Devan Moonsamy

As we get closer to the end of the year, we may find ourselves and those around us feeling more uptight and stressed than usual. Everyone needs a break and December holidays just won’t come soon enough. November can be a challenging period for numerous other reasons. For example, some are under pressure to meet yearly sales targets while buyers are putting off larger capital purchases for their businesses until next year. Retail sales starts picking up but this comes with additional stress and longer hours for retail staff. The cost of consumer goods and services also increases making it harder for households to get by. Despite the hopes of our family and friends, we may not be able to give them the holiday and gifts they expect.

Some staff members are keen to wait for their bonuses and leave their current job or are just holding on until December and not doing much work at all. This lays extra pressure on managers as well. They may be about to lose good staff while their other staff are putting their feet up already.

This is not to make you feel down though! This is simply an illustration of how life might be for you now and there is a point to this seemingly dreary discussion. Maybe things are actually going well for you and you have little to complain about. Whatever your situation right now, there will be both tougher times and better times to come. Accepting and making the best of a situation is one key to successfully weathering the storms of life. We must endeavour not to make a situation worse for ourselves but actively pursue the best possible outcome.

If things are going well on the other hand, we must avoid complacency and becoming too comfortable. Overconfidence often leads to failure, sometimes even for a large company or an entire nation. Think, for example, of the Greek economic crisis which began in 2009 and had wide-spread repercussions for other countries as well. These economic problems partly resulted from overconfidence which led to recklessness.

Kodak is one company that was doing extremely well and believed that their customers would remain loyal to their brand despite competition. Assuming their position was secure in traditional film-based photography, they did not keep up with the digital technology of their competitors. This is now considered one of the worst business decisions of all time. Once the number one brand in photography, Kodak stopped making a profit in 2007 and filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Since then, Kodak has sold off its assets and their demise has prompted Bill Fischer, a professor of technology management, to state that there are simply ‘no more Kodak moments’ (Forbes Magazine).

So, we want to avoid becoming too comfortable in our position when we are successful. We should rather be cautious and keep ourselves informed of all changes, not assuming that current success will continue indefinitely. Furthermore, we must remember to be thankful for what we have, not becoming greedy for more. We will look at being on guard against negative thought patterns which could prevent us from making progress, especially during stressful times, in the next section.

Overcoming Negative Patterns of Thought

Negative thoughts are unproductive but they have a strong tendency to repeat themselves. Their only purpose may be to reaffirm our suspicious about something that is bothering us but they make us feel out of control and desperate. We may start to believe that terrible things will happen to us or that we have bad luck for some reason. Expecting bad things to happen or expecting that nothing good will ever happen makes us worry about the future. This is negative thinking which leads to fear. Fear in turn leads to a type of ‘paralysis’ in which we cannot move forward with our lives (Orloff, 2010).

Very often we think we are not good enough and criticise ourselves mercilessly. What characterises all negative thinking is that we focus on what is wrong and it makes us worry or choose not to make improvements in our life. What is worse is that we may extend a habit of criticism to others, instilling negativity and low self-confidence in them and leading to arguments and strained relationships. Thus we prevent ourselves and others from being happy.

Negative thoughts often revolve around what we believe is wrong in our environment. Our attention becomes fixed on something which we do not like and we begin to exaggerate it at the expense of everything that is good in our lives. Negative emotions accompany this and our health may suffer. We must therefore counter negative thoughts as much as possible. Here are four ways to curb negative thinking (Orloff, 2010).

  • Safeguard your thoughts. Be careful about what you are thinking. Distract yourself from thinking about the past unless it is truly constructive to do so.Remind yourself not toreflect on unhappy or upsetting experiences as this only leads to more unhappiness and frustration. Continually choose constructive thoughts over stressful ones. Find sources of positive thoughts and emotions by, for example, reading the spiritual texts of your faith for encouragement. Consider the quotes given for each day in this journal or read books about people and subjects that inspire and uplift you.

  • Focus on the present dimension. Right now, the past has little hold on you. Concentrate fully on what is happening in the present and strive to do that well without reference to things that happened in the past. Think deeply about what is around you, from the tiny or everyday objects, to the tasks you need or want to get done today. If you concentrate on improving what is around you and on making progress now, you will.
  • Be an impartial witness. This is not easy and requires persistence. If negative thoughts stick in your mind and have become a habit, reposition yourself outside the situation. Each time we think over an episode from the past which makes us angry, we are forcing ourselves to feel angry again. If you cannot help thinking of the situation again, pretend you are only a passer-by who moves on and does not think of the events again. Allow the recollection to play out if you can’t stop it. Detach yourself from the other people present and the emotions you feel. Keep doing this until you are able to feel neutral about the situation.
  • Do not give up your power. The power you have refers to your ability to make the best of the opportunities you have and enjoying the good that surrounds you now. Do not give up the power you have over what you will do and say today to the unhappiness of the past. Personal contentment is your right and it is within your power to ensure it.

Devan Moonsamy runs the ICHAF Training Institute, and he is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, AND My Leadership Legacy Journal available from the ICHAF Training Institute.

ICHAF offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.

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