In times like these, it can be easy to catastrophize. Treating work situations as worse than they truly are can hurt your company culture. Be careful, however, not to swing too far in the other direction.
Optimism isn’t a bad thing, but it has its limits. Positivity becomes toxic when it’s used as an excuse to ignore negative emotions or realities.
Social pressures, particularly at work, can push you to be positive to a fault. Just think about how easy it is to say “I’m fine” when you’re anything but. The trouble is, inauthenticity is contagious.
If you’re looking to strike the right balance, you need to know the myths that lead to toxic positivity. Learn the truth of each, and use it to enhance your work culture:
Myth No. 1: You can fake it ‘til you make it.
If you can fake positivity, this myth claims, then you’ll be happy. Some versions even suggest faking a smile when you are feeling sad to change your mood.
There is some truth to this. In the long run, however, faking your emotional state is unsustainable. Researchers have even found that smiling through sadness eventually makes your brain associate smiling with sadness. That’s the exact opposite of what you want.
It’s important to stay true to your feelings. Don’t put on a smile at work just to make others happy. To connect, your team needs to know that your emotions are genuine.
Myth No. 2: Positive thinking requires ignorance.
Ignorance is bliss, right? Perhaps, but it’s also impractical and dangerous.
At work, you can’t ignore problems simply because they’re stressful. Client messages must be answered. Work relationships have to be tended to, especially when they’re weak. Rarely is personal growth comfortable or achieved through ignorance.
It’s important to grapple with the things that need to be addressed. If you find yourself engaging in avoidant behavior:
- Reimagine and reframe negative thoughts
- Discuss the issue with a close friend or family member
- Join a group, either at work or outside of it, dedicated to addressing the issue
- Seek professional mental health counseling
Myth No. 3: It helps to remember that “things could be worse.”
You’ve probably consoled yourself with this myth at one point. But speculating about how your circumstances could be worse doesn’t help you solve them. In fact, it implies that someone in a situation worse than yours couldn’t possibly be happy.
The truth is that comparisons are wastes of time. You’ll never know the whole story behind why someone was promoted ahead of you, or why your position was cut instead of someone else’s.
What counts is being content with where you are and who you are. Once you can do that, you can start to build the best version of yourself.
Myth No. 4: Positivity will keep you motivated at work.
At times, positivity can be motivating. The problem with this idea is that it’s a simplistic answer to a complex problem.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to the loss of motivation. Maintaining a positive mindset doesn’t solve most of them. Dysfunctional coworker relationships, for example, will not improve simply because you’re in a better mood.
You may not be able to control what’s going on at work, but you are in charge of your personal life. Give your home life a motivational makeover. Start by:
- Unplugging from technology, especially in the morning and before bed
- Keeping a journal of your thoughts
- Diving into your hobbies
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Exercising every day
Myth No. 5: Always looking on the bright side draws people in.
Think about the people you like to be around: Are they always happy, or do they clue you in when something is stressing them out?
What actually attracts people to you isn’t militant optimism, but rather the courage to be genuine. Ignoring negative emotions you’re experiencing can actually push people away.
Of all the myths on this list, this one might be the most dangerous for business leaders. Excessive cheerfulness can come across as distrust, especially if team members feel forced to match your degree of positivity. Remember, company culture starts at the top.
Positivity should not be performative. You should strive to be relatable, thoughtful, and sincere. If you’re in a joyful mood, great — but don’t assume it’s the only reason people want to be around you.
As tricky as workplace positivity can be, here’s the good news: Getting it right doesn’t mean you have to act any certain way at all. In fact, all you have to do is stop acting.
Being sincere is one of the smallest, yet most significant things you can do to build a healthy company culture. Your team can when something is on your mind, so you might as well share it with them.