Five things you should stop saying to yourself

By Art Markman

Much of what we encounter at work is ambiguous. We have a lot of latitude in deciding how to interpret things that happen around us, how to react to events, and how to interact with people. The choices we make affect our success in many different ways.

Which is why it’s important to be aware of the way you frame your view of your workplace, because it might lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Here are five types of things we say to ourselves about both ourselves and those we work with that are setting us up to fail.You may not literally say these things to yourself, but your habitual mode of looking at the world can make you act as if you did.

You suck

You are guaranteed to have a few people at work who rub you the wrong way. If you cringe the moment they turn a corner, you’re going to cause two problems. First, you’ll interpret everything they do in the worst possible light. Second, you’ll probably treat them with obvious disdain, which will lead them to treat you poorly right back.

Instead, put a smile on your face when you see your nemesis. Make a pleasant comment. You just might find you underestimated that person, and you’re actually more alike than you knew. And even if you continue not to like the person, at least you’re not causing any problems you still have with them.

I suck

Theories of motivation generally agree that your energy to complete tasks depends a lot on whether you think you can succeed. If you tell yourself that you’re incompetent, then you sap your motivation to try, and that increases your chance of failure (which then provides you with evidence that you suck).

In addition, if you display low confidence in your abilities, it will affect the way you talk to everyone at work. You will raise comments and criticisms reluctantly. You will avoid putting your ideas into the mix. Even when you do say something, your obvious lack of confidence will lead people to dismiss those ideas—even if they’re great. Worse yet, you run the risk of having someone else restate your idea more confidently a little later in the conversation and get credit for what you said.

Just remember, you don’t suck. Your company did not make a mistake hiring you. Step out each day and prove to everyone why you deserve to be where you are.

Management sucks

It is a common pastime at work to complain about management. Like the pointy-headed boss in the Dilbert cartoons, it is easy to assume the people above you in the hierarchy are clueless. And a little good-natured griping can help you bond with your colleagues.

But you are quite likely to be in situations in which you are asked to do things that you would prefer to do differently. In that situation, you have three choices.

If you truly believe management is misguided, you might be tempted to undermine their plan by doing something different from what you were asked to do. Don’t do that. There is a high probability that what you were asked to do fits into a bigger plan, and your rogue actions could have downstream effects that you are not aware of.

Instead, if you truly believe that what you have been asked to do is misguided, express your concerns. If you are overruled, and you don’t want to be part of a train wreck, then you should quit your job. Really.

Otherwise, you need to assume that your management team has some clue what they are doing. After you voice any concerns, put your whole self into the job. Give your organization its best chance to succeed. You might even discover that you don’t know everything.

This project sucks

Not every day at work has to be roses and champagne. Every job has a certain amount of drudgery to it. If you’re working on something that needs to get done, but is no fun, then put on a brave face and do it. The faster you eat that frog, the more time you’ll have to focus on the aspects of your job that you look forward to.

But if your alarm goes off every day and you feel like you are being pulled under by the weight of what you are asked to do, you have two choices.

Look for a redeeming quality of the project. Is it helping someone else do something cool? Does it allow you to work with people you like? Is it allowing other talented people to do things that benefit the company or society at large? Grab on to those benefits and repeat them to yourself until you feel better.

If the project truly has no redeeming features, though, then it might be time to consider another line of work. As I discuss in my forthcoming book Bring Your Brain to Work, TGIF are the four saddest letters in the English language. It may seem daunting to make a change, but satisfaction with your job is worth a lot.

This office sucks

Sometimes, you like the work well enough, but your surroundings bring you down. Maybe you work in a cubicle farm that is loud and distracting. Perhaps your workspace has no windows. Or you neighbor at work might need some personal hygiene lessons.

We often underestimate how much impact the world has on our ability to think, act, and be motivated. You can drain your own motivation just because you dread the physical space you occupy.

If so, it’s time to chat with your supervisor about where you work. Maybe you can switch desks. If you are a proven self-starter who gets things done, maybe your boss will give you a chance to telecommute or at least spend the occasional afternoon at a coffee shop.

Worst case, try to own the space where you work. Bring in some decorations that make you happy. I recently got a crocheted Freddie Mercury that I put on my desk. It just makes me smile to have a goofy toy like that on the desk, and that instantly makes the day better. Taking small steps to take control of your space can have a big impact on your work down the line.

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