No more rumination and procrastination! Here´s how to lead yourself from Intention to Action!
Have you ever felt paralyzed by overthinking? Do you sometimes feel stuck in your career decisions? The digital revolution of the 21st century has brought about a new working world that is both playground for endless exciting career opportunities but also trigger of negative feelings such as uncertainty and anxiety. This is the context in which we strive to define career intentions to live up to our potential and find fulfillment. Désirée Rehnert and Sebastian Kernbach contributed to the Career Conference of the Academy of Management in Vienna by presenting preliminary results of their research project on career design. The purpose of the study is to understand which mechanisms help to master the emotional challenge of dealing with the adversity inherent in career construction by creatively ideating and finally implementing intentions according to own aspirations, values and strengths. By Désirée Rehnert
Creativity and affect regulation in designing career intentions
In developing a person’s professional identity in the volatile and ambivalent business world, creativity becomes an increasingly important resource as it helps explore the self and external opportunities. This work shows that individuals need to attach themselves from adverse feelings inherent in career challenges to gain access to the self which allows to shape self-congruent intentions that have a greater likelihood to be successfully enacted. Furthermore, individuals have to up-regulate their positive feelings to take action despite uncertainty. The research provides presumptions on which mechanisms may support those challenges in self-regulation of affect.
Life Design workshops as a field for Mixed Methods investigation
Life Design “applies design principles to tackling the “wicked” problems of vocational wayfinding” (Stanford Life Design Lab, 2019). Life Design workshops have emerged as a practical approach towards helping individuals seeking for designing their personal and professional lives with a sense of the self, one´s identity and purpose. In quantitative studies, we explored whether Life Design as an intervention promotes creativity and emotion regulation and whether this translates into career intentions that are congruent with the self. Through thematic analysis of journal accounts of 27 students who weekly wrote their reflections over the duration of 3 months, mechanisms have been identified that helped down-regulating negative and up-regulating positive affect in the context of career construction. Participants were instructed to reconstruct their experiences and subsequently reported on their emotions, reasoning, and event-processing strategies.
What broadens individuals´ sight in shaping their careers from intention to action?
Results might be relevant not only to students designing their careers but also to professionals and managers who seek to increase their affective self-regulation in order to achieve their career goals:
1. Creativity – Engage with your challenge creatively to break cycles of negativity.
Analysis of students’ diaries revealed that perceived challenges with regards to careers are all somewhat associated with the experience of negative affect. Negative affect states ranged from fear, anxiety, disappointment and frustration to hesitation arising from self-judgment, social comparison and fear of judgment by others. Engagement with the issues at hand causing unpleasant feelings was helpful in down-regulating negative affect, especially when topics were tackled with creative methods that tapped into collective intelligence and fostered human connection. Furthermore, individual methods such as writing or working visually yielded fresh perspectives by discharging the mind and activating new modes of thinking. Results from the quantitative study show that PhD students participating in a Life Design intervention and scoring high on creative self-efficacy during the intervention were more likely to develop self-congruent intentions which deeply resonate with who they are.
2. Empathy – Open up to others as you might meet yourself through meeting others with empathy.
Strategies with a positive impact on the individual’s emotional experience have been found to be related to social exchange, and more precisely, empathy. Having shared thoughts that really mattered with a social support group often resulted in both a relief of negativity and enthusiasm emerging from newly acquired perspectives. Talking to others about own fears and likewise (trained) listening to other individual’s personal stories did not only create an emotional space but also paved the way to getting clearer and closer to what one actually intends with regards to ones’ career.
3. Self-compassion – See yourself as you are, but do it through the eyes of your best friend.
By reflecting about new insights and incorporating feedback from others in a self-compassionate way, individuals increased their ability to see their true colors and define career goals in alignment with their interests and values. Not only self-discovery can be a successful component to get closer to desired goals but also to direct empathy towards oneself: „I resolve to keep a mindset of accepting possible failure and seeing it as a potential to grow, not as evidence of inability.“ Self-compassion involves being kind to ourselves when life becomes difficult. Recognizing that the human condition is imperfect may drive action even when, at the same time, uncertainty gives rise to the possibility of failure. Instead of being harshly self-critical, it involves the mindful acceptance of painful emotions.
4. Happy Prototyping – To drive action, gradually step forward and make sure you recharge your batteries with positive feelings along the way.
For the purpose of initiating and sustaining action, positive affect needs to be recruited from different sources and on a regular basis to not lose sight and pace in the process of enacting our intentions. Counterintuitively, instead of a future fixation rather focusing on the present can be conducive to goal attainment. Using the present moment such that the intention or maybe even multiple options of intentions can be immediately tested at low risk and experimented with, entails the possibility to receive immediate extrinsic or intrinsic reward from gradual implementation. Full blown plans in a traditional perfectionist approach often lack the opportunity of iterative feedback. Beyond that, enjoying “quick feel good fixers“ helps to overcome phases in which the going gets tough and positive affect is absent. Sports, good food and meet-ups with companions are impactful strategies to up-regulate positive affect in driving action towards successful implementation.
5. Life Design provides ways to deal with the complexity in career construction.
Our quantitative study yields support for the proposition that Life Design effectively helps regulating emotions. Specifically, our results suggest that action orientation, which is operationalized as the capability to down-regulate negative affect after aversive events and up-regulate positive affect for prospective events, increases significantly. This finding is especially promising as action orientation cannot only be regarded an important predictor of implementation success in times of change but also a rather stable trait, and thus, is actually not supposed to be subject to quick changes.
Stanford Life Design Lab, 2019. Retrieved from http://lifedesignlab.stanford.edu
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