You’re a smart, productive person capable of amazing things, but every so often you’re your own worst enemy. You’ll often convince yourself you’re going to fail, put off important tasks that need to get done, make choices based on pride rather than logic, and potentially end up making your work life miserable. Here’s a look at the stupid things you do all day at the office and how you can fix them.
Stupid Thing #1: Psyching Yourself Out
Presumably there has been at least one moment in your life where you’ve been tasked with something that seemed so huge you couldn’t possibly conceive of success—and then you managed somehow or failed miserably. Either way, no matter how large the problem actually was you managed to magnify its size with a little self-handicapping. Most of what you approach in life is do-able, but challenges can be scary and the process of psyching yourself out is simply putting a comfortable cushion on failure. This way, when you fail, you can look at the over-amplified problem and blame the circumstances rather than yourself. This is terrible not only because you probably could have succeeded, but also because you’re failing to take responsibility for your defeat.
Most issues rooted in self-delusion are solvable by simple boost in your awareness, but that’s not necessarily the case with self-handicapping. Generally, when presented with a big task—let’s use learning to code as an example—you psych yourself out because you’re not able to imagine yourself succeeding. If you’d learned a different programming language in the past, or even another foreign language for that matter, you might have an easier time accepting the possibility of success. But simply because this challenge is new, your brain instantly starts magnifying the difficulty so the failure you believe is inevitable won’t hurt so much when it comes swiftly down upon you. What you can do, however, is just pretend you’re an expert. Imagine (or better yet, talk to) someone who would have no trouble approaching a brand new programming language. Consider what they’d do, and what they did in the past to gain the requisite knowledge to make this task easier. This will provide you with actionable steps that will at least get you started. You may also benefit from taking a systematic approach to problem solving, which will help you break a large problem into smaller, more digestible parts. This will help you create do-able to-do lists that contain actionable, relevant steps, and help make the problem feel smaller. And, on the very big upside, the more you overcome these daunting challenges the less you’ll find you’re psyching yourself out.
Stupid Thing #2: Clinging to Your Ideas and Methods Even When They’re Bad
When you work, you’ll have ideas and projects and other important things in your days that matter to you. This can be a great source of motivation, but it can also make you stubborn and fail to see what you’re wrong. This is because we have a tendency to stick with things we’re invested in emotionally, regardless if they’re good or bad. We’ll even do this when we know the alternative is better, simply because we fear loss. This may be loss of spent time and effort, control, or anything else. A better solution becomes irrelevant because the loss of our emotional investment is harder to lose than a simple resolution is to gain.
For example, imagine you’ve been keeping yourself organized through a task management system you designed. It works, but it’s complicated and it takes a few hours out of your day. Along comes a web application that will provide the same results without the time sink. In most cases, you’ll stick with your system because you’ve invested so much time in it. You’d rather lose hours each day—a loss you’re accustomed to—than lose all the time you’ve spent devising a system. You’ll tell yourself the software might be better for some people, but your way is better for you because you simply prefer it. You’ll justify your inability to let go of something that just isn’t as good.
There really isn’t anything you can do to prevent this stubbornness from surfacing within you, but you can watch for it. Whenever you’re feeling frustrated, just ask yourself if the way you’re approaching the problem is the best way. Is there a better solution that you’ve overlooked because you’re invested in the current method? Pay attention to opportunities to change and question any justifications you make against them. Sometimes your way will be the best way, but if the situation isn’t perfect you may find relief by entertaining other options.
Stupid Thing #3: Procrastinating When You Should Be Getting Things Done
As the Spanish proverb goes, tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week. Procrastination is one of the most frustrating problems we all share and can never seem to fully eliminate. This is due to something called present bias, or the phenomenon that causes us to choose what we want right now over what we should be doing. It’s what’s causing you to read this post instead of doing your work. The now version of yourself doesn’t have to face the consequences that the future version will have to face, so it can easily make the decision based on want. This leads you to procrastinate now and end up very frustrated, anxious, and stressed out in the future.
Solving the problem isn’t hard, but it is uncomfortable. You have to override the idea that what you want now will make you happy in the future. This is something you probably understand in a logical sense, but your emotional side refuses to accept. One simple method is to use your imagination to bring about the negative side effects of procrastination before they’re actually caused by your poor choices. Remember how draining they can be. Think about the times when you put off a project because you wanted to take a Facebook break. Make yourself worry about finishing on time and, if successful, you’ll have a little fear to help keep you motivated.
You can also make procrastination easier to avoid by creating good, relevant habits around your goals. The things you do when you procrastinate are attractive, in part, because you’re comfortable with them. You know how to play video games, check your email, talk on the phone, and so on. You have history dictating that these are enjoyable activities and you understand how to do them. Conversely, your work is not necessarily habitual. It requires you to think. If you can, at least, make your starting task a habit, however, it may not feel so daunting. The simplest way to do this is to pick a part of what you need to get done that you know will be easy and start there. Maybe that means writing an outline, or even just searching online for an answer you need in order to successfully complete the task at hand. Whatever the case may be, if you pick something easy and relevant you can start forming good and relevant habit-forming actions that will make it easier to override your procrastinating nature.
Stupid Thing #4: Thinking You’re Better Than You Are
Most people will consider themselves to be the best person they know. Most people will also deny this despite our self-serving bias actively telling us how amazing we are. We have a tendency to ignore our failures and praise our successes as a self-preservation mechanism. This is because we can synthesize happiness that’s just as good as the real thing. It helps keep us feeling good when life isn’t going so well. While we can be our own worst enemies, in times of need we can be our own best friends as well. This is great when we need it, but our self-serving bias doesn’t really discriminate against failures we need to see as failures and unfortunate events where we need to find a silver lining. This can result in a lack of humility, and that can make you dumb at work.
The problem with pride is that you often feel like you’ve got nothing to learn, when in reality you are blind to an incredible amount of information. When you assume you know the right answer and don’t listen to others, you’re shutting off your chances of learning something new. For example, if your computer is having issues at work and it’s been having the same sort of issue for a long time, you may think you know what it is. You talk to IT and insist they replace it because the problem reoccurs no matter what you do, ignoring their suggestions. You get the new machine and find it has the same problem, leading you to discover you’ve been running some application that’s causing a conflict. Instead of listening to IT’s suggestions, you went through even more trouble to replace and set up a new machine with the exact same problem. A little humility could have resulted in a faster solution.
The solution to this problem is very straightforward: listen to people and consider what they say. You shouldn’t question yourself so much that it drives you mad, but take a moment and think about the things that others offer. You may not always learn something new, but you can be sure you won’t if you don’t listen at all.
Stupid Thing #5: Taking Your Pride to the Office
To some extent, job titles are necessary to create a functional hierarchy in an organization. They’re also a way to provide people with a level of status at the company, which is something we seem to care more about than our actual salaries. You Are Not So Smart, David McRaney’s awesome blog of self-delusion, points to a study that demonstrates this dilemma:
Imagine you win $1 million in the lottery, but there’s a catch. This is a new experimental lottery in which the state says you must share your winnings with a stranger. You get to decide how the money is split, but the other person can reject your offer. If they reject it, you both get nothing. You only get one chance, and the two of you will never see each other again. How much do you offer? When this experiment was performed with real money and real people in the lab, all offers less than 20 percent of the total amount are rejected. In this scenario, the bare minimum you would have to offer is $200,000 – even though you are the one who won the money. Give this problem to a computer, and it will take anything above zero. Something is better than nothing to a purely logical mind.
This is, essentially, the same problem your employer faces when offering you a raise. Everyone should be happy when they find out they’re going to be paid more money, but it seems most people resent a raise lower than 7%. Resentment didn’t surface from getting no raise at all, but by getting a raise so seemingly insignificant that it came across as insulting. The easy solution? Take the extra money and shut up, or negotiate alternative benefits instead. The point is, ignore your pride when someone is offering an upgrade from nothing. Whether you hate or love your job is irrelevant—your pride won’t do anything to improve the situation.
Got any other stupid things you do at work that you’ve figured out how to solve? Share your tips, tricks, and stories in the comments. You can follow Adam Dachis, the author of this post, on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook. Twitter’s the best way to contact him, too.