The work world has been a tumultuous place in 2022. As we slowly recovered from the pandemic, businesses struggled to keep their heads above water with increasing inflation and fears of a recession. Mental health issues and job burnout continued to escalate. As a result of the Great Resignation, phrases like “quiet quitting,” “productivity paranoia,” “quiet firing” and “job cuffing” became workplace trends. Every year brings its own obstacles, and 2023 will have its share. The best course of action facing the New Year is to cultivate and sustain resilience to scale those unknown work obstacles. We can’t always control workplace cureballs, but we can control how we respond to them.
But why are some people more skilled at scaling obstacles than others? Aside from sheer talent, they have a winning frame of mind that catapults them over the finish line. Michael Phelps has it with swimming. Lizzo with singing. Richard Branson with space travel. Simone Biles with gymnastics. Tiger Woods with golf. Meryl Streep with acting. But you don’t have to be famous to develop a winning frame of mind.
Noticing Your Negativity Bias
Neuroscientists report that Mother Nature hardwired us with a negativity bias for survival. The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. We routinely assess risks by making judgments about people and situations for safety. To keep us out of harm’s way, negative events grab more of our mind’s attention than positive ones. You probably remember where you were on 9/11 but not the following week. Forget the blooming azaleas along the roadside. If you don’t focus on the car in the other lane zooming ninety miles an hour, you’re road kill. Our brain is designed to focus in the future for survival, usually with worry or rumination, but there are steps we can take to rise above work obstacles and lead a more fulfilling career.
Scientists tell us that negativity has a longer shelf life than positivity. The magic ratio is five to one. It takes five positive thoughts to offset one negative thought. No wonder it’s difficult to remain hopeful and persevere in uphill challenges where we’re bombarded with the same bad-news bias that keeps us safe from work threats. We overestimate threats and underestimate possibilities. Without realizing it, we build a negativity lens: the dull silence after the job interview, the demanding boss who squinted from behind her desk or the selfish coworker who talked over you in a meeting.
But here’s the good news: grass grows through concrete. When work challenges strike, you can underestimate threats and overestimate possibilities with the same tried-and-true strategies that accomplished people use to navigate obstacles. Studies show that optimists, compared to pessimists, have lower stress levels, move faster up the career ladder, have fewer health complaints and live longer. But you don’t have to be a card-carrying optimist to realize that misfortunes are rarely as bad as the brain registers them. And it’s possible for you to rewire your brain simply by stacking your positivity deck, cling to positive experiences like Velcro and loosen negative ones like Teflon.
Stacking Your Positivity Deck
It’s a new year and a new you, so you can make it your best year yet. Here are 10 strategies to stack your positivity deck and cultivate a winning frame of mind at work in 2023:
1. Focus on the upside of a downside situation. Every loss contains a gain if you look for it. “I have to pay more taxes this year than ever before” becomes “I made more money this year than I’ve ever made.”
2. Pinpoint the opportunity contained in the difficulty. Make it a habit to focus on the good news wrapped around bad news. Ask, “How can I make this situation work to my advantage? Can I find something positive in it? What can I manage or overcome in this instance?”
3. Develop a growth mindset. Think of a setback as a lesson to grow from instead of a failure to endure. Ask what you can learn from difficult work outcomes or failures and use them as stepping-stones instead of roadblocks. Consider how the obstacle is happening for you instead of to you so you’re empowered instead of victimized.
4. Broaden your scope. When threatened, your brain is designed to constrict and target the threat like the zoom lens of a camera. This limits your ability to see the bigger picture. Expand your outlook with a wide-angle lens that steers you beyond doom and gloom to bigger possibilities. Consider all the people and things you’re grateful for at work and home.
5. Be chancy. Take small risks and apply micro-adjustments to your thinking in new situations instead of predicting negative outcomes before giving them a try. “I won’t go to the office party because I’m afraid I won’t know anyone” becomes “If I go to the office party, I might make a new friend.”
6. Avoid blowing a negative situation out of proportion. Make micro-adjustments to your perspective and don’t let one bad experience rule your whole outlook: “I didn’t get the promotion, so I’ll never reach my career goals” becomes “I didn’t get the promotion, but there are more steps I can take to reach my career goals.”
7. Focus on the solution, not the problem. You’ll feel more empowered to cope with life’s curve balls when you step away from the problem and brainstorm a wide range of possibilities.
8. Practice positive self-talk. After a big letdown, underscore your triumphs and high-five your “tallcomings” instead of bludgeoning yourself with your “shortcomings.” Make a list of all of your skills. Read it back to yourself often. Give yourself a fist pump each time you reach a milestone or accomplishment.
9. Hang out with positive colleagues. Optimism is contagious. When you surround yourself with optimistic people, positivism rubs off, and the potential for possibilities is more likely to be realized.
10. Strive to see fresh starts contained in adversity. Failure is neither personal nor final. Envision letdowns as temporary and know that you can overcome them. Every time you get up and brush yourself off one more time than you fall, you succeed. Perseverance increases the likelihood of propelling you to the top of the leader board.
A Final Word
Baseball great Babe Ruth, arguably one of the best ballplayers of all time said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” You can use Ruth’s wisdom in your job pursuits by stacking your positivity deck and allowing setbacks to bring you closer to your goals. So keep swinging with that winning frame of mind as you scale whatever stands in your way and hit your career dreams out of the park.