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How to Stay Positive at Work

Adjust Your Thinking

Communication is one key to feeling better at your job: Talk to you co-workers.
Communication is one key to feeling better at your job: Talk to you co-workers.
Cultura/Zero Creatives/StockImage/Getty Images

For most people with a job, work can be tough at times. For some, it can be tough all the time. And yet according to that 2010 survey, 45 percent of the workforce is actually pretty satisfied at work. Maybe 45 percent of U.S. workers are in their dream jobs. More likely, though, they see positives that the 55 percent don't.

Call it pessimism, problem thinking, negative self-talk, cognitive distortion... It all involves an irrational habit of focusing on the "bad" and then running with it. Mental habits like filtering out the positive, focusing on the negative, extremism, catastrophizing and personalizing contribute to feelings of failure, helplessness, insecurity, dread and a generally dark view of oneself and one's surroundings.


Let's say management announces rolling two-week furloughs. If you're a pessimist, you might think, "That's it, I'm out of work. The next step is lay-offs. I'm going to lose my house." That's catastrophizing.

In the vast majority of cases, negative perspectives can be turned around. With two-week furloughs on the horizon, an optimist might think, "Phew, I wasn't laid off. So I've still got my benefits. What shall I do with my unexpected, albeit unpaid, vacation?"

This is not to minimize struggle or say that work (or life) should be nothing but sunshine and cupcakes. It is to say that with some effort, the struggle can live in the background, accessed when doing so would be wise or productive, while a more icing-topped outlook characterizes daily living, even when daily living goes awry.

Not awry. Different from the expected, planned or hoped for.

For instance:

Your quarterly peer reviews come back 85-percent praise and 15-percent constructive criticism.

Negative: I got bad reviews this quarter. I suck at my job. (Filtering)

Positive: Almost everyone thinks I'm good at what I do!

Your manager "asks" you to work late for the third time this week.

Negative: Guess I won't be kissing my kids good night. Again. (Focusing on the negative)

Positive: If I log my extra hours, I'll have some great ammunition when I ask for a raise.

At the staff meeting, it's brought to your attention that page 3 of your marketing report refers to last year's numbers, not this year's.

Negative: I always blow it. This report belongs in the trash. (Extremism)

Positive: At least it wasn't all the numbers! It'll take maybe an hour to update that set and re-circulate the data.

Several co-workers head out to lunch while you're busy in the copy room.

Negative: They must have waited until I was gone so they wouldn't have to invite me. (Personalization)

Positive: If only I'd finished those copies two minutes earlier! I bet they'll bring me a sandwich if I text right now ...

Avoiding knee-jerk negative thoughts is critical to developing a positive attitude at work, but it's only part of the picture. Positive actions can produce dramatic results, and are often easier to implement. So look around you ...