Counteract the negative effects of working in a toxic workplace
When stuck in a toxic workplace, it is easy to let the negativity of the situation seep into your internal monologue. Before you know it, you are filled with thoughts of doom and gloom, and this relentless negativity quickly becomes harmful, often leading to complacency, feelings of depression, and increased risk for health problems.
It can be a tough cycle to break, especially when you are experiencing bullying and other toxic workplace behaviours. In this article you will see how positive affirmations can improve your mood, your outlook and your health. You will learn about two different styles of affirmation – Positive Affirmations and Positive Declarations – and how they work to make your work a little brighter.
How Affirmations counteract a toxic workplace
Affirmations are statements that are said with confidence, often repeated, to change your state of mind. They can be used to encourage and uplift, or to change a habit. They are often statements about a perceived truth or about a desired truth.
Although they don’t work for everyone nor in every circumstance, when used well, affirmations have the ability to create a new belief, essentially reprogramming the mind to believe the statement as true. The mind cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and that inability to distinguish is what makes affirmations work.
You may have seen this idea expressed in a myriad ways including “you attract what you focus on” (aka the so-called Law of Attraction or The Secret), “where your attention goes, energy flows (thanks Tony Robbins), and “you get what you focus on”; and while this all may seem a little woo-woo, neuroscience backs it up.
The science of affirmations
When we focus on what we want, on our desired outcomes, we are switching on our Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is the system that filters out most of the stimuli generated around us at every moment of the day. Without it we’d be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information to compute.
When we switch it on or give it a new command, we are telling the RAS to give importance and focus on some information over others. Common examples of the RAS in action include when you buy a particular make or colour car, suddenly you see that make or colour everywhere around you, whereas previously you never noticed it. This also happens if you are thinking about or researching a purchase or other life change. Thinking of getting a dog? Suddenly your neighbourhood is full of dogs. Planning a dinner party? Suddenly you see recipes, fresh produce and dinner settings all around.
When we use an affirmation, we are telling the RAS to bring the subject of that statement into focus, to give it greater importance than other background information, and so we begin to notice more positives in our life and more opportunities to create the outcome we desire. The path is revealed before us.
The most effective affirmations must follow this 3-part formula:
In the now + Positive + Unconditional Certainty
I am statements
I am statements begin, unsurprisingly, with the words “I am”. They are present tense, positive and unconditional.
Some of my personal favourites over the years when battling toxic workplaces have been “I am good at my job” and when unsure about a decision I have made or a path I have taken “I am where I am supposed to be.”
It’s important to choose an “I am” statement that resonates with you, where you are and where you want to be. I am statements can be aspirational, but should be something in which you can believe. For example, when I was working as a lawyer, the statement “I am the best lawyer in Sydney” would have been beyond belief and not at all helpful (in fact, there is some evidence to suggest that unattainable affirmations do more harm than good); but “I am the best lawyer I can be” is a suitable stretch goal.
Just now when typing this I was tempted to add “I am the best lawyer I can be right now”, but that would have been a condition, a limitation on the positive affirmation, which we want to avoid.
Here are some more examples of “I am” statements. Choose one that resonates with you, or take inspiration to craft your own.
- I am enough
- I am worthy
- I am loved
- I am successful
- I am strong
- I am more than my job
- I am the best I can be
- I am perfectly imperfect
I am woman, hear me roar …
For more “I am” statements, together with one woman’s extraordinary journey from anxious and fearful to confident, successful life coach, check out Abbey Benvehnu’s blog post “I am“.
Where “I am” statements focus in on the speaker (the affirmer), declarations focus outwards on the prevailing conditions. They serve as reminders that the current situation is temporary, that there is more to life than this toxic workplace and people.
The more we anticipate negative experiences and outcomes at work, the more we notice those experiences and outcomes, thanks to the Reticular Activating System (RAS). It doesn’t necessarily means things are objectively worse, it’s just that our brain has been programmed to highlight the negative and ignore the positive.
Positive declarations create a new set of instructions for the RAS, telling it to focus on and draw our attention to the positive things around us, instead of constantly reminding us of all that is negative in our work life.
One of my favourite positive declarations comes from the podcast Happier in Hollywood. Hosted by writing team Liz Craft and Sarah Fain, their mantra is
“It’s a fun job and we enjoy it”
As with the “I am” statements, this positive declaration is framed in the present tense, is positive and unconditional.
Here are some more examples of positive declarations:
- My clients appreciate and value my work
- My job brings me financial abundance
- My career brings me closer to my family
- Work is one third of my day.
- This too shall pass
- To everything there is a season
- It is not the critic who counts
- Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter
For something a little more aspirational:
- My workplace is peaceful and full of love.
- My coworkers love being around me.
- My boss values the work I do.
And one more from Happier in Hollywood for a particularly unpleasant task or meeting to be tackled:
“This will be over by dinner time”
How to use your affirmation
Affirmations work best when repeated out loud 3 – 5 times, up to 3 times a day but no less than once a day. Many people like to repeat their affirmations and declarations as part of their grooming routine, after brushing your teeth for example. Others do it on their way to work, or when going for a lunchtime walk.
You can also repeat your chosen statement to yourself during particularly stressful moments at work as an anchor to keep you steady and as a reminder of where you are headed.
Other ways to use you affirmation are to:
- write it on sticky notes and leave them around your house, on your desk, in your draw, in your car, wherever you will see them during the day
- write it in your dairy as a daily task or reminder
- write it in your journal, or use it as a writing prompt when journaling or free writing
- use it as your computer or phone password, so you have to type it in several times a day (I do this with my Last Pass account, it never fails to bring a smile to my face)
Part of your toolkit
Affirmations, while helpful, are not a cure all for toxic workplace culture. A well-crafted Positive Affirmation or Declaration should be a part of your workplace survival and self-care toolkit, but should not be your only tool. They can be used to encourage and uplift, or to change a habit, and give you the strength and resilience to survive a toxic workplace until the environment can be changed, or you can move on to a healthier situation.
When choosing an affirmation, find one that resonates with you, is reasonably believable even if its aspirational, and follow the formula In the now + Positive + Unconditional Certainty .
Over to you
Have you used affirmations to positive effect?
What is your favourite positive affirmation or declaration?
Let me know in the comments, and if you find this article useful, please share it with your friends, family and social channels.
Until next time,
 “Woo, also called woo-woo, is a term for pseudoscientific explanations that share certain common characteristics, often being too good to be true (aside from being unscientific). The term is common among skeptical writers. Woo is understood specifically as dressing itself in the trappings of science (but not the substance) while involving unscientific concepts, such as anecdotal evidence and sciencey-sounding words.” https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Woo
Looking for more ways to build resilience and survive a toxic workplace?
When stuck in a toxic workplace, it is easy to let the negativity of the situation seep into every aspect of your life, and that can have disastrous consequences for your physical and mental health.
In this free course we will cover ways to look after yourself from practicing self-care and positive affirmations, to keeping records for any legal claim.
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