Do you expect the worst?

How to keep negative thoughts from sabotaging you

When I was just starting out in my career, I worked at a large advertising agency in New York City. I was thrilled to have this job and was very excited when I got assigned to work on new products with a major client. They were testing a moisturizing soap that I got to try out. While it left my skin feeling smooth, it didn’t create a rich lather like other moisturizing soaps did. Would that be a turnoff to consumers?

In a move that felt pretty brave to me as a newbie junior account executive, I wrote a memo about this to my boss. All I got was a curt thank you. Over the next few weeks, I forgot about it….until I got a call from the president’s secretary saying he wanted to see me in his office in fifteen minutes. (Flashback to being called to the principal’s office!). We’d never met. Why would he possibly want to see me?

My mind immediately started imagining the worst. Did I screw up something big? Was the client unhappy? Was I going to get fired? In a panic, I called a friend to get his perspective. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re not getting fired. The president wouldn’t waste his time doing that – your boss would do it.” Not exactly the reassurance I was hoping for!

Filled with trepidation, I made my way to the 30th floor. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the office and saw the president with a copy of my memo in his hand. Our conversation was brief – and to tell you the truth, I don’t remember most of it. I was so nervous and distracted by my fearful thoughts that I had trouble focusing and I’m sure I wasn’t very articulate (picture deer in headlights). But basically, he told me writing the memo showed initiative and this was the kind of thinking the agency valued. I never saw that coming!

If you’re anything like me (and most people), when a situation is new, difficult or uncomfortable, your brain is going to tell you what could go wrong. Don’t beat yourself up – your mind is wired to respond this way! Your thoughts aren’t the problem – it’s how you react to them and what you make them mean that can be.

Here are some tips that can help you reduce stress and calm your worries when negative thoughts threaten to hijack your brain and sabotage your performance:

  • recognize that these are fear-based thoughts or stories that may not be true; take a deep breath, acknowledge them and let them go.
  • consider the possibility that something good (or at least neutral) might happen so you can be more present and effective in your interactions.
  • take action – even when it feels a little scary. Whatever happens, you will grow and learn from it!

Fear is a form of energy. Channeling it so it works for you, not against you, will fuel your success.

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