Today’s Awkward is Tomorrow’s Cool

Prom 1983. By Andrew Kitzmiller
Prom 1983. Photo courtesy of Andrew Kitzmiller.

Basically, 2017 was the year in which all of the adults became anxious and depressed teenagers at a high-school dance, after we just got 51% on a big exam, and our crush sent mixed signals just before they moved away.  The moment of clarity from 2017 was that adults are just as susceptible to adolescent anxiety as the teenagers are.

And workforce analytics is right in there, disrupting the pecking order.

Analytics is a major threat to those who presume their authority and excellence should be based on wins from years gone by.  Therefore, all office politics are up for grabs.  Every job in every sector is under intense change, and at the very least we’ll each have to pick up some new tools and apply them to our current job just to break even.  But it’s far more likely that your job is the subject of a double-or-nothing bet.

Can people change?  Yes, but they have to work at it.  This is an interesting article about malleable personalities.  The idea of a malleable personality is that we can change who we are based on the circumstances, or in a chosen direction of who we want to be.  This idea is newer than most people think.

There has been a shift in psychiatry away from the decades-long theory that our brains are fixed after a certain age.  Instead, our brains are subject to neuroplasticity, in which we are always growing and adapting.  I was first exposed to the concept a decade ago by Dr. Norman Doidge in his 2007 book The Brain That Changes Itself.

Doidge was one of the earliest researchers in the psychiatry of neuroplasticity.  He had a really hard time convincing fixed-mindset people in his own field that people can change.  Major shifts in scientific thinking can take decades within the academic discipline.  Then the researchers need to convince the general public, which takes longer.

So, let’s see how quickly we can pick up a new concept and apply it to our lives, starting now.

The newer research about malleable personalities was about helping teenagers cope with anxiety and depression.  The researchers created a 30-minute video for teens to watch, explaining some new concepts:

“They heard from older youths saying they believe people can change, and from others saying how they’d used belief in our capacity for change (a “growth mindset”) to cope with problems like embarrassment or rejection. The teenagers learned strategies for applying these principles…” (Emphasis added)

The study showed noticeable improvements, relative to a control group, in depression and – lesser so – with anxiety over a nine-month period.  The study looked at both the self-reporting by the teens and the opinions of those teens’ parents.  The researchers were particularly enthusiastic that this brief video is scale-able, can be offered to all teens universally, and can set up kids for a more successful intervention later in their lives.

Adopting a Growth Mindset in a Changing Workplace and Changing World

Although the study is limited to teens in a clinical sample, the findings may be relevant to the general population’s adaptability to change.  Workplaces are in upheaval because of technology and globalization.  Every region is gripped by either unemployment or unaffordable housing.  Inequality and social media are making people increasingly anxious they haven’t made it.  Democracies are vulnerable to demagogues who offer temptations to turn back the clock.

In the workplace, what should we do?

Adopt a growth mindset, change our personalities as we see fit, and give ourselves permission to become two or more different types of people.  Scheme to have a backup plan or a side-hustle.  Put down the smartphone and start reading.  Regard societal upheaval as a topic of exceptional cocktail banter.

Then talk about your feelings, eat a sandwich, and have a nap.

You’ll need the rest.  Because tomorrow is another person.

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