The Thoughts That Will Ruin Your Career (And How to Avoid Them)

May 11, 2017

These are bad ways of thinking, and yet our mind has a tendency to think this way anyway.

It’s not fair, really.

Most of us are born with innate thought patterns that are destructive. We think we aren’t good enough, we aren’t smart enough or that life isn’t fair and everyone else has it easier than us.

We’ve all felt this way at one time or another. But what separates the people with great “executive presence” who go on to build great careers from everyone else is they train themselves to get out of those thought patterns and onto more productive ones.

It's harder than it sounds, replacing bad thoughts with good ones. But it's a skill, and like any skill, it can be learned.

Specifically, in his LinkedIn Learning course Developing Executive Presence, Leadership Consultant John Ullmen described three common destructive thought patterns we think about ourselves. And then he gave playbooks on how to change your thinking when feeling that way to something far more productive.

1. Worrying.

There’s so much out of your control in your career, from how your CEO acts to the overall state of the economy. And, for some reason, our mind has a tendency to gravitate to these worries, which doesn’t benefit us at all.

“Dwelling on things you can't do anything about is a recipe for stress, a bottomless pit of wasted time and energy, helping no one, including yourself,” Ullmen said in his course. “Avoid that trap.”

A better solution: Focus on what you can control.

Rather than focusing on all the things you can’t control, Ullmen suggests focusing on what you can control.

When he works with executives, Ullmen encourages them to write down all the things that worry them. From that, he encourages them to make a list of all the things they can do to fix those problems, if anything at all.

From there, you have a plan of action, instead of a list of worries. For the things there’s nothing you can do about – say, the weather – you can drop, and focus on the areas you can have an impact on. You’ll soon realize that many of these worries are exaggerated, and can be overcome with the right plan.

2. Thinking you’re not good enough.

Before you give a presentation or have an interview or give a sales pitch, the tendency is to become solely focused on yourself. And none of your positive attributes either – instead, you are not good enough, you are going to screw up, you are going to blow it.

Obviously, this is a “career-limiting” thought process, to say the least.

A better solution: Focus on how you can help others.

The problem with this line of thinking is it’s all about you. Turn it around – rather than focusing on yourself and all your shortcomings, what can you do to help others? How is your presentation, your sales pitch going to help the people you are speaking with?

The more you can focus on the impact and the ultimate result you’d like to have, the less you are going to worry about any insecurities, Ullmen said.

3. Thinking you have to be right.

Have you ever gone into a meeting thinking how you need to be right, particularly when you know someone else in the meeting disagrees with you? Or, you desire to be seen as the smartest person in the room, and hide any failures?

This is a common mistake that prevents you from forming true connections with the people around you. It also prevents you from improving.

A better solution: Focus on being effective.

“Here's the high presence alternative, instead of, ‘I need to be right’," Ullmen said.  “Try this, 'I need to be effective. I need to be clear about my views and open to where I'm wrong, where I can learn and where I can gain insight'."

In other words, the goal of every meeting should be to get to the best possible outcome, not for you to be right or for you to be seen as the smartest person in the room. The more you focus on the external problem at hand – instead of the internal desire to look good ­– the more effective you’ll become.

The takeaway

Almost all of us have fallen victim to these destructive ways of thinking. It’s innate – our minds have a tendency to dwell on negative emotions, instead of aspire toward positive ones.

But that doesn't mean you have to continue thinking that way. By focusing more on what you can do and how you can help others – instead of focusing on yourself – you’ll begin to build “executive presence.”

Ironically enough, by adopting this approach of being more selfless, you’ll actually see more gain for yourself. It just comes down to maturing, and working to take more control over your thoughts.

Watch John Ullmen’s full course on executive presence to learn the vital leadership qualities shared by the world’s most renowned pioneers.