Mindfulness and decision-making style: predicting career thoughts and vocational identity.

Author:Galles, Jacob

Mindfulness has been a focus of psychological research and practice in recent decades. Yet, there is limited research on the relationship between mindfulness and vocational decision-making. This study's purpose was to examine the role of mindfulness in a career context by investigating the relationships among mindfulness, decision-making style, negative career thoughts, and vocational identity. The sample included 258 undergraduate students (204 women, 54 men) at a large southeastern U.S. university. Mindfulness was significantly (p

Keywords: mindfulness, negative career thoughts, vocational decision-making style, vocational identity, career counseling


Decision-making, including decision-making styles, remains an area of interest in the vocational and career development field (S. D. Brown, Hacker, & Abrams, 2012; Gati & Levin, 2014). Researchers have explored the relationships between decision-making and vocational identity (Holland, 1997), negative thoughts (Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1996b), mental health factors (Walker & Peterson, 2012), and a variety of other variables (S. D. Brown & Rector, 2008). A topic that has received less attention in vocational research is that of mindfulness (Kabat-Zinn, 1990) and how mindfulness might be connected to career factors and, ultimately, improved career decision-making. Making career decisions and surviving in an uncertain job market can be difficult, especially when individuals lack knowledge about themselves and options, and experience negative thoughts and emotions associated with their lives and career situations. In the present study, we examined how mindfulness coupled with decision-making style might relate to negative career thinking and vocational identity.


Mindfulness, as a concept and practice, has a history spanning more than 2,500 years and has been a key focus in Western medical and psychological practice over the past few decades (Davidson & Dimidjian, 2015). The literature suggests that mindfulness is a complex and multidimensional construct (Hart, Ivtzan, & Hart, 2013), although it appears that the majority of definitions have certain qualities in common (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Kabat-Zinn (2003) formulated a definition of mindfulness that incorporates the idea of mindfulness as a state of being in which one is nonjudgmentally aware of thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and external stimuli, accompanied by characteristics such as openness, acceptance, and curiosity. Mindfulness has extended beyond a means for reducing stress to treating various psychological disorders, such as major depression, generalized anxiety, and attention-deficit disorders (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999; Teasdale et al., 2000). Regular mindfulness practice has been found to be more effective in reducing depressive symptoms and improving quality of life than antidepressant medication maintenance (Kuyken et al., 2008). Mindfulness may also lead to reduced tendencies to ruminate on negative thoughts and feelings, increased ability to solve problems, and greater focus in the midst of trauma or adversity (Ortner, Kilner, & Zelazo, 2007), as well as improvement in life satisfaction (Felsman, Verduyn, Ayduk, & Kross, 2017).

Previous research on mindfulness points to its ability to reduce worry and rumination about possible future scenarios and past experiences, and its potential to increase individuals' ability to be more fully in the present and more prepared to handle difficult situations as they arise (Baer, 2003; Deyo, Wilson, Ong, & Koopman, 2009; R. D. Siegel, 2010). These outcomes may have relevance to a person's self-clarity or vocational identity, level of negative thinking, and the ability to think positively about current and future career choices. This previous research suggests that mindfulness may serve as an effective intervention within the context of career counseling that addresses the intersection of career and mental health issues (Zunker, 2008).

Mindfulness in a Career Counseling Context

Mindfulness has received limited attention in the career development and counseling literature. Jacobs and Blustein (2008) discussed the incorporation of mindfulness as a method to help individuals cope with uncertainty involved in finding employment. They asserted that fostering mindfulness-based viewpoints and teaching mindfulness skills may help clients with decision-making in the face of uncertainty by decreasing worry about the future and by increasing engagement with problem-solving tasks. Zhang (2011) suggested that individuals who are more mindful have fewer career decision-making difficulties stemming from emotional concerns. Mindfulness has also been associated with more job satisfaction and less emotional exhaustion at work (Hulsheger, Alberts, Feinholdt, & Lang, 2013), as well as greater work engagement (Leroy, Anseel, Dimitrova, & Sels, 2013). Despite the broader research findings noted earlier that mindfulness may help reduce negative affect, such as depression, anxiety, negative thinking, rumination, and worry, as well as help individuals process information in the present and be open to future possibilities, there is a need for further empirical evidence on how mindfulness might specifically inform career counseling and vocational decision-making. This gap in the literature provided the impetus for the current study.

Vocational Decision-Making Style

A person's approach to a decision-making situation is referred to as decision-making style. Harren (1979) distinguished between three styles of decision-making--rational, intuitive, and dependent--and asserted that a rational approach to decision-making is superior to other styles. Other researchers have suggested that there are limits to rational approaches (e.g., Krieshok, Black, & McKay, 2009). Phillips, Pazienza, and Ferrin (1984) studied the relationships between vocational decision-making style and problem-solving and found that individuals who endorsed both a rational and an intuitive vocational decision-making style were more likely to approach problem-solving tasks with greater confidence and sense of personal control than were those who endorsed a rational style alone. Blustein and Phillips (1988) found a positive relationship between a thinking-oriented decision-making style in relation to career exploratory behavior. Farrar (2009) found that students scoring higher on the feeling-oriented and extroverted styles reported more career decision-making difficulties. Given these mixed findings related to decision-making style and selected career variables, our research sought to further explore how mindfulness level, along with decision-making style, might be related to career thoughts and vocational identity.

Career Thoughts

Cognitive information processing (CIP) theory (Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, & Lenz, 2004) provides a framework for conceptualizing the nature of career problems and a person's readiness to engage in the decision-making process. CIP theory includes a pyramid of information-processing domains comprising self-knowledge, options knowledge, decision-making skills, and metacognitions. Metacognitions govern strategies used to solve career problems through self-talk, self-awareness, and monitoring and control (Sampson et al., 2004). CIP theory emphasizes how negative career thoughts may affect the career decision-making process.

In cognitive therapy (Beck, 1976), negative thoughts are believed to have a damaging effect on feelings and motivation to behave in an effective way that causes difficulty in processing and effectively using information to solve career problems. Making career choices requires processing and using information about oneself and about available options, engaging in a decision-making process, and monitoring one's thoughts and feelings throughout the process (Sampson et al., 2004). Research has shown that negative thoughts can have a damaging effect on the ability and motivation to process information about oneself and one's options, as well as the ability to execute a plan of action to effectively solve career problems and make career decisions (Sampson et al., 1996b).

Based on CIP theory (Sampson et al., 2004) and Beck's (1976) cognitive therapy approach, the Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI; Sampson et al., 1996b; Sargent & Lenz, 2017-2018) was developed to measure negative career thinking in career problem-solving and decision-making. Research on negative career thoughts has found significant relationships with decision-making style and cognitive thought patterns (Paivandy, Bullock, Reardon, & Kelly, 2008), depression (Saunders, Peterson, Sampson, & Reardon, 2000), hopelessness (Dieringer, Lenz, Hayden, & Peterson, 2017), and vocational identity (Strohm, 2008; Yanchak, Lease, & Strauser, 2005).

CIP theory can be used as a framework to understand the possible benefit of incorporating mindfulness into career counseling. A number of articles refer to mindfulness as a metacognition (e.g., K. W. Brown & Ryan, 2003; Teasdale, 1999; Teasdale et al., 2002; Wells, 2002). Teasdale (1999) asserted that the practice of mindfulness fosters greater metacognitive insight and "allows for more clear sightedness and a greater sense of manageability in one's life" (p. 154). Along with negative career thoughts, research suggests that clarity about one's future (i.e., vocational identity) may be a useful area to explore in relation to mindfulness given the positive benefits associated with mindfulness practice (Baer, 2003; Teasdale, 1999). These findings led to our final research question of how mindfulness and decision-making style might relate to vocational identity (Holland, 1997).

Vocational Identity

Career indecision has been hypothesized to be the result of difficulties in forming a vocational identity...

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