You want to get more done, more effectively and efficiently, and feel happier and more content overall? Don’t we all.
The source is in your head, not your outbox. How you think about yourself, your work, and the world around you, matters paramount.
Know that some thoughts are rational and some are irrational. Irrational thoughts and self-talk are those that block you from achieving your goals. They distort reality, exaggerate, go to extremes. And they fuel excessive reactions, such as humiliation, rage, and hopelessness. And maybe the worst—overwhelm.
Here’s a trick we touched on in the last post: Unconditional Self Acceptance (USA). It does not come easy, especially after a lifetime of negative self-talk. You have to keep working on it, every day, like a kind of psychological fitness routine.
It’s worth the effort, though, if you want to cultivate more productive work habits, better focus on the task at hand.
Go ahead and be critical of your behavior, your progress, your techniques, as long as it’s constructive and forward-thinking. “I did OK here. But I might have gotten more done if I didn’t keep breaking for Twizzlers.”
Remember, if you struggle at first, don’t berate yourself: “I’m such a loser I can’t even accept myself unconditionally!” Obviously, that would defeat the purpose.
There are three keys: Listen to your internal narrator, identify irrational beliefs in your self-talk, and replace them with rational, productive thinking.
Self-awareness is the gist of every tactic. When you hear the narrator piping up, don’t ignore it. Make note of it, challenge it, try to think clearly about why it’s popping up and what it might be getting wrong.
The secret is to pause in the gap when the feelings and self-talk come up, right after the activating (trigger) event. Listen to your mind. Try to hear what you say to yourself, and isolate what triggered the self-talk.
Psychology Today submits, among its suggestions for scrambling out from under the narrator’s tyranny, the idea of jotting down what prompted the negative self-talk. What’s making you feel so awful? Did your team members have a muted reaction to the report you presented? Did your boss bend her brow in a certain way?
Once you’ve got these things noted, you can come down on them with a sort of Logic Hammer: Rational Thinking.
Yeah, they didn’t sing about the presentation but aren’t you still on the payroll? Don’t they keep asking you for these reports? Aren’t you the go-to person for this kind of stuff?
Isn’t it irrational to always think in black-and-white terms: the tendency to think of things only in radical categories, to suppose that people only love you or hate you, that the outcome of your work performance is failure or triumph? Life’s got shades of gray—to which that negative voice in our heads tends to be blind.
There are other irrational ways of thinking that hamper our progress. Remember Uncle Ellis, that guy in No Country for Old Men who tells his nephew, the Sherriff, “This country is hard on people. You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”
That’s an example disputing an irrational belief. You can’t prevent all violence. It’s not your fault. It’s not always on you.
It echoes what another Ellis – Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy – calls rational analysis. Get your head straight in terms of how you think, believe, and talk to yourself. Actively seek and destroy all the oughts, shoulds, and musts in your thinking. Be rational about it, and then get back to work.
Is it bad your boss dumped a shit-ton of work on you? Maybe. But can you rationally argue there’s some law of the universe that says you absolutely should never have this much work assigned to you? Nope.
Should your coworkers always understand how monumentally slammed you are, and always tiptoe around your time? It would be nice. But, no—there’s no law. In fact, if there is any absolute, it’s that the world and its people always will be, must be … totally unpredictable!
And stop catastrophizing. “I cannot stand another day of this godforsaken job.”
Really? Can you stand it? Yes, you can. Is it the absolute worst thing that could ever happen? No, there are far worse things, into infinity. You could probably stand a lot worse if you had to. You could stand a Holocaust, as millions before you have.
Finally, replace irrational overgeneralizations, magnifications, and all-or-nothing thinking. You don’t “always” screw up. You’re not “going to get fired.” Your co-workers aren’t thinking you’re useless as nipples on a bull.
This last one’s instructive. One tactic for correcting our negative self-talk is to point out how we might be giving our powers of perception (our negative narrator) a little too much credit for really knowing the thoughts of others. The idea that we can see through their silence.
You have absolute control over only your actions, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. And absolutely no control of those of others. Where’s the most productive place to focus your time and energy?
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