As a coach, I often work with clients in prolonged challenging circumstances: difficult bosses, overwhelming workloads, uncooperative peers. These are serious situations that feel like quicksand—the more you struggle, the deeper you’re dragged in. While the specifics of each dilemma are unique, they all demonstrate the same age-old principle:
Whatever we focus on strengthens or grows…
It’s a natural tendency to ruminate on our problems, but a tough situation can’t improve if we’re continuously thinking (or talking) about how bad it is. This is why people in toxic work environments often don’t notice positive change even when there are improvements.
So how do we free ourselves from a long-term negative situation?
We need to begin by shifting to a more positive perspective, before things start to get better. This requires distracting ourselves from our current plight by consciously guiding our mind to a more desirable place—like picking up the needle on an old LP and moving it to a better sounding song on the record.
This may seem easier said than done. For instance, when we’re angry with someone, focusing on happier topics may seem like letting him or her off the hook. But the reality is our negative feelings keep us on the hook. No matter how justified anger may seem, it can hold someone prisoner in a bad situation, sometimes for years.
Feeling better is the first step toward positive change…
There are many ways to uplift ourselves, even in the worst of times. The key is to guide our mind toward a brighter perspective through positive daily activities. As we begin to feel better inside, we’ll start to notice improvements outside—small changes that will gradually lead us to more desirable circumstances.
Here are some ideas:
- Look for small opportunities to improve your daily experience: take a walk at lunch, support a colleague in need, buy yourself a treat, visit the gym, etc.
- Find one small thing about your current situation that you can appreciate—there’s always something—and reflect on its positive aspects
- Add 15-20 minutes of one uplifting practice to your morning routine: meditation, walking outside, inspiring reading, yoga, journaling, etc.
- Identify something beneficial that you’re learning through this experience and how it might serve you in the future
- Gently envision improvements that you’d like in your work and personal life—keep it light, imagining how much you’ll enjoy each change
Each of these activities is designed to help you feel better—when you do, lean into it. The better you feel, the more progress you’ll make in improving your outer experience. Before long you’ll gain the traction you need!