Positive Thinking at Work: Not Being a “Glass Half-Fool”
by Dr. Steve Yacovelli, Ed.D.
So many people in the modern workplace try to operate from a glass-half-full mindset. But these days it’s getting tougher to see that glass of _____ (insert your beverage of choice) as being half-full versus half-empty. There’s so much negativity in the world today, so much polarization, so many 24/7 news outlets that need something to pull our eyeballs and get our clicks. It gets exhausting looking at your Twitter feed, Facebook wall, your Instagram pics or tuning in to the evening news and seeing/hearing so much “downer fodder.”
There’s a heap of studies out in the world that show that negativity—specifically negative thoughts—can greatly impact your physical and mental well-being. From lowering your immune system to impacting your ability to focus to creating severe depression, chronic negativity can be a disaster for us humans. Studies show time and again that those who have a more positive view of the world tend to be more resilient or “bounce back” in the face of changing times—especially negative times.
Even in those more terrible-horrible-no good-very bad-days (the title of a great children’s book, FYI), if you force yourself to see the good things that happened (“I had good luck driving home today!” “My co-workers acknowledged I did awesome on that project!” “They had pork roll in the office cafeteria today!”) you tend to see the broader world in a more “silver lining” kinda way (more on this later).
So, what can you do to remain a bit more positive at work, and not just build up your Teflon-coating to the negativity in the world but combat it by sending out some good ol’ positive vibes? Here are five ideas you can apply today to help shape your view of the world to be a bit more positive:
1. Keep a “What-Went-Well” Journal At the end of your day, open up a note app on your phone and identify five things that went well for you during that day and why. This could be things big (“promotion!”) or small (“found a parking spot!”), but force yourself to think of five. Why? On some days it’s pretty easy to find the things that went well. However, when you have that rough day at work, but still force yourself to find five good things, that’s when the magic happens. Neuroscientists have found that—by doing this exercise over the course of about 2-3 months—you actually begin to rewire your brain to see things more positively. Try it and see if it works for you.
2. Notice the Negative and Positive People in Your Professional Life Become more aware of the types of energy that coworkers around you tend to emit. Sure: everyone has those “off” days where they’re teetering on the more negative side, but for most folks, their true disposition is pretty consistent. Listen to what your colleagues say, watch what they do, and see what they post on social media. Then, try to be around those who are more “sunny” versus more “cloudy.” Emotions are contagious, so choose your company wisely so you’re catching the good rays versus the clouds.
3. Limit Your Daily Exposure to Social Media and News Similar to #2, reflect on how much social media you’re being exposed to and what types. Also, be aware of the news stations/programs you tend to listen to or watch and understand their own bias level or level of objectivity (on both sides of the spectrum). Be mindful of the concept of “confirmation bias” (where we tend to surround ourselves with those who support our world view, adding fuel to our personal flames), and honestly reflect on how you consume those Tweets, Facebook, and Instagram posts. Have an addiction to social media? Look for apps or built-in smartphone features that limit the number of minutes you can socialize online.
4. Understand Control vs. Influence vs. No Control In any situation at work, think about the actions you can control, what you can’t directly control but can influence, and those things where you have zero control or influence over. It’s like a three-ring bullseye (where the center is your control area and the outer ring is what you have no control over, the middle the influence part). Where are you spending the vast amount of your energy? The middle? The outer ring? Too many people dump their energy into that “control” ring when really they have no control, thus wasting their time and energy. Sometimes the best thing you can do to stay positive is to pull an Elsa from “Frozen” and “let it go,” which is easier said than done for some but much more helpful to your physical and mental health in the long run.
5. Ask Yourself: “What’s the Worst that Can Happen?” In any stressful situation: stop, take a breath, and put things into a greater context. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen if …” and insert your current focus here (like, “… if I’m late for work this morning”). This helps put situations in the right perspective and context, helps avoid negativity and allows you to embrace the positive of what you’re doing. Chances are you get yourself worked up even when “the worst that can happen” really isn’t all that bad.
Being more positive takes practice for many people. And yes: acknowledge that things can get crummy at times. Ultimately, you cannot control everything that happens to you in this crazy world, but you can indeed control how you react to it. Take the challenge to be that glass-half-full kinda person (and not a half-fool), and help others be a little more half-full, too.
Dr. Steve Yacovelli, Ed.D. (“The Gay Leadership Dude”) is Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, leadership, change management, and diversity and consulting firm based in Orlando, FL, USA, with affiliates across the globe. With over twenty-five years’ experience, Steve is a rare breed that understands the power of using academic theory and applying it to the “real” world for better results. His latest book, Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle came out June 2019.