Some people believe that you shouldn’t bring the baggage from your life with you to your job. But sometimes it’s something or someone at work that is the source of your negative emotions, rather than the fact that your personal life doesn’t stop at your office door. And yet you still have to be able to focus, be competent and get the job done. How can you help yourself stay on track as much as possible?
Experiment with these approaches to find the combination that works best for you. Even applying just one or two of these four suggestions can make a big difference in your feelings—and your throughput.
Ground yourself. Use a sensory experience exercise to bring yourself back to your body in the present moment rather than getting lost in concerns about the future or resentments about the past. One never-fail option is to notice the feeling of your feet in your shoes. You can do it whether you’re sitting or standing and no one else will know it’s happening. Pay attention as you gently push the bottoms of your feet down. Notice the pressure of your toes bearing down, then your heels and finally your midfeet pressing into your shoes. Take a breath. Be aware of the solidity of the floor under your feet and recognize that you’re steady and you’re not going to fall.
Alternatively, name—out loud, if possible, or to yourself if you’re in public—five things you can see, like your colleague, your coffee cup, a picture on the wall; four things you can touch, like your elbow on the desk, your pen or your keyboard, your feet on the floor; three things you can hear, like your colleague’s comments, the air conditioner, someone passing behind you; two things you can smell, like the bit of coffee still in your cup or perhaps your lip balm and one thing you can taste, like a sip of that coffee.
Label your reactions. Dr. Daniel J. Siegel uses the phrase, “Name it to tame it,” because just identifying emotions helps to calm them. Once you acknowledge what you’re feeling, give yourself a little distance from your level of reactivity to help the negative emotions “pass through” you as quickly as possible. Language that separates your self from your emotions can help. The next time you have a negative response to some kind of challenge at work—like feeling angered—try this sequence of naming and distancing and watch how your thoughts and feelings shift.
· I’m angry.
· I’m feeling angry.
· I notice that I’m feeling angry.
· I notice that I’m having a feeling of anger right now.
You may find that you can neutralize your reaction somewhat, and therefore are better able to think about what it makes sense to do, rather than continuing to stew and build on your feelings of anger.
Decide which actions to pursue promptly. As soon as you have settled yourself, think about how you’ll begin to make changes that will improve the situation. When you’re actually making progress, you’ll also start to feel better. This is not about achieving a significant final result; your next moves can be quite small. Try not to focus on reorganizing your department or firing a significant but very frustrating customer. Think about what specific, immediate steps you could take that would help you move forward on the big picture. Is there someone you could ask for some personal support, or to act as a sounding board? Do you need to inform your boss about a problem, or get their backup for additional resources or authority? Should you remind your team members about their commitments and deliverables? Is it appropriate to notify HR about what’s happening? Perhaps you could use a change of scene or offer to help a colleague with their project next week in return for their help on your project this week. What will let you feel better, get traction on the issue—or both?
Give yourself some rigorous self-compassion. When things go wrong, some of us may feel weak and collapse or dissolve a bit. We might self-soothe with treats or by goofing off. Others may be fiercely self-critical and tighten up, batten down the hatches or try to smash through barriers. But self-compassion provides both recovery and insight to help you rebound from emotion and face your difficult work situation thoughtfully. Remember that bad days and bad situations come to everyone. Dr. Kristin Neff, the noted self-compassion researcher, recommends first acknowledging that everyone experiences suffering as part of life; then offer yourself the same sort of reassurance and encouragement that you would give to your most trusted colleague in the same situation.
There will always be upsetting days and uncomfortable situations on the job. But they don’t need to wreck you or your work. These four approaches can help you manage your feelings, make practical choices and start to move forward quickly again.
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