Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Paradoxical Mind

So, I went to Lake Tahoe. It was breathtaking. Everything about it was vivid - the brightness of the drive from San Francisco, the chill in the air as we ascended the mountain range, the lake, the pine trees, the deep, still water and the calm lapping of the water onto the shoreline.

Standing there, with my feet part submerged, I remember a ladybird flew onto my t-shirt. I felt peaceful. I looked across the lake to the mountain range and round to the left. There stood a magnificent old house whose garden stretched down to the shore where a beautiful little jetty stood. It was perfect.

And as I looked at this incredible scene, a part of me realised how incredibly lucky I was. And another part of me thought... I wonder what they do?

Monday, 26 July 2010

D to the V to the LA

Dad says get a job with them - but Swansea's too far away.

(Sorry - this was just too good to miss).


Sunday, 25 July 2010

The future of work: job crafting

We live in an age of even squarer pegs and rounder holes. Most of us want more meaning at work, yet more and more jobs are process-oriented. When we search for a job we scan the classifieds to see if there's a job we can squeeze ourselves into. Mostly we can't, but assume we must.

Most of the really great jobs are designed not applied for. But there is an option for those who really can't bring themselves to leave their current jobs:

Job crafting.

Truth is, many jobs can be altered by the incumbent, whether in relation to content, relationships, scope or of the meaning you attribute to the tasks you undertake. Nearly all jobs have some discretionary time and this can be used to generate new momentum and meaning.

Small changes often throw up unexpected results. I've had one recent client who's had a real success using job crafting and is now involved in a new social media project which may form a significant new direction in his life. Not only is he viewed differently by colleagues, he also sees work differently.

This benefits the organisation too. Managers can use this to help motivate, engage and retain employees, especially in difficult times.

We often think about career change and know we must be bold. But what if we were as bold within our jobs?

For more on job crafting (Professor Amy Wrzesniewski's research) go here.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Monday, 19 July 2010

Doing The Opposite

In life, we usually believe what our minds tell us, and in career change, what our mind tells us is things like 'that will never work!', 'you could never do that!' or 'it's too late to change now!'.

And we believe it. So, like good little boys and girls we sit in our stultifying jobs, hoping never to incur the wrath of those nasty thoughts which seem so wise and important. Yet if we think about our actual experience, we'll often surprise ourselves by doing things we never dreamed possible. Minds are so overrated.

George Costanza in Seinfeld has this problem too:

"Elaine, bald men with no jobs and no money who live with their parents don't approach strange women"

Yet one day he realises that: It's not working Jerry, it's just not working...every instinct I've ever's all been wrong.."

But as Jerry points out "if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right!"

The message here is about trusting our experience not our thoughts, but frankly, just enjoy the brilliant clip.


Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Streets Demonstrate Cognitive Defusion

One of my favourite songs of all time is The Streets' Empty Cans. But I only just realised that it's a great example of cognitive defusion, with a lot to teach us career changers about the power of thought to limit our reality.

In the first half of the song, Mike is convinced that one of his mates has stolen £1,000 from him, which he'd left on the TV (and which is now broken). He's fused with thoughts like:

Can you rely on anyone in this world? No you can't. it's not my fault there's wall to wall empty cans. Scott texted me to tell me he'd look at my TV for me, but I laid it down telling him to fuck right off chap.

In the second half of the song, Mike replays exactly the same events and still feels exactly the same way, but note the difference:

Scott texted me to tell me he'd look at the TV for me...I felt like telling him to fuck right off chap...

Mike had the thought of telling him to fuck right off...but didn't. This allowed space and time for a different conversation to emerge. And from that, a new truth emerges when Scott comes round to fix the TV:

He had to unscrew about 15 screws before he could get the panel off....When he looked down the back of the TV his eyes just freeze before he rammed his hand in saying No shit! I get up wondering what he's smiling about he's shaking his head at this point with, the biggest of grins. I look down at the back of the TV and there it is, in all its thousand quid.

It's interesting to note that if you trace this subtle shift back, Mike's change in attitude occurs before words. We notice that there is a single note played at the beginning of the second half, exactly 3 mins and 33 seconds in. I don't know what that note is, but it changes everything.

This is an example of cognitive defusion. Rather than fusing with the idea of everyone being against him, he thinks that thought and feels that emotion...and maintains a tiny space between him and the thought. In that space, Mike is able to choose a different response to the same situation.

So many career changers are in this position, fused with the idea that we are stuck, that it's too late, that we're failures. But these are just thoughts.

Mike puts it best:

It's the end of something I did not want to end, beginning of hard times to come. But something that was not meant to be is done, and this is the start of what was.

Monday, 12 July 2010

A secret vice

For the past few weeks I have furtively been watching Mary Queen of Shops on BBC2, pretending I'm looking for Panorama. The format is Mary Portas - some bossy fashion retail woman - goes into struggling businesses and advises them on what they should do differently / better.

Every week, every single bloody week, it makes me cry. Wet salty man tears, all over my raspberry sorbet sticks*. This isn't Panorama! I protest. My TV is broken!

It's something about the knot the shop owners are in. They've had the guts to get out there and start a business and slowly, slowly, that business is choking. And always the reason is that the owner can't see how their ideas need to change. Instead, as panic sets in they stick even more rigidly to those ideas.

How easy it is to look and ridicule - what is she thinking - selling china shoes?! But you can see the struggle taking place. You recognise how painful it is for the owner, to dismantle their world view bit by bit, whilst others look on. They feel stupid and wrong and almost always try to save face.

They are left with an unpleasant choice. Either change or try to hide from those painful feelings. Most (not all) decide to change, inch by inch, but it is terrible and moving to watch.

And that's when the tears start, for me. Because I see the grace and the courage and the humility needed to stare life in the face, to fail, and then to try once more.

* current weekday indulgence - only 85 calories! *Pulls self together* Now, who wants an arm wrestle?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Pomodoro Technique

For the past 6 or so months I've been using a time management technique which has improved my productivity by an estimated 9.73%.

It is, gloriously, centred around an old fashioned kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato. All hail, mighty pomodoro!

The technique is complicated so do try and keep up:
1. Twist the timer to 25 minutes.
2. Work, with complete focus, on a single project for the whole of that time eschewing all distractions.
3. Errr...that's it. Stop after 25 minutes and have a break.

I now allocate weekly tasks with a projected number of pomodoros each. I could go on about this, but I won't because I can see you aren't taking this entirely seriously.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Confidence Myth

Any career change comes down to two questions:

1.What do you want your life to be about?
2.What’s stopping you?

Very often what people tell me is stopping them is their own lack of confidence. Once I feel more confident, they reason, then I can act.

Trouble is, this is the opposite of how our brains work. Confidence actually means 'with fidelity'. In other words, confidence is the feeling you get when you act 'with fidelity' to yourself.

If that's what confidence is, then often we're expecting to feel the feelings of confidence whilst pretty much doing the opposite. The reason we lack confidence is because our history suggests we'll run away from these difficult feelings.

As ever, the choice we get in life is not about how we feel, but what we actually do. That's the deal. The paradox is if we act first, very often our feelings follow. So the question is, if you had all the confidence in the world, what would you do?

Monday, 5 July 2010

The vicious mind - how self criticism paralyses us

If there is one thing which has been eye opening since I became a psychologist, it is the level of self criticism which our minds give us.

It is relentless, and often vicious - our minds really know how to hurt. Mine tells me over and over how I am failing compared to everyone else I know. How I will never make an impact with anyone. How I ran away from my consulting career because I couldn't handle it.

Over and over.

What's ironic about all this is that the clients I see are all successful. They are bright, conscientious, motivated to do good and they want the best for their families. Yet they think they should be doing more and better. Slowly, slowly, this paralyses them.

The sheer pity of all this reminds me of a quote which the brilliant Ken Robinson sometimes uses:

"Human beings were born of risen apes, not fallen angels. And so what shall we wonder at? Our massacres, our missiles, or our symphonies? The miracle of human kind is not how far we have sunk but how magnificently we have risen."

Friday, 2 July 2010

Kindness and psychological flexibility

Further to my previous post about psychological flexibility, I read this, which seems to capture my meaning in far fewer words:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Naomi Shahib Nye, “Kindness” (1994, 42–43)