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Jan Hills

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Evidence-based agony aunt: helping a nayser deal with their new tendencies


Our evidence-based agony aunt, Jan Hills, uses findings from neuroscience and psychology to tell you how to solve your organisational problems in brain-savvy ways, that work with the mind’s natural tendecies and not against it. Got a problem you want her to look at it? Drop us a line at [email protected]. We’ll get back quickly.


“I have become a naysayer. I keep hearing myself say “That won’t work” or “We tried that before.” Help! My work colleagues are going to hate me but I just can’t seem to stop. I used to love my job. I don’t like feeling this way. What can I do? I don’t want to leave. I want to like my job again.”


We all go through this feeling on some days but I get the impression from how you write about this it’s been going on a while. Let’s look at what may be happening and what to do.

When we stop seeing the good it’s often because we have overactivated the negativity bias. Our brain notices more threat than reward but when things are continually in threat mode you get out of the habit of noticing the positive things that are around you. You can be stuck in survival model.

When that happens, you will be more negative about what is going on, avoid risks (and you may perceive non-risky things like new ideas from colleagues to be risks), have a narrow perspective and be inclined to focus on yourself to stay safe (at least from the brain’s point of view.) Sound familiar? 

My advice is:

  • Ensure there really is no actual threat.
  • Check you have no health problems or are not just exhausted.
  • Take a few days off, spend time in nature or just chill and see if your enthusiasm comes back.
  • To remain enthusiastic, adopt some resilient behaviours.

This article will help.

Secondly spend a little time each day noticing the positive. Barbara Fredrickson’s work on positive emotions says we need to make the point of noticing and savouring them as they are fleeting and in the busyness of work we can miss the positive.

You will need to do this for a few days to feel the benefit. It also helps to spend time with positive people. Check the people you are around. Are they dragging your down?

If none of this works consider if you need a new challenge. We are purpose-driven and need new challenges from time to time. Can you create that in your current role? If you decide you need a challenge elsewhere get into a better frame of mind first. No one will hire a naysayer. 

Practice noticing what is good. One way of doing this is to journal about the positive things in your day. Research shows that people who journal manage negative emotions better, have better mental health and can train their brain to notice more of the positive, improving their mood. 

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Jan Hills


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