“He might be agreeing with me, but I know he thinks I’m a waste of space really.”
“We spoke for an hour about my appraisal and all I can remember is the negative stuff, which took up about two minutes of the meeting.”
“I know this presentation is going to be a disaster, I’ll look like an idiot.”
“My colleague didn’t say ‘hello’ to me this morning….she’s probably angry with me about something.”
“If I can’t do this perfectly, I may as well not bother even trying”
Have you ever found yourself thinking thoughts similar to these? Sometimes they can flash through our mind so quickly we don’t even notice them, and yet they can be a toxic influence on our wellbeing and success, both at home and at work. We are often so conditioned to thinking this way, that we take the thoughts, and their associated feelings, as facts: “I FEEL like I’ve let the side down, so I HAVE let the side down.”
Most of us can recognise having had similar thoughts at some point in our lives. For many of my clients, though, these unhelpful thoughts underpin an anxiety about their performance at work. More often than not, this anxiety seems misplaced. To all intents and purposes, these are very successful business people, with good livelihoods. But sometimes the anxiety which drives this success – the need to achieve, to prove oneself – can cause great distress and even some dysfunction, away from the gaze of bosses, colleagues, friends and family. Many of my clients come to me for support because this anxiety is threatening to undermine their success, and derail their future career progression. I often find that unhelpful thoughts like these are lingering just under the surface.
I call work with these clients “Cognitive Behavioural Coaching” – a combination of the classic CBT techniques I use in some of my therapy work, with over twenty years experience of coaching in business.
The examples at the top of this article include the six most common forms of negative thinking.
1. Mindreading. Assuming that you know what is going on in the person’s mind, without checking the facts.
2. Filtering. Ignoring any positives and focusing only on the negative information received, no matter how small or insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
3. Fortune telling. Predicting the future, often with very little (or no) objective evidence to suggest a negative outcome. This can often, unfortunately, be self-fulfilling. Fortune telling often leads to….
4. Catastrophising. Simply ‘knowing’ that your actions will fail, making you look incompetent and inevitably leading to you getting sacked and unltimately losing your home and family. Of course, the reality is that you ‘know’ no such thing.
5. Personalising. Believing that other peoples’ behaviour may somehow be caused by your actions.
6. Black or white thinking. Also known as all or nothing thinking, this is where we lose sight of a ‘middle ground’ solution, thinking only in terms of often extreme either/ors.
Such thinking will often go hand in hand with anxiety about a situation, whereby a flood of adrenaline leads to increased heart rate, clamminess, butterflies in the tummy, shallow breathing and even dizziness. This can lead to a sense of panic.
The great news for people who experience this unhelpful thinking is that it can be overcome, with a little work and some focus. We can systematically re-train ourselves to recognise such thoughts, and to think differently about the scenario. Over time this can lessen the severity and duration of any anxious response. Typically we can:
1. Notice when it happens (not always as easy as it sounds, but using a thought journal to jot down examples can help).
2. Challenge the thought – how realistic or helpful is this thought?
3. Explore alternative explanations – e.g. it’s more likely that the colleague who didn’t say ‘hello’ had a bad journey, rather than anythng you said or did.
4. Look for objective evidence to support, or counteract, the idea that your thought might be a fact? e.g. “The reality is that I’ve done a lot of preparation for this presentation, so it is more likely to go well than fail.”
5. Ask yourself “what’s the worse that could happen?” And then go further – ask yourself, even if the worst did happen, would it REALLY be as bad as you fear?
These changes don’t happen overnight – we’re often working with deeply-ingrained negative thinking patterns. But working with a coach to overcome negative and unhelpful thoughts can be hugely powerful in unlocking barriers to progression and happiness, both personally and professionally. The effect can be further enhanced when taught alongside relaxation and mindfulness techniques. To arrange a free initial consultation about how I could support you, or a colleague, call 07961 363621.