It’s not your co-workers.
It’s not your boss.
It’s not that nightmare project that just won’t go away.
Eliminating any or all of these things from your working life may make you temporarily relieve a bit of your stress, but they are just a symptom of the real problem in the long run.
Here’s the real secret: You need to change the way you approach any situation that comes your way. For most situations – not all, but most – your perspective is all that matters.
You choose how you frame your reality. Are you going to choose to focus on the negative aspects of the situation? To interpret it in the worst possible way? Or are you going assess the situation honestly to try to create a win-win situation? Are you going to brood on all the things you don’t like about the situation, or are you going to focus on the things that you do like? Though it may not always seem that way, the choice is yours to make.
Let’s look at an example: You’re in a meeting and a colleague makes a comment about a project that you’re working on that is less than complimentary. You’re taken aback – this is the first time you’ve heard this perspective. And since you’ve put a lot of time and effort into this project, you immediately default to defensive and angry.
You have a few choices about how you can approach this situation, a Choose Your Own Adventure, if you will:
- Choice A: You give into your immediate reaction, and look for someone to blame for the situation. You ask yourself questions like “What is WRONG with this person???” and make an assumption that they don’t really know what they are talking about, and don’t fully understand your project. That makes it easy to dismiss what they are saying.
- Choice B: You step back and acknowledge that your immediate defensive reaction probably isn’t the best reaction. You listen to, and consider, the things your colleague is saying about the project with a more open mind. After the meeting, you ask to speak with them further about it, and use active listening to suss out what their true needs are. You may find out that you made some assumptions about the project that weren’t true because you didn’t involve all of the right people, a mistake that can be easy to make. You look for the win-win situation, where you can keep your project on track but also meet this person’s needs.
While Choice A gives in to automatic reactions and seeks to focus blame, Choice B focuses on solutions. You haven’t changed the people, their personalities, or their actions….but you’ve changed the way you approach the situation. When you refuse to give into negativity, you set yourself up for a less stressful reality.
And sometimes, you need help. There was a day last week when I was brooding on something all day. The brooding completely distracted me from any of the work I had in front of me. I was angry, and I couldn’t focus for more than a few minutes at a time. Finally I decided that enough was enough. I went to a person that I trusted and said that I needed him to either validate what I’m thinking about or call me on my bullshit so that I could move on. He did, and then it was over. I haven’t thought about it since.
I acknowledged what was going on, acknowledged that it didn’t have to be this way and sought out help. This isn’t magic. This is simply shifting your perspective. The situation didn’t change – the players didn’t change, their actions didn’t change, and the core of what was going on didn’t change. But my perspective did. And at the end of the day, I felt like I had a 1,000 pound backpack lifted off of my shoulders.
At the end of the day, you are in control of your reality. Never forget it.
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