Thursday, December 16, 2010

4 Ways to Feel Better When Your Career Sucks

Everyone in my life knows not to talk to me for the first 30 minutes I'm awake in the mornings. And sometimes the last hour before I go to bed. To be honest, sometimes the middle of the day isn't such a great time, either.

I don't always have the sunniest demeanor. After being a journalist for many, many years, I have seen the best -- and the worst -- mankind has to offer. That's left me with a sort of cynically realistic outlook that doesn't allow optimism much room to maneuver. I am not the giggly sort. I don't necessarily look at the glass as half empty, but do keep a sharp eye out for someone to grab the half that remains.

So, when I interviewed Shawn Achor about being more optimistic, I was a bit skeptical. Still, after reading his book and listening to the brain science behind positive psychology, I have to say I've been making some changes in my life. So far, so good. Read this column I did for Gannett/USA Today and see if you might want to do the same:

It's pretty tough to stay positive if you've been out of work for a while — or have a job but your boss makes your life miserable.

Science has shown it is possible to maintain an optimistic frame of mind even in these difficult situations, and even the most negative people can "rewire" their brains to focus on happiness and positive thoughts more often.

Shawn Achor, founder and chief executive of Good Think Inc. and a leading expert on human potential, says the key is that we must stop thinking that happiness can be achieved only after we've reached a goal such as a new job or a promotion. Instead, Achor says research in psychology and neuroscience shows that happiness is what leads to success — not the other way around.

For example, if you're hunting for a job and feel negative as time passes, then your thoughts become mired in those thoughts and you begin to drag through your days.

You see fewer possibilities as your brain underperforms in its negative state. And even if you do land a job interview? Your unhappiness and negativity can be perceived by others, Achor says, and your chances for landing the job plunge.

But if you work on having more positive thoughts, "then your brain becomes more resilient in the face of challenges and you see more possibilities," Achor says, leading to more opportunities for success in finding a job.

Achor, author of "The Happiness Advantage" (Crown Business, $25) emphasizes that this "positive psychology" does not say someone should be happy to be unemployed but rather encourages those going through a difficult time to put aside bad thoughts and instead think about what actions are open to them to make themselves feel better and have a more positive outlook.

Some of the ways a person unhappy at work or now unemployed can achieve a more positive outlook:

• Do something that makes you happy. Called a "happiness booster," it can be anything from writing down three things a day that make you grateful to exercising.

He says that one of the quickest ways to get your brain on a positive path is by sending a two-sentence e-mail expressing gratitude to another person.

"It stops your brain from being paralyzed by the challenges you have. Your brain can't do two things at once, so it can't scan the world for the negative when you're using it to express what you're grateful for," he says.

• Take control. "Positive psychology is about being a rational optimist. We don't expect people to be Pollyannaish, but you can focus on concrete action that is within your control," he says.

For example, instead of sending out big batches of resumes in one day — many for work that a job seeker may not feel confident about — send one resume for a job where the person feels success is a possibility.

"If you keep goals small and manageable and very concrete, then the brain short-circuits that emotional hijacking that comes when you feel overwhelmed," he says.

• Change your viewpoint. If you hate your boss, for example, don't compare your situation to a workplace with a good boss.

Instead, compare your situation to someone who doesn't have a job, Achor says.

"We've found in our studies of companies with bad bosses that while some of the employees were miserable, others found ways to be optimistic," he says. "The difference is that the optimistic people found other things to be grateful for."

• Seek social interactions. If you've got a rotten manager, find ways to invest more in your relationship with colleagues, he says.

"Social support is the single greatest predictor of our happiness and success during a time of challenge," Achor says. "So a social investment can be an antidote to a bad boss."

He also suggests spending more time with family and friends and keeping a photograph of loved ones nearby to remind you of those positive feelings.

Achor says that for many of us, negativity is our default position.

But our brains can be rewired by spending 21 straight days focusing on positive aspects in our lives, he says. At the end of that time, you will find that positive thoughts come more easily and quickly, instead of negative ones.

As a result, you will become more successful and productive, Achor says.

"The key is that we're not saying that bad things — such as not having a job or a bad boss — are good things," he says. "But given that you're facing such a challenge, you can use a positive brain to get you through."

Do you have ways you get through tough times?



Ian said...

Thanks Anita, I was looking at his book yesterday ... so I might get it now.
Here are some thing I found that helped me
- Chocolate and ice cream, if you are not on a diet ... if you are on a diet them chocolate or ice cream.
- Help others, help yourself / Volunteer: It definitely me help on being optimistic since I became proud of what I was doing.
- Also Working-out, I found that at least I'm progressing in my health while my career was slowed down.

On seeking social interaction, Can Social media/networking substitute face-to-face?

Anita said...

I love your No. 1 tip. I personally follow that one nearly every day!
I think your other tips are very valid as well, and would work for anyone.
As for the social interaction, I don't think social media can be a substitution. It's still important to have those one-on-one contacts -- especially w/ people who are in the same situation (co-workers) or those who are important in your life such as family and friends.

Andrew @ Blogging Guide said...

Negative thoughts attract negative vibes so it follows that positive thoughts will also attract positive vibes, which is actually the better of the two. I always make it a point to compliment at least 3 persons everyday and it works wonders.

Anonymous said...

Good post.

I've found that it's a lot easier to talk about what to do when you're down etc. when you're not down.

When I was out of work several years ago, folks always gave me suggestions. Problem was that I was in too much pain to listen, or even absorb the suggestions.

So, now I'll give one;

If you're out of work, take a day or two off. I mean it. Go play. Every time anything revolving around your career pops into your head, ignore it.
(Even if it's, "you don't have TIME to take a day of two off. You better go find a job!")

Have some faith. It'll work out.

The Franchise King®

Anita said...

It's amazing how much better you can make yourself feel by thinking of someone else -- such as offering a compliment. I think that's a very easy, but effective, goal for all of us.

Anita said...

The Franchise King,
I agree it's important to give yourself a break, because it's often when you're relaxed and recharging your batteries that you begin to think more clearly and will be able to function better when you return to the job hunt. As they always say, hunting for a job is a job, so don't forget to give yourself some time off. said...

Those are great tips; It can be really challenging to stay positive when looking for a job, because it can be a pretty tedious process. There's a great article in the SF Chronicle about my company that sends out job alerts by text message, making it easier to take care of your other business while still finding applicable job opportunities: