The art of creating positive intentions in the workplace

Jun 24 2019 by Sarah Gornall Print This Article

In life, you tend to get what you focus on! If you focus on drying up in an interview, you will dry up in the interview. You focus on arriving on time, you will arrive on time. This plays out in all aspects of our work and life. Our focus either holds us back or provides a springboard to success.

What’s going on? As human beings, we are always selecting where to put our attention, either consciously or subconsciously, and as we do so, we interpret our place in the world. When we follow only feeds on certain topics or viewpoints, it begins to seem to us as though the whole world is agreeing with us. And, of course, it isn’t. We have just limited our own stimulus input.

We have huge stimulus overload from numerous sources in the fast-paced digital workplace. Our selections help us to connect ideas and make thinking patterns. The pitfall is that we tend to keep proving the same thing to ourselves.

If you’re working in an open plan office, your constant inner talk is “People are always walking past.” “It’s constantly noisy in here.” “Someone’s always talking.” This what you experience. Every time one of these things happens, you’ll tick a box, going “There it is again.” That’s confirmation bias. There may be long periods of calm, or you may be making the noise yourself, but that isn’t what you are focusing on and so it is not what you perceive and reinforce for yourself. It’s the half-full versus half-empty proposition. Perception is reality. Our self-talk creates our reality.

We do this to ourselves in a range of contexts. Often by focusing on the thing we don’t want, rather than the one we do. If you are trying to lose weight and repeatedly tell yourself you will NOT eat chocolate, what happens? You are much more likely to eat chocolate. When we introduce the thing we don’t want, we make it more likely we will get that, rather than the thing we do want. This is because we have to create the image of what we don’t want (however momentarily) before we create the image of not wanting it.

If instead of focusing on not eating chocolate, you focus on eating seven portions of fruit and veg each day, you are programming yourself to be looking out for opportunities to do so and have a much stronger chance of that becoming a positive self-fulfilling prophesy.

Now’s a great time to take stock of what you are focusing on. Check out the repeat ideas and mantras in your mind, the ideas you follow and the reinforcements you seek. What patterns do you notice? Maybe ask people close to you what they notice about what you give attention to. See how many emphases you can find which are the negative i.e. focusing on what you don’t want, rather than what you do.

“I will not be nervous when the CEO speaks to me”, versus: “I am confident to explain the idea to the CEO” .

Here’s a classic example of focusing on the downside at work. Kim is being debriefed on a 360 assessment exercise. It is 90% excellent with positive comments and lovely examples. There is 10% encouragement to change a particular behaviour. When Kim talks about the 360, she says “I’ve really got to work on my influencing. It’s not good enough. They really told me how poor it is.” No mention of the overall positive message. This is self-sabotage.

Really looking at our current patterns and processes allows us to make more conscious choices and expand our comfort zone, so that we develop greater resourcefulness and flexibility. Challenge yourself each time a thought pops up in the negative. Look for other evidence which allows you to take a more empowering or consciously chosen view. Aim to create positive intentions for yourself, rather than defaulting into warning yourself about the things you don’t want.

Change patterns like this:

  • From “I mustn’t be late” to “I’m going to arrive promptly”
  • From “I never know what to do first” to “I can make time to sort my priorities”
  • From “I dry up in interviews” to “I’ve got a lot to offer and they will be interested”.

So, it’s a three-stage positive process:

  • Notice what you are focusing on.
  • Reframe this in the positive.
  • Adopt your positive frame as your new default pattern

Try it - you can manage your focus, your confidence and your career!

This article was co-authored with Jenny Bird


About The Author

Sarah Gornall
Sarah Gornall

Sarah Gornall and her co-author Jenny Bird draw on extensive experience as both leaders and coaches of senior executives in their recent book “How to Work with People… and Enjoy It! (Routledge). Their previous book “The Art of Coaching: A Handbook of Tips and Tools” has met with wide acclaim. Both Sarah and Jenny have contributed to the coaching profession in the UK and Sarah is currently President of the UK Chapter of the International Coach Federation (ICF).