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A few misconceptions about working for yourself

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

Running my own business, I don’t presume to know it all.

But now that I’ve reached the milestone of two years in business, I have noticed a few misconceptions about working for yourself that just don’t add up.

Here they are:

#1 You need to work harder

There is no doubt that I have needed to work hard but, you know what, most people do regardless of whether you work for yourself or not. Day in and day out, I work with people in permanent roles who continue to take on more and more work, weekend work, and endless intrusions from their mobile phones.

#2 You have less job security

I was warned from day one by other consultants and colleagues about how in small business you wear a lot more risk when the work dries up. I hope our team continues to be seen as useful well into the future but my experience to date is that working in big organisations is riskier.

In a big organisation, restructures occur regularly. If the workplace is too slow to change to a diminishing market, a common strategy is to lighten the load through redundancies. Even if you are clever, handy, motivated, and committed, you can still find the organisation dispassionate and cold when only years before it was welcoming you with open arms.

In small business though, you have agility. You can move with the market and you ultimately have a lot of passion for keeping you employed because, well, you’re you.

#3 It can be isolating and lonely

I fortunately had a great colleague who offered a chance for regular coffee catch-ups because he knew working for yourself can be isolating. But it can also mean reconnecting with dozens of people who you haven’t seen in years.

I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work with and catch-up with former bosses, friends and colleagues. Every trip to the city can mean squeezing in time to see someone you haven’t seen in years.

Not to mention that I’ve been able to invite friends and study companions to work with me. I’ve reconnected with half a dozen peers from my University who I would otherwise struggle to see once a year if ever.

So, working for yourself can actually promote your connectivity with people.

#4 Your work-life balance is thrown off

I am actually writing this blog on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a nice enough day outside and my kids are home. What am I doing?

Well, working for yourself means that each day can be seen as a work day. It can also mean each day can be time with the family. You can work from home or take a few days off without getting approvals.

You can even invite your family to work with you. Every week, my wife comes in to help us run the office. If I was working for another big organisation, she would have found a job in one just like me and we would have seen each other less often.

Things are not thrown off balance. They just end up being different.

Now, excuse me while I eat my cake too and invest some of my Saturday on the nice day outside.

Happy birthday to us!

Reassuring people can make them worry

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

I have a relative who described how he worried for several months leading up to his wedding. The actual wedding was no concern nor was the commitment. It was the wedding speech he dreaded.

He delivered the speech perfectly and breathed a sigh of relief.

I also have a colleague who complained about a sore foot. Although he had been doing a lot of extra walking, he naturally assumed he had a blood clot.

There was no blood clot or anything serious.

After experiencing trouble swallowing I started to worry that I had oesophageal cancer. Never mind the fact that this cancer affects only a tiny percentage of the population and they are usually older folk who smoke. Nevertheless, my brain told me that death was looming.

The tests came back negative.

Does reassuring people help?

In the face of these worries and concerns our natural tendency is to reassure others that everything is going to be ok.

Interestingly, at least in the health literature, individuals can end up worrying even more when they are reassured. Studies show, for example, that children who are reassured by their parents or nurses prior to having an injection end up becoming more distressed and worried.

It seems that individuals can feel as though something particularly awful is about to happen if you’re going to all that effort to prepare them for the worst.

No doubt many of us have felt that way prior to an event that makes us anxious. On our first day at a new job we might feel more anxious if our family members approach us with big smiles to wish us luck. You only wish someone luck if there is the prospect that things could go really badly.

How often do you wish someone luck before they go to the movies?

At work during organisational restructures and change we may appreciate and expect regular communication about what’s about to happen. This communication and management involvement is a textbook approach to managing change.

But what if this continuous reassurance leads people to think, ‘Why are they reassuring me so much? Should I be worried?’

Should you reassure yourself?

Humans are good at reassuring themselves in the absence of support. As children we learn to transfer the support and assurance of others into our minds so that we always have a virtual parent or friend to calm us down.

Therapy used to focus a lot on this positive self-talk as a means of helping individuals cope with the anxieties and stressors of life. If you had negative thoughts and worries you would be instructed to challenge the legitimacy of the concern.

‘Excuse me grey matter. Do you have any references to back up the claim that I will, indeed, die of a heart attack?’

But let’s look at how this can play out. Our mind worries. Our mind reassures. Our mind worries. Our mind reassures. The brain is flexible. Whatever logic you throw at yourself, it can create all kinds of concerns that you missed.

‘Hello, Nicholas, I know you are in the low risk group for heart failure and I know there’s no family history. But what if? What if?’

Cognitive Fusion

Experts in mindfulness give this tangle of thoughts a pretty futuristic sounding name, cognitive fusion.  All it really means is that you are engaging with your thoughts as if they were real.

Mindfulness teaches individuals to practice disengaging with their thoughts instead of challenging them.

It’s a bit like dealing with an argumentative peer or neighbour. You could invest a lot of energy and time debating with them to try to make them see reason only to find that they counter every one of your points and throw up several red herrings.

Instead, the best approach might be to simply disengage from the debate entirely.

The imperfections of being a perfectionest

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

Are you addicted to getting that font colour just right? Do you see errors in everyone’s work? Do you sometimes feel like the only reason something failed was because you weren’t involved?We’ve all worked with perfectionists. We’ve probably all been perfectionists ourselves from time to time.

The trouble is that being a perfectionist has some unfortunate drawbacks. Imperfections perhaps. Studies show that individuals who are perceived as having greater self-discipline and control are also more likely to be assigned extra work.

These perfectionists then feel that they have made regular sacrifices for their co-workers only to be burdened by the extra workload.Unfortunately for the perfectionists, their fellow workers don’t perceive them to be burdened. That is, because they are perceived as being so disciplined, others think the perfectionists don’t have to work as hard.

You can immediately see how this could play out. A perfectionist can’t help putting in the extra hours and effort. Others see this happening and think they are the best candidate to take on more work. The perfectionist puts in even more time and effort, perpetuating the endless build-up of work.

All this might be ok if the extra effort led to better outcomes.

However, perfectionism can also lead to excessive attention to working hard under the misguided notion that the more effort that’s expended, the higher its quality. Psychologists refer to this as the effort ‘heuristic’.

It reminds me of when children keep mixing different paints hoping to get the most amazing colour only to discover that it produces a muddied brown or grey.

I also think about all those cooking shows where the contestants want to wow the judges with more and more sophisticated flavours and combinations until the dish is no longer edible.

Being a perfectionist might just lead to you working really hard for not a lot of extra gain.

And now time to wrap up this blog. I won’t try and wrap it all up nicely because I’m not a perfectionist.

Is Dr Duck stressed?

in Work Psychology by

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Referring to yourself in the third person may help you manage stress. During a stressful event, we can talk to ourselves—literally or in our thoughts—using phrases like ‘I need to get this done’, ‘almost there…’ etc.

Research suggests that if we instead refer to ourselves in the third person (e.g. ‘Nick needs to get this done’) we experience less stress. Referring to ourselves in the third person distances ourselves from the stressful event. That is, we are better at untangling ourselves from the situation and can observe and accept situations with greater objectivity.

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