You cannot always choose what happens to you, but you can influence your thoughts to hone in on positivity. One of the keys to achieving wellbeing is to be aware of your thought-patterns to help maintain an optimistic and more positive perspective. Research has found that optimistic thinking is associated with greater levels of mental and physical health; which will impact upon every aspect of your life – including your work.
However, it is not always easy to think optimistically. Your brain possesses something called a “negativity bias” – whereby you pay more attention to negative stimuli. Let’s say you go to a restaurant ten times and nine times you get perfect service, but one time it all comes out wrong: the soup’s cold, they forgot the side of potato wedges, the waiter spills wine all over you. What do you focus on most? The nine great meals you had there? Or that one bad experience… It’s the bad one isn’t it?
Psychologists have found that out of the 60,000 or so thoughts we think a day, 80% of them are negative. This is what Daniel Amen, author of Change your Brain, Change your Life calls “pesky A.N.T.s” (Automatic Negative Thoughts). If you are constantly thinking negatively, that does not bode well for your wellbeing. One of the keys to increasing wellbeing to improve your overall health and work performance is to break these negative thinking patterns.
There are three techniques you can use to rewire your brain to think more positively and boost your work performance in the process: Alarms, Affirmations and Awareness.
The first technique is to set 3-4 alarms to go off at key times during the day. That might be at 9am when you get to work,12pm during your lunch break, 3pm when you’ve hit the afternoon slump and 6pm when you’ve just left work. You can set this alarm to say “how do I choose to think right now” or “how can I think more positively right now.” When the alarm buzzes, take a moment to monitor your thoughts and observe the situation and context. What can you find to think positively about? By thinking positively, you will enhance your capabilities to be more creative and productive – which will positively impact your work performance and often the performance of those around you too.
The second A stands for affirmations. Now affirmations often get poorly taught in the self-help/personal development field. A lot of practitioners ask you to repeat affirmations such as “I am a billionaire” or “I am popular and famous.” These kinds of affirmations are lies (at least for most of us anyway!) Your subconscious knows they aren’t true, and it will fight them. Research has found that using affirmations like these will reduce motivation and self-esteem. Focusing on self-affirmations (which are truths about yourself) is far more effective.
To create an affirmation, you need to focus on three criteria. First it is personal, so you say “I”, and you affirm a value or quality that you do have. Secondly, it needs to make a strong declaration such as “I can”, “I show” or “I create.” Thirdly it is positively charged, so you focus on addition, not subtraction; e.g. Instead of saying “I will not mess up this presentation today”, you say “I can impress the board with my presentation today.” When you focus on the negative, you prime that negative outcome in your mind. By focusing on the positives, you will counter this and combat negative thinking patterns like stress, anger and jealousy – which are all common in the workplace.
As you start to develop these practices and consistently check-in in with yourself, you will become more and more self-aware of how you are feeling and will notice many benefits in your personal and working life.
The key is to train and develop your self-awareness. Sometimes you can feel negative and can’t quite put your finger on why. By implementing a simple mindfulness exercise called the 54321 task, you can boost your awareness and better understand the reasons behind your negative thoughts.
Wherever you are, take a minute to yourself, sit upright in your chairs and tune in to your surroundings.
5. Name 5 things you can see in the room around you.
4. Name 4 things you can feel (Chair against back, sweaty palms)
3. Name 3 things you can hear
2. Name 2 things you can smell
1. Name 1 good thing about yourself
After completing this exercise, you will be more connected to yourself and what you are feeling or sensing – you are now ready for a sentence completion task.
Your unconscious mind already knows what the problem is, but you need to bring that forth into your conscious mind to understand it and solve it. The sentence completion task is designed to facilitate this process.
Here are five questions that you can use to tap into that awareness.
1. The one thing I would like to improve today is…
2. I could achieve greater levels of energy if…
3. A person who has influenced me strongly today is…
4. The challenge I want to overcome right now is…
5. I can take command of my day by…
You can have these questions written on a piece of paper at your desk or stored on your phone. You first write out the sentence, as that will begin to prime your subconscious, and then write the first answer that comes to your head. Don’t overthink it. You are aiming to tap into your unconscious mind and the more you think about it, the more you are using your conscious mind. If you perform it correctly, you will not only realise why you are feeling negative, but also gain insight into how you might solve the problem.
Your thought patterns will influence your mental and physical wellbeing. By focusing on the positive and blocking out the negative you will start to become the master of your thoughts.
Utilising these tips will help you to monitor and re-align your thoughts. You will therefore be in a stronger position to perform to the best of your ability in stressful environments like the workplace.