Friday, 31 December 2010

How to Form a Habit in the New Year

At new year it seems nearly everyone wants to change some aspect of their lives.

But as we all know, new habits are hard to form.  Many of us give up before a habit has formed.  So the key question is, how long should we persist before we can expect new behaviours to become automatic?

A recent study by Lally et al (2010) reviewed a range of health related behaviours, for example going for a 15 minute run before dinner, eating a piece of fruit with lunch and doing 50 sit ups after morning coffee.

Of the 82 participants who saw the study through to the end, the most common pattern of habit formation was after 66 days.  However, this average figure hides the variation between participants.  Some reached automaticity after 18 days and others after 254 days!  It's also worth noting that even after 84 days over half of the participants had not reached automaticity.  So new routines should be persisted with for at least 3 months before we may expect them to be automatic.  This is longer than previously thought, and complex behaviours (like practicing mindfulness) may take longer. 

But finally, what about the effect of falling off the wagon?  What effect does a day off from the new behaviour have?

This study suggests that a single missed days has little impact.  However, repeated missed repetitions of the behaviour do have a cumulative impact.  The conclusion is that a missed day or two is fine, but be willing to come back hard if you do miss a day. And be willing to persist for at least 3 months. 

For fuller details of this study go here.

New Year's Eve Fun

Look, I admit it, this has nothing to do with psychology, career change, ACT, anxiety, doubt or workplace effectiveness.

No.  This is just a cat in a box.  And it makes me laugh out loud every time.

Happy new year to all my readers.

May 2011 bring you peace, prosperity, meaning... and the joy of a thousand cats swiping out of a thousand  boxes.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

I Really Like Christmas

Happy Christmas everyone.

I'm looking forward to Christmas
It's sentimental I know
But I just really like it

I am hardly religious
I’d rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu
To be honest

And yes I have all of the usual objections to consumerism
The commercialisation of ancient religions
And the westernisation of a dead Palestinian
Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer
But I still really like it

I really like Christmas
Though I'm not expecting
A visit from Jesus

I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun
I'll be seeing my dad
My sisters and brother, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

I don't go for ancient wisdom
I dont believe just cos ideas are tenacious
It means they are worthy

I'm ambivalent to churches
Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords
Though the lyrics are dodgy

And yes I have all of the usual objections to miseducation
Of children forced into a cult institution and taught to externalise blame
And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right or wrong
But I quite like the songs

I really like London
Though Christmas is not quite as white as I’d hoped
It’s kind of European

I'm not expecting great presents
Ye olde combination of socks, jocks and chocolate
Is just fine by me

Cos I’ll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun
I'll be seeing my dad
My sisters and brother, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

And you my baby girl
My jetlagged infant daughter
You'll be handed round the room
Like a puppy at a petting zoo

And you’re too young to know
But you will learn one day
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people
Who'll make you feel safe in the world
My sweet blue-eyed girl

And if my baby girl
When you're twenty one or thirty one
And Christmas comes around
And you find yourself 9000 miles from home

You’ll know whatever comes
Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum.
Will be waiting for you in the sun

Girl when Christmas comes
Your brothers and sisters
Your aunts and your uncles
Your grandparents, cousins
And me and your mum.
Will be drinking white wine in the sun
Waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun
Waiting for you

I really like Christmas
It’s sentimental I know

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

What Is Clarence Reading This Christmas?

I had lots of interest in Clarence's views on the year's best mindfulness books, so the natural question now is what will he be reading for Christmas?

Below is a list of the books he's already started.  I'll let you be the judge of his favourites so far...*

Clarence is very curious about Todd Kashdan's excellent 'Curious?'

...but less so in 'To Have or To Be' by Erich Fromm

Clarence has already absorbed many of the lessons in Ian Price's 'The Activity Illusion'.  He doesn't like to say 'I told you so' but...

As for Kelly Wilson and Troy Dufrene's 'Mindfulness for 2' - WELL TELL HIM SOMETHING HE DIDN'T KNOW.
Clarence would like to wish all his readers a very happy Christmas and a mindful new year.

* The author's view is that these books are all potentially life changing.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Happiness and ambiguity

I caught a moment of happiness today.  It crept up on me.  It was just a moment where the silent, snowy beauty of the world outside coincided with writing Christmas cards to my clients inside in the warm, with Clarence sitting on my lap.  I was thinking about my clients, their bravery and warmth, and then my own journey, and my nerves and anxiety about the future.  All this came into the present moment and it was all OK.

I felt happy, but not as I would have defined happiness before.  I'm learning to appreciate moments for what they are, not compare them to some imagined standard of perfection.  Is this just age? 

Maybe, or perhaps I am just beginning to understand Professor Kelly Wilson's work on ambiguity.  The extraordinary power of appreciating the moment just as it is.  This means accepting discomfort, embracing imperfection, being willing to appreciate the extraordinary range of emotions available for a rich and full life.

This would all have seemed like rubbish to me only 3 or 4 short years ago.  And I wonder what I would have made of this poem, then, when it has such vast power to move me, now:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance. 

Friday, 17 December 2010

Career Boot Camp

 Do you feel stuck in your career?  Uncertain of who to ask for advice? 

I have teamed up with a leading executive coach and a senior talent manager at one of the UK's leading HR Consultancies to provide a 1 day workshop designed to get people unstuck and moving forward with purpose.

Our Career Boot Camp will run early in the new year (29th January) in London, and we've designed it to help people who want to kickstart their year with purpose.  Everyone who attends will leave with a clear plan of action which is based on a better understanding of their strengths and career options.

Get in touch for further details:

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Career Change and Anxiety

Many (most?) of my clients have a huge amount of anxiety associated with career change.  This is something I know well myself - my mind has the capacity to get stuck on one long anxiety loop.  

The next question I get asked is whether it's a problem or not.  Difficult one.  With other illnesses, we can safely say there is no 'right' amount to have.  But with anxiety, how do we know what the 'right' amount is? None?  Are you sure?

There are some basic checks we can make for depression surrounding sleep, appetite and exercise.  But for other mood disorders people want help exploring, so I wanted to show this potentially helpful site which tries to identify the level or severity of mood disorders.

Of course, this is no substitute for a visit to a GP, but there's lots of dodgy information out there - this is a good first step before going to your Doctor.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Who will you be in 2011?

 The new year is my busiest period, as so many people take the chance to re-evaluate their career.

This year, to ease the congestion a little, I am planning my first ever group career course. 

For those of you who don't know, I am an occupational psychologist who uses evidence-based psychology to help people find the career that's right for them.

The course is designed to get people 'unstuck' from where they are and moving in a direction more suited to their skills, style and values.  Everyone who attends will leave with a clear plan of action for 2011.

If this sounds like it might be useful to you, watch this space!  And if you know someone who this might be useful to, why don't you pass this link on?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Double Dream Hands and Career Change

A friend sent me this video and I was so impressed I knew I had to put it on my blog.  But how to link it to career change or psychology?  Difficult, but I've managed it below.  But for now, let me take you to Planet Rock:

The thing about working with people changing career is that I often have my own thoughts of what would be best for clients.  I sit there and think 'no!  don't do that, it will kill you!' or 'yes, do that, you are so suited for it!'.  But very often, those thoughts are more to do with my own value system than my clients'.

Mr Double Dream Hands offers me a salutary reminder that there are people out there who are so spectacularly different to me that it almost defies belief.  He doesn't look so different to me, but he has reached where he is today with a value system that says 'yes, this video is a very good idea, I must teach the world how to do the double dream hands'.  And he's enjoying it.  Other people may enjoy it.  He looks happy doing it. And who am I to argue?

Being aware of my own thoughts and emotions in relation to my clients' careers is an excellent way of remaining objective.  The alternative is to try to suppress those thoughts, but suppression doesn't work.  So I say to myself 'I'm having the thought you shouldn't be a lawyer' and instead of diving in I look back at our work together, and gently probe the workability of being a lawyer.

Far more constructive.  And much closer to who I want to be as a career psychologist.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Best Books on Clarence the Cat

As you may know, I use mindfulness in my work with career stress and anxiety.  Mindfulness also helps people contact what they really value in life - the ability to be present is a foundation of self understanding.

I've been working with Clarence the cat for some time on his work stress and anxiety, and so I thought I'd show you the ones that he's been enjoying in our sessions this year.

'Mindfulness' by Elen Langer

'Life with Full Attention' by Maitreyabandhu

'Mindsight' by Dan Siegel

'Acceptance and Commitment Therapy' by Hayes, Wilson and Strohsahl

'Acceptance and Mindfulness at Work' by Hayes, Bond et al

Clarence is now totally accepting of his thoughts and feelings and moving in a valued direction

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Do What You Love. Really?

It is so easy to say 'do what you love' when it comes to careers.  Indeed, lots of career advisers do say this, but I have to say I'm wary of such easy statements.

I think 'do what you love' is the sort of thing which is said  by people who've either a) already been successful doing what they love or b) got an incentive in selling their services to help other people do the same.

No one is interested in speaking to the people who did what they loved and failed.  No one sells career books by saying 'it depends'.  But the truth is, it does depend.

A job represents one of the interfaces between ourselves and the world.  Negotiating that interface is a continuous process, full of ambiguity.  We need to be objective about what we really need and what we can compromise on, if we're to negotiate with any coherence.

So I think a far better test is whether your job has meaning for you.  That is, does it make sense to you in terms of the life you want to lead?

If it were a free choice, would you continue on this path or change?


Friday, 3 December 2010

Strengths vs values

  I often work with clients in the area of strengths and values.  But what's the difference?
To explore strengths, I often use the VIA signature strengths test, and it’s worth noting that of course ‘VIA’ stands for values in action.  So are strengths the same as values?
In practice I find words like ‘strengths’ and ‘values’ become a bit overwhelmed by the meanings we load on to them, so probably more for my own benefit than anything else, I wanted to rehearse my understanding of the differences. 

I bet you can hardly wait... 

Values are defined by Harris (2009) as chosen life directions.  I like this.  Simple.

Peterson (2007) described signature strengths as:
“akin to what Allport (1961) identified as personal traits. These are strengths of character that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises...which bring a sense of authenticity ("this is the real me"), and a feeling of excitement while displaying them, particularly at first”. 
This fits Alex Linley’s definition of a strength which is:
 “a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance”.
These definitions suggest a number of contrasts with values, not least that they are 'pre-existing' not 'freely chosen', and they’re linked with feelings of excitement, ‘particularly at first’.  In contrast for me, the truly liberating aspect of values is that because they are a choice, they are far less dependent on how we feel in a given moment.  

It's the difference between having a marriage which is based on feelings of love, or based on a choice to love someone.
Strengths can be useful to help people evaluate what course of action to take.  But it is only values which enable us to freely choose that direction, work out what we want to stand for, and avoid getting stuck.   

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Working For Yourself on Snow Days

One thing about working for yourself is that you are extremely vulnerable to extraordinary events.  My clients cancelled their sessions today.  I didn't charge them, but it soon mounts up.

The upside is that I got to work from home.  I stayed up late working, then I ran to Victoria Park.  And I marvelled at the beauty and strangeness and stillness of it all.

My little garden at 2am

Viccy Park - with the City and the Gherkin in the background

From here, you can see the road where I once made Naomi Campbell laugh.

Husky running in the snow!

Bow Canal.   Gherkin in the background.  Turn around, and you see the Olympic Park.

Beautiful trees!

Goodbye Viccy Park.  Til tomorrow....

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Pros and Cons of Evaluation

At the heart of any career change is a process of evaluation.  Evaluation is about objectively considering  what's important to you (values), what's you need from your career, and how you will go about meeting your goals.
    However, evaluation has limits. 

    To start with, evidence from social psychology indicates that humans possess a bias toward detecting and avoiding danger.  Social psychological research shows that “losses loom larger than gains” (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979, p. 279).   The psychologist Csikszentmihaly found that negative thoughts were 'stickier' than neutral ones, particularly those emphasizing danger.  So evaluation is a core process of survival - very useful.

    However, as Hayes, Gifford, & Wilson explain (1996), language extends the impact of the evaluative process beyond the immediate situation:  "Human [language] means that people respond to a situation in terms of how they relate it to previous experiences and to future events. Given the tendency to emphasize losses, they may harbor a bias toward seeing the situation as threatening".

    Evaluation is rarely, if ever, objective and has a tendency to reinforce existing stereotypes and self concepts, many of which may have caused the problem in the first place.  This is something I have referred to in the past as functional fixedness.  The trouble is, our minds (bless them) often do not detect this bias.

    The dangers of evaluation show up in many other ways.  For example, if someone has had an ambiguous encounter with a coworker may then they may interpret this negatively and act in more guarded ways in future, making further negative interactions more likely.  A study by Biglan (2009) showed how 360 degree feedback in a school backfired and resulted in hurt feelings, resentment, and resistance, even when that feedback was largely positive.  Supervisors, who themselves felt punished by these negative reactions, tended to avoid giving feedback.

    Evaluation is useful in a career change but it is only one tool.  It should be used with care.  Rules and evaluations and judgments can help us, but they also have the ability to trap us.  Words, ideas, concepts, identity - all are useful to help us describe reality.

    But they should be held lightly.  They are not reality.


    The Most Powerful Words to Use On Your CV

    Right here.

    Saturday, 27 November 2010

    Creativity Exercise

    The second part of my career change process is a creative process.  So I'm always on the lookout for creative techniques and tests.  And here's another one - quite good fun.  I scored 'average'.

    Friday, 26 November 2010

    Portfolio Careers and Pensions

    Good article from the perenially excellent Portfolio Careers Blog.


    I know (at least) one of my readers is interested in autism, so I wanted to post a link to this in the hope it is helpful.

    Sunday, 21 November 2010

    Paul McCartney And Doubt

    Hey Jude, Let it Be, All My Loving, Can't Buy Me Love, For No One, Penny Lane, We Can Work It Out, Yesterday.

    Imagine writing these songs by the age of 27.  Imagine how you would feel.  Consider how your life might be different, how other people might treat you, how differently you'd feel about yourself.  Surely if you had written songs of this quality you would feel better about your life - more content, confident, happier?

    That's certainly my own assumption.  As absurd as it sounds, my mind often wonders why I'm not Paul McCartney - why am I such a failure?  Why can't I be like him? 

    Last night I watched McCartney speaking in a documentary about the making of Band on the Run.  It was a timely reminder of how our minds work.

    McCartney was candid about how his most dominant feeling after the Beatles was fear of failure.  He felt pressure from looking all washed up by age 30.  He worried about betrayal and disloyalty.  And he described how his mind always tells him how he could have done more or better, and how he's never quite got it right, even when in The Beatles.

    McCartney was in The Greatest Band Ever.  He is a genius whose contribution to my life, and millions like me, has been unique and profound.  And yet even his thinking is dominated by doubt and anxiety and fear of failure.   He has a mind - just like yours and mine - which tells him he is not quite good enough.

    You see, the truth is our minds work in a way that means that not even Paul McCartney is Paul McCartney. We will never good enough. 

    Always on the run.  


    Friday, 19 November 2010

    Why Acceptance Is Critical To Career Change

    I regularly refer to Dan Wegner's research at Harvard University.  He showed in a variety of studies that the more we try not to have a thought or emotion the more we get it. 

    This is the opposite to the external world, where if we don't want somethng we can generally avoid it.  In the internal world, if we don't want something we get it even more.

    Isn't that a bugger?

    Actually, there are some parallels in the external world.  For example, if you ever fall into quick sand (it could happen) the response your mind will give you is to struggle and try and get away.  But actually, this makes the problem worse.  The way to get out is to spread yourself as wide as possible, thereby distributing your weight.  In other words, struggling makes the problem worse and increasing contact with the quicksand is the right response, even though that must seem counterintuitive to the mind!

    Its the same with our emotions and thoughts.  If we have parts of ourselves we don't like, our mind will tell us to try and get rid of that by (for example) avoiding situations which give rise to those feelings.  The trouble is, this can lead us to sink deeper, because we start to avoid the things in life which are difficult but rewarding and meaningful.

    Hayes (2006) has argued that an alternative approach is to increase acceptance of those negative thoughts about ourselves.  One metaphor ACT uses is to encourage people to accept thoughts and feelings: “Hold them as you would hold a crying child” (Hayes & Smith, 2005, p. 130). In other words, people are encouraged to take a loving stance toward the parts of themselves they usually dislike and avoid. This is not to say they are encouraged to like or believe these ideas about themselves, but rather to learn simply to see those thoughts as just passing thoughts. In this context, it is possible for people to choose to act in keeping with their values (e.g., even if people feel inadequate, they can still work on tasks where they feel anxious or insecure).

    Can you hold your negative thoughts lightly, and follow your values, even when your career change seems impossible or hopeless?  Can you chip away at researching your options, even when you have the thought 'I'm going nowhere, fast'?

    Monday, 15 November 2010

    What is Psychological Flexibility?

    I tend to rabbit on and on about psychological flexibility.  Why?

    Because of all the psychological phenomena that I have studied, this is the one that is of by far the most help to the people I work with.  Becoming more psychologically flexible helps people not just cope with stress but to do more of what it is they really value.  So what exactly is it?

    Psychological flexibility is “the ability to contact the present moment more fully as a conscious human being and to change, or persist in, behavior when doing so serves valued ends” (Biglan, Hayes, & Pistorello, 2008).

    'Contacting the present more fully' means willing to be present with difficult thoughts and emotions and to accept ourselves as we are, not as we think we should be.  This is a critical difference, because research shows that trying to get rid of our difficult thoughts and emotions increases their frequency, strength and duration (Wegner, 1994).

    It also helps to understand psychological flexibility's opposite orientation—experiential avoidance (EA).  EA is the tendency to avoid or control unpleasant thoughts and feelings, even when doing so creates problems for a person.  For example, someone who has the thought that they “are stupid” may avoid situations (e.g., a classroom) that might embarrass them.  However, this strategy has the effect of systematically narrowing one's options in life. 

    It's easy to see how EA can be a problem in career change, but empirical evidence also associates EA with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, poor work performance and chronic stress.  Conversely, becoming more psychologically flexible allows people to cope with life more effectively and to derive wellbeing as a consequence of valued living. 

    Being psychologically flexible doesn't make life easier or more pleasant.  But it makes it more vital and  values-directed.  And that, incidentally, is what most of my clients want from their career change; a life worth living.

    Saturday, 13 November 2010

    How to be Kind

     I've written before about kindness, but today the excellent Psychologies magaine is tweeting about World Kindness Day and also have a test about kindness which you can take here.   This got me thinking, most people want to be kinder but many of us feel we fail.  So what does the psychology literature say about being kind? 

    I thought I'd start by looking at the opposite of kindness - for example prejudice and discrimination.  How can we be less prejudicial towards others?

    Interestingly, Dan Wegner's research shows that trying to get rid of prejudicial thoughts and replace them with kind ones is likely to increase the frequency, strength and duration of such thoughts.  The alternative approach is something which I write about regularly on this blog:  psychological flexibility.  That is, instead of trying to change, get rid of or avoid prejudicial thoughts, we should accept them and defuse from them as literal truth.  Instead of trying to change our thoughts, we should change our relationship to them.   

    A study by Lillis and Hayes (2007) showed that helping people to accept and defuse from their prejudicial thoughts was more useful than trying to discourage people from having such thoughts in the first place.  In this study, the group which learned how to accept their thoughts but not fuse with them were far more likely to  engage in behaviour which was kinder, more culturally diverse and less prejudicial than the group which received standard multicultural training. 

    This has profound implications because  many of our past efforts to confront and challenge prejudicial thinking directly may actually have been counterproductive (Dixon, Dymond, Rehfeldt, Roche, & Zlomke, 2003; Mattaini, 1999).

    Of course, we all want to be kinder.  The reminder about World Kindness Day is important.  But what is new is  the research on psychological flexibility which shows us the psychological processes that lead people to be kind.

    Not for the first time, they are not what we may have expected.

    Thursday, 11 November 2010

    From Career Change To Career Transition

    I sometimes feel I need different language for career change, because it doesn't really capture the reality of what needs to happen for most of my clients.

    Career change is not changing jobs.  For most of my clients at least, they want to change jobs but they also want to change their lives.  It is about changing identity.  Identity is something that can help us make sense of the world, so it's understandable that our minds cling to it.   Yet identity can just as easily limit our options.  Cling too tightly to identity and we become functionally fixed.  In other words, we think we can only do what we've always done and our potential narrows.

    This is why career change is, at its essence, a psychological exercise.  It is a process of creative reinvention in which we must geniunely think differently about ourselves, the world and the way we perceive it.  Identity often needs to be slowly unfrozen and reconstructed.

    This is also way 'career change' is inadequate.  It is much more than a shift in your job  - which is much more to do with contacts, networking and scanning the classifieds.  Career change is a process of reflection and reinvention based on a better understanding of who 'you' really are.   Who you really are is based on a reflection of your experience and your aspirations.  There's no way round this process and no way to make it easy:

    William Bridges puts this brilliantly in his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes:

    “Change is a shift in your job... it is situational.  Transition on the other hand is psychological...the inner re-orientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate those changes.  Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t ‘take’.”

    Monday, 8 November 2010

    Psychological Flexibility in The Workplace

    So many leadership courses are based on the idea that to improve performance we must firstly sort our thinking out.  So we focus on motivation, confidence, self-belief or ways of controlling or removing anxiety and stress.  Sounds logical enough. 

    The problem is whilst this approach makes such intuitive sense to us, the evidence does not support it.  Our minds are expert problem solving machines which evolved to scan the environment for threat, propose hypotheses, and then prompt action to avoid, control or get rid of any threats. But when we try to apply the same techniques to our own thoughts, beliefs and emotional states, the evidence is that we make the problem worse, not better.

    This may sound like a small distinction but it has profound implications for the way we learn, teach and improve performance  in the workplace.  In short, the evidence suggests that focusing on trying to alter, control or avoid emotional and cognitive states as the means to improving performance is flawed.  From workplace stress to task concentration, innovation, depression, anxiety, OCD and even chronic pain management, all are showing that attempting to regulate our own internal states IS the problem.  By trying to get rid of anxiety for example, we make enemies of our own thoughts and emotions and increase our distress.

    In contrast, the alternative - psychological flexibility - gives people control over their lives, ironically by letting go of the struggle of trying to control their emotional states.  It is the ability to focus on task-relevant stimuli whilst feeling negative emotions that drives better performance and reduces distress (see Gardner and Moore, 2008).

    This is why I use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in my career work.  It helps people move towards the life they choose whilst handling the doubts and fear that come with that move.

    It's also why I'm slowly building a range of courses which use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in the workplace.  This is a first for the UK, but for HR Directors and L&D managers everywhere, this is the future.


    Thursday, 4 November 2010

    Danny Baker

    Danny Baker has just been diagnosed with cancer.

    Danny Baker is a radio broadcaster who I used to find quite annoying.  Astonishingly bright, quick witted and knowledgable, he sometimes came across as a know it all.

    He isn't.  He just knows a lot more than me.  About everything.

    If you ever listen to Danny Baker properly, you'll notice two things: his warmth and love of the absurd.  He is constantly riffing from his callers, seamlessley weaving their anecdotes into those of his own.  Driving his listerners foward with the strange and relentless energy of a terrier on red bull.

    I once met Danny Baker on Breakfast TV.  It was a strange affair, in which I was reunited with The Bobster - a dog I had taught to dance to the Match of the Day theme tune nearly 9 months previously.  The Bobster was lovely, but could no more remember the moves to the tune that I could.  Together, we had to perform this sorry half-routine for the nation on live TV.

    It was a shameful and mortifying experience, made bearable only by the adorable Bobster who though totally unwilling to dance, never let her attention waver from me.   We basically just stood there and watched each other whilst listening to music.

    And at the end of our humiliation as Danny Baker and Vernon Kay looked on in horror, I remember Danny's words:

    'Who said live TV was dead?'

    Danny Baker.  May you fight this battle and win.  Your people need all the warmth and absurdity we can get. 


    Wednesday, 3 November 2010

    Career Change Statistics

    • Over 60% of workers are not truly engaged in what they do (Towers Perrin / Gallup)
    • 60% of employees would choose a different career if they could start again, 20% of us believe we've never had a role that suited us and 30% of employees feel their strengths would be better suited to another career (School of Life, 2008).
    • 51% of twenty-somethings already regret their career choice and would choose a different path if they could start again (School of Life, 2008).
    •  Given the chance to alter one thing, 25% of adults would choose a new job above anything else (Home Learning College, 2010). 
    • Only 20% of us are happy at work (Roth and Harter, 2010).  
    • Whilst 60% of us were content with our jobs in 1987, today the figure is close to 40%. (The Conference Board).
    • Approximately 1 in 10 people in the UK have a current intention to change their career.  This suggests that roughly 2.5 million people might consider changing their career each year. This is likely to double over the next 20 years.(Guidance Council, 2010). 

      Tuesday, 2 November 2010

      Lessons from Masterchef

      I've been watching Masterchef.  There, I've said it.

      And I love it, even though (because) pretty much every time (every single time) it makes me cry.

      There's something profound about seeing this level of skill and passion laid out, raw and vulnerable.  Each contestant struggles with the constant presence of self doubt, lack of confidence, anxiety.   Hands shake uncontrollably as they struggle to place the final leaf on a salad, just so.

      The lonely dignity of someone so utterly committed to their craft is moving enough.  I mean, this is cooking that is hard to imagine exists, were you not to witness it.  And they produce these unbelievable dishes in the same time as it takes me to cook my toasted sandwiches.

      But it's the courage of committing to something so wholeheartedly that really gets to me.  By committing to their goal, they truly expose themselves.  By trying so hard, they leave no room for comfort should they fail.

      How many of us commit like this?  Very, very few.  Most of us settle for a life of quiet comfort.  We avoid at all costs any loss of dignity, the risk of appearing foolish, of being criticised.  Increasingly as a society we bluff excellence.  We're in jobs that don't require much of us and so we rely on our possessions to tell a tale.  We worry about how much we're paid, what we look like, what others think, brands, logos. 

      Yet as these 3 astonishingly talented but modest chefs filed out of the kitchen this evening I knew something to be true. 

      When all's said and done, they will be able to look themselves in the eye and say 'I lived' in a way that most of us will not.  Theirs is a life dedicated to passion rather than one where comfort slowly strangles the soul.

      Theirs is a lesson not of cooking but of living.


      Monday, 1 November 2010

      Occ Psychs with Level A & B Experience

      Call or email me asap for potential assessment experience overseas!

      Rob - 07904 956 965

      Measuring Your Career Engagement, Psychological Flexibility and Levels of Distraction

      This is a link to a survey we are conducting to help assist with our research into career change.

      It's free for anyone to take and you can compare your scores over time by leaving a reference code or email address.

      Please do try it!  It would really help us out, it could be useful and it only takes around 15 minutes.

      Click Here to take survey.


      Saturday, 30 October 2010

      Career paralysis - five reasons why our brains get stuck making career decisions

      I get some nice comments about my 'Career Paralysis' presentation which is very gratifying:

      "I've since found the Career Paralysis slides show. This is incredibly valuable and relevant to me at this time". Grant.

      "Very cool ... and a great reading list. Thanks for sharing it with me" Steve Hayes, author of Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life.

      "How wonderful for you to have made this extraordinary presentation available on the net. its fantastic - its makes ACT enjoyable and practical - while there are fantastic PP on ACT web-site few have graphics especially engaging ones". Bernard.

      "I have seen the presentation here on the website and can relate to just about all of it!" Richard.

      "I just stumbled on your "5 reasons why our brains struggle..." and it's really hit the nail on the head for me. Feeling very paralyzed at trying to figure out a career path for myself!"    Michael.

      "Good on you! This is great stuff. You just made my day. :) Russ Harris, Author of The Happiness Trap

      ps.  you can download this by going here.
      Best viewed in 'slide show' mode in Powerpoint - as it's animated.

      Friday, 29 October 2010

      Distilling the Essence of Your Value Proposition

      This is a useful article about how entrepreneurs can communicate their value to others

      Some highlights of the article:
      • Be clear:  Your listener needs to understand in simple, specific terms what the heck you are talking about.  Most entrepreneurs go too high and too abstract, or get way down in the weeds with technical jargon.  Or they mistakenly think that teasing the listener by being mysterious is somehow clever and enticing.  Instead, imagine how the Wall St. Journal or Forbes magazine might describe what you do to their readers.  You are best served by offering a simple declarative statement that enables the listener to have a clear image of what it is you do. 
      • Be credible:  Too many entrepreneurs destroy their credibility by using too many empty superlative adjectives and over-hyping their value proposition, or over-stating their potential (“We’re going to be the next Google ....”).  Maybe you are going to be bigger than Google, but saying that you are doesn’t make it so, nor does it help your credibility.  Instead, if there is something impressive you have already accomplished that enhances your credibility (“Steve Jobs has joined our Board,” or more realistically, “We’ve already signed three paying customers”), let us know.
      • Be compelling:  Your solution has to represent a dramatic improvement over the current state of the art, not just a nice incremental improvement.  And you have to be novel or clearly differentiated – something your listeners haven’t heard before.  You might be able to build a perfectly nice business if you have invented a better mousetrap, but if you really want the world to beat a path to your door, you need to offer a non-toxic technology that eliminates every single unwanted rodent in New York City.  The trick is to state what is compelling in terms that are clear and credible.  One of the best ways to do this is a simple metric:  “We can demonstrate a 10x improvement in price-performance, based on our initial customer results.”  If you have been clear about what you do, you probably don’t have to spew a bunch of market size and growth statistics; that should be obvious enough.  Your Wow does not come from the size of your market, but from the size of your advantage.  

        Thursday, 28 October 2010

        Acting with Awareness - A New Study

        One of the first things I ask career changers to do is to start noticing their lives more.  That is, notice what is happening in the present moment, be that something in the external environment, or thoughts or feelings experienced internally.

        This awareness can help build a better understanding of what drives us, motivates us and what hooks us away from what it is we really want to do (otherwise known as experiential avoidance).

        However, awareness is not enough.  A brilliant new study shows that for wellbeing we must act with awareness and be willing to accept the internal states that come with that:

        776 students (50% female) in Grade 10 completed measures of mindfulness, emotional awareness, and experiential acceptance, as well as measures of major personality traits. To study prospective changes, assessments of emotional well-being were completed across a 1-year interval.

        Analyses revealed that "Acting with Awareness" (engaging fully in one's current activity with undivided attention), emotional awareness, and experiential acceptance were all linked to prosocial tendencies and uniquely predicted increases in well-being across the year. 

        Observing experience (noticing, observing, and attending to a variety of stimuli) was correlated with positive and negative aspects of personality and did not predict changes in wellbeing.

        Source:  Ciarrochi, J., Kashdan, T., Leeson, P., Heaven, P.C.L., Jordon, C. (2010). On being Aware and Accepting: A one-year Longitudinal Study into Adolescent Well-being. Journal of Adolescence. 

        It's acceptance AND commitment to action which boosts wellbeing.  And that's why I study the handily named Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.


        Tuesday, 26 October 2010

        Venture Navigator

        Not to be confused with my own CareerStorm Navigator, this is is a site dedicated to setting up your own business; Venture Navigator.

        Venture Navigator was created by the Business Edge Consortium which cosists of the Universities of Essex, Cambridge, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow and Warwick plus The Open University.

        In particular, I like the following (free) assessments:


        Leadership assessment.

        Managerial assessment.

        Your potential.


        Five forces assessment.

        General business viability.

        Business Tools and Techniques.

        There's also a groovy online community  where you can ask questions and have clever people answer.



        Monday, 25 October 2010

        Friday, 22 October 2010

        A nice e-mail signature...

        Thank you Lisa Sansom!

        It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
        --C. S. Lewis

        Wednesday, 20 October 2010

        A Brief Guide to Psychometric Testing

        Clients are often interested in psychometric tests but not many understand what they are for.  Many feel quite sceptical about them, whereas others trust them too much.  Broadly speaking, there are three different types of psychometric test:

        Aptitude Assessments
        Aptitude tests look at your strengths and weaknesses as an employee.  Aptitude tests usually focus on verbal skills, numerical reasoning and spatial awareness.  Some jobs may have industry-specific tests such as creativity tests.

        Personality Profiling
        These tests match your personality to a career direction.  Questionnaires look at aspects of character which can help to identify the environment in which you are most likely to succeed.  Use the NEO-PI (or other measures of the Big 5 personality traits) for best results (and not MBTI)!

        Occupational Interests
        These tests (attempt to) match your answers to the career path (or paths) that interest you or which suit your style the best.  Can be useful but not by themselves.  Handle with care.  You are a human not a type. 

        These assessments all have limitations.  However, the better tests can be effective at helping to ensure that career decisions are made as objectively and with as much self awareness as possible.  Tests must have good reliability and validity.

        Further information on psychometric tests can be found at the BPS page on 'Psychological Testing: A User's Guide'.

        Without doubt the most comprehensive list of psychometric tests I've seen is by my fellow Occ Psych Mark Parkinson. I couldn't hope to better this list, so here it is.


        Tuesday, 19 October 2010

        10 Psychology Findings That Affect Career Decisions (6-10)

        6.     It’s other people that make us happy – Csíkszentmihályi (1996)
        You might not believe it, crammed onto the Northern Line, but it’s true.  Evidence shows that it is isolation, not feelings of despair, which cause mental illness, depression and even suicide.  This is perhaps unsurprising as being with other people and collaborating with them successfully meant that you were accepted in the tribe, which was critical to survival.
         Conclusion: getting rich is unlikely to make you happy by itself.  Instead, think about how you can best add value to or help others.  Not only will this make you happier, it may well make you richer.

        7.     ‘Meaning’ is about understanding – Steger (2008)
        If you want a meaningful life, you need to firstly understand your true self.  Who are you?  What do you stand for?  Then you have to understand how you fit into the world.  What do you believe in?  What do you want to do whilst you’re here?
        Without meaning we feel uneasy and anxious because we don’t fully understand what we’re doing.   This definition of meaning can be applied for small things like understanding the meaning of a word in a sentence, or larger things like understanding our lives.  Meaningful work can therefore be found at the intersection of where you use your unique strengths in a purpose that you believe in. 
        Conclusion: Focus on understanding what you uniquely offer, and then focus on understanding what sort of cause you want to contribute to.  If you’re consistently doing that the end result will bring meaning.   

        8.     Control over our work lives is critical  - Langer and Rodin (1976), Whitehall study (2005)
        A famous experiment in 1976 by Langer and Rodin showed that if elderly people were given a plant to care for they had much higher levels of happiness than if they were given a plant but the nurse cared for it.  This finding has been repeated many times in many ways.  The Whitehall Study is a large-scale experiment which showed that those with less control over their daily work schedule had poorer health and died younger than those who had great control.  If you are looking to be happier in your work, look for ways in which you can increase your control over it. 
        Conclusion: ask yourself how you could exert greater control over your working life.  What could you learn or train in that would help you?  What role or field would you feel more in control in?

        9.     Goals work – e.g. Nicholls (1990)
        The brain evolved to solve lots of different problems in different situations and it is very good at it.  That’s why only motile organisms have a brain in the first place.  There is evidence to suggest that even just writing down a goal will help you achieve it. 
        Conclusion: if you’ve been thinking about a career change for a long time, action beats thinking.

        10.     There is magic in starting something
        OK, this one can’t be proven, but we believe it intuitively.  Once you commit to doing something bold, strange forces move to help you and opportunities open up.  People you meet respond differently, the nature of conversations changes, you read about things that could help, you chance upon solutions.  If you make choices repeatedly based on your vision, your values, your highest talents, you shift the whole universe to act in your favour.  Doing work you love becomes somehow inevitable.

        Monday, 18 October 2010

        10 Psychology Findings That Affect Career Decisions (1-5)

        1.     We’re poor at decision making – Kahneman & Tversky  (1979), Gilbert (2004)
        When weighing up the costs and benefits of a decision, we make two errors.  First, we overestimate the probability of failure in a new direction because of our negative bias.  Second, we underestimate the benefits of change because we fail to imagine or visualise the results of that change in much detail.  This has been shown time and again, not least by Dan Gilbert.
        Conclusion: we have to think differently about career decision making.  Firstly, we need to become more aware of our successes and achievements.  Second, we should try to visualise what we actually want in life in greater detail.   Sounds obvious.  Not many do it.

        2.     Our brains are pre-wired for survival, not fulfilment – Maslow (1943)
        We’re survival machines.  Our brains think evolved to anticipate and predict the worst and we try to eliminate this risk.  That’s why our cognitive functions and emotions evolved too – and why we’re 3 to 5 times more sensitive to negative stimuli than positive. 
        But as Maslow predicted, once we have survival we adapt and want fulfilment.  And fulfilment isn’t created by avoiding risk, or by surviving.  Happiness, after all, is not the absence of sadness.  Fulfilment often requires us to imagine something better and to take risks to achieve it.
        Conclusion: your brain will protest if you consider something new, but fulfilment probably depends on it.  Fulfilment is about contributing something unique to a cause you believe in.  And remember we adapt and learn from failure – very few decisions are irreversible.

        3.     We learn helplessness – Seligman (1975)
        Let’s say you fail once at something.  Then you try and fail again.  The third time you don’t try quite so hard so you fail again.  Then you give up.   You stop trying.  This is known as ‘learned helplessness’ and it is amazingly easy to induce.  In fact, it’s possible to induce learned helplessness in about 2 minutes.
        When we think about our careers we often come at it from the perspective of a learned helplessness.  When all you’ve done is what you know, it’s hard to imagine that you could do anything else.
        Conclusion: being aware of where you may have learned helplessness is a good first step.  But second, ask yourself how useful these thoughts are to the achievement of your goal.  

        4.     Negative emotions are to be expected – Hayes (1998)
        We often treat emotions like fear and anxiety as though they must be avoided, when in reality they are an inevitable part of growth – and of being human.  Equally we often treat our internal thoughts as representing the ‘truth’, when in reality they are just thoughts.  Many people try to avoid negative emotions or ‘fight’ the pain, but research shows that being willing to accept these thoughts whilst progressing towards your valued outcomes is more effective.
        Conclusion:  Negative emotions are an inevitable part of any activity where we learn and grow.  Acceptance of negative emotions whilst continuing to make progress towards one’s valued goals is a far more effective strategy than avoiding or fighting them.  (If you feel the need to beat your negative emotions first, check that the valued outcome is valuable enough and check that you are truly willing to accept the emotions that come with it). 

        5.     Happiness is not a luxury –Fredrickson (2000)
        Many people see work as something to be endured.  But happiness has consistently been shown to lead to better health, longer life and more productivity.  Barbara Fredrickson’s famous ‘broaden and build’ theory explains why people who regularly experience positive emotions show heightened levels of creativity, inventiveness, and "big picture" perceptual focus.  These experiments have also shown positive emotions play a role in the development of long-term resource such as psychological resilience and flourishing. However, it is happiness as the side product of meaning and engagement that counts.  Hedonic happiness cannot be controlled!
        Conclusion:  The fact is, being happy is as likely to make you more successful at work, than less.  However, chasing happiness by trying to limit our exposure to unhappy thoughts is a trap!

        Sunday, 17 October 2010

        Attention Bias, Career Change and Getting Stuck

        Take a look at this video.

        Most people don't spot it, but even if you do it illustrates the limitations of our attention.  In short, we see what we expect to see.  For a career changer, this brings serious drawbacks.

        For a start, we tend to believe the stories we build up about ourselves.  The mind is a consummate story teller, but it is not a faithful recounter of truth.  It's less Reuters than Tass.

        So our attention bias tends to limit our own view of ourselves.  We become a 'type' of person with a certain degree of intelligence, a personality and a set of career matches....all staples, incidentally, of career coaches.

        Yet these categories are just as likely to be limiting, inaccurate and even toxic as they are to be accurate, liberating and fulfilling.   Our categoiries should be held lightly.  Personality is a useful concept but should be no more than an input to a career decision.  Ultimately humans can't be boxed into types.  It has to be about conscious choice. 

        Career matching tests, psychometric tests, coaching, all have the capacity to reinforce categories which hinder more than they help.  The reason we get stuck is not because we see the world as it is, but we see the world as we are.


        Saturday, 16 October 2010

        Advice to Live By

        By Rachel Collis.
        'Your life feels different on you, once you greet death and understand your heart's position. You wear your life like a garment from the mission bundle sale ever after -- lightly because you realize you never paid nothing for it, cherishing because you know you won't ever come by such a bargain again.'- Louise Erdrich
        In my twenties I was a junior hospital doctor. The nature of that work is that you spend a lot of time with people who are close to death. And the experience taught me two things - firstly, to cherish life, as you never know when it will end, and secondly, that those who had loved well and put effort into something that they were passionate about seemed to face death with more ease than those who had focussed on gathering wealth and status.

        There was a beautiful show on Radio 4 some years ago called 'Advice to the Living' which was advice from people with terminal disease. I still remember one of the people saying:
        'Am I loved?  Am I loving well?  When all else has been stripped away this will still remain'
        Advice to live by.

        Thursday, 14 October 2010

        Lessons from a Chilean Mine

        So, what now?  

        Florencio Avalos had just escaped  from a dark, sweltering hole in which he must have assumed he would die.  But now he had a chance for life, and  his response was salutary:

        "I've been buried for 40 years of my life.  The truth is I'm going to be living more, along with my wife and daughters". 

        Death sheds light on what's important about life.  Just as sorrow deepens our capacity for joy, we need death to remind us to live.

        When I tried to imagine what I would want to do in this situation I realised I would worry less about happiness or stress or image, and more about life.  More work, better work, more attention to friends, more present with clients, try more, fail more, live more.

        Yet in the humdrum of daily routine it's easy to wander through our days largely on autopilot.  We don't notice the autumn trees.  How we disconnect from others over time.  How our jobs, roles, identities can steal time from us.

        "Welcome to life."   Those were the words uttered to each miner by the Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, as they arrived at the top of the mine shaft in the narrow and battered pod that hauled them.

        Well, welcome to life.  What now?


        Tuesday, 12 October 2010

        The Dangers of Positive Thinking


        Russell Brand on the Meaning of Fame

        In an interview with Jeremy Paxman:

        ' I myself was seduced by fame, growing up in Essex, and I thought 'Yes, I want to be famous.' And now that I am famous, what does it mean? Ashes in my mouth. We should try to examine the things that we're using to make us happy - this pursuit of celebrity, wealth, status, consumption of products, ignorance of ecological and economic matters, and try to aspire to something more truthful and honest.'

        Monday, 11 October 2010

        Values Clarification

        Values are slippery concepts.  Not goals, not feelings, they are chosen direction in which to travel.  Essentially, they signify what's important to us in life. 

        However, I think it's useful to distinguish between values in action and aspired values.  Values in action are what we actually do.  They are what we make time for and therefore what we prioritise.  Aspired values are what we aspire to do.  Clearly, the ideal situation is a large overlap between values in action and aspired values, but this is often not the case.  We drift through life mindlessly prioritising things that don't really matter.   For years I prioritised making money with a vague aspired value of status, only to realise my aspired value was actually meaning.

        That's why some values clarification work is useful in career psychology sessions.  For people who want to try this kind of thing at home, I think this exercise is one of the best I can find on the web.  Let me know what you think.  For what it's worth, here are my top 6 - remarkably similar to other tests I've used.

        Friday, 8 October 2010

        Loneliness and the Career Changer

        The brilliant coach Rachel Collis writes about loneliness and dating in her blog

        I think loneliness can impact career changers too.  It's common for people to be fighting their feelings alone - they're under pressure to fulfil a certain role and have come to be defined and known through their work.  Other people can be as vested in that role as they are, so change can seem daunting and isolating.

        Consciously meeting people who 'get' the need to change is essential, I think.  I certainly found that's something I needed to do.  The majority of my friends stuck through it with me, but I remember the silence of others and how bad that felt. 

        Rachel's advice is to put effort into building and maintaining a supportive network of friends and family so that you aren't so vulnerable.  I think that's right, and the effort bit matters.   I'd add that practicing your story for why the change is needed is essential because it helps others to relate towhat you're doing.

        This is important because at some level, your career change is likely to be something they admire and fear in equal measure.

        Thursday, 7 October 2010

        This October

        Why not use one of them to make a bold move?


        Wednesday, 29 September 2010

        The Age of Outrospection

        Nearly everyone I work with wants their life to be meaningful and fulfilling. My own research indicates that meaning is something that can be accurately predicted and defined. And one of the things that predicts it best is the idea of a transcendent purpose - an objective beyond your own interests. This does not have to be 'good' or 'worthy', but is more akin to Steve Jobs' idea of 'denting the universe' - impacting something beyond just yourself.

        It's interesting to note that a transcendent purpose is something you can choose. It is not a trait, or even a state. It's more like a goal or a vision, but is also enduring like a value.

        What a transcendent purpose leads to is an attitude of openness and curiosity about the world.  And one of the key attributes that this outlook teaches over time, is empathy.

        Empathy is an idea whose time has come. Introspection is essential, and indeed I use psychology primarily to enhance self awareness. But self awareness is only ever part 1 of a journey to find meaning. 

        Meaning can't be found in isolation, it can only be found by understanding the interaction between ourselves and the world around us.  This involves empathy.

        The brilliant Roman Krznaric at the School of Life has a better word for this.  He argues that if the 20th century was the age of introspection, the 21st century must be the age of outrospection.   And to examine this further, he writes a brilliant blog of the same name.

        Tuesday, 28 September 2010

        Making decisions

        Psychology is frustrating because it seems at once to offer no answers at all and at the same time to prove things which are obvious. But occasionally, it strikes at the heart of something.

        Robert Cialdini's book, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, describes an experiment whereby 17% of people agreed to have an enormous ugly billboard reading "Drive Carefully" erected in their front gardens. Two weeks earlier, a subgroup of residents had agreed to display a three-inch-square notice saying "Be A Safe Driver". Revealingly, 76% of those who agreed to the large billboard agreed to the smaller one.

        The point is this is how most of us make decisions. Even big ones, like career choices. We drift into jobs often through chance, sometimes because it's what's expected of us or because it pays well or because we've done something similar before. But this small decision is likely then to shape a huge part of the rest of your life, because humans justify their decisions to themselves after the event. We seek consistency, above all.

        As Oliver Burkeman says: Partly, this is a matter of keeping up appearances: if you've presented yourself as committed to road safety, you may fear, albeit subconsciously, giving a contradictory impression.

        This is where career psychology can offer some insight.  We need to know ourselves better, and as objectively as possible, if we are to make sound decisions. Otherwise we risk falling into something, then justifiying our decisions for the rest of our lives.