© Rob Archer
Career Paralysis
The Five Reasons
Why Our Brains
Get ‘Headstuck’
When Making
Career Decisions
© Rob Archer
© Rob Archer
Is this you?
© Rob Archer
Got a busy job...
a ‘good’ job.
© Rob Archer
Which you really should be
grateful for...
© Rob Archer
But which you hate.
© Rob Archer
So you’re looking for a
new job!
© Rob Archer
But not just any job!
© Rob Archer
You want a job that
actually fulfils
you.
You want
meaning.
© Rob Archer
Something you can look back on with
pride.
© Rob Archer
(Big but)
BUT
© Rob Archer
© Rob Archer
You don’t want to lose your
lifestyle
© Rob Archer
And you’re
worried
about
stepping
into the
unknown.
© Rob Archer
Should you be taking more of a
risk?
You think to yourself...
© Rob Archer
If so, how big a risk?
© Rob Archer
Isn’t it already too late?
© Rob Archer
Some days you
wonder where
on earth your
life is heading.
© Rob Archer
You feel like you’re losing touch
with who you really are...
© Rob Archer
...and even the simplest decisions
are starting to seem difficult.
© Rob Archer
If so, you are not alone...
Nearly 70% of us do not feel engaged at work.
Over half of us would start over if we felt we
could.
© Rob Archer
...it’s our
brains that
are to
blame.
(They can’t cope).
But it’s not really our fault...
© Rob Archer
Let me explain...
This is me.
I’m Rob. I’m a Chartered Psychologist
specialising in helping people get out of...
© Rob Archer
Let me explain...
I’m Rob. I’m a Chartered Psychologist
specialising in helping people get out of
career para...
© Rob Archer
Let’s start at the very beginning.
A very good place to start.
© Rob Archer
“Our brains evolved for a very different world from
today. A world in which people lived in very small
groups...
© Rob Archer
The point is, the kind of
problems our brains
evolved to solve
© Rob Archer
are very different to the kind of
problems we face today.
The point is, the kind of
problems our brains
evolv...
© Rob Archer
Career choice is a good example:
In the Agricultural Age you did
whatever your parents did. Baker, Taylor,
Bu...
© Rob Archer
In the Industrial
Age social
mobility
increased.
But social
mobility still
depended on
social class and
educa...
© Rob Archer
In the Information Age our choices suddenly
expanded.
© Rob Archer
We could now be scientifically ‘matched’ by computer
to....... our ideal career!
And computers came along to ...
© Rob Archer
#Relief!
#Result!
© Rob Archer
#MajorLOLz!
#Relief!
#Result!
© Rob Archer
But this approach had two assumptions:
a static work environment and a static self.
© Rob Archer
7. ...and both technology and the
financial crisis have
accentuated these trends.
2. the job for life almost ...
© Rob Archer
Mind, you, what would I know? The computer told me I
should have become a dental hygienist.
© Rob Archer
So the good news is…
historically speaking,
career opportunities
have never been
greater.
Most of us could be...
© Rob Archer
But the bad news is...
Our brains
are not set
up to deal
with this
new type of
career
decision.
© Rob Archer
We’re good at survival thinking
© Rob Archer
But less good
when we need to
choose between
lots of options...
© Rob Archer
...or think anew
about our lives.
Understanding how our minds work
is the most important factor in
making better career decisions.
What I’ve learned over th...
© Rob Archer
The Five
Reasons Why
Our Brains Get
‘Headstuck’
When Making
Career Decisions
Too much choice
overwhelms us
1
© Rob Archer
We usually think of choice as a good thing.
But Barry Schwartz
showed that too much
choice actually stresses
...
© Rob Archer
It’s the ‘Paradox of Choice’. 1
© Rob Archer
The paradox of choice means decision making
is more difficult. And when we do make
decisions, we’re less happ...
© Rob Archer
Result:
we feel overwhelmed by the options open to
us and scared of the loss that comes with
choice.
... And ...
We’re negatively
biased
2
© Rob Archer
Imagine one of your ancient ancestors
sees a dark blob out in the distance...
We evolved to think negatively....
© Rob Archer
We evolved to think negatively.
An optimist might have seen a blueberry bush.
If she was right she’d eat more...
© Rob Archer
Negative thoughts are 3 - 4 times
‘stickier’ than positive
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Evidence:
We need 5posit...
© Rob Archer
Result:
We’re far more
aware of our
weaknesses
than our
strengths.
We prioritise
short term ease
over long term
values
3
© Rob Archer
We think we make decisions reflecting our long
term values…But we are wrong.
For example, a massive 90% of pe...
© Rob Archer
For example, a massive 90% of people support organ donation, but some
countries have far higher organ donatio...
© Rob Archer
was offering 3 types of subscription:
Here’s another example:
Which would you
choose?
3
© Rob Archer
Most people went for the print AND
online subscription.
84%
0%
16%
And not
surprisingly, no
Economist reader
...
© Rob Archer
So what did
these rational
people do
when this
option was
removed?
3
© Rob Archer
32%
68%
Most changed their minds!
Conclusion: we tend to make decisions based on short term
comparisons, not ...
© Rob Archer
So how does this relate to career decision making?
For a start, short terms comparisons mean we are
highly in...
© Rob Archer
1. Move away from
things that cause us
discomfort
Move away from:
• Anxiety
• Doubt
• Insecurity
Eek!
Human m...
© Rob Archer
Human motivation works in two
directions:
2. Move towards
things we value
Move towards:
• Meaning
• Freedom
•...
© Rob Archer
Away from
discomfort
Towards
values
Most people say they want to
move this way in their career
3
© Rob Archer
Away from
discomfort
Towards
values
Yet when they do what
usually shows up first is...
Eeek!
3
© Rob Archer
Away from
discomfort
Towards
values
Yet when they do what
usually shows up first is...
Eeek!
discomfort!
3
© Rob Archer
That’s right..!
The short term result of moving towards our values is
usually negative thoughts and
uncomfort...
© Rob Archer
Away from
discomfort
Towards
values
We Run Away.
3
© Rob Archer
Away from
discomfort
Towards
values
and when we do this brings us relief!
We are motivated to move away from ...
© Rob Archer
Away from
discomfort
Towards
values
But here it gets really messy...
we avoid the things that make life worth...
© Rob Archer
By prioritising happiness in the short term
Result:
over things we really value in the long term
© Rob Archer
By prioritising happiness in the short term
over things we really value in the long term
Result:
we lose cont...
Our brains
think in linear
patterns.
4
© Rob Archer
For example, here
we see a triangle
where none
exists.
Harmless enough?
Minds like making sense of things.
Th...
© Rob Archer
Psychologist Karl Duncker gave
participants a candle, a box of
nails, and several other objects.
He asked the...
© Rob Archer
Very few of them thought of using
the inside of the nail box as a candle-
holder and nailing this to the wall...
© Rob Archer
In decision making, this is called
‘functional fixedness’.
Functional fixedness has since been shown to
apply...
© Rob Archer
Result:
Linear thinking leads to a
feeling or belief that we can
only do what we’ve
always done.
4
We trust our
minds to fix the
problem.
5
© Rob Archer
Our minds are incredible...
That’s why we’ve left other species far behind.
But we’ve seen our minds are far ...
© Rob Archer
“I know
what’s best
for you!”
Yet we often seem
to forget this.
Instead, we tend to
automatically
believe wha...
© Rob Archer
“I’m too
tired to go
for a run”
For example, you
come home
knackered from
work and you
think...
© Rob Archer
Outcome:
You don’t go for a run.
You tend to believe your
thoughts and behave as if
they are ‘true’.
“I’m too...
© Rob Archer
“I’m too old
to change
career”
This is known as
cognitive fusion and
it affects all areas of our
lives.
© Rob Archer
“There are
no jobs
anyway”
This is known as
cognitive fusion and
it affects all areas of our
lives.
© Rob Archer
Although this presentation may be light-
hearted, there is no doubt the depth of anxiety
and confusion caused...
© Rob Archer
I used to tell myself:
Secure
Certain
Assertive
Confident
Motivated
Knowledgeable
etc....
I can’t change care...
© Rob Archer
So I tried to ‘sort my head out’.
Think more positively!
5
A lot of people think in this way:
“Once I get rid of these
nasty thoughts / feelings
THEN I can act”.
But research has shown that
trying to avoid negative thoughts
and feelings…
…actually increases their
intensity
© Rob Archer
and frequency.
© Rob Archer
By waiting for our minds to tell us we’re
‘ready’ to change career we get stuck.
Result:
© The Career Psychologist
The 5 Cognitive Biases That
Cause Career Paralysis:
We prioritise the short term over the long
W...
© Rob Archer
Career Paralysis:
How to Get Unstuck
And Find Your Direction
So what now?
Read Part 2...
It’s full of practic...
© Rob Archer
Thank you!
rob@thecareerpsychologist.com
@RobACareerPsych
thecareerpsychologist.com
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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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  • Brilliant presentation, entertaining and very helpful. Could you please email me a copy at teresamconnolly@yahoo.com as it won't download
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  • A great presentation that will clearly get people thinking differently about their worklife. Clearly too much choice is an issue, however it is also a new era where people need to actively manage and invest in their careers. Not everyone is ready or willing to do this. Hence that 2/3 of people are not satisfied in their careers. When you have choices you have options, which is the lovely thing many of us in the western world are fortunate to have.
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  • Love this overview. I see you've updated for 2014 and I'm assuming new research. Thank you for sharing.
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  • thank you so much for posting this.
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  • But too fast for me to read!
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  • We aren’t rational decision makers.
  • Duncker (1945)
  • Transcript of "Career Paralysis - Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get Stuck Making Career Decisions"

    1. 1. © Rob Archer Career Paralysis The Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get ‘Headstuck’ When Making Career Decisions © Rob Archer
    2. 2. © Rob Archer Is this you?
    3. 3. © Rob Archer Got a busy job... a ‘good’ job.
    4. 4. © Rob Archer Which you really should be grateful for...
    5. 5. © Rob Archer But which you hate.
    6. 6. © Rob Archer So you’re looking for a new job!
    7. 7. © Rob Archer But not just any job!
    8. 8. © Rob Archer You want a job that actually fulfils you. You want meaning.
    9. 9. © Rob Archer Something you can look back on with pride.
    10. 10. © Rob Archer (Big but) BUT
    11. 11. © Rob Archer
    12. 12. © Rob Archer You don’t want to lose your lifestyle
    13. 13. © Rob Archer And you’re worried about stepping into the unknown.
    14. 14. © Rob Archer Should you be taking more of a risk? You think to yourself...
    15. 15. © Rob Archer If so, how big a risk?
    16. 16. © Rob Archer Isn’t it already too late?
    17. 17. © Rob Archer Some days you wonder where on earth your life is heading.
    18. 18. © Rob Archer You feel like you’re losing touch with who you really are...
    19. 19. © Rob Archer ...and even the simplest decisions are starting to seem difficult.
    20. 20. © Rob Archer If so, you are not alone...
    21. 21. Nearly 70% of us do not feel engaged at work. Over half of us would start over if we felt we could.
    22. 22. © Rob Archer ...it’s our brains that are to blame. (They can’t cope). But it’s not really our fault...
    23. 23. © Rob Archer Let me explain... This is me. I’m Rob. I’m a Chartered Psychologist specialising in helping people get out of career paralysis. I work with people who feel like this at work.
    24. 24. © Rob Archer Let me explain... I’m Rob. I’m a Chartered Psychologist specialising in helping people get out of career paralysis. This presentation explains why ‘career paralysis’ happens, and what you can do about it. So, where do we start? Sorry, this is me.
    25. 25. © Rob Archer Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.
    26. 26. © Rob Archer “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
    27. 27. © Rob Archer The point is, the kind of problems our brains evolved to solve
    28. 28. © Rob Archer are very different to the kind of problems we face today. The point is, the kind of problems our brains evolved to solve
    29. 29. © Rob Archer Career choice is a good example: In the Agricultural Age you did whatever your parents did. Baker, Taylor, Butcher, Smith. There was no such thing as ‘career choice.’
    30. 30. © Rob Archer In the Industrial Age social mobility increased. But social mobility still depended on social class and education. So ‘career choice’ was only an issue for nice chaps like William and Rupert here. Top hole!
    31. 31. © Rob Archer In the Information Age our choices suddenly expanded.
    32. 32. © Rob Archer We could now be scientifically ‘matched’ by computer to....... our ideal career! And computers came along to help!
    33. 33. © Rob Archer #Relief! #Result!
    34. 34. © Rob Archer #MajorLOLz! #Relief! #Result!
    35. 35. © Rob Archer But this approach had two assumptions: a static work environment and a static self.
    36. 36. © Rob Archer 7. ...and both technology and the financial crisis have accentuated these trends. 2. the job for life almost dead... 3. and the portfolio career on the rise. 4. People want meaning at work, not living for the weekend. 5. Jobs are being created in areas not even heard of 2 years ago. 1. The job market is volatile... But nothing is static any more. 6. More people than ever are starting their own business
    37. 37. © Rob Archer Mind, you, what would I know? The computer told me I should have become a dental hygienist.
    38. 38. © Rob Archer So the good news is… historically speaking, career opportunities have never been greater. Most of us could be whatever we want to be.
    39. 39. © Rob Archer But the bad news is... Our brains are not set up to deal with this new type of career decision.
    40. 40. © Rob Archer We’re good at survival thinking
    41. 41. © Rob Archer But less good when we need to choose between lots of options...
    42. 42. © Rob Archer ...or think anew about our lives.
    43. 43. Understanding how our minds work is the most important factor in making better career decisions. What I’ve learned over the last 10 years: It looks like mobile phones will catch on after all.
    44. 44. © Rob Archer The Five Reasons Why Our Brains Get ‘Headstuck’ When Making Career Decisions
    45. 45. Too much choice overwhelms us 1
    46. 46. © Rob Archer We usually think of choice as a good thing. But Barry Schwartz showed that too much choice actually stresses us out. 1
    47. 47. © Rob Archer It’s the ‘Paradox of Choice’. 1
    48. 48. © Rob Archer The paradox of choice means decision making is more difficult. And when we do make decisions, we’re less happy with them. 1
    49. 49. © Rob Archer Result: we feel overwhelmed by the options open to us and scared of the loss that comes with choice. ... And we always wonder what might have been...
    50. 50. We’re negatively biased 2
    51. 51. © Rob Archer Imagine one of your ancient ancestors sees a dark blob out in the distance... We evolved to think negatively. Is it a bear or a blueberry bush? 2
    52. 52. © Rob Archer We evolved to think negatively. An optimist might have seen a blueberry bush. If she was right she’d eat more of her 5-a-day for lunch than her pessimist friend. Our minds evolved with one priority: ‘safety first’. But if she was wrong...she’d be lunch! Is it a bear or a blueberry bush? 2
    53. 53. © Rob Archer Negative thoughts are 3 - 4 times ‘stickier’ than positive (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Evidence: We need 5positive comments to every negative for a happy marriage (Gottman, 2008). We hate losing twice as much as we love winning (Kahneman & Tversky 1990). If we try not to think about something unpleasant – we think about it even more. (Hayes, 1990). 2
    54. 54. © Rob Archer Result: We’re far more aware of our weaknesses than our strengths.
    55. 55. We prioritise short term ease over long term values 3
    56. 56. © Rob Archer We think we make decisions reflecting our long term values…But we are wrong. For example, a massive 90% of people support organ donation, but some countries have far higher organ donation rates than others. Why?
    57. 57. © Rob Archer For example, a massive 90% of people support organ donation, but some countries have far higher organ donation rates than others. It’s because the countries on the right have on ‘opt out’ donation policy, whereas in countries on the left you have to ‘opt in’. So we favour the short term, and do what’s easiest. Why? We think we make decisions reflecting our long term values…But we are wrong. 3
    58. 58. © Rob Archer was offering 3 types of subscription: Here’s another example: Which would you choose? 3
    59. 59. © Rob Archer Most people went for the print AND online subscription. 84% 0% 16% And not surprisingly, no Economist reader chose the middle option. 3
    60. 60. © Rob Archer So what did these rational people do when this option was removed? 3
    61. 61. © Rob Archer 32% 68% Most changed their minds! Conclusion: we tend to make decisions based on short term comparisons, not on what we actually value. 3
    62. 62. © Rob Archer So how does this relate to career decision making? For a start, short terms comparisons mean we are highly influenced by what others do and say. But our short term bias also leads us into a trap... (take a deep breath). 3
    63. 63. © Rob Archer 1. Move away from things that cause us discomfort Move away from: • Anxiety • Doubt • Insecurity Eek! Human motivation works in two directions: 3
    64. 64. © Rob Archer Human motivation works in two directions: 2. Move towards things we value Move towards: • Meaning • Freedom • Creativity Woohoo! 3
    65. 65. © Rob Archer Away from discomfort Towards values Most people say they want to move this way in their career 3
    66. 66. © Rob Archer Away from discomfort Towards values Yet when they do what usually shows up first is... Eeek! 3
    67. 67. © Rob Archer Away from discomfort Towards values Yet when they do what usually shows up first is... Eeek! discomfort! 3
    68. 68. © Rob Archer 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! 3 Eeek!
    69. 69. © Rob Archer Away from discomfort Towards values We Run Away. 3
    70. 70. © Rob Archer Away from discomfort Towards values and when we do this brings us relief! We are motivated to move away from discomfort Phew! My anxiety has gone! 3
    71. 71. © Rob Archer Away from discomfort Towards values But here it gets really messy... we avoid the things that make life worthwhile. If we make it a priority to avoid difficult emotions Away from discomfort And if we do this consistently we eventually live a life without meaning. ? 3
    72. 72. © Rob Archer By prioritising happiness in the short term Result: over things we really value in the long term
    73. 73. © Rob Archer By prioritising happiness in the short term over things we really value in the long term Result: we lose control over our lives.
    74. 74. Our brains think in linear patterns. 4
    75. 75. © Rob Archer For example, here we see a triangle where none exists. Harmless enough? Minds like making sense of things. They love certainty, stories and linear patterns. 4
    76. 76. © Rob Archer 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? 4
    77. 77. © Rob Archer 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. 4
    78. 78. © Rob Archer In decision making, this is called ‘functional fixedness’. Functional fixedness has since been shown to apply to our own identities. So what? 4
    79. 79. © Rob Archer Result: Linear thinking leads to a feeling or belief that we can only do what we’ve always done. 4
    80. 80. We trust our minds to fix the problem. 5
    81. 81. © Rob Archer Our minds are incredible... That’s why we’ve left 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 scan the horizon for threats and anticipate problems. They’re primarily interested in safety – not fulfilment or meaning! 5
    82. 82. © Rob Archer “I know what’s best for you!” Yet we often seem to forget this. Instead, we tend to automatically believe what our minds tell us.
    83. 83. © Rob Archer “I’m too tired to go for a run” For example, you come home knackered from work and you think...
    84. 84. © Rob Archer Outcome: You don’t go for a run. You tend to believe your thoughts and behave as if they are ‘true’. “I’m too tired to go for a run”Even though staying healthy might be a long term value... Even though tiredness does not physically prevent you from going for a run...
    85. 85. © Rob Archer “I’m too old to change career” This is known as cognitive fusion and it affects all areas of our lives.
    86. 86. © Rob Archer “There are no jobs anyway” This is known as cognitive fusion and it affects all areas of our lives.
    87. 87. © Rob Archer 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 look for a culprit, and often conclude that we need to try and ‘fix ourselves’ before we do anything else. * Disclaimer: I didn’t buy a T-shirt.
    88. 88. © Rob Archer I used to tell myself: Secure Certain Assertive Confident Motivated Knowledgeable etc.... I can’t change career because first I need to feel more... 4
    89. 89. © Rob Archer So I tried to ‘sort my head out’. Think more positively! 5
    90. 90. A lot of people think in this way: “Once I get rid of these nasty thoughts / feelings THEN I can act”.
    91. 91. But research has shown that trying to avoid negative thoughts and feelings…
    92. 92. …actually increases their intensity
    93. 93. © Rob Archer and frequency.
    94. 94. © Rob Archer By waiting for our minds to tell us we’re ‘ready’ to change career we get stuck. Result:
    95. 95. © 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 Functional fixedness 1 2 3 4 5 We trust our minds to fix the problem
    96. 96. © Rob Archer Career Paralysis: How to Get Unstuck And Find Your Direction So what now? Read Part 2... It’s full of practical tips, suggestions and free resources to get out of career paralysis.
    97. 97. © Rob Archer Thank you! rob@thecareerpsychologist.com @RobACareerPsych thecareerpsychologist.com
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