Believe it or not, yes they are. Research study after research study have shown that negative career thinking affects a number of career decision-making outcomes such as career indecision, goal instability and career decision state, as well as mental health constructs such as stress, depression, neuroticism and anxiety. In fact, multiple studies show that negative or dysfunctional career thinking is the major predictor of career indecision. In this blog entry, I’ll briefly discuss the theory behind dysfunctional career thinking, examples of dysfunctional career thoughts, and some approaches for identifying and altering dysfunctional career thoughts.
Cognitive Information Processing (CIP) theory
Developed by researchers at Florida State University, CIP theory includes dysfunctional career thinking as a primary influencer of the other elements essential to making an effective career decision (i.e., knowledge about self, knowledge about options and the decision-making process as a whole). Like bugs on the front window of a car, dysfunctional career thoughts block a person’s ability to accurately see what’s in front of them. They begin to question or even negate their strengths, skills and interests. They see the world and their options through a negative, constricting lens and, as a result, become stuck in the decision-making cycle.
If they take a career assessment, the results may reflect their negative thinking rather than a true representation of their self-knowledge. When dysfunctional career thinking is reduced, career decidedness increases. More information about CIP theory, including research, handouts and presentations, is available on the CIP website.
Want to learn more about Cognitive Information Processing theory? Check out Debra Osborn’s FREE webinar, taking place July 10, 2019. Register at ceric.ca
Examples of dysfunctional career thoughts
Theorists such as Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck talked about the nature and impact of irrational beliefs or cognitive distortions as early as the mid-twentieth century. Some examples might include all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizations or language peppered with “should’s, must’s and ought’s. For example, “I should have made my up my mind by now,” or “I always screw things up,” or “I never catch a break.” Dysfunctional career thinking extends these thoughts to one’s career concern. Examples of these include:
- “I’m a horrid decision maker.”
- “I’m not good at ______.”
- “My interests are all over the place.”
- “There are no good jobs out there.”
- “It doesn’t matter what you know, it only matters who you know.”
- “I’ll never get this figured out.”
- “Things never work out for me.”
When examining the above statements, it is clear how even holding one of these beliefs could be dysfunctional in the career decision-making process. If the client believes that they are a horrible decision-maker, they will second-guess themself through each step of the process. As career practitioners, we must help clients manage their dysfunctional career thoughts. We must help them not only clear the bugs currently on their windshield, but teach them how to do so in the future.
Identifying and altering dysfunctional career thoughts
Dysfunctional career thoughts don’t just emerge out of nowhere. Somewhere along the line, the client has had an experience that suggested that belief. Over time and in different situations, that belief has been reinforced and may have been integrated into the person’s core beliefs about themself.
Fortunately, we have multiple resources and strategies for identifying and altering dysfunctional career thoughts. Some suggested steps include:
- Identifying the dysfunctional thought. Teach the client to listen for language that suggests they are engaging in negative thinking. For example, a career practitioner might ask, “Did you hear any negative thinking in what you just said?”
- Explore the dysfunctional thought. Ask where they think the thought came from and what they feel when they say that to themselves. Ask how this thought is moving them toward or away from their goal, and the effect this thought has on their feelings and actions.
- Challenge the dysfunctional thought. Is the statement accurate? Is it true all the time? What’s the evidence that this is true? What evidence exists that it is not true?
- Reframe the dysfunctional thought. The purpose of reframing a thought is to make it more realistic. Reframing “I always make horrible decisions” to “I always make great decisions” isn’t realistic or helpful. Instead, a reframe might be “I am learning to make better decisions.”
- Train for the future. Help clients identify the dysfunctional career thought buzzwords, like “I should,” or “I ought,” or “I must,” so they can challenge them in the future. Alternatively, if a client is feeling anxious or down, suggest that they stop and try to pinpoint what they are thinking at that moment. It’s likely it was a negative or dysfunctional thought. By working through the steps above, the client can learn to successfully defend against dysfunctional thoughts.
Dysfunctional thoughts are not always 100% inaccurate; there is likely some truth hidden within the thought. For example, a person may say “My interests are always changing.” Clearly, that would make it difficult to settle on a career choice and move forward with training for that career. While it may be the case that the person bounces all around the Holland hexagon, going from nursing to accounting to engineering to teaching, what is more likely is that they are bouncing around within the same area (e.g., helping interests). In that case, as career practitioners, we could help them reframe that statement to something like, “I am exploring several options within the helping fields.”
Research has repeatedly shown that dysfunctional career thoughts play a huge role in hindering individuals from making a career decision. By listening for and helping clients learn how to challenge these thoughts, career practitioners can clear the way for the rest of the career decision-making work to occur.