Have you ever heard someone say, “if I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all?” Or “it is what it is” in the resigned tone that says they don’t think they can do anything about a situation? Or “why does this always happen to me?”
Many of us have probably said one of these jokingly or in a moment of frustration, but believing them can lead to an unproductive mindset. Mindset isn’t about always thinking positively, it’s a ‘mental attitude or inclination.’ It includes how you think of yourself, how you perceive your circumstances, and how you approach change. As a leadership coach and corporate trainer, I have explored with clients how their mindset affects their careers and personal lives and concluded that having a healthy mindset is key to resilience. I’ve observed some common pitfalls.
Deficiency focusing is the habit of focusing on negatives at the expense of positives. Many of my clients get caught up in the habit of deficiency focusing without even realizing it. For example, organizational shortcomings become the center of their attention at the expense of appreciating the organization’s strengths and their own opportunities. This bias causes them to place an exaggerated focus on how much is going wrong or is likely to go wrong in their position, department, or the entire culture of the organization. The result is they become less motivated and proactive and often sound like the Winnie-the-Pooh character Eeyore when they talk about work.
Negative self-talk affects your ability to make changes in your career. Our brains think much faster than we can talk, and sometimes insert pessimistic ideas and judgments so quickly that we’re often not aware it’s happened. Before you know it, you’re convinced that you have no options and aren’t smart enough to take advantage of them if you did.
Low skill recognition is related to negative self-talk. It refers to a tendency people have to not recognize the role of their skills and abilities in their work success. These are the people who always say a project was a success only because of the help they received from others, or because they were just lucky. While none of us wants to come across as arrogant or boastful, it’s important to recognize your own success. People who have the habit of low skill recognition often find themselves stuck at a particular level in their profession because they do such a poor job of raising their visibility in a genuine, authentic way.
Being a ‘control freak’ is a mindset that can lead to burnout. Do you ever feel that a task “has to be” performed by you or that only you can do it “right”? It’s fine to take responsibility, but this mindset can lead to taking on more and more work without exploring options with a manager, colleagues, or partner. It can eventually lead to feeling like a failure because you couldn’t accomplish the impossible.
Check Your Mindset
- If you’re stuck in deficiency focusing, try the ABC exercise. This exercise uses the stress equation captured by psychologist Albert Ellis: A + B = C, in which A represents the stressful event, B represents your beliefs about that event, and C represents what you feel and how you react afterward—the consequence. Here’s an example:
My boss is leaving the organization (A). I need to leave too because no one else will ever mentor me like she has (B). I will update my career documents and go on interviews (C).
An alternative is: my manager is leaving (A) but it is out of my control (B). Working for a new manager will be different but I can try it out and then decide whether I will stay or leave, since I presently have a great career fit (C).
- If your self-talk is negative, the first step is to become aware of it. When you ‘hear’ it in your brain, try to stop, take a deep breath, and recalibrate your self-talk. Stay away from using the words I can’t and I should, and keep the situation in perspective. Find out the facts before you react so you have the opportunity to take a more rational approach to the situation.
- If low skill recognition has become a habit for you, I suggest being mindful of when your mind chatter is not giving you the credit you deserve. Replace that chatter with giving yourself credit, internally and externally.
- Are you feeling overwhelmed by a task or project? Ask yourself if giving up some control—for example, asking for guidance or additional resources—will help.
- Perception is an important part of mindset. The next time there’s an event at work such as a change in management or a new office, try to conceptualize it as a chance to learn and grow rather than as a crisis.
- See the big picture. When you are confronted with a minor annoyance such as a broken copy machine, ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a broken glass and 10 being an earthquake, how serious the problem is. Most problems are not as bad as they seem.
- Do you take on more work than you can realistically handle because you’re afraid only you can do it “right”? Give yourself a reality check and realize that there may be more than one “right” way of accomplishing a task, even if it isn’t your way.
Focus on your mindset to enhance your resilience, productivity, and appreciation of the good things in your life.