Theme 2: Mindset & Resilience
Build psychological resilience for the transition.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Why is this theme important?
Your mind desperately wants to keep you safe. But running toward safety (and away from the uncomfortable) is a surefire way to never escape. Use fears and worries as your guide; not your endpoint.
Understand how your brain works.
Your brain has a big job: to keep you safe. It’s a job that it does spectacularly well. And thank goodness it has. It’s helped your ancestors evade an impressive gaggle of beasts, battles and bad times to help ensure you’re sitting here today.
Most of us are fortunate to no longer need to look out for hungry lions, vicious crocodiles, or savage rival Tribespeople as we go about our day-to-day tasks. Unfortunately our brain hasn’t quite caught up with this reality.
In his book ‘The Chimp Paradox’, Steve Peters calls this part of the brain which runs on gut instincts, emotions and thinks in black and white our ‘inner chimp’.
Our “inner chimp” is at odds with the rational, evidence-based part of the brain which sees shades of grey and doesn’t fall for all-or-nothing thinking.
Peters explains the paradox: we need our chimp for basic survival instincts, but if we don’t have a plan to manage it, it can run our lives and keep us from doing truly meaningful (but internally scary) things.
We respond more strongly to threats than to opportunities. It’s how our brains operate. Think about someone standing on a high bridge or a diving board, saying they want to jump off, but their mind is refusing to let them do it. The same can feel true for the scary steps along our own Escape. Our brain can have power over us unless we understand this and decide to do something about it.
Avoid the experiential avoidance trap.
Career Psychologist and core Escape School faculty member Rob Archer likes to talk about a principle called Experiential Avoidance when dealing with our sometimes unhelpful chimp brain.
‘Experiential Avoidance’ essentially says that the brain will try and get you to run away from stuff that involves pain and fear in the short-term, even if the long-term outcome is something you want.
Let’s say that running a marathon is something you’re deeply driven to accomplish. This requires hard work; waking up an hour earlier to run before work, skipping out on after work drinks to train, pressing through those miles when it hurts the most. Your brain says: “Stop! This is no fun! I hate it! It’s hard!”
Your brain gives an excellent case for you to stop and move away from your marathon goal. Even though you should certainly be doing these training tasks in order to move toward that goal.
Rob calls these “away moves” and “towards moves.” Be mindful to make “towards moves” forward. Be cautious of your brain’s self-satisfying and safe “away moves.” They mean to keep you safe, but they will also keep you from accomplishing your higher ambitions.
Treat discomfort as a good sign.
Moving towards something that matters can be challenging. We are extremely good at sabotaging ourselves, catastrophizing, engaging in all-or-nothing thinking, trying to predict the future, and making rash assumptions. Whilst our thoughts and emotions are useful guides for survival, they can be much less useful when fulfilment is at stake. In this sense, emotions can be unreliable indicators of the right way forwards. If the direction excites you, it’ll likely also scare you. If something is important to you, you’ll also fear losing it.
All of this is normal when starting in a new direction, but too many of us treat discomfort as the endpoint, rather than the beginning. It’s easy to give up when things get really hard.
Going back to the marathon example — in the actual race there will be some miles that are just horrendous and horribly difficult. But if you do not endure those miles, and simply stop at the first brush with discomfort, you’ll never enjoy the accomplishment of realising the marathon goal.
In fact, discomfort is a good sign. It means you’re growing and moving into unchartered territory. If you feel discomfort, you’re probably doing something right. Do not give up. If the end goal is important to you, keep going.
Use your fears & worries to guide you.
An analysis of the 558 emotion words in the English language found that 62% of them were negative and 38% percent were positive.
As humans, we have a tendency towards the negative. This probably stems back to our “inner chimp” just trying to identify problems and keep us safe. We default to focusing on obstacles, not goals. We want to fix things. We want to stay alive.
The things that worry you and that you think negatively about may be genuine risks. But instead of using them as an excuse to stop or never start, take them and use them to your advantage.
Here’s an idea: Take your worries and write them down. Turn your worries into a To-Do list.
Knowing that these are things you need to address (big and small) will help you size each up and plan accordingly. Worries can be useful when used in your plan of attack – less useful when they keep us stagnant and standing still.
When trying to build up a healthy ‘escape mindset,’ it’s helpful to go back — way back — to the days of ancient Rome and the philosophy of Stoicism, which teaches us this: most things are not within our immediate control.
Jules Evans, our resident philosopher at the Escape School teaches the general concept of stoicism by drawing two circles, one inner circle labeled “Zone 1” and one outer circle labeled “Zone 2.”
“Zone 1 is what we have control over. Zone 2 is what we do not.”
What’s in this larger uncontrollable Zone 2? The weather, the economy, major government decisions and policies, your health (to a large extent), other people’s health, other people’s actions and reactions. On and on.
What’s in Zone 1? Surprisingly little. The honest truth is that we have but very little control over most things in life. But what we do reign control over is how we decide to observe and react to the things in Zone 2. We have control over our perceptions of these things.
To quote Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in ‘Meditations’, a bedrock of Stoic thinking:
“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside.”
Escaping anxiety is a choice. Choose to focus on Zone 1.
Learn to love your fate.
There’s a Latin saying Amor Fati that means “to love one’s fate.” Let’s unpack this phrase a bit.
The author and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for saying,
“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.”
Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius voiced similar thoughts:
“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”
The essence of Amor Fati is simply this: things will happen to us whether we’d like them to or not. The way forward may be difficult and will surely contain challenges and obstacles. Similar to focusing on Zone 1, Amor fati is a call to action to look at the obstacles before you and not only endure them, but try to love them. After all, the discomfort they bring about is helping you grow and is necessary for your transition.
“You can’t have regret and anxiety and gratitude in your head at the same time. Whenever I feel like regret is coming on or anxiety is coming on, I’ll say to myself: what are 10 new things I can be grateful for?” James Altucher
When you stumble, when you doubt, when you feel unclear, whisper to yourself a simple reminder: Be grateful.
Just the fact that you’re wrestling with these tough questions means that you’re in a privileged enough state to do so. But this doesn’t mean you should stop wrestling — these questions are valid and worthwhile. It just means that by admitting to yourself that you’re discontent in your work means you’re leagues ahead of most people who are too numb to realize it, or worse, have already given up on doing something about it.
When the burden feels too tough to bear, remind yourself to be thankful for all you have and for how far you’ve already come. Try to celebrate your discontent. Welcome your discomfort. Love your “fate.”
Remember that being here and struggling with these things leads to a simple fact: you’re alive. Isn’t that a wonderful thing to be?
Now let’s go and do something with this life.
- Build an understanding of how your mind can sabotage your career change efforts.
- Spot the differences between your fear of the unknown and genuine risks that need managing.
- Develop a set of principles, mantras or philosophies to support you in building a career on your terms.
- Practice new mental habits and wellbeing tactics to fortify you through what can be a challenging process.
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