When we are stressed our thinking can become quite rigid. Everything is bad or things will never change. It can also lead to us catastrophising –’I will never get a job’ or ‘everyone else has a better c.v. than I do.’ Inevitably it is difficult to make decisions effectively or to commit to taking action when our thoughts are so skewed.
So how can we cultivate more flexible thinking that will allow us to be calmer in planning the future? I attended a webinar recently which asked us to write down the emotions we had felt in the last 24 hours. To begin with there were lots of emotions around feeling challenged, overwhelmed, stressed, angry, tired etc. But gradually we acknowledged that there had also been some other emotions such as hope, pride, and joy.
It was interesting to note that the more challenging emotions were on the surface but that when we delved a bit deeper there were some other emotions to counterbalance the first ones. And this immediately helped me move away from the rigid thinking of “everything is difficult”. We also did a mindfulness exercise which focussed on noticing the sensations in our bodies as we sat at our desks breathing gently in and out. At the end of a busy day I was struck by how much calmer I felt after a very brief exercise.
In terms of career planning students sometimes struggle with very fixed thinking about finding the “perfect” job or worrying about the competition in a volatile job market. So we return to flexibility and acknowledging that just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s true and that emotions don’t have to define us. When students worry about the future, it doesn’t mean that they won’t succeed. Some healthy realism is important when considering your options. However, you know something needs to change when the worrying leads to stress that impacts on your day to day functioning or stops you from taking any action.
If you recognise that you might need to adopt more flexible ways of thinking in order to navigate the challenges of the uncertain times we’re living in I would encourage you to find our more about Mindfulness and approaches to career planning such as Planned Happenstance and the Chaos Theory. These encourage you to be open minded and curious and to take risks. But they also reiterate the importance of being proactive and not passive in determining your future. We can’t control the pandemic or its impact on the workplace. But we can learn techniques to help us adapt to change, cope better with uncertainty and stay well so that we can think clearly and make good decisions.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Notice what you’re thinking and take a step back to ask yourself if it is definitely true.
- Think of a small step forward that you can take to give you a sense of moving forwards – this might be updating your c.v. or LinkedIn profile, checking some websites for opportunities to develop, or connecting with someone on LinkedIn in the field you’re interested in.
- Write these steps down somewhere and set a realistic deadline by which you want to have done it.
- If you find yourself over thinking things, do something related to your senses to counterbalance any challenging thoughts – this could be physical exercise, talking to someone, listening to music or needlecraft. Anything which moves you out of your head and into action.
- If you can’t think where to begin start with some self-awareness exercises to help you start identifying more about your strengths and skills. At Warwick we have a self awareness Moodle course that you can work through at your own pace.
- Talking to people can really help whether that’s a careers practitioner, a friend or someone already working in areas you want to find out more about. You can use LinkedIn to connect with alumni and some sectors have virtual networking events for students during the pandemic. This will give you accurate information about the job market and hopefully advice about how to succeed in your goals.
Below is a picture which sums up an approach to coping with the uncertain times we live in that might be helpful: