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.