Are You A Fortune Teller?

How good are your predictions?


‘I know I really need to do something different.  I know I am in the wrong job, but what if I try something new and it all goes wrong?’

I hear variations on this theme pretty often when I am talking with clients.  They are falling into a common trap – trying to be a Fortune Teller in their own lives.

They are making a set of assumptions about the future and basing their current decisions (or lack of decisions!) on what they predict may happen.

Fortune Teller

If you are, don’t panic, you are very definitely not alone in this.

What’s going on here is something called a ‘thinking error’ in Cognitive Behavioural circles. When you are playing the Fortune Teller, you are simply using a habitual and irrational thinking pattern that very often sets up a self defeating cycle of thoughts and keeps you trapped somewhere you’d rather escape from.

If you find yourself rehearsing the same little story about your career change over and over, then you have probably got yourself locked into a thinking error like being a Fortune Teller.

So what’s to be done about it?

First of all, learn to spot when it is happening.  Observe the familiar pathways you travel in your mind when you think about changing career.  Then instead of travelling the same pathway yet again – and that is very tempting because it is soooo easy to just default into it without much effort – stop and ask yourself a few challenging questions.

Questions like

  • How do I know it will turn out that way? What evidence do I have? What are the facts?

If you are being a Fortune Teller, you won’t have much evidence.  You will just be guessing, assuming you know what will happen.  So start to gather hard information.  Who do you know who has changed career?  How did it go for them? Are they now penniless and on the streets?!

  • What is really the worst thing that could happen? How likely is that?  If it did happen, what would I do?  What is the best possible outcome? What other outcomes are possible?


OK, allow yourself to wallow in the worst case scenario for a minute.  If you are honest, you will admit that it is not that likely.  And I bet you have had other challenges in your life before and you know what? You just deal with it, don’t you? And you are still here!

And once you have wallowed, then balance the books by really visualising the best outcome.  How fantastic that would be to be running your own business or working in a career that inspires you! And there are plenty more likely outcomes that fall between the two.

  • Am I assuming that things will go wrong because they have done before?  Is that ALWAYS the case? What examples can I think of where things have gone well?

You may think you are not being a Fortune Teller – you have the evidence of something you tried once before and it all went wrong. So there you go – that proves it!  Well does it? Do things ALWAYS go wrong?  Make sure you take a balanced view and acknowledge that you can make changes successfully, however small.

  • How does thinking this way help me?  What will happen (or not happen) if I continue to play the Fortune Teller?  What would be a more helpful line of thought?

Take the role of a supportive friend for a moment and ask yourself kindly what the benefits of this Fortune Teller thinking are for you.  You may think it is keeping you safe but stop and reflect on how you will feel or how your life and work will be if you do nothing and nothing changes. What about thinking something like ‘I may face some challenges along the way if I change career, but I will deal with them as they come up and I know I will be much happier in the long run.’

Don’t just guess your future…


So next time you catch yourself being a Fortune Teller, just smile quietly as you spot the little game you are playing, the habit that you have fallen into.

Then adopt a different approach.  Reach for the more balanced and considered version of your career future.

The one that is actually more realistic and the one that you really can make happen.

What do you think?

  • Do you sometimes fall into the trap of being a Fortune Teller?
  • Which of the questions I posed will help you escape the Fortune Teller’s trap?
  • When you spot yourself falling into that old, familiar thinking habit, what will you do instead?

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From the 5 Minute Career Coach July 2014

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About the author

Amy Thomas

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