22 Jun 2015 20:00 IST

Detour, fork in the road or dead-end?

Sometimes you are the reason you're not moving ahead

As we embark on our career journey, all of us have a goal or a bunch of goals. Some of us may simply call this ambition. To arrive somewhere in the corporate rat race, to own a farm-house not too far from our work place, have a decent asset portfolio, and the like. Even in the short to medium term, we have goals. This may have to do with delivering an assignment well and make a mark as a result-oriented professional. However, it is not unusual that we run into roadblocks. This creates a kind of frustration and, more often than not, also a deep sense of helplessness.

Roadblocks and barriers are not something to dread, as savvy professionals understand. Often, it is not the roadblock that hurts our progress and strips us of confidence. It is how we react to them that needs examination. It is a no-brainer that roadblocks could be either internal or external. Internal barriers are roadblocks we create for ourselves. External ones are those emanating from outside.

Bad listening habits

Internal roadblocks often include our habits that are not helping us reach our goals, such as rising late or not exercising. It can also include bad listening habits and gossiping about others around us. In other words, there can potentially be an endless list of such habits, some of which perhaps are our “patented ones.” Poor time management, lack of self-confidence, fear of the unknown and letting negative thoughts control us also fall under internal roadblocks.

External roadblocks could include illness, uncooperative colleagues, a politically-charged work environment or an unsupportive supervisor, to name a few. Some of these can be managed and some of these can be adjusted or tweaked suitably to minimise their impact on our journey towards realising our goals. But the most important first step is to recognise what is causing the ‘current state of blockage.’ Being clear on this will give us ideas as to how to overcome or work around them. It is also important to recognise that problems become even more complex when we let external barriers become internal.

Let us assume you have an unsupportive supervisor at work. He may deny you the resources, minimise support or criticise you often, seemingly for nothing. This is not a great situation to be in for anyone, no matter how great we are otherwise in terms of our ability and motivation. While this is a problem situation by itself, some of us make it worse by turning this external barrier into an internal one. This manifests when you experience what psychologists call “learned helplessness.”

Learned helplessness

Learned helplessness is what happens when you try a few times and give up eventually instead of persisting. Even giant elephants are no exception to suffering in such situations. As a calf, an elephant tries its best to escape from being held captive and, soon enough, it realizes it is tied to a strong rope or chain so no escape is possible. Over the years, it grows in size and strength, but unfortunately thanks to learned helplessness, it has given up trying to walk free, even from a thin rope it is tied to.

The question, therefore, is: when saddled with a situation like the above, how do we perceive and interpret the road ahead? As a detour, as a fork in the road or as a dead-end? Those who manage their roadblocks well obviously see the barriers are just a detour or a fork in the road, causing temporary anxiety and confusion, but never as a dead-end.

A belief that you are in charge of your life and to a large extent can control it and direct it makes your locus of control “internal.” If your locus of control is “external,” you tend to attribute your success and failure to chance or luck.

The good news is that internal locus on control can be developed and strengthened. Optimism can be enhanced with help from the significant others we work or live with. An external coach can help us get better to a significant extent. After all, learned helplessness is not a curse to live with. The cure is often within our reach, provided we take the first step towards getting up and seeking help.

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