Self-talk can throw you off course. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.”—Seth Godin, entrepreneur and best-selling author

Unrealistic deadlines. Job demands. Boss breathing down you neck. When the work doldrums come—and they surely will—we tend to give them more credibility and treat them more seriously than the successes. Work pressures, frustrations, and letdowns are natural consequences of a career trajectory. Sometimes they can create discouragement so large that it ghosts our confidence and cripples our motivation to persist. We’re hard-wired for survival but that can obscure your career growth because survival and success are opposites. The key is to celebrate work highs without taking them anymore seriously than the lows and not taking the work lows anymore seriously than the highs. Science supports this perspective.

Neuroscientists have found that your brain is hard-wired to focus on a career problem or threat for survival purposes. If you’re like most people, you overestimate a workplace threat and underestimate your ability to manage it. That’s because your brain zooms in on the threat, keeps you focused on the problem, and mires you in a mud of negativity, obscuring potential solutions—even sometimes making you want to throw in the towel. This is especially true when negativity lingers after you don’t get recognized for your hard work or you’re overlooked for a promotion—an emotional hangover stalking you on the way to your work station, eclipsing your engagement, talent and productivity.

Two strategies from neuroscience that you can take to sustain, reclaim and broaden and build your career:

One, cultivating a wide-angle lens leads you toward a more positive outlook, creative possibilities and solutions than a zoom lens. A body of research shows that workers with a wider scope scale the career ladder faster and farther than those with a narrow scope. When you’re dealing with work obstacles, a pessimistic hangover from a letdown eclipses your options. Optimism, on the other hand, unlocks a range of possibilities that is more likely to lead to a successful outcome. Simply put, a negative mindset keeps you targeted on the problem. A positive outlook opens your lens and enables you to see solutions and sustain your engagement and productivity.

Two, you have the ability to flip your perspective instead of your lid when bad news comes knocking on the job. Babe Ruth applied this strategy to become one of the greatest baseball players in history. He said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” So you can translate Ruth’s wisdom into any career letdown by reminding yourself that, “Every setback brings you closer to your next success,” that is if you don’t give up and keep slugging away.

New York's  Babe Ruth
American baseball player George Herman Ruth (1895 – 1948) known as ‘Babe’ Ruth. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)Getty Images

Next time you have a lingering bad taste in your mouth from a job disappointment, step back and bring up the bigger picture. Affirm your “tallcomings” (your talents and capabilities that offset your shortcomings). Remind yourself of past career successes and why you’re in this job in the first place. Known by scientists as the broaden-and build effect, this strategy expands your world view so you can take more in and galvanize more ideas and actions to add to your career toolbox.

A positive mindset is essential for career success. When you receive bad news (every valuable employee has and every valuable employee will), try not to take it personally. You can’t have an up without a down, a right without a left, or a high without a low. If you’re like most workers, you forget that work highs and lows are a package deal—that success is built on failure. When you were a toddler, you fell down a few times before you could walk and run on your own. So as you contemplate your work woes, be willing to step back from the downside. Broaden your scope so your imagination can roam, and you can build an arsenal to knock your next career challenge out of the park.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Founder and CAO of ComfortZones Digital and Author of 40 books.

    ComfortZones Digital

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is Founder and Chief Architect Officer (CAO) of ComfortZones Digital--the digital companion to mitigate workplace stress. He 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."