Imagine this: You’re driving to work, it’s raining, and you’re late. When you arrive, the team meeting has already started. After the meeting, you open your email to find two clients needing immediate help and an email from a colleague saying they’ll be late on their end of the project you’re working on together.
Even just one of those stressful events starting the day can easily put us in a negative mood at work. And adverse feelings can lead to thinking negatively.
Why Do We Think This Way?
Out of the entire broad spectrum of human emotion, science has narrowed our feelings down to just five core basics:
Notice how only one positive emotion appears on the list. Unfortunately, unhappy emotions usually lead to negative thoughts, and this is just part of our biology. It’s called the “negativity bias,” and it explains why humans are prewired to think more pessimistically than positively.
Every human since the cavemen has paid attention to the five basic emotions, perhaps heeding their fear instincts the most. Listening to their thoughts is what kept our primitive ancestors from being eaten by saber-toothed tigers. Fear and other “bad” emotions trigger the fight-or-flight response, which releases cortisol and other chemicals into the bloodstream, helping us deal with stressful situations.
In the modern-day jungle of the workplace, this instinct and these stress chemicals kick in just as they did for our progenitors. This can lead to negative thoughts at work.
Why Do We Get This Way at Work?
If cavemen had only known about giving a presentation in a company-wide meeting, they may not have found the saber-toothed tigers so threatening. Work can be a place of many stressors. So, when we’re at work, it’s easy to drop into our negativity bias. Pessimism around work may result from a variety of reasons and show up in different ways.
A person who doesn’t feel safe speaking up at work might slip into unhelpful thinking, such as “no one will listen to me anyway,” “I’ll get in trouble if I say the wrong thing,” or “this team will never get along.” This stems from a lack of psychological safety.
People who don’t feel confident in their skills or knowledge can easily fall into thoughts such as “I’ll never be able to finish this project” or “I’ll never make that deadline.” Managers and leaders might lack self-confidence, leading to thoughts such as “no one will see me as a leader” or “they’ll never follow me.”
Whatever type of stressor we face at work, it’s likely to drop us into negative thinking. But if we know what to look out for, we can reframe our thoughts and move in a positive direction.
What Do Negative Thoughts Look Like?
Fortunately, psychologists have categorized negative thoughts into easily recognizable patterns called “cognitive distortions.” Understanding the type of thoughts, we’re having is the first step to reframing those thoughts. Some of the different types of negative thinking include:
All-or-Nothing: Believing that there is no grey area in a situation (e.g., “Even though part of the project was good, I totally failed overall.”)
Overgeneralizing: Neglecting details to support a broad negative thought (e.g., “I don’t care if my coworkers smile at me; I know they hate me.”)
Personalizing: Thinking you are responsible for events outside your control (e.g., “The client never got back to us, which means I failed to make the deadline.”)
Mental Filter: Focusing on one negative detail in a sea of positive (e.g., “I got one piece of bad feedback, so the good feedback I received doesn’t matter.”)
Mind-Reading: Deciding you know what someone else is thinking (e.g., “I bet that coworker hates me because they never talk to me.”)
Catastrophizing: Believing that the worst will come to pass (e.g., “My boss booked a meeting, so I must be getting fired.”)
Jumping to Conclusions: Making assumptions based on little or no real evidence (e.g., “My supervisor didn’t give me immediate feedback on the project, so I must have done poorly.”)
These patterns can permeate our minds and hold us back. When we think negatively, we are less creative, less productive, and may even manifest health problems that keep us from working altogether. Positive thinking and success are linked. So, let’s look at an easy way to reframe our thoughts.
How to Reframe Negative Thoughts
When we’re feeling good, there is little reason to analyze our thoughts. We are conscious of them, but only superficially. Pessimistic thoughts, however, require a much closer look so we may reframe them into something useful—if not positive.
Reframing our thoughts isn’t about stopping negativity from occurring in the first place. As we’ve shown, it’s a part of our nature to think this way. But we can learn to reframe our negative thoughts to overcome them and become happy and confident people.
A great way to reframe negative thoughts and keep them away is to practice daily affirmations. Think of something positive you might say to a friend or relative. Empower yourself with your words and truly believe them. And say them in present tense because stating something about yourself as a fact can help make it so. Here are some simple positive affirmations for success.
- I know what I’m doing, and I do it well
- I am a valued member of my team
- I have good ideas that will benefit the company
- I am a positive role model for others
- I am helping empower employees to be their best
- I contribute meaningfully to our meetings
- I embody the company’s mission
- I inspire others with my words and actions
- I am a good leader who cares about my employees
These affirmations of success can lead to a more positive attitude at work and keep away negative thoughts. If you’re interested in learning more about managing your thoughts, then I invite you to explore Take Command, a Dale Carnegie book written by myself and Michael Crom. This new book brings Dale’s teachings into the modern world, giving us new principles for leading our business and our lives.