THE BLOG
07/11/2013 09:14 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:53 GMT

How you can become the author of your own destiny

There will soon be one less woman in charge of a FTSE 100 company. A great shame.

Angela Ahrendt's departure from Burberry to Apple now leaves just two of the UK's largest 100 companies with a woman in the top job. But it's not entirely a step backwards. Christopher Bailey, as Ahrendt's replacement, will be the FTSE 100's first openly gay CEO.

Can you feel that delicate kiss of refreshing air wash over you?

From the son of a carpenter and window dresser to the youngest ever FTSE 100 CEO in 41 years is a fairly meteoric rise. And this begs the question - has he ever had the chance to stop, reflect and wonder whether he feels truly fulfilled in his work?

To be so successful so quickly you'd imagine he must be. And if that's the case then he joins the rest of the 20,000,000 of us who claim to be fulfilled in our professional lives.

I was recently at the launch of the latest piece of research conducted by Randstad, the recruiter and HR provider. The report examined professional fulfilment among UK workers and how levels of fulfilment compare across different industries.

As well as showing that 67% of the UK workforce (just under 20 million people) feel professional fulfilled, it showed that workers in IT, law, HR and marketing are the most fulfilled by their careers.

Unluckily for Burberry, Randstad suggests employers who want to boost fulfilment levels in their workforce should increase the number of women in their organisation (women are more professionally fulfilled than men); encourage older workers to work beyond the state pension age and strive to recruit younger workers - who are more fulfilled than the middle-aged; as well as making sure high-flying employees get more autonomy and more variety in their work.

That's all very well and good. But how can you ensure you become more professionally fulfilled? How can you become the author of your own destiny? Neuroscience suggests four things are essential.

They are:

Flow: Flow is that feeling you get when what you are doing is hard - but also highly satisfying. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied this for years and found people who achieve Flow do so in virtually any types for job - from janitors to CEOs. Flow comes when there is a balance between your perceived challenge and perceived ability. You don't want it to be too easy; a bit of stretch on one or the other aspects is needed. You should aim to husband your Flow. It's OK to have less of it at times: do the filing or whatever the non-thinking part of your job is. This gives your prefrontal cortex - the executive problem solving, analytical part of your brain which gets much more fatigued than we realise - a rest. You also need to make sure that Flow doesn't become a narcotic high. According to John Coates, a neuroscientist who studied traders, this is when testosterone is high along with adrenalin and cortisol and delivers a squirt of the reward chemical dopamine to the brain. This narcotic effect is fine once in a while - but it's dangerous over the long term.

Goals: We all have goals, even if we don't think about them. Being fulfilled has an element of striving in it so, inevitably, there will be goals involved. Science has found people tend to form goals in one of two ways. The first is the avoidance goal; you aim to move away from what you don't want. The trouble with this type of goals is when you come close to getting it, the motivation tends to wain. The second is the approach goal - something you are moving towards, and striving for. It is easier to keep motivated even as you get close. That's the one you want to set yourself.

Mindset: Research by Carol Dweck has found those with a fixed mindset believe their talents and abilities are innate - that they came at birth. The mindset is you either have it or you don't. The trouble is then the job requirements change, people with fixed mindsets stop trying, keep moving jobs to one that fits their talents or become drones. The alternative, a growth mindset, believes fulfilment comes with effort, learning and experience. You just have to keep at it.

Noticing: the technical term for this is priming. What do you notice in your job? All the drone times or the narcotic highs? If you train yourself to notice the mastery you achieved you are much more likely to be fulfilled.

If you are not fulfilled it can be quite annoying to be around those who are but remember social contagion. If people are fulfilled the feeling is catching, so make the effort to spend time with them. Maybe that was Christopher Bailey's secret?