“I’m just not cut out for the job.”
“I’m never going to get the position anyway, so why bother applying?”
“I’ve never been good at math, so I should avoid a career in engineering — even though it interests me.”
These negative refrains are quite common, and ultimately, no matter how smart or talented you are, it’s your ability to manage this inner chatter that determines how sucessful you’ll become, argues Dr. Susan David in her new book “Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life” (out Sept. 6).
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“What happens in the workplace, and in all aspects of life, is that our thoughts and our emotions, and the stories that we have about ourselves and other people, actually drive our actions in a way that isn’t true to how we want to be — and how we want to experience our workday, and therefore our work lives,” says David.
David identified five mental hurdles many people face in the workplace —and how to clear them with emotional agility and grace.
Often — particularly when we’re stressed — our thoughts and emotions tend to “hook” us into behavior that runs counter to our best interests at work. “For example, you might be in a meeting where you feel someone is undermining you, or someone has taken credit for your work. You might have the thought of ‘Gee, I’m being undermined, I’m just not going to share anymore.”
If you’re “hooked” on negative thoughts or feels, David suggests asking yourself her “litmus test” question when faced with a critical choice: “When you’re making decisions, it’s very important to think, ‘Is this decision moving your towards your values, or is it moving you away from your values?’ I can be in a meeting, I can feel that I’m being undermined, and I can still choose to contribute. Or I can be undermined, and my values around fairness may lead me to make a choice to actually have a conversation with the person,” says David.
Let go of “dead people’s goals”
As soon as your start hearing yourself say, “I don’t want to be stressed” or “I don’t want to fail,” you’re acting in a way that’s driven by your thoughts and your stories, explains David. “I call them “dead people’s goals” because if you’re alive, you’re sometimes going to fail, you’re sometimes going to not be successful and be rejected, and so on. And part of being emotionally agile is recognizing that this is an inseparable and indisputable quality of being alive.”
Understand the power of narrative
Whether consciously or not, we all have a work narrative that “provides a kind of structure for interpreting things” explains David. Narratives can be useful, but when they start dictating our actions and creating negative patterns, they become counterproductive. For instance? “Numerous times you’ve wanted to apply for a job, and haven’t. So you’ve got a pattern in that situation of avoiding potentail failure,” explains David. Recognizing your narrative is the first step to changing it.
Remember that thoughts are data, not directions
Being aware of your emotions is key to managing them, but “you need to be able to look at them, and be curious about them, and say, ‘Well what is this kind of telling me?’ Is this action — say, applying for a job —driven by something real, or am I using my thoughts, emotions to stop me from doing something that’s important?”