Coach's Corner: Breaking the bad habit of envy and negativity

  • Article by: LIZ REYER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 24, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Q: I find that I tend to be envious of colleagues’ good fortune, and instead of being happy for them, can be kind of negative, even undermining. How can I break this mind-set?

A: Build a strong habit of gratitude for things happening in your own life.

The inner game

Addressing your question will take focused inward time on your part, so start by setting aside some dedicated time for reflection. Put your attention on your breath, easing into a calm state and letting your emotions settle. If you’re angry or resentful about anything, let it go as best you can.

Starting with the simple things, what are you grateful for right now? Did you have a good lunch? Are you in a comfortable room? If you have a job, people who care about you, etc., list all of these things. Nothing is too small to notice: the sun is out, other drivers were polite — you get the picture.

Now go deeper into your life. Whose shoulders are you standing on? Many people will have contributed to make you who you are. Think about your family, including the generations that came before. Think about others in your field or who took on challenges that made your life easier.

Turning now to your colleagues, build a sense of appreciation about each of them as individuals, focusing on ways they’ve helped you or others and challenges they’ve faced. Noticing how you feel when you’re acknowledged, think about the glow they’d get from your appreciation.

Stepping back from these specific reflection areas, now observe how you’re feeling and capture the feeling of warmth that can result from this type of positive focus.

The outer game

Going forward, use this stance of gratitude as your base for interactions with others, especially if you’re feeling jealous. It may not feel genuine at first, but will become a habit if you’re persistent.

In preparation, plan ways you’ll respond if you’re in a meeting and someone is acknowledged for a success. If, in the past, you would have said something disparaging, turned the attention to something you’ve done, or simply just frowned and said nothing, develop some alternatives. Be ready to piggyback on the compliment, smile or have a “well done” ready to offer.

Be prepared for your new approach to come as a surprise. If others have noticed your negativity in the past, they may be skeptical. Worst case, they may suspect sarcasm. Don’t let this deter you, and be ready to share as much as you’re comfortable with about your intentional shift in focus.

Keep building your gratitude practice by noting things that you appreciate every day. Include the people in your life, professional and personal alike. This will keep your habit fresh and you’ll find more things to appreciate all the time. And keep track of when it is easy and when it is hard, acknowledging your own successes. When you find yourself slipping, bring yourself back by finding something to be grateful for, right in that very moment.

The last word

It can be hard to acquire new habits, but the habit of gratitude will enrich your life in many ways.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.

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