Tag Archives: Timothy Wilson

How Well Do Today’s Career Choices Endure Over Time?

Donald Clifton

Donald Clifton

Career development and job search are founded on uncovering individual skills, competencies, strengths, capabilities, interests and likes.

This discovery can involve introspective “personal archaeology,” often enabled by standardized career and personality assessment tools.

However, social science research suggests that it is difficult to “know” preference – career and otherwise – in order to map this “supply” to the “demand” in available career roles.

Gilbert Ryle

Gilbert Ryle

More than 60 years ago, acclaimed Oxford University philosopher Gilbert Ryle foreshadowed the philosophical and cognitive problems entailed in “knowing one’s own mind.”

Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes

Ryle considered how people acquire attitudes, traits, and their dispositions to act in The Concept of Mind  , an erudite attack on Cartesian dualism of mind and body

Daryl Bem

Daryl Bem

Two decades later, Daryl Bem of Cornell University substituted laboratory research for Ryle’s philosophical reasoning, and demonstrated that people may not know what they like or their skills until they observe their behavior in studies of “self-perception theory.”

Bem found that people draw inferences about who they are and they “become what they do,” particularly when people are not certain of what they think or feel, and when they believe that they freely chose to behave as they did.

Bruce Hood

Bruce Hood

Bruce Hood of University of Bristol expanded the self-perception argument to posit that “the self” is an illusion, so it is difficult to “know” what the “self” likes, values, and prefers.

However, behaviors can be shaped and constrained by external social standards:  People learn to become themselves by interacting with others, according to Charles Horton Cooley, who coined the term “the looking glass self” more than a century ago.

Charles Horton Cooley

Charles Horton Cooley

Therefore, people may choose a career acceptable to parents or social observers who attribute “respect” and “prestige.”

Hood showed that the fluid process of constructing the self is a created narrative which is experienced as “a cohesive, integrated character.”
Since the “self” is constructed, it changes over time, and people significantly and consistently underestimate how much they will change in the future.

This finding has important implications for anyone seeking to distill values, strengths, and preference a job search “elevator speech,” “value proposition,” and “pitch.”

Introspection, therefore, offers limited career insight and guidance: People need to see how they respond, then infer attitudes and preferences for career and other life choices.
This argues for taking exploratory action to “try on” choices, such as in “realistic job previews” found in internships and other on-the-job experiences.

The challenge to career development and decision-making doesn’t end there.
Even if it’s possible to infer preferences from one’s behavior, those inferences are likely to change – a lot – over time.
This means that today’s career may not change in synchrony with one’s personal changes.

Daniel Gilbert

Daniel Gilbert

Daniel T. Gilbert and Jordi Quoidbach of Harvard collaborated with Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia demonstrated this shift in in personalities, values, and preferences over decades of life – and people’s underestimate of these changes – and called it the “end of history illusion.”

Jordi Quoidbach

Jordi Quoidbach

They surveyed more than 19,000 people ages 18 to 68 and found that  young people, middle-aged people, and older people all believed they had changed a lot in the past decade but would change relatively little in the future decade.

Timothy Wilson

Timothy Wilson

The researchers reported that the typical 20-year-old woman participant’s predictions for her next decade were not nearly as radical as the typical 30-year-old woman’s recollection of how much she had changed in her 20s, with this trend holding for volunteers into their 60s.

They found that participants were able to accurately recall personality changes that correlated well expected results, based on independent research charting of personality trait shifts with age.

Gilbert, Quoidbach and Wilson conducted lab studies that found people tend to overpay for future opportunities to indulge their current preferences due to this “end of history” illusion.
This trend may have significant consequences when choices involve potential life partners, long-term financial commitments, and career choices.

These researchers suggest that people underestimate future changes because people may be threatened by the idea that current values and preferences are transitory.
They speculate that such a realization may lead people to doubt many decisions, and experience decision-slowing due to anxiety.

An alternate explanation is that the mental energy required to imagine future changes exceed the effort of recalling the past, so “people may confuse the difficulty of imagining personal change with the unlikelihood of change itself.”

Dan McAdams

Dan McAdams

Dan McAdams of Northwestern University seconded this view and added, “The end-of-history effect may represent a failure in personal imagination,” based on his observations of how people construct stories about their past and future lives in Identity and Story: Creating Self in Narrative (The Narrative Study of Lives).
He noticed that many people tell complex, dynamic stories about the past but then make vague, prosaic projections of a future similar to the present.

These findings suggest that introspection and standardized assessment instruments may have more value when coupled with observing one’s actual behavior and reflected impressions from others.

Additionally, it is wise to:

  • Anticipate the value of changing, expanding, or modifying one’s job role over time
  • Develop a wide array of transferrable skills, applicable across a variety of domains to increase the breadth of options for later preferences.
  • How do you uncover or infer your career strengths and preferences?
  • How do you monitor a possible “end of history” illusion when making career plans?

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©Kathryn Welds

How to Change Habits: Jamming the “Flywheel of Society”

William James

William James

William James, father of American psychology and brother of novelist Henry James wrote in his 1890 The Principles of Psychology, “Habit is thus the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor.”

Though James seemed to look favorably upon the conservative element of habit, the drawbacks of thoughtless habitual actions are clear when people consume more calories than required to complete daily activities, purchase unneeded items, react with predictable emotions in contentious situations, and keep disadvantaged groups without advantages enjoyed by powerful groups.

Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg’s bestseller, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, argues that habits are a significant part of most people’s daily activities – about 40% – and that even brain injured people can form habits.

The Power of HabitHe outlines the A(ntecedant) – B(ehavior) – C(onsequence) model, initiated by a cue or a trigger that signals automatic or habitual behavior.
In a novel situation, the person shifts to a problem-solving mode to develop an appropriate response — which may require creative thinking .

However, in a more typical situation, the person executes the habitual physical, mental, or emotional behavior or “routine,” which is then rewarded — often with a reduction in anxiety or discomfort.

Duhigg shows how dysfunctional habits can be analyzed for the cue, routine, and reward, then changed by modifying the antecedent, behavior or reward.

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis

The A-B-C approach was popularized by Albert Ellis in his Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (RET), and outlined in his more than 50 books including Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy  Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Duhigg provides examples from marketing campaigns for well-known consumer products in the U.S., including Pepsodent toothpaste and Febreze air freshener.

Timothy Wilson

Timothy Wilson

Like Duhigg’s model’s reference to earlier behavior modification approaches, Timothy Wilson of University of Virginia’s Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, adapts principles of Aaron T. Beck’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to change habitual interpretations, attributions, narratives and personal stories that lead to social problems including alcohol and drug abuse, teen violence and pregnancies, and social prejudice.

Aaron Beck

Aaron Beck

Wilson extracts and renames three empirically-validated behavioral techniques:

  • Story editing, to craft a more optimistic, hopeful story or interpretation about a situation, often using writing exercises
  • Story prompting, in which another person provides alternate, more optimistic interpretations based on data or “social proof” from  experiences in a similar situation
  • Cognitive Behavior TherapyDo good, be good, by “acting as if” the new behavior is a well-established habit, often through serving others in volunteer work.

RedirectRSA talk

Another look at habitual, even unconscious thinking in daily life is featured in a related post, Pattern Recognition in Entrepreneurship.

Douglas Van Praet

Douglas Van Praet

This discussion shares Douglas Van Praet’s guidelines to capitalize on unconscious cognitive processing and automatic buying behavior in Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing 

BJ Fogg

BJ Fogg

An earlier post, Hacking Human Behavior: “Tiny Habits” Start, Maintain Changes showcased BJ Fogg’s work on “tiny habits” as hooks to behavior change.
His approach draws on many of the same behavior modification principles featured in Duhigg’s and Wilson’s recommendations to analyze habitual cues, routines, and rewards.

-*How do you analyze and modify habits?

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