We all have times in our lives where we feel frustrated and stuck with our career. A sense that we desperately want to change something, but don't know what or how. This is often compounded by the voice of our own inner critic -- "why haven't you done anything about this? You're feeling miserable. Do something! Now!"
Often when this happens, we may not understand what the real cause of our frustration is; we can't easily pinpoint exactly what's making us unhappy, we just know something has to change. This kind of thinking can sometimes lead to a knee-jerk reaction as we try to "fix" our feelings of despair.
Before making any rash decisions consider using mindfulness to gain clarity and perspective.
Mindfulness can help us to:
Dial down our endlessly busy, thinking brain
As we rush through our frantic lives getting things done, the thinking and planning part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, is usually in charge. This is our executive function. It manages, prioritises and gets things ticked off the to-do list.
According to Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and best-selling author, this part is determined to a fault, running things top-down like a dictator, ignoring subtle bottom-up signals that may help us to better understand our feelings of "stuckness" and frustration. Neuroscience and mindfulness research tells us, if we can find time to give our prefrontal cortex down time, and to connect with other parts of our brain, we create space to listen to what else is around. This opens us up to the opportunity for more perspective, clarity and insight. And when it comes to our careers and future plans, perspective, clarity and insight provide essential information to help us see things for what they are, and recognise at a deeper level what might be causing our frustration.
Create space to tap into our intuition
Successful people often talk about the importance of following your gut instinct, or listening to your intuition. We now know our intuition has to do with a part of our brain known as the basal ganglia. It's a primitive part that tells us things with feelings, not thoughts, and has a strong connection to the emotional centre of our brain. Usually we notice this as a gut feeling of right or wrong.
Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink illustrates how this works, describing an experiment in which card players intuitively select certain winning cards over others, long before they are able to explain the reason for their choices. This experiment demonstrates the brain's two decision-making strategies: our conscious "thinking and deciding" strategy, and our less-understood subconscious strategy.
It's easy to lose touch with our intuition, yet it can help us make important career decisions, like changing jobs, more wisely.
Be kinder to ourselves
Feeling stuck can often come with an "inner critic", that voice in our head telling us we are not doing anything right. This can be exhausting, affecting our mood and self-confidence. Mindfulness strengthens our awareness of our own inner landscape, and can calm things down enough that we start to recognise unhelpful thoughts as they arise. This is incredibly useful, as we then have a choice in the moment: do we let ourselves go round in circles, endlessly tying ourselves up in knots of unhelpful thinking? Or do we consciously choose to not get caught up in the tirade with our endless inner pessimist, but rather to gently move on.
Regular mindfulness practice can support your career happiness and fulfillment. Due to the relatively recent explosion in interest in mindfulness, there is a dizzying array of apps, books, online courses and face-to-face programmes. This can make it difficult to know where to start.
There is not enough evidence to know whether short programmes or self-help options are of long-term benefit. Most of the compelling academic research on mindfulness programmes have focused on the eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts. It has proven effective in helping with stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep problems and even chronic pain. It's offered around the world, including New Zealand.
Debbie Schultz is Head of Client Partnerships for Career Pathing Software Fuel50.