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'?

No comments: