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5 ways finance professionals can overcome mental blocks

When it comes to facing your career fears and achieving success, the mind is often what’s the matter.

If you're wondering what's standing between you and career success, the problem could be in your head. While external factors certainly play a role in whether you get the promotion or successfully launch your business, mindset matters, too, according to Stephen Hyland, ACMA, CGMA, career coach and change management leader for HSBC, based in Dublin.

"If you have a growth mindset and you're optimistic and open to change, you're more likely to take that first step and start the process toward achieving your goals," Hyland said.

Psychological barriers to unlocking your career aspirations can range from imposter syndrome, generalised anxiety, limiting beliefs, fear of leaving a job you have mastered, or lack of momentum.

"When you remain in the same position for a long time, the seeds of doubt can start to grow and maybe your confidence wanes," Hyland said. "Whether you want to grow in your own organisation or transition to another, it is possible, but you need to have that confidence."

In order to overcome mental blocks and gain confidence, experts recommend taking a step back, visualising what you want, building a success bank, adjusting your inner dialogue, and creating a healthy distance between your job and personal identity.

Step back and visualise what you want.

When you're caught up in the day to day of your current job, it can be difficult to even consider alternatives.

"The first step is often acknowledging that you are on autopilot, and then getting perspective, which can involve talking to somebody, whether that's a colleague, friend, or a professional," said Yesel Yoon, Ph.D., a psychologist and career counsellor based in New York City.

Take some time to reflect on your career trajectory so far and where exactly you want to be the next few months, or even a year from now, and determine whether there is anything you would want to change. Yoon pointed out that this change doesn't have to be drastic but could be as simple as requesting a new challenge in your current position, mastering a new skill, or attending a professional conference.

When Hyland begins coaching someone new, he likes to work with them to compare their "here and now" with the future state they're striving for and then fill in the building blocks required to get there.

Build a success bank.

If your mental block stems from a lack of confidence, it might be helpful to sit down and recognise all of your past achievements.

Hyland pointed out that people too often focus on their shortcomings and fail to properly acknowledge their successes, which can contribute to low self-esteem. He recommends building and consistently contributing to a "success bank", or a list of your achievements, and breaking down each role you've held to pinpoint specific skills and experiences. For example, your CV might list your current role as "manager", but if you consider all the skills that go into successfully managing others, you might realise you haven't given yourself enough credit.

"A simple example might be how we've all migrated to remote working," Hyland said. "To be able to facilitate a call using this medium is an art in itself. I've been on multiple Zoom calls that have been car crashes, and people who do this well on a daily basis don't realise that it's a new skill they have."

In addition to boosting your confidence, pinpointing skills and building a success bank can help you frame your value to your boss, clients, or prospective employer, increasing your odds of getting that promotion, job, or project you desire.

Vocalise and amend your inner dialogue.

One key step to building confidence is changing the narrative that's playing on a loop inside your head.

"We build our own narratives about what we can or cannot do over time," Yoon said. "By vocalising what you've been saying to yourself and replacing those thoughts with more adaptive, grounded, dare I say compassionate narratives and messages to yourself, you can start to overwrite those limiting beliefs."

For example, Hyland used to have a limiting belief that he was not good at public speaking and would say to himself, "Public speaking is for John the sales guy, who does that every day, but not for me because I'm the IT guy." But when he identified that belief and countered it with empowering beliefs, like "I can speak in front of audiences", he gradually started to believe it.

"It's a slow build because you won't go from zero to a hundred overnight," he said. "You can bring it into your everyday life by jotting empowering beliefs down on a piece of paper, having them on your mirror where you can see them every morning, creating a vision board or a list of affirmations, whatever works for people."

Create a healthy distance between your job and your identity.

If your job has become your identity, anything you do or don't achieve in your career, or mistakes you make, can become a reflection of who you are as a person, according to Yoon.

"I think challenging that narrative and trying to create some distance between what you do in your job and who you are as a person can help a lot," she said.

She explained that extricating your self-worth from your job performance can help take the pressure off of getting that promotion or striving for perfection and can reel in some of that crippling anxiety.

People can start to create that distance in a variety of ways, including finding hobbies outside of work, building a community of supportive people, and recognising that the reason you value others in your life is likely not because of their rank, title, or career achievements.

Take baby steps out of your comfort zone.

Fear is perhaps the biggest hurdle to making any sort of life change, so if you manage to take even a small step towards your goal, much of the work is already done.

"People tend to catastrophise," Hyland said. "They think, 'If this doesn't work out, I'll lose my job, then I'll lose my house, then my marriage, and everything will fall apart,' but nothing that bad ever really happens. You need to make the first move, and then you build momentum, which enables you to keep going."

For example, if you've decided that you want to improve your public-speaking skills, Hyland recommends taking incremental steps, sharing your journey with others, and setting bite-sized milestones to mark your progress. Perhaps you start by presenting a brief pitch to one person, then bring in a few friends or family members, gradually increasing the audience to five, ten, 20, and eventually 50 or more people.

He added that even if you do stumble at some point along the way to realising your career goals, you can shift your mindset and recognise it as a learning experience.

"Probably the greatest learning is from what we perceive to be our biggest disappointments or setbacks," he said. "But it's only from that learning that you equip yourself to move forward and add more skills to your existing skillset."

— To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.