We’ve been there: in a terrible state of mind, while people keep telling you to think “happy thoughts.” It’s enough to drive you nuts. But hear us out: positivity and, yes, “happy thoughts” can actually have a major impact on your success in your career and your life—while negative thoughts, or in particular, “cognitive distortions,” can have a massively bad impact on both.
Here are some strategies for how to identify negative thoughts and cognitive distortions, and how to overcome them. We hope you can free yourself of all that unnecessary shame, self-pity, fear, and resentment and get back to the good vibes.
1. I don’t have enough time.
No one really feels like they have enough hours in their day to accomplish everything they need or want to accomplish. But being busy doesn’t always have to be a source of stress. You’re making the most of life—and probably being much more productive. If you have too much on your plate, try simplifying your schedule a bit. Remember, you’re in charge of your own calendar. Then count your business as a blessing.
2. I’m not enough.
Impostor syndrome, and generally feeling you’re not as qualified as your peers, is very common. But just remember that you’re probably holding yourself to a much higher standard than you would anyone else. Give yourself a break. Step away from social media for a while. Stop comparing yourself constantly to others (and to others’ online avatars). And start focusing on what you’re doing instead.
3. This is going to be a catastrophe.
Okay, worrywart. “Catastrophizing” is a thing. The “what-ifs” are constantly plaguing you with horrible disasters and tragedies as the result of some of your simplest actions. Try to take a step back from your worries and remind yourself of some calming statistics. Don’t avoid life because you’re afraid it might be unsafe.
4. It can only be either/or.
Either I ace this presentation, or I’m going to be fired. Because I screwed up at that meeting, I’m never going to earn my boss’s trust. These are examples of polarized, or black and white thinking, and they’re not doing you any good. Remember that there is always middle ground, a grey area, and a chance to redeem yourself if you make a small (or large) mistake.
5. That’s it—I’m doomed.
Just because one thing happened that wasn’t great doesn’t mean that similar bad things will continue happening to you. And don’t make assumptions based on what you think might be going on. Say your boss talked over you in the meeting. Don’t leap to the conclusion that she hates you or that your job is in jeopardy. Try to imagine the thousand other reasons she may have had not to give you your turn with the talking stick.
6. I’m a total failure.
Life goes on. Even if you did something stupid or embarrassing, the sting is not going to last. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing and are in very much over your head, there is always an opportunity to dig your way out by gaining competence and confidence. Focus on how to turn each “failure” into an opportunity for greater success.