We've all heard Susan Jeffers' famous phrase, "feel the fear and do it anyway," but surely there are times when that's not a good idea? It's all very well if you feel the fear and take the leap, change your job, impress the socks off everyone, become an instant success, and make lots of money doing what you love with all the people who most inspire you. But nobody wants to feel the fear and make a move that's a total blunder, sit without work, use up your life savings, lose your house, and have your wife and children divorce you in disgust.
So, in turbulent times, when there are big challenges and big opportunities, and a lot is on the line, how do you decide when to take that leap of faith, quit your job and look for a better one, and when to hang back?
Stressed People Make Bad Decisions
This is kind of common sense, but what's really fascinating is the predictable and irrational directions that we choose when we're stressed. Psychologists have found that, when we're stressed, we become more conservative when we're choosing between opportunities that have the potential for very positive outcomes, and we become willing to take greater risks on ventures that have the potential for very negative outcomes and losses.
So essentially, when we're stressed, we put a lid on our chances of happiness and success, and we open ourselves to greater risks! It's back-to-front, another example of the way that fear gets us more of what we don't want.
The explanation that the researchers give for this phenomenon is that, "under stressful conditions, we fall back on automatic, lower-level thought processes and we are less able to utilize more rational and deliberative thinking to assist in making decisions."
When we're stressed, our primal, unconscious stress response takes over and shuts down some physiological and mental functions in order to enhance others. The stress response enables you to fight harder and run faster, but most of the problems we deal with on a daily basis can't be solved by fighting or running. Because the stress response is designed to ensure your physical survival in a situation where you're under physical attack, it causes you to have blinkered thinking where you'll focus on the threat and have great difficulty seeing anything outside of the problem arena, and it triggers a compulsion to react urgently and impulsively.
Basically, you become all sail and no rudder. This is useful if you're being mugged, but it's a disaster if you're in this frame of mind while you're considering whether to quit your job or change your job or career direction.
If you're scared and stressed at work right now, don't be taking any leaps of faith, because you're likely to delete opportunities with the potential for great outcomes from your awareness and leap straight out of the frying pan and into the fire. Instead, learn how to tame your primal stress response and claim back your calm, clear, resourceful mind so that you can think both creatively and rationally, and know where and when to take your next leap in your career.
Author: Cath Duncan
Cath Duncan is a life and leadership coach and CareerJunction's resident Career Coach. Through one-to-one coaching and projects like the Bottom-line Bookclub, Cath helps people learn the Agile Living Strategies for thriving at work in this high-change era.