You can see how easy it is to get swept away by your negativity bias into a whirlpool of addictive thinking patterns. Under workaholic stress, negative self-talk pops up with such lightning speed that you might not even notice. Work addiction is kept alive by the exaggerated conclusions we draw, most of which are distorted. And you continue to draw wrong conclusions because you keep falling into mind traps—rigid and irrational thought patterns that blind you to the objective facts and cause you to make errors in judgment. These illusions or visual distortions—although meant to keep you safe—cage you with limited possibilities, undermining your ability to cope with inevitable job challenges.

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: “I can be either a good mom or a good employee, but I can’t do it all.” You categorize life into the extremes of black and white and blind yourself to the shades of gray, where truth lies. Takeaway: Listen for yourself using words like always, all, everybody, either-or, nobody, never, or none. Let that be a cue that you’re immersed in exaggerated thinking.
  2. Mindreading: “She didn’t call me back. Obviously, I made a bad impression.” You convince yourself you know what others are thinking and feeling. You connect the dots about a situation based on your workaholic thoughts, not facts. When you automatically accept your thoughts as truth, instead of questioning or checking them out, you’ve sold yourself a bill of goods. Takeaway: Remind yourself that your assumptions are not the truth. You can check out the facts before making conclusions to save yourself a lot of unnecessary worry and stress.
  3. Catastrophic forecasting: “I’m gonna fall flat on my face in the interview.” You forecast the worst possible outcome of a situation without evidence. Even when facts contradict your negativity bias, you continue to predict things will turn out badly. Takeaway: When you catch yourself worrying over something that hasn’t happened, identify your negative prediction. Then ask yourself, “Where’s the evidence for this conclusion?”
  4. “Shouldy” thinking and “musterbation”: “I should have gone to church on Sunday.” The words you use can make you feel in charge of your career or at the mercy of it. Oppressive words like should, ought, must, and have to can cause you to feel you’re a slave instead of a master of your emotions. Notice the difference in tone when you replace just one word: “I could have gone to church on Sunday.” Takeaway: Ask yourself if your self-talk opposes or supports you and if it traps or frees you. Replacing negativity with uplifting words turns burdens into opportunities and empowers you. Now, notice the difference when you change just one word from “have to” to “get to”: “I have to work on that project” becomes “I get to work on that project.”
  1. Overgeneralization: “I really screwed up on that sale. I’m such a loser.” You make a sweeping conclusion about your capabilities based on one negative event. You believe if something’s true in one case, it’s true in all the others. Takeaway: When you catch yourself viewing a negative event as a never- ending pattern of defeat, look at the proof. You’ll likely not find evidence for the exaggeration.
  2. Filtering and discounting the positives: “I won top broker of the year, but that was a fluke.” You downplay your accomplishments or positive qualities and dwell on the negatives. This mind trap can keep you stuck in depression and anxiety and create an outlook of hopelessness. Takeaway: There’s usually a “but” in this mind trap that can help you catch yourself when you insist that your positive aspects don’t count. Pay attention when negatives outweigh positives and give the positives equal weight.
  3. Magnification or minimization: “I have to get this job promotion, or my career goes down the tubes.” You blow the negative aspects of a stressful situation out of proportion while shrinking your ability to overcome it. Or, on the flip side, you downplay your ability to surmount a stressful situation, “Oh sure, I got the last promotion, but that was because the boss liked me. I don’t know the new boss.” Takeaway: Try to be aware when your outlook about a stressful situation is at one extreme or the other. Take the point of view of an outside observer and put it in perspective.
  4. Blame: “It’s my fault the new employee didn’t work out; I shouldn’t have hired him.” You’re overly responsible and blame yourself for conditions beyond your control. Or, on the flip side, you blame others, overlooking your part in an outcome,“I took your advice, and hired the new applicant; it’s all your fault it didn’t work out.” Takeaway: Ask yourself if you’re blaming someone for conditions beyond their control. Then think about how much of the situation you’re truly responsible for. Be willing to take ownership for your part but avoid becoming overly responsible for situations outside your control.
  1. Emotional reasoning: “I feel hopeless about my job, so it must be over.” You make judgments about people and situations from how you feel. And how you feel about something makes it true in your head, even if there’s proof to the contrary. Takeaway: Acknowledge your feelings first. Then see when you can separate them from the facts to determine if your conclusion is indeed true, “Yes, I’m feeling hopeless about my job, but that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. There are steps we can take to make it better.”
  2. Labeling: “I blew it with my boss; I’m such a jerk!” Instead of telling yourself that you made a mistake, you tell yourself you are the mistake. You put a negative label on people and situations because of one incident instead of looking at the entire picture, “I didn’t like that movie; that theater sucks; I won’t go there again.” Takeaway: Save labels for cans and jars and be willing to look at the big picture, “I stumbled in the performance review, but my boss knows and appreciates the quality of my work.”

Much of what the workaholic voice whispers isn’t true, but you believe it because you hear it in your mind’s echo chamber. Raising your awareness and learning to identify the origin of your fears, enables you to avoid taking the whispers seriously and believing them as facts.

Excerpted from Chained to the Desk in a Hybrid World: A Guide to Work-Life Balance, by Bryan Robinson, PhD. May 2, 2023. NYU Press.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: