Imagine you are given some feedback at work. Chances are that within that feedback there was a whole list of positives and then maybe a little constructive criticism, or room for improvement. How did you feel when you read or heard this? What did you think? Which parts did you choose to focus on? Most of us tend to ignore and dismiss the positive and go straight to the criticism and dwell upon it, causing us to feel disheartened.
This is called negativity bias. This psychological phenomenon is our natural tendency to notice the negative unpleasant and this has an evolutionary purpose. If we are living in prehistoric times and the unpleasant thing that we notice is a lion running towards us then we are going to be able to run away and get ourselves out of danger – passing on our genes. Those of us who were busy noticing the beautiful sunset were likely to be eaten! So we are hardwired for survival not for happiness! However, the appraisal at work is not going to eat us! So we now have a choice. We can practice focusing on the pleasant and the positive as well as noticing the bit that we find difficult. Unfortunately our tendency to focus on the negative is one of the reasons that we often find ourselves becoming stressed and overwhelmed.
One way of becoming happier and more resilient is to practice gratitude. We often overlook the positive in our lives and take these things for granted. And when looking for the positive, see if you can avoid just focusing on looking forward to the weekend! We spend most of our waking lives in work – let’s not wish our lives away!
1. Make a point to actually read/ listen to the positive feedback you receive. This might take the form of a work appraisal, or a throwaway comment from your manager. Remember that the positive is just as important as the negative – if not more-so. If you manage staff then notice the effect that giving praise can have on the people you work with. Something as simple as a ‘thank you’ can make a huge difference. And it is amazing how often we forget to do it!
2. Notice the tendency to moan to your colleagues at work. It can be very tempting to get sucked into negativity but this can have an effect. Perhaps make a practice of sharing positives with your colleagues. This doesn’t mean being a ‘Pollyanna’ but means allowing some positivity to spread.
3. Taking work home with us is unfortunately inevitable. This is not just in the literal work that many of us do from home, it is also in our attitudes and thoughts. This can often have an effect on our sleeping and our relationships with loved ones. Why not make it a practice to tell your partner or house-mates about one positive thing that has happened that day – and listen while your partner or house-mate tells us a pleasant story about their day.
Practising gratitude and appreciation doesn’t mean glossing over things that are going wrong in our workplaces. It simply helps us to put things in perspective. And if something needs to change, perhaps it can give us the courage to speak up and make a change.