Play Your Free Square.

Do you often focus on negative feedback or worry about the things you’re not good at?


Negative bias

You’re not alone. Research shows that humans are inclined towards negative bias about events and information. Our brains pay more attention to bad news and danger than positive events. Evolutionarily speaking, this negative bias would have kept us safe from harm, of course. Those who focused on danger were more likely to take evasive action which helped them survive.


Holding you back

But what of the modern world? We don’t need this hyper exaggerated response to the negative. Of course it’s good to be vigilant – and recent events with the COVID-19 crisis have shown that we should never be complacent about our safety and security. But being hyper alert and focusing on the negative in all areas of your life is very unproductive. It can impact your relationships, your decision-making and concentrating on the negative, particularly when it comes to your idea of self, can be particularly damaging for your career progress. If you always place much more weight on a piece of negative feedback than on the successful completion of a project, for example, it is hard to find the confidence to take positive action and grow.

So how can you overcome this negative bias and move forward to achieve your goals?

By playing, what I like to call, ‘your free square’.

What does this mean?


Play to your strengths

It means playing to your strengths;  reframing your internal narrative about your abilities and potential by shifting the focus to what you’re naturally good at; that is – your gifts, your aptitudes.


Build on who you already are

Easier said than done! The problem with having negative bias is that it makes it hard for you to identify those attributes. If you are naturally inclined to dwell on the things you’re not so good at,  mistakes that you have made, or the things you could do better, it is hard to give your natural talents the recognition they deserve. But as US author and leadership expert Tom Rath says, “The key to human development is building on who you already are.” Your natural attributes are the things you find easy – the things you do perhaps without ever seeing them as work, the things that absorb you. They ‘are’ you! By building on these inherent strengths instead of trying to fit in and struggling to be good at everything, you are much more likely to achieve both excellence and genuine fulfilment.


How to play your free square.

  1. Self-observation: identify your natural talent(s).
    Think about what you find straightforward in life. Maybe it comes so naturally to you that you take it for granted as an actual skill and don’t give it a second thought. Perhaps you thrive in company and find connecting with others really easy. Are you using this skill in your career? Or just to have a good social life? Because it comes naturally to you, you may not see anything special about it. But be aware that many people do not have this particular attribute and find interacting with others difficult or draining. You could you use and build on this special aptitude to further your career.
  2. Ask for feedback.
    If you are stuck in a negative loop and are having trouble identifying your own strengths, ask others you trust for objective feedback. Gather the opinions of a variety of people  – family, friends, educators, bosses, colleagues past and present. Ask only for information about your strengths and supporting evidence.
  3. Identify the common themes.
    Analyse the feedback you receive and see if you can spot patterns. Do many of them highlight your creative approach to ideas for example – your diplomacy and communication skills, or perhaps your enthusiasm? How do they match up with your own self-observations?
  4. Compose a new version of yourself ‘at your best’ based on this information.
    Write a description of your best self based on your own reflections and the information and evidence you have received – use the findings as insight into why you may have performed well or not so successfully at different aspects of your job in the past.
  5. Redesign your future.
    Think about your job and how you would like to progress. How can you build on the strengths you have identified and shape your existing job or your future career path? Remember who you ‘are’ should determine who you ‘become’.
  6. Practise positivity.
    If negative bias has been a way of life for you, practise positivity. Make an effort to focus on positive events and moments when they happen so that they have a greater impact on your brain. Ensure you use neutral language to describe events to yourself instead of naturally ascribing negative connotations to everything. Regularly reread the description of your ‘best’ self, until it becomes hardwired into being the way you naturally view yourself.

Tune into this week’s podcast for more tips on playing your free square. I can help you identify your inherent strengths in my Having it all coaching programme. Contact me if you would like more information.