How to Reframe Negative Thoughts to Stop Them From Interfering With Your Job

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 17, 2024 at 12:20AM UTC

You receive negative feedback at work. You didn’t check off anything on your neverending to-do list today. A coworker seemed frosty.

Many of us are plagued by negative thoughts at work and beyond. It’s certainly something I continue to struggle with — and I know I’m far from alone.

In fact, we may be hard-wired to look at the glass as half empty. So, how do we cope?

1. Identify the cognitive distortion.

I’ve spent some time in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) — I’m a huge advocate, by the way — and one concept is that thoughts are just that: thoughts. They’re not reality; they’re a way of thinking. And some of us fall prey to cognitive distortions. Just a few examples of cognitive distortions:

  • Black-and-white thinking: all-or-nothing thinking.

  • Personalization: making a global or wider incident unique to you (“It’s all my fault”).

  • Fortune-telling: predicting the future based on no evidence.

  • Labeling: “I’m just not the kind of person who succeeds.”

And so on. As you can probably imagine, none of these cognitive distortions is helpful, but they can eat away at you and invade your thoughts, becoming overwhelming.

One way to combat them is to learn how to identify the cognitive distortion so that when you have these thoughts, you can tell yourself, “Oh, that’s catastrophizing” or “I’m labeling again.” (Here’s a great resource for learning more about cognitive distortions.)

2. Practice reframing.

Another CBT practice is the concept of reframing. 

“Even though, at times, we may feel as though we are not, we are the ones in control of our thoughts,” Monica Vermani, a clinical psychologist, writes. “We can choose not only what we think about but how we think about it.”

The key is to challenge these thoughts and reframe them. “We need to question and examine the veracity of our distorted ways of seeing reality and replace them with more accurate, adaptive, realistic and uplifting thoughts that motivate us to strive to act and be the highest and best versions of ourselves,” according to Vermani. “We can choose to reinforce healthy, rather than harmful, choices, habits, and behaviors.”

Pro tip: Be realistic when reframing. You’re not going to change your outlook if you take an “everything is rosy” approach. Instead, simply give yourself a bit more empathy. An example might be if you weren’t able to complete all the tasks you set out to finish. Rather than telling yourself, “I’ve failed,” try saying, “I finished # of tasks, and I’ll give myself a schedule for completing the rest.”

3. Set goals.

Goal-setting is linked with better self-esteem, higher motivation and greater success.

This is an easy concept to put into practice at work, where you probably set goals, formally or informally, every day. In order to get the most out of them, try making them SMART. This is a practical approach that will enable you to see the bigger picture and help you see what you truly can accomplish, as well as areas you can improve. But most of all, it will show you that you truly are capable. 

4. Stop striving for perfection.

Guess what? Nobody’s perfect. If you keep comparing yourself to an impossible standard, you’re going to fail — and pessimism and negative thinking are going to win. While you should always be striving to succeed and improve, you should never tell yourself you’re not good enough. 

Think about what you CAN be and do, realistically. If you receive a piece of constructive criticism, don’t tell yourself, “So-and-so clearly hates me and I’m terrible at my job.” Instead, think about how you can act on it. It’s a cliche, but it’s steeped in reality: Perfection is the enemy of progress. Once you embrace this idea, you will feel a lot better about yourself — in all aspects of your life.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is an editor and writer based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab-mix Hercules. She primarily focuses on education, technology and career development. She has worked with Penguin Random House, Fairygodboss, CollegeVine, BairesDev and many other publications and organizations. Her humor writing has appeared in the Belladonna, Weekly Humorist, Slackjaw, Little Old Lady Comedy, and Points in Case. She also writes fiction and essays, which have appeared in publications including The Memoirist and The Avalon Literary Review. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.

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