Everyone wants to be happy at work! We spend a good chunk of our lives there. Yet this goal doesn’t mean that we need to eliminate negativity from our work lives and become constantly cheerful and indifferent to life’s troubles. Such a goal is unrealistic and harmful. Work isn’t all about roses, lollipops, sunshine and rainbows!
Negative thoughts serve a purpose. Firstly, they are part of our ability to predict possible outcomes and prepare for bad situations. For example, if you are considering taking out a loan to purchase a new car that you may not be able to pay off in a timely manner, thinking about possible negative consequences might prevent you from taking this step. Whereas a blanket “think positive” approach might lead you into a bad situation where you overextend yourself financially. Considering the positive and negative aspects of a situation rationally (an important distinction) is part of our capability to evaluate a situation realistically.
Not all our negative thoughts are rational. Many times, we think ourselves into a downward spiral. For example, an employee that has not accomplished something to their manager’s satisfaction might start thinking that they are dumb, worthless, can’t do anything right, and the next time when faced with a challenge, think they will fail before even trying. These thoughts are not rational, but they are normal. These thoughts often come from ingrained thinking patterns that might originate in our childhood or may just be there. Nature or nuture? Who knows. Regardless, these patterns are common and pervasive. The more we think these thoughts, the more we deepen the groove in our brain, the more they become ingrained on a biological level. Therefore, it’s normal our brain first turns to familiar ways of thinking when faced with stress – whether positive or negative ways!
But we can change. Changing our thinking and changing our brain takes time and effort. All of us know it’s not easy. Ever made a New Years resolution and not stayed with it? Most of us have. It’s easy to revert to old habits, especially when dealing with stressful situations at work. It’s important not to beat yourself up over having negative thinking! If you do– you start the negative thinking process over again. If you start your day in a negative way, and get out of bed swearing (which many do!), you’ll most likely live your work day that way. No one wants to be around that!
Having negative thoughts doesn’t mean you have to act on them, doesn’t mean they are realistic or even real!
So what can you do?
Here are 5 techniques to determine if your negative thinking is useful and grounded in fact. Using these will help shift your thinking to a more positive approach:
- Think about your behaviours as actions, not as a part of your identity. What you do is not who you are. Actions can be changed. Who you are, can’t.
- Don’t be afraid to apologize and take action to improve the consequences of past and potentially negative decisions. This builds trust with people – whether at work (or at home!). There are few things worse for a staff member than when their boss doesn’t own up to their mistakes. When this happens, trust gets broken.
- Don’t dwell on the failure. Ask ‘What can I learn from this? It sounds easy to do but when we are beating ourselves up about what we “should have” done, it’s easy to forget.
- On that note, remove the word should from your vocabulary!
- Ground negative work experiences in the facts, by asking one of these questions:
- Is there an alternative explanation as to why this happened?
- What evidence is there to support this belief?
- Does doing this really mean that will happen? Or could something else happen?
Use the above techniques to help you determine if the negative thoughts you are having about the experience are grounded in fact and warning you away from something. Or, is what you’re thinking an irrational fear not grounded in reality, that may cause you to slip into negative, harmful patterns of thought. You can use negativity to help you. You can take a positive approach in a negative situation. If I can, and all the people I’ve worked with can, you can too!
Copyright © Gregg Brown 2017