How to release workplace chaos

Chaos at work is inevitable. Perhaps you interact with difficult colleagues, are overloaded with projects and impossible timelines, and encounter frequent leadership transitions and restructurings. While workplace unrest is exasperating, it also presents you with a valuable opportunity to learn a lot about yourself – and it’s not by virtue of pain and suffering!

Outer chaos is merely a reflection of what is already inside of you. Your external circumstances (e.g., job title, relationships, salary, etc.) do not dictate your emotional state of being. Every person and situation in your life acts as a mirror: Its purpose is to reflect back to you what it sees. Just as a mirror reflection doesn’t cause you to look a certain way, no person or circumstance causes you to feel good or bad.

You project your external reality from the inside. Workplace chaos can awaken negative energy that you already carry within you. There is a part of you that is hurt and “acts out” in order to get your attention – and healing. Acting out can take on many forms, such as crying, blaming, rage, sabotaging work, self-criticism, panic, shame, etc.

The golden opportunity for those of you feeling pummeled by workplace chaos is to become mindful of what the chaos really means to you. You’ll quickly realize that it boils down to a collection of triggers – recurring events in your professional life that repeatedly provoke negative emotional states.

Your challenge and growth opportunity is to observe yourself in your chaotic world. View each of your triggers as a valuable data point, which, once explored, will reveal underlying patterns of beliefs that keep you trapped in a state of unhappiness.

Here is a deep-dive exercise to familiarize yourself with your trigger patterns:

  1. Reflect on your chaotic environment. Describe it in terms of at least 5-6 specific triggers. E.g., words or phrases directed at you, rules, policies, tasks, projects, and work events. To help with recall, carry a small journal with you for a week and jot down your triggers as they flare up.
  2. Describe the negative emotional state(s) that arise for each trigger listed in step 1. This includes any negative feelings towards yourself, other people, and your environment.
  3. Meditate to release painful feelings. Without judging, labeling or criticizing, notice the sensation of the negative emotions by focusing on where they reside in your body. Allow all sensations to be felt and be compassionate with yourself as you do so.
  4. Describe the underlying thoughts or beliefs that fuel each negative emotional state listed in step 2. If you find yourself generating a long list, distill it down to the core belief. E.g., Trigger: Large meetings. Emotional state: Panic. Beliefs: I won’t know what to say in the moment –> I’m not smart enough for this job –> I’M WORTHLESS (core belief).
  5. Look across all of the triggers and highlight any recurring core beliefs that need to be challenged.
  6. For each recurring core belief, generate a deactivation mantra (e.g., “I decode worthlessness“) as well as an activation mantra that counters the negative belief (e.g., “I code self-worth”). Saying these mantras during meditation will serve to keep your mind focused on a single point while deprogramming dysfunctional thought patterns.

We have all been programmed to perceive that we are separate from the world we live in. However, separation is an illusion. In real reality, everything is connected and inner reality is all there is. The next time you feel triggered at work, replace the tendency to fix what’s “outside” of you by directing your attention inwards. This will shift how you respond to events in your life, as well as how your circumstances respond to you!