Today I’ve been talking to a couple of people who needed a bit of a pick-me-up. For different reasons, they were both feeling rather down on themselves and at risk of falling into the pit of despair! It’s a common pattern: when something goes wrong, we tend to make big, perhaps even melodramatic and negative generalisations. Recognise any of these dark thoughts?
- I’m never going to get a job
- Everyone else I know has a placement lined up
- I can’t get better grades
- I always mess up at interviews
- Nobody ever likes my CV
NLP Practitioners will tell you these are limiting beliefs and we can train ourselves to change them. For starters, questioning negative thoughts is a good habit to get into. What’s prompting them? Where do they come from? Are they really true? What evidence suggests otherwise? And there’s ALWAYS another side to the story or extra facts to consider. With reflection, we can start to figure out what’s really going on and why we’re letting doubts and fears get the better of us. The trick is to deconstruct these ideas, take them completely apart and examine every piece, then reshape them into a more accurate and more constructive truth. For example, “nobody likes my CV” usually translates into something like “I haven’t been able to get any feedback from employers about my CV, but so far after 6 applications it hasn’t got me an interview.” While this doesn’t change the facts about interview invitations, it does at least give more openings for positive actions – like seeking feedback on the CV…and if employers aren’t to hand, how about asking a Careers Adviser?
Remember my client, ‘Susan’ who thought she needed to avoid assessment centres? She had come to believe that after just one day that was ultimately unfruitful. In reality, there were plenty more experiences indicating she was unusually strong in group work, negotiation and putting forward convincing arguments. Questioning the idea made her realise that she just needed to take her successes and strengths and a bit more self-belief into selection days.
A more familiar way of describing this kind of process is using positive thinking. It’s just a way of taking back control in tricky situations and telling yourself something useful rather than just giving up. It’s like listening to the angel on your shoulder instead of hearing your gremlins. Or indeed walking round with a chip balanced on there. Sorry, international readers, for that idiomatic usage. Here’s an explanation.
Another way of looking at it is related to spin-doctoring. When thinking about how to improve CVs, applications and covering letters, I often suggest spin is the way forward. You shouldn’t ever lie – and by using this technique well, you won’t need to. All you do is present information in the best possible way and be selective about which details you include, and in what order. The aim of this is to ensure your strengths are clearly visible to a recruiter right away, while any weaknesses fade into the background. Politicians and journalists who want to to draw attention to a particular angle of a story use this trick all the time. Everybody agrees that how you present yourself to the outside world is important – especially for job seekers – but what’s easy to forget is the importance of how you see yourself. So, have a think: is it time you indulged in a bit of self-spin, to turn around grumpy, unproductive, negative thoughts and limiting beliefs into something more useful?
Here’s a more proper explanation and the inspiration for this post’s title: How to Improve Your Life With Story Editing. I have to admit, ‘story editing’ is a nicer expression than ‘self-spin’, which is starting to sound rather sinister the more I think about it. I’ll have to do a bit of a spin job on it later…
Thanks to David Winter for alerting me to this article via twitter (follow him @davidawinter or check out his excellent blog http://careersintheory.wordpress.com/ if you want to understand careers theory. What, you didn’t know “careers” is a whole academic discipline? Well, it is!