How you could be sabotaging your progress

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A couple of weeks back after, two months of rejection emails, I finally got three interviews lined up. A technical test followed by three rounds of virtual interviews for two of the openings, and I didn’t make it through the first round for the third. Feeling pretty good about my options, I was almost sure I would land a job. It was only a matter of time. It has now been two weeks; I still haven’t heard back. A week of waiting, followed by another week of self-doubt and thinking in negative loops.

Was there a gap in the hiring manager’s understanding of my job role?

Was it the way I tackled a trick question?

Or was it my salary expectations?

There are a million ways in which things could have gone wrong but, just one reason they probably did. And we aren’t good predictors of that. Not unless someone calls you back to tell you what exactly you did wrong and, it is more likely that you’ll never hear from them. Trying to come up with reasons why I may not have gotten a call back was futile. It only set me back by couple more days as I wallowed in self-pity. I assumed since I had been working pretty hard for the past two months, learning new skills and practicing to be more confident, it would pay off. Or, I wanted it to pay off but, life isn’t fair. It’s just life. When certain situations play out in our favor, we tend to feel responsible for them. When they don’t, we are more likely to blame the other party. We flavor our experiences with what we think is right or isn’t, and that shapes beliefs.

In an ideal world, hard work pays off, but this isn’t necessarily true if there are no opportunities. What we see, or rather, information that is made available to us, are of the successes, not the failures. So we tend to dote on success and idealize it. We often expect results too soon, falsely believing in the potential of our efforts. But what some may call luck or the right place and time, I like to call probability. Maybe someone worked hard to earn a degree but has no luck finding the right fit when it comes to a job. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less capable than the next guy/girl who did land a job. Getting hired does not just depend upon skills and expertise. Chance, coupled with other factors like the availability of other candidates, the hiring manager’s assessment of your capabilities, etc., is more consequential than we realize.

When we look at things from a single perspective, we are only setting ourselves up for failure. It is no surprise that handling rejection is hard. So let us try and be kind to ourselves without baseless assumptions or blaming ourselves for every misfiring. Here are a few cognitive distortions that even the mightiest of us may have suffered from at one point or another. Identifying these errors has helped me recognize the flaws in my thoughts, and hopefully, they will help you see things for what they are:

  • Polarized Thinking: the tendency to think in terms of polar opposites, without accepting the possibilities that lie between extremes. When convinced that we are either destined for success or doomed to failure, that the people in our lives are either angelic or evil, we engage in polarized thinking.
  • Catastrophizing (also Fortune Telling)to exaggerate the negative consequences of events or decisions. Catastrophizing leads us to dread or assume the worst when faced with the unknown. This thinking error quickly escalates ordinary worries.
  • Discounting the Positive: a faulty thinking pattern that can contribute to negativity. Instead of acknowledging that a good outcome is the result of skill, smart choices, or determination, we assume that it must be an accident or some anomaly.
  • Emotional Reasoning: the false belief that our emotions are the truth — that the way we feel about a situation is a reliable indicator of reality.
  • Labeling: a cognitive distortion in which we reduce ourselves or other people to a single — usually negative — characteristic or descriptor, like “drunk” or “failure.”
  • Mental Filtering: paying undue attention to one negative detail instead of seeing the whole picture. Interpreting circumstances using a negative mental filter is not only inaccurate, but it can also worsen anxiety and depression symptoms.
  • Mind Reading: believing we know what others are thinking, failing to consider other, more likely, possibilities, and making no effort to validate our perception.
  • Over-generalization: making a sweeping negative conclusion that goes far beyond the current situation.
  • “Should” and “Must” Statements: having a precise, fixed idea of how we or others should behave and overestimating how bad it is that these expectations aren’t met. These thoughts are often rooted in an internalized family or cultural expectations, which might not be appropriate.
  • Maladaptive Thoughts: Problematic thoughts that do not contain logical thinking errors. These thoughts may be rational. However, dwelling on them makes us more anxious. And may interfere in coping with the challenges and stresses of daily life.

Sources:

We are programmed to think in patterns, see trends even when there are none. We create stories based on our past experiences. Get influenced by the opinions and views of people around us. External factors like our physical environment, the society we live in, our beliefs and biases are crucial in forming these patterns. Almost always, more than our liking. But this process of hypothesizing is not helpful. And especially when we aren’t dealing with concrete facts. A correlation between the rise of job losses and extended lock-downs due to the pandemic may be valid. But not between the efficacy of a vaccine and the return of those jobs. Chances are, companies may adapt to a whole new ballgame when it comes to recruitment and working culture in general. But we wouldn’t know unless that happens and at least for a certain period, considering there isn’t a fourth or fifth wave or a mutation of the virus. Unfounded relationships between unforeseen variables often lead to setting up expectations and disappointment when things don’t turn out the way you wanted them to.

The next time you find yourself caught in a negative thought loop, remember the following:

  • Your judgment of a situation is not always accurate – you cannot read minds
  • Consider your biases about an outcome – you cannot validate the accuracy of your perception
  • Getting demotivated far too often – beating yourself up for everything only slows down any headway you have been making
  • What you consider as slow progress is still progress
  • Waiting for some event that will change your life – it won’t unless you do
  • A false belief that your effort will pay off after a certain amount of time – it may take longer than you think
  • Making comparisons with anybody about anything
  • Results depend on consistency but also probability – so hang in there
  • Focusing on the end goal and not the process will only lead to a distorted view of reality

What we generally believe to be predictors of success are often fallacious. We assume financial stability is directly related to our mental well-being or that our professional status indicates our intelligence or signifies social rank – they don’t. Period. Nobody was given the wild card to success. We work with what we have and try to improvise. If that’s not consistent, we fail to see results. Simple. Do not base your happiness on a single source or the list of your achievements. Enjoy the process, get to know yourself a little better, be present, and let the rest take its course.

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