If you’re unhappy at work, noticing how behaviour and thought patterns help or harm your career can be a powerful practice. Know this — while you’re first instinct about feeling unhappy might be to quit, that’s not always (or even usually) the right move. Often underneath your unhappiness at work are career patterns that make it worse. Here’s what to do when you’re unhappy at work, but can’t quit. 

Sit with these questions this week:

What career patterns am I living?

Are they helping or hurting me?

 

Text on blue background that reads: If you're unhappy ato work, sit with these two questions this week: What career patterns am I living? Are they helping or hurting me?

 

1. HOW TO IDENTIFY CAREER PATTERNS

Your career patterns will show up in two ways: external action and internal thought patterns. 

External actions are the things you do or say at work. They are actions that people see or hear you do. It’s important to know your external action patterns because this is how impressions are made.

Here are some common external action career patterns:

  • You open your email before work officially begins and allow it to determine your mood that day (meaning, if you get a negative email, it derails your day, and a pleasant one makes you feel light all day)
  • When someone shares that they are overwhelmed by something, you immediately offer help (often ignoring your own workload or limits)
  • When you are in a deep workflow and temporarily hit a block, instead of sitting with it, you check social media and sabotage the opportunity for a breakthrough
  • You immediately criticize the work of anyone who criticizes your work
  • You know you are worth more but you passively accept what is offered and low-ball yourself at every job you’ve accepted 
  • You only talk about your specialty and role when speaking to leaders instead of spending time developing business acumen
  • You promise to follow up with a client, but routinely forget to set a reminder and lost opportunities
  • As soon as a coworker suggests a way for you to improve, you check out and start looking at available jobs elsewhere

A career pattern is any action you regularly do, often unintentionally, that changes how people perceive your value, skills, and credibility. It may not seem like a big deal to deny responsibility for something, but if people see you doing this over and over, you become the person who can’t take responsibility for things. You may not even know you’re doing this because it’s how you’ve always been. 

Here are examples of internal career thought patterns:

On the other side, you have internal thoughts. These aren’t things that other people see or know about you, but often they stop you from showing up fully in your career. 

  • You think you have to always be sharing your success stories to be seen at work
  • You tell yourself that you can’t get a better job
  • You want to suggest a process improvement but your mind says not to share it yet. This has been happening for three years.
  • You spent most of your work time thinking about things you want to buy and do and not on the work
  • You don’t make an effort because you tell yourself it doesn’t matter 
  • You don’t show your personality at work because the story in your head believes that people who stand out are flakes
  • You have ideas, but you tell yourself that you shouldn’t share them
  • Even though you are getting a massage, at a play, or on vacation, you spent most of your time mulling over work conversations

As you go through your workday this week, notice what actions and thoughts you have. It takes some effort, so you could set a timer on your phone or computer that prompts you to ask yourself, “What am I doing right now? What am I thinking right now?” I recommend tracking this for a week to see which actions and thoughts are coming up the most often. 

Your job isn’t to judge these actions and thoughts. Your work is to simply notice what is spontaneously happening in your actions and mind at work. 

 

THERE CAN BE POSITIVE ACTIONS AND THOUGHT PATTERNS TOO

The examples I used above are mostly negative — actions and thought patterns that help people to feel unhappy at work. There can be positive actions and thought patterns. You might find that there are moments at work where you enjoy your work, your peers, and the impact you make. Track those as well.  Here are some examples of positive actions and thought patterns:

  • You notice you are less reactive and more creative on days you meditate in the morning
  • When you alternate between sitting and standing at work you are more energized
  • You make a point of complimenting three co-workers a day
  • You know your solution isn’t fully formed, but you trust your insights will be valuable — you share ideas that are in progress to help the whole
  • You used to be triggered by a co-worker’s attitude, now use a mindfulness technique of anchoring away that keeps you grounded and focused
  • You are able to do things that feel uncomfortable like making sales calls and doing pitches because of your positive self-talk
  • You schedule time in your calendar to file papers, follow up with clients, and make notes
  • The ideas you share are deeper than any of your colleagues because you have calmed your surface mind enough to access your deep mind 

 

2. ASSESS YOUR ACTIONS AND PATTERNS

Once you know your common actions and thought patterns, you can ask yourself. “Does this help or harm me?” 

For every single one, ask yourself that question. Be honest. 

  • Identify which actions and thought patterns negatively affect your mood, performance, and the level of stress you feel
  • Identify which ones help you show up as your best self at work
  • Choose which ones to work on for the next three months

You don’t need to address every work habit at once, choose the one that is either the easiest to implement (so you get a quick win). Or, will have the most impact. 

There is no perfect job out there, there are always good days and bad days. 

There are parts of work you can’t do anything about — like your co-worker who is always throwing you under the bus. But, there are actions and thought patterns that you can do something about.

 

If you find through doing this exercise that it’s the workplace that is toxic, you’ll know you can bring strong positive habits into the next role. If you find through doing this exercise, that you were the cause of happiness, that’s great too. Now, you can show up and feel more fulfilled at work with slight changes. Being aware is powerful.

 

TECHNIQUE TO WORK WITH UNPLEASANT THOUGHT PATTERNS

If you notice a lot of unpleasant self-talk and you want to work with it, try this technique called SEE HEAR FEEL to loosen their grip on you.

 

 

If you want more guidance on using mindfulness to break action and thought patterns, I share techniques, tools, and guidance in the Career Contentment Club.