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Career Paralysis - Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get Stuck Making Career Decisions


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Written by Chartered Psychologist Rob Archer, this presentation is for people who feel stuck in their careers - something I call 'career paralysis'.

The presentation looks at five key thinking traps that lead to career paralysis - and then examines what we can do about it.

It is designed to be downloaded and viewed in 'slide show' mode, as it's animated.

Published in: Career, Technology, Business
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Career Paralysis - Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get Stuck Making Career Decisions

  1. 1. © The Career Psychologist Career Paralysis The Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get ‘Headstuck’ When Making Career Decisions
  2. 2. © The Career Psychologist Is this you?
  3. 3. © The Career Psychologist Got a busy job... a ‘good’ job.
  4. 4. © The Career Psychologist Which you really should be grateful for...
  5. 5. © The Career Psychologist But which deep down you aren’t.
  6. 6. © The Career Psychologist So you’re looking for a new job!
  7. 7. © The Career Psychologist But not just any job!
  8. 8. © The Career Psychologist You want a job that actually uses your talents!
  9. 9. © The Career Psychologist Something you can believe in!
  10. 10. © The Career Psychologist And look back on with pride.
  11. 11. © The Career Psychologist (Big but) BUT
  12. 12. © The Career Psychologist
  13. 13. © The Career Psychologist And you worry about stepping into the unknown.
  14. 14. © The Career Psychologist Should you be taking more of a risk? You think to yourself...
  15. 15. © The Career Psychologist If so, how big a risk?
  16. 16. © The Career Psychologist Some days you wonder where your life is heading…
  17. 17. © The Career Psychologist You feel like you’re losing touch with who you really are...
  18. 18. © The Career Psychologist ...and even the simplest decisions seem impossible.
  19. 19. © The Career Psychologist If so, you are not alone...
  20. 20. Nearly 70% of us do not feel engaged at work. Over half of us would start over if we could.
  21. 21. © The Career Psychologist’s our brains that are to blame. (They can’t cope, bless ‘em). But it’s not our fault...
  22. 22. © The Career Psychologist Let me explain... This is me. I’m Rob from The Career Psychologist We work with people who feel like this at work.
  23. 23. © The Career Psychologist Let me explain... Sorry, this is me. This presentation explains why ‘career paralysis’ happens, and what you can do about it. So, where to start? I’m Rob from The Career Psychologist
  24. 24. © The Career Psychologist Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.
  25. 25. © The Career Psychologist “Our brains evolved for a very different world from today. A world in which people lived in very small groups, rarely met anybody different from themselves, had short lives with few choices and where the highest priority was to eat and mate today.” Professor Dan Gilbert
  26. 26. © The Career Psychologist The point is, the kind of problems our brains evolved to solve
  27. 27. © The Career Psychologist The point is, the kind of problems our brains evolved to solve are very different to the kind of problems we face today.
  28. 28. © The Career Psychologist Career choice is a good example: In the Agricultural Age you did whatever your parents did. Baker, Taylor, Butcher, Smith. There was not much ‘career choice’ going on.
  29. 29. © The Career Psychologist In the Industrial Age social mobility increased. But it still depended on social class and education. So ‘career choice’ was only really an issue for nice chaps like William and Rupert here. Top hole! Rather!
  30. 30. © The Career Psychologist In the Information Age our choices suddenly expanded.
  31. 31. © The Career Psychologist And computers came along to help! We could now be scientifically matched to....... our lifelong soulmate ideal career!
  32. 32. © The Career Psychologist #Relief!
  33. 33. © The Career Psychologist But this approach had two assumptions: a static work environment and a static self.
  34. 34. © The Career Psychologist 6. ...and both technology and the financial crisis have accentuated these trends. 1. The job for life is almost dead... 2. and the portfolio career on the rise. 3. People want meaning at work, not living for the weekend. 4. Jobs are being created in areas not even heard of 2 years ago. And nothing is static any more. 5. More people than ever are starting their own business
  35. 35. © The Career Psychologist Mind, you, what would I know? The computer told me I should have become a dental hygienist.
  36. 36. © The Career Psychologist So the good news is… historically speaking, career opportunities have never been greater. Most of us could be whatever we want to be.
  37. 37. © The Career Psychologist But the bad news is... Our brains are not set up to deal with this new type of career decision.
  38. 38. Understanding how our minds work is the most important factor in making better career decisions. What I’ve learned over the last 20 years: It looks like mobile phones will catch on after all.
  39. 39. © The Career Psychologist The Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get ‘Headstuck’ When Making Career Decisions
  40. 40. Too much choice overwhelms us 1
  41. 41. © The Career Psychologist We usually think of choice as a good thing. But Barry Schwartz showed that too much choice actually stresses us out.
  42. 42. © The Career Psychologist It’s the ‘Paradox of Choice’.
  43. 43. © The Career Psychologist The paradox of choice also undermines the decisions we do make...
  44. 44. © The Career Psychologist Result: we feel overwhelmed by the options open to us and scared of the loss that comes with making a decision. ... And we always wonder what might have been...
  45. 45. We’re negatively biased 2
  46. 46. © The Career Psychologist Imagine one of your ancient ancestors sees a dark blob out in the distance... Is it a bear or a blueberry bush?
  47. 47. © The Career Psychologist An optimist might have seen a blueberry bush. If he was right he’d eat more of his 5-a-day than his pessimist friend. Our minds evolved with one priority: safety first. ….But if he was wrong...he’d be lunch!
  48. 48. © The Career Psychologist Result: When faced with a difficult choice, it’s easy to allow….
  49. 49. We prioritise short term ease over long term values 3
  50. 50. © The Career Psychologist For example, 90% of people support organ donation in principle. And yet, some countries have far higher organ donation rates than others. Why?
  51. 51. © The Career Psychologist …And because we generally favour the short term, easy option we end up acting against our long term values. It’s because the countries on the right have an ‘opt out’ donation policy, whereas in countries on the left you have to ‘opt in’.
  52. 52. © The Career Psychologist was offering 3 types of subscription We also make decisions through short term comparisons. Try this: Which would you choose?
  53. 53. © The Career Psychologist Most people went for the print AND online subscription. 84% 0% 16% And not surprisingly, no Economist reader chose the middle option.
  54. 54. © The Career Psychologist So what did these rational people do when this option was removed?
  55. 55. © The Career Psychologist 32% 68% Most changed their minds! Why? Because we make decisions based on short term comparisons, not on what we actually value.
  56. 56. © The Career Psychologist How does this relate to career decision making? Short terms comparisons mean we are highly influenced by what others do and say. But they also lead us into a trap, which looks like this…
  57. 57. © The Career Psychologist Human motivation works in two directions:
  58. 58. © The Career Psychologist 1. Move away from bad stuff Human motivation works in two directions:
  59. 59. © The Career Psychologist 2. Move towards good stuff Human motivation works in two directions:
  60. 60. © The Career Psychologist Most people say they want to move this way in their career I’m heading towards my goals and values!
  61. 61. © The Career Psychologist Yet what usually then shows up is...
  62. 62. © The Career Psychologist Eeek! Difficult and scary stuff! Yet what usually then shows up is...
  63. 63. © The Career Psychologist That’s right..! The short term result of moving towards our values is usually negative thoughts and uncomfortable emotions... So guess what most of us do next? Oh, the humanity! Eeek!
  64. 64. © The Career Psychologist We move away!
  65. 65. © The Career Psychologist Phew! #RELIEF!
  66. 66. © The Career Psychologist But... If we make it a priority to avoid difficult emotions… we might avoid our demons….
  67. 67. © The Career Psychologist But we also avoid the things that make life worthwhile.
  68. 68. © The Career Psychologist By prioritising the avoidance of difficult emotions Result: over the things we really value…
  69. 69. © The Career Psychologist We lose control over our lives.
  70. 70. Our brains think in linear patterns. 4
  71. 71. © The Career Psychologist For example, here we see a triangle where none exists. OK, so what? Minds like making sense of things. They love certainty and familiar patterns.
  72. 72. © The Career Psychologist Psychologist Karl Duncker gave participants a candle, a box of nails, and several other objects. He asked them to attach the candle to the wall. How would you do it?
  73. 73. © The Career Psychologist Very few of them thought of using the inside of the nail box as a candle- holder and nailing this to the wall. The participants were “fixated” on the box’s normal function of holding nails. Duncker found that participants tried to nail the candle directly to the wall or glue it to the wall by melting it.
  74. 74. © The Career Psychologist In decision making, this is called ‘functional fixedness’. And functional fixedness has subsequently been shown to apply to our own identities.
  75. 75. © The Career Psychologist Result: Linear thinking leads to a sense that we can only do what we’ve always done.
  76. 76. We treat thoughts as facts. 5
  77. 77. © The Career Psychologist Our minds are incredible... They’ve helped us leave other species far behind. But we’ve seen our minds are far from infallible! Bad with choice Negatively biased Short term Functionally fixed Our minds evolved to keep us safe, not find fulfilment or meaning!
  78. 78. © The Career Psychologist “I know what’s best for you!” Yet we often forget this. Instead, we tend to automatically believe what our minds tell us.
  79. 79. © The Career Psychologist “You’re far too tired to go for a run!” For example, we come home from work and our mind says...
  80. 80. © The Career Psychologist Result: No run! We tend to behave as though our thoughts are ‘true’. Even though staying healthy might be a long term value... Even though tiredness does not physically prevent us from going for a run... “You’re far too tired to go for a run!”
  81. 81. © The Career Psychologist This is known as cognitive fusion and it can affect all areas of our lives - including careers. “You’re far too: old / young, stupid / brainy, successful / unsuccessful to change career!”
  82. 82. © The Career Psychologist Although this presentation may be light-hearted, there is no doubt the depth of anxiety and confusion caused by career paralysis. I’ve certainly been there and bought the T-shirt.* We trust our minds to fix the problem, but when it doesn’t, we start to look for reasons why. We start to think it’s our fault – there’s something wrong with us! We often conclude that we need to try and ‘fix ourselves’ before we do anything else. * Disclaimer: I didn’t actually buy a T-shirt.
  83. 83. © The Career Psychologist I used to tell myself: Certain Secure Confident Motivated Knowledgeable etc.... I can’t change career now because first I need to feel more...
  84. 84. A lot of people think this way: “Once I feel better and get rid of these nasty thoughts / feelings THEN I can act!”
  85. 85. But research has shown that trying to avoid negative thoughts and feelings…
  86. 86. …actually increases their intensity
  87. 87. © The Career Psychologist and frequency.
  88. 88. © The Career Psychologist Treating our thoughts as though they are true means we get tangled up in our minds. We become ‘Headstuck’… Result:
  89. 89. © The Career Psychologist The 5 Cognitive Biases That Cause Career Paralysis We prioritise the short term over the long We’re negatively biased Too much choice overwhelms us We become ‘functionally fixed’ 1 2 3 4 5 We treat thoughts as facts
  90. 90. © The Career Psychologist Career Paralysis: How to Get Unstuck And Find Your Direction So what now? Try Part 2... It’s full of practical tips, suggestions and free resources to help you get out of career paralysis.
  91. 91. © The Career Psychologist Thank you! @RobACareerPsych