Yesterday I felt my negative attitude — towards my job, my career stumbles, and my unfinished projects — slipping away. I had several days of negativity cloud me, follow me, and I couldn’t shake it. I was scared, I was worried, I was afraid. I felt like nothing was going right.
And today, I woke up happy to be alive and excited to go to work. I felt free, finally, knowing that I could change my thoughts just by acknowledging them. It was as if yesterday I finally turned around, said hello to Mister Negative, and asked him if he wouldn’t mind leaving me alone for a bit.
Negative attitudes can have a gripping, corrosive quality to them. If you wake up each day and say to yourself, “My life sucks,” or “I hate my job,” or any other number of discouraging, depressing phrases, you’ve got a problem with a negative attitude in your life. I spent several days avoiding the emotion, and it didn’t work. It turns out: I needed to address them to figure them out.
I’ll digress with a short story from my years in college and high school athletics. (Non-sports fans, bear with me.) In my college years, I was a swimmer. At one of our year-end critical team meets, I found myself standing behind the blocks, wearing my slick shark-skin swimsuit, goggles strapped tightly around my head, and for some reason I couldn’t stop shaking. I had a thought running over and over through my brain: that I was going to lose. I was so obsessed with–and worried about–the idea of losing and failing, that I forgot to think about my race strategy, my love of competition, or my excitement about the opportunity at hand. Fear had gripped me so tightly that I was sweating, and repeating the same thought over and over in my head, to my own destruction. “I don’t want to lose.”
In sports, they say that fear is only your enemy when you let it take over your actions. Fear and negativity can only control you when you let it take charge of your actions and your behaviors. In the pool, I was trained to look fear in the eye, acknowledge its presence, and be honest with myself about why it was there. Often, the best path to overcoming fear and negativity is by taking a good hard look at it. As soon as you look it in the face, it seems smaller–less important– sillier. Fear often grabs us with an idea that we can’t control–and in this case, I couldn’t control whether or not I won or lost, because even if I did my absolute best, someone else could be better than me. My competitors seemed huge, unbeatable.
And when I realized that I wasn’t looking at Fear, but I was hiding from Fear, I remembered that I had the power. And then I stopped shaking. I looked at Fear through my pink metallic goggles and I said to Fear, “What is it that you are afraid of?” And meekishly, I heard Fear say back, “I’m afraid of losing.”
It continued: “I am afraid of doing a bad job. And… I think that if I don’t try, then it won’t matter if I lose.”
And just like that, my rational mind said to Fear: “Well, if you don’t try, you can’t win, either.”
And I felt fear sit down and think about that.
The coach from the other team leaned over the rails. He looked at me and looked over at the tall, lanky swimmer next to me. I saw him pointing at me, and then yelling advice to the other swimmer. He yelled “Just stay with her for the first two laps!” I looked at her and I looked back at the blocks in front of me. I snapped my goggles in place, stepped up on the blocks and thought to myself, “Just you try to keep up with me, lady.” My feet exploded off of the blocks.
But back to the office. (It’s much less thrilling than racing and competing.) And what does this story have to do with an office job? When we’re confronted with negative thoughts and feelings–and there are very few people I know who haven’t dealt with fear and negativity–sometimes the best thing we can do is sit down with the emotion.
I had let fear and worry–about my imperfections, my lack of knowledge, unknown job security– take over my ability to do a good job at work. As with sports, fear and negativity in the office can only control you when you let them take charge of your actions and your behaviors. Afraid of doing a bad job at work? Worried about getting a raise? Nervous about the presentation you have to give? Look it in the eye. Acknowledge it, and ask it why it’s visiting.
Often, saying hello is all we need to figure out how to proceed.