Do not let a negative mindset enter the workplace

Awfulizing can be common in the workplace environment. If we allow this to take over it can affect our daily work so that cannot fully engage with what we need to do according to Barry Shannon
Barry Shannon

Awfulizing. Sounds a made-up work (but then aren't all words made up at some point?). It was coined by Albert Ellis, one of the forefathers of modern psychology. And what does it mean? Well, the retelling of an old joke might help:

There's a fella, Jim, looking to borrow his friend's tractor to plough a field. As he heads over to his pal's house he starts thinking ahead to how his friend will react. Sure, he'll be only too happy to lend it to me, I'm his friend after all, Jim muses. And I'll only need it a few days. Of course, I'll pay for the petrol, sure that's only fair. Then he thinks; well it shouldn't be a problem, I mean we get on grand, although I know people can be funny about lending things. Then it grows more legs; right enough he didn't say hello last time we met either and he looked at me a bit strange when I saw him at the football two weeks ago. I hope he's not going to be all funny about this now, I'm only asking for a loan of the tractor and I'd do the same for him.

The internal monologue goes on and on in a downward spiral in Jim's head, to the point where he knocks the door and before his pal can say hello, Jim shouts at him; “feck you and your tractor, you can shove it where the sun doesn't shine, I never wanted it anyway!” and promptly storms off.

It's an old one and maybe it's not terribly funny, but it does illustrate the concept.

Think about all the times in work when we have overreacted to something, when we have thought things through to the worst conclusion. We work hard to get a promotion or a new job and then we ‘awfulize' it before we start. We think about all the things that could go wrong, how we will miss our friends, how we might not be good enough, how we might end up being sacked and yet: we are the ones who actively sought the change!

Maybe our boss disagrees with what we say in a meeting and by the time we get back to our desk, we think they hate everything we do. Perhaps we have an argument with someone at work and we think they hate us forevermore.

Now to some degree we will probably all have those overreacting thoughts at some stage. It is simply be human nature.

And, on occasion, a few nerves can be good, we tend to perform little better if we think there are heightened expectations on us, or if we think we must prove ourselves. The problem is when we allow this to take over and affect our daily work. When we become so paralysed by the negative thoughts that we cannot fully engage with what we need to do.

So how do we overcome this? Knowing that you can have irrational thoughts is a good place to start. It's also important to remind ourselves about perspective. Think of all the good meetings you have had, why you got the job in the first place, the successes you have had. Break the chain early and then look through the actual evidence; often there is very little to support these ideas when you start to employ rational thinking and analyse the situation.

So next time in work you start to negatively extrapolate an issue way beyond what is merits, stop, take a breath and consider if you are ‘awfulizing'. Recognising that you are is half the battle.

Barry Shannon ( is HR director at Cayan in Belfast.

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