of these trends.

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.

What I ve learned over the last 10 years:

It looks like mobile phones will catch on after all.

Understanding how our minds work is the most important factor in making better career decisions.

Me = square peg

Dental Hygienist = round hole

The Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get Headstuck When Making Career Decisions

1

Too much choice overwhelms us

We usually think of choice as a good thing.

But Barry Schwartz showed that too much choice actually stresses us out.

1

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.

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

2

We re negatively biased

We evolved to think negatively.
Imagine one of your ancient ancestors sees a dark blob out in the distance...

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. But if she was wrong...she d be lunch!

Our minds evolved with one priority:
2

safety first .

Evidence:
We hate losing twice as much as we love winning (Kahneman & Tversky 1990). Negative thoughts are 3 to 4 times stickier than positive (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

We need

5 positive comments to every negative for a
happy marriage (Gottman, 2008).

We are psychologically inflexible. If we try not to think about something unpleasant we think about it even
2

more. (Hayes, 1990).

Result: We re far more aware of our weaknesses than our strengths.

2

3

We prioritise the short term over the long term.

We think we make decisions reflecting our long term 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.

Why?

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.

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!

Operation

Important drug not even tried

What do you think the Doctors did proceed with the operation, or stop the op to try the drug?
3

(drum roll...)

Most stopped the op to try the drug. ...PHEW!
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
3

change was that the short term complexity of

doing the

right

thing had slightly increased...

Here s another example:

was offering 3 types of subscription:

1. Online only 1. Web only - $59 2. Print only 2. Print only - $125 3. Online & 3. print Print & web only - $125

3

Most people went for the print AND online subscription.

1. Online only 1. Web only - $59 2. Print only 2. Print only - $125 3. Online & 3. print Print & web only - $125

16% 0% 84%
And not surprisingly, no Economist reader chose the middle option.

3

1. Online only 1. Web only - $59

2. Print only - $125 3. Online & 3. print Print & web only - $125

So what did these rational people do when this option was removed?

3

Most changed their minds!

1. Online only 1. Web only - $59

68%

2. Print only - $125 3. Online & 3. print Print & web only - $125

32%

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

Motivation works in two directions:
1. Move away from things that cause us discomfort
Eek! Move away from: ‡ Anxiety ‡ Doubt ‡ Insecurity

3

Motivation works in two directions:
2. Move towards things we value
Woohoo! Move towards: ‡ Meaning ‡ Freedom ‡ Creativity

3

Away from discomfort

Most people say they want to move this way in their career

Towards values

3

Away from discomfort

Eeek!

Towards values

Yet when they do what usually shows up first is...

discomfort!

3

That s right..!
The short term result of moving towards our values is usually

negative thoughts and uncomfortable emotions.

Oh, the humanity!
Eeek!

So guess what most of us do next?
3

We Run Away.
Away from discomfort Towards values

3

Away from discomfort
Phew!

Towards values

We are motivated to move away from discomfort and when we do this brings us relief.
3

But here it gets really messy...
Away from discomfort Towards values

x

If we make it a priority to avoid difficult emotions we avoid the things that make life worthwhile.

3

But here it gets really messy...
Away from discomfort Towards values

?
If we make it a priority to avoid difficult emotions we avoid the things that make life worthwhile.
And if we do this consistently we eventually live a life without

meaning.
3

Result: 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.

4

Our brains think in linear patterns.

Minds like making sense of things. They love certainty, stories and linear patterns.

For example, here we see a triangle where none exists. Harmless enough?

4

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.
How would you do it?
4

Duncker found that participants tried to nail the candle directly to the wall or glue it to the wall by melting it.

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.
4

In decision making, this is called functional fixedness .

So what?

Functional fixedness has since been shown to apply to our own identities.
4

Result:

Linear thinking leads to a feeling or belief that we can only

do what we ve always done.

4

5

We trust our minds to fix the problem.

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

5

Our minds evolved to scan the horizon for threats and anticipate problems. They re interested in safety not fulfilment or meaning!

Yet we often seem to forget this. Instead, we tend to automatically believe what our minds tell us.

I know what s best for you!

5

For example, you come home knackered from work and you think...

I m too tired to go for a run

5

Outcome:
You don t go for a run.
Even though staying healthy might be a long term value... Even though tiredness does not physically prevent you from going for a run... You tend to believe your thoughts and behave as if they are true .

I m too tired to go for a run

5

This is known as cognitive fusion and it affects all areas of our lives.

I m too old to change career

5

This is known as cognitive fusion and it affects all areas of our lives.

There are no jobs anyway

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. * Disclaimer: I didn t actually buy a T-shirt.

I used to tell myself:
I can t change career because first I need to feel more...

Secure Certain Assertive Confident Motivated Knowledgeable etc....
5

So I tried to sort my head out . Think more positively!

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.

Result:

By waiting for our minds to tell us we re ready to change career we get stuck.

The 5 Cognitive Biases That Cause Career Paralysis:
1 2 3 4 5
Too much choice overwhelms us. We re negatively biased. We prioritise the short term over the long term. We think we can only do what we ve always done. We trust our minds to fix the problem.

So what now?
Read Part 2...

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.

Career Paralysis:
How to Get Unstuck And Find Your Direction

It s full of practical tips, suggestions and free resources to get out of career paralysis.

Thank you for reading!
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.
Go to part 2 of this presentation.

Get in touch:
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