When things go wrong, it’s easy to let your emotions spiral out of control. This is especially true at work, where many of us bust our humps yet struggle to reach the desired next level. When will that promotion, big raise, or corner office be ours? We deserve it, darn it!
In a wonderful Daily Muse post titled “5 Career-Killing Attitudes We’ve All Had—and How to Stop Them,” career coach Lea McLeod examines a handful of common “cognitive distortions” and offers hints on how to avoid them. First up: “black-or-white thinking.” Throughout the piece, McLeod uses the example of “Amelia,” a client who was passed up for a promotion. If Amelia is a black-or-white thinker, she’s liable to look at the situation and say, “Well, I missed out on this opportunity, and now I’ll never be promoted.” But that’s probably not the case.
To battle this kind of all-or-nothing attitude, McLeod suggests thinking about times you were rewarded for your work. Remind yourself that good things can happen, and that they will happen again.
Second on McLeod’s list is “catastrophic thinking.” This is where you make mountains of molehills and assume every little workplace shakeup is a disaster. Instead of dwelling on worst-case scenarios, McLeod advocates taking charge of things you can control. If you’re missing a key piece of information you need for a big presentation, work on what you can and take action to track down the other stuff. Instead of getting stressed, be proactive.
McLeod also warns against “filtering the positive,” or rather accentuating the negative. When Amelia didn’t get promoted, she probably wasn’t thinking about all of the things she had to be proud and happy about. For instance, her talent and hard work put her in the running for the new title, and it’s probably just a matter of time before her skills open more doors. McLeod suggests making a list with two columns: “what went wrong” and “what went right.” The latter might be longer than you think.
Another dangerous habit is “jumping to conclusions.” When, for example, the boss doesn’t say hello, it’s not necessarily because he or she despises you and your work and can’t bear to acknowledge the existence of an employee the company doesn’t value. If you’re in a situation like Amelia’s, and you’re feeling extra sensitive, you’re likely projecting your worries and inventing problems where none exist. “If you stay rooted in facts, you’ll keep yourself off the jumping-to-conclusions stress bandwagon,” McLeod writes.
McLeod’s final career-killing attitude is a tricky one: “the fallacy of external control.” This is where you blame your troubles on others. Maybe Amelia convinces herself she didn’t get promoted because her boss worked her too hard, and she didn’t have ample time to prepare for her big interview. As McLeod says, we’ve got to take responsibility for our own actions. “Blaming others for a situation over which you clearly had choice is simply shirking responsibility,” she says.