Three Ways to Defeat a Bad Attitude

Two stone heads, one rolled on its side and one angry

My friend and fellow career pro Julie Walraven has written many posts on attitude and how one’s attitude can help or harm a job search. They are quite good at getting a person to think about the choices being made in life, particularly how a bad attitude after a setback can pull you off the road.

Did you ever stop to think why negative attitudes can be so difficult to overcome? Here is the technical explanation, courtesy of a blog post by Conor Neill, a lecturer at IESE Business School:

There are 3 “little voices” that are highly dis-empowering when we are confronted with difficulties, mistakes or failure:

  1. Hopelessness
  2. Worthlessness
  3. Helplessness

It was amazing to see the rapid chain reaction of one negative thought of the hopelessness, worthlessness or helplessness variety (begins in the right prefrontal cortex, just above and behind your right eye) to triggering the Amygdala and Hypothalamus to release ACTH (signalling “in immediate danger”) to the brain and leading to release of AD, NAD and steroids (“enter survival mode”). The immediate effect of the release of steroids is to divert blood flow from the cortex, or human thinking brain, to the brain stem or animal brain. One negative thought can change the whole chemistry of the brain.

I don’t know about you, but reading that gave me a huge “a-ha” moment. Who of us can’t recall this cascade effect taking place when we have messed something up? And in looking back on your reaction, you may have felt like you weren’t in control of anything, not even yourself. Of course, you weren’t — your brain was hijacked by the various chemicals that were flooding it after your mistake.

So does this phenomenon absolve you from acting rationally when it happens?

Sorry, but no. You don’t get off that easy. Neill’s post also talks about three things you can do to diminish the impact of this stressor:

  1. Gain control of your body. Instead of letting yourself slouch and slink around, make the choice to project a more positive physical stance.
  2. Consciously direct your thought processes. Don’t let your mind wander wherever it wants. Be purposeful in getting your thinking beyond the incident — work to come up with a solution to fix it or strategize to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
  3. Talk to someone about your feelings. Make sure that you choose a person you trust. Someone from your circle of support would be a good option. Just make sure that you don’t open up to someone randomly. Divulging raw feelings to the wrong person can backfire.

How else have you gained control of your attitude?

Image courtesy of Phil Whitehouse

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  1. Simple stuff, but highly effective 😉 Often it is when we feel at our lowest that we stop some of the habits that make life feel good. We tend towards more busyness, tend to focus more on ourselves… and the downward spiral takes hold.

    • Melissa Cooley
      Twitter: TheJobQuest

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Conor!

      I liked your original post because it answered the question that folks often have — “Why does this happen?” There’s power in understanding that phenomenon, and in knowing how to effectively counteract it.

      You said, “Often it is when we feel at our lowest that we stop some of the habits that make life feel good.” This is so true! We let discipline slide away and opt for the quick fix that feels good short-term, but can actually do harm in the long run. Good stuff!


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