Advice from Spill's therapists
Let negative self-talk have its sayWork on time managementTips to manage negative self-talkRelated resources
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Overcoming negative thoughts and difficulty focusing

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees struggling to focus.

I'm really struggling to focus at the moment, as my brain gets distracted with negative self-talk. It's impacting my ability to do good work and manage my team effectively. How can I sort this out?

Our first therapist suggests...

Let negative self-talk have its say

As counterintuitive as it sounds you might need to provide some space for your negative self-talk to have its say.

When we push hard against negative thoughts it is the same as trying to talk over someone who feels angry at us and wants to tell us why. They just talk louder and louder until we listen.

If you separate your negative self-talk from your ability to think rationally and logically you might find that things calm down.

Try this:

  • Write down the typical negative thoughts you have about yourself and the world when you are trying to focus on your work. Let them all come out.
  • When you have finished you can start to look at them with a more rational eye because your emotional brain has had its say.

So, if one of your negative thoughts is something like, “I’m not good enough,” you can now challenge the belief by thinking about the evidence you can point to which suggests it isn’t true.

Even if you find it hard to overturn the belief you will have taken most of the energy from it by resisting the urge to push it away.

Next, think about your motivation strategy. Instead of trying to get away from our negative thoughts try and focus on moving towards whatever it feels like when you are doing good work and leading your team well. What does that feel like? Try and hold that feeling and move towards it because that will help you make progress when you feel you are stuck in a loop.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially of all, be kind and patient with yourself.

When you feel upset at your inability to move forwards its easy to become frustrated and angry but this does nothing more than make it even harder to progress.

If instead you can remind yourself that you’re doing your best and that even though you are struggling in this moment you will help yourself get past it you’ll find that it becomes much easier to get things done.

When you remove unnecessary pressure from yourself everything becomes much easier.

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Our second therapist suggests...

Work on time managemet

It sounds like you have a lot to focus on but that also you’re paying attention to things that don’t truly need your attention? Our amygdala (our emotional survival brain) is very seductive when it thinks we are under possible threat, so it’s very common and easy to spend time listening to it.

We can get seduced by their false sense of urgency and spend time sitting with worry or planning all the different scenarios as a way of feeling like we have control over the outcome (and therefore protecting ourselves). The truth is, however, that planning and imagining all these outcomes changes very little and in fact just depletes us of energy – and, more importantly, creates a pretty uncomfortable experience. The amygdala is automatic and impulsive so we have little to no control about worries crashing in. Your true power lies in what you do with this negative self-talk; how you manage them when they arrive.

I’m sensing some practical support may be useful to you right now, such as a time management system. It’s so important to get as much stuff out of our heads as possible using lists, planners or organisational systems. Your mind has limited bandwidth; the fuller it gets, the harder the world feels. Don’t underestimate the power of practical tools for helping the emotional self.

You could also do a mind map each morning of everything that’s in your head. Dump it all down, no matter how minor or how ‘out there’ it might feel Then, have a cup of tea or a lap of the kitchen and return to the map. Cross off all the areas that you truly do not need to attend to today (which will in all honesty be most things).

I would also think about booking a therapy session, especially if you have access to therapy paid for by your work, so you have a safe place to get all of this heard. Or you can also speak to a trusted manager at work in case there is anything that can be adjusted for you at the moment. You don’t have to do this on your own.

Make sure you are giving yourself a break; time out in the day. Make sure you have pleasure in your world and fun to look forward to. Make sure your sleep, fuel and movement are all in place as these are the foundations of your health. Low physical health exacerbates low mental health.

Your attention and your time is your most precious gift. Make sure you offer it to the activities and people that matter.

Spill therapy reliably reduces mental health symptoms in 72% of cases and can be accessed by anyone on your team.
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Our third therapist suggests...

Tips to manage negative self-talk

It seems to me that you're having a struggle with negative self-talk, which in turn is impacting your work and the management of your team.

The following are things you can try to improve your focus:

  • Do something to help to relax like taking deep-breaths or taking time out to do a short meditation to help you to reconnect with yourself and your environment. It might help to make relaxation a scheduled part of your day. Exercise, mindfulness, massage and progressive muscle relaxation are all things that could help.
  • When did you notice that negative self-talk became a problem? Was there a trigger? This may have been a change or difficult event. Let’s say you noticed the negative self-talk started after an argument with a partner then it would be the issue with your partner that needs addressing. If you identify a trigger, brainstorm solutions for dealing with that issue and weigh up the pros and cons of the different options to help you move forward. If you can’t identify a trigger don’t worry. Try something else from this list.
  • Write down the worries or negative thoughts that are interrupting your work. This will help you to get to know exactly what you are saying to yourself.
  • Try to dialogue with any negative thoughts or worries. Let’s say a negative thought was ‘I am not good at my job’, ask yourself if there is any real evidence to support your thought. Is it possible you are making assumptions? What would you say to a friend who was having a similar thought? It will help to write down your answers.
  • If you find that a worry or negative thought has any basis in reality, again brainstorm solutions for dealing with the problem.
  • If you need more help addressing this issue, you could book a therapy or coaching session if it's available through your workplace.
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