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Check Your Thoughts

Nan S. Russell -- There are plenty of overworked people. It's the norm today in workplaces to have more to do than time to do it. That's not going to change. But how you approach your mountain of work is a choice.

It was clear she was having "one of those days." But to be truthful, I didn't care. I was too nervous about my surgery to pay attention to Doris, the nurse grousing about how overworked she was that Thursday. But by the time I was wheeled back to my same-day surgical room, she was even less hospitable and entrenched in complaining.

So, I was surprised when a young nurse introduced herself and said that she was called in to help. You'd think it would have made Doris happy to have assistance. But to the contrary, it exacerbated the situation. She barked at me when she discovered "that other nurse" had taken out my IV, as if I had directed the action.

Doris was focused on Doris. It was her routine, her systems, her hospital area that was disrupted by too many patients and a new staff member. It was her day that was complicated by additional help. And it was her to-do list that I was on.

My Doris experience got me thinking. It wasn't poor patient-customer-focus that caused her behavior. It was deeper than that. It was poor thought-focus.

Doris viewed the additional nurse as a hindrance, not a help; a burden which only added to her thoughts of being a victim. Constrained by woe-is-me thinking, she concentrated on the disruption to her, not the bigger purpose of enhanced patient care. No amount of support would have changed Doris' day. It was her mind-set, not her work-load that triggered her reaction.

There are plenty of overworked people. It's the norm today in workplaces to have more to do than time to do it. That's not going to change. But how you approach your mountain of work is a choice.

Do you water your frustrations, irritations, and "poor-me" thinking, like Doris, or do you yank out those thoughts, replacing them with a commitment to tackle each task, one at a time, offering the best of who you are to the issues confronting you?

You see, it's not the work that drowns us, it's our thinking. Our thoughts determine our reality. As American philosopher William James put it, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives."

It may have been the greatest discovery of his generation a hundred years ago, but we need to rediscover it for ours. People who are winning at working understand the correlation between what they think and what they get. They're aware of their thoughts, consciously choosing ones that work for them, not against them.

If you think yourself a victim, you'll act the part. But if you think yourself a problem-solver, you'll figure things out. If you think your work is difficult, you won't be disappointed. But if you enjoy a challenge, you'll find yourself engaged. If you think your boss is an idiot, she'll live up to your expectations. But if you find her thought-provoking, your perception alters. You decide what thoughts fill your day. Want to be winning at working? Check your thoughts.

Nan Russell is the award-winning author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books, January 2008), and nationally syndicated radio host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on Nan has spent over twenty years in management, including as a Vice President with QVC. Today she is the founder and president of MountainWorks Communications, as well as an author, speaker and consultant. Visit or contact Nan at

© 2012 Nan Russell

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