Banish these 5 toxic thoughts at work

How to Be More Productive at Work

People can be toxic – and so can thinking patterns. In fact, how you think can make a big difference in how well you do at work.

To ensure that your new year gets off to a good start, here are five toxic thoughts to nix before they sabotage your career success.

1. "I deserve this promotion." A feeling of entitlement, though tempting, is something to avoid at any point in your career. While you may feel that you've earned an advancement opportunity through hard work, bosses and colleagues will feel resentful if your attitude suggests that you believe you're owed something special. "Lack of humility makes people in senior roles appear to be dictators or sloths to staff below them, and makes junior people appear overeager and ungrateful," says Matt Paddock, general manager at Grow, a digital agency based on Norfolk, Virginia. "Not that we need to spend every minute of every workday convincing those around us that we're worthy, but just thinking of the workplace as a level playing field can help you avoid all kinds of bad behavior."

2. "I must have done something wrong." Assuming the worst about yourself and others is a real buzzkill for teamwork. If your boss passes you in the hall and doesn't say, "Hi," it doesn't mean that she has it in for you. She may have been deep in thought. "When people assume the worst possible intent of others, that gets in their way of building productive working relationships with them," says Karlyn Borysenko, principal at Zen Workplace, which uses psychology to help individuals and organizations navigate challenges at work. "The best way to get out of this type of thinking is to adopt a questioning mindset. Ask yourself, 'What other explanations could there be for this?' before assuming one specific explanation."

Related: How to take five work staples from corporate to cool
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Banish these 5 toxic thoughts at work

The Shift Dress

At Work: A life-saver on lazy mornings! Seeing as this piece is a ready-made outfit, all you have to do is add in some HR-approved footwear and accessories. For overly air-conditioned offices, complete the ensemble with a loose-fitting, belted blazer.

On The Weekend: Dress feeling too fancy? Use a slightly oversized T-shirt—knotted to one side—to turn it into an easygoing skirt. From there, it’s just a matter of layering in additional off-duty items: sneakers, a denim jacket and a bright bag are all foolproof bets.

The Pencil Skirt

At Work: No, you don’t have to wear it with a button-down and pumps if you don’t want to. A neatly tucked in sweater and strap-y wedges offer the same pulled together effect without matching everyone at your office. Want to make the combination even better? Tie it together with an elegant sleeveless trench coat.

On The Weekend: Thanks to the higher rise of a this piece, you’ve got an ideal opportunity to put your crop tops to good use. A sleeveless sweatshirt design—paired with open-toed heels and colorful bag—would be perfect for low-key drinks or a summer house party.

The Oxford Shirt

At Work: Consider these the corporate world’s white T-shirt—there are about a gajillion ways to wear one. One of our favorites for summer is with cropped trousers (such a fun alternative to a skirt!), open-toed heels (wide straps and a neutral hue add boardroom authority) and a boxy bag (don’t be afraid of print! The key is picking a quiet one). For one more throughly professional touch, throw in a menswear-inspired watch.

On The Weekend: You could just tuck your button-down into a pair of jeans…but that’s such a safe choice! Earn extra style points by going with track shorts instead; the extreme contrast is striking in a good way. To ensure the look isn’t too miss-matched, work in equally sporty accessories.

The Culotte

At Work: Because this is such an of-the-moment silhouette, you’ve got to balance it with some simple, classic pieces; it saves the look from skewing too trendy. An elegantly draped neutral sweater—tucked in or out—should do the trick, along with streamlined heels (we love mules, but traditional pumps would work, too) and a plain leather tote. Jewelry should be minimal.

On The Weekend: Fringe-y crop top? Snakeskin clutch? Strappy heels? Go for it! Texture and embellishment will only enhance the cool factor of a gaucho cut.

The Blazer

At Work: While, admittedly, a tailored jacket looks fine with a pencil skirt or pair of slacks, neither formula is very original. Swapping in a wrap skirt (knee length or shorter depending on how conservative your office is) and belting the middle feels both sophisticated andspecial. Commuter-friendly loafers keep the look comfortable without going too casual.

On The Weekend: Trying to make your standard jeans and T-shirt outfit slightly less, well, standard? That’s where a crisp sport coat comes in. Played against slouchy fits and laid-back fabrics, it becomes far more brunch-ready than business-y.


3. " I dropped the ball and am going to get fired." Each workday presents multiple opportunities for snafus and mix-ups – but imperfection in the office is business as usual. Unless the error is truly something that will hurt the company, chances are that it can be fixed, and others will understand since they also make mistakes at work. That's why it's best to avoid "catastrophisizing" – or expecting things to be worse than the situation merits – about every little thing that goes wrong. "With deadlines to meet and competition high, it makes sense that people would catastrophize about being unable to complete their work or the possibility of being demoted," says Ash Nadkarni, a psychiatrist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. "The problem this creates is the distraction of panic, keeping people from concentrating on the task at hand or scheming in a toxic way. A small measure of skepticism about your negativity can go a long way."

4. "I'll never get it all done." While many companies are dealing with overwhelmed employees, you don't need to let your workload sink your morale. Suz Graf O'Donnell, president and lead coach at Thrivatize, which helps successful leaders maximize performance, suggests that employees should think about whether they can break down their work into more manageable chunks when they feel overloaded. "If it still seems like more than you can do well, talk to your team leader about delegating some of the work to others or prioritizing the things that are most important to the team," O'Donnell says.

5. "I'm not as good as my colleagues." When confronted with a challenging new task, it can be difficult to feel confident in your abilities. In fact, many people – particularly women – doubt their own competence and may even suffer from "imposter syndrome," which makes them feel like they aren't actually as good at their jobs as others think they are. Yet according to Susan Peppercorn, Boston-based career coach and CEO of Positive Workplace Partners, perceiving others as more successful or powerful doesn't allow room to see your own success. "These comparisons tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies," Peppercorn says. To nip such negativity in the bud, confidence coach Jo Emerson suggests recognizing the emotion behind these thoughts. "Fear tells lies," Emerson says. "You simply wouldn't have your job if you were unable to do it. So when you notice yourself believing the imposter narrative, stop and make a pledge to plug any knowledge or skills gaps you have by investing in some training or mentoring – and remind yourself that you're good enough."

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