Tips sought for positive self-talk when starting a new job
January 23, 2019 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I have started a new job which requires a strong focus and attention to detail for success. Help me be nice to myself while I learn it.

The job utilizes software that is not difficult to use, but which has a lot of steps and involves money, and I have never done this work before. Over time I know I will learn the ins and outs of this job and be able to perform it without difficulty. However, due to what I believe are undiagnosed learning disabilities and bad childhood experiences in elementary school directly related to my inability to learn "quickly enough" (I was accused of being deliberately stupid and verbally abused) I take longer than the average hire to get up to speed at any new job, and most especially at one like this, which involves a lot of new information. I just do not hear everything the first time someone tells me about something that is new to me, especially if it involves a lot of steps. I have to ask them (trainer or supervisor) to repeat the information multiple times over the course of learning it. This makes them impatient, even when they are trying to be nice. I feel the impatience, which triggers anxiety, which means I make mistakes, which leads to more impatience, and so on. My mind starts to loop such unhelpful comments as "they must think I'm so stupid" and "they think I'm a big dumb oaf" and other exemplary examples of negative self-talk. My questions are:

1.) How do I calm myself IN THE MOMENT the anxiety starts to escalate, to avoid blank brain syndrome and maintain focus on the immediate task at hand.

2.) What phrases or affirmations can I repeat to myself whenever I have an automatic negative thought? If it is something that has worked for you, so much the better.

I know, therapy. Well, I need to be able to keep this job so I can afford a therapist once I get past the probation period! If this sounds like severe anxiety, I have been diagnosed with that. I just do not want to be crippled by it and let it keep me from new opportunities, if that makes any sense.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris to Work & Money (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, that's so tough! and as soon as the anxiety escalates you can't hear a word they say anyway! Deep breath, say "hang on a sec" and pause until the fog clears.

Remind yourself: Once I've learned these steps, I'm going to do this well (and they will see I'm good at this)
Every time you ask them to repeat or clarify, you're not showing them that you're stupid, you're showing self-awareness and dedication to getting it right.

A lot of times when people seem impatient trying to explain something, it's because they feel frustrated that what they thought was going to work (the script they usually use) isn't working. Instinct is to act as if it's your fault, but they're covering up a terror that it's their own fault - oh panic I've run out of ways to say this and he still doesn't understand, what do I do next? So when your brain leaps into "they think I'm stupid", turn it into "they're anxious because I'm about to take them off-script"

Have you found things that help you remember/understand better? Like if you kept written notes, or if you repeated the steps back to them, or if you were doing each step (vs watching), or if you strung steps together instead (vs each alone, i.e. after they explain step 5, you back up and do 4 then 5 in order), or if they should say the same words again vs the same idea using different words, and if they tell you why they do thing X does that help you remember or is it confusing. It doesn't have to be a magic bullet, it just has to help a little. The point is that then you can tell them what they can do to help, and people really like knowing they can help.

if you calmly lay out the ground rules, that can be really helpful. You don't even have to apologize. "Hey, I know it's weird that I can't pick up on things right away, it's something I've been dealing with for years. What helps most is if I can [read your notes while you're saying the words], would that work for you?" And you're showing that you are a smart and capable person who is aware of the situation, has thought about it, knows what you need, and can advocate for yourself.
posted by aimedwander at 10:24 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Something that's been helpful for me in situations like that is taking notes as the person is explaining it to me. I think it helps on a number of levels. Most basically, writing down the notes helps me catch what the person's saying, and I can ask for clarification right then if there's something I don't understand. It's also useful to be able to recap: "So the process is blip, blap, then blah – is that correct?"

It also helps the person I'm dealing with see that I really am trying to take in what they're saying. I think people who've never dealt with things like this (whether it's executive functioning, audio processing issues, anxiety, or anything else) don't understand that we're doing our best! We're not just daydreaming, waiting for them to stop talking, we're trying to understand but sometimes it's not immediate.
posted by Lexica at 11:54 AM on January 23, 2019

"I know all the steps from A up to D, it's when we get to E that I need more coaching," with emphasis on the part that I bolded, to remind yourself and your trainer that you did understand some parts, and you're not hopelessly lost. Say it out loud!

I MeMailed you an affirmation that I wrote for myself when I felt really dumb for not getting math and science stuff at a drop of a hat. It sounds super cheesy so I'm embarrassed to post it here, but perhaps some version of what I wrote for myself will work for you!

If I were your trainer, I'd appreciate a heads-up about you needing more time, and if you're aware of the particular learning style that works for you, all the better. "What works best for me is if you give me an overview of the process: just storytelling without the software, so I get all the major steps and why they need to happen. Then show me in the software how to do the first major step. Then let me do it myself, while you coach me. Once I've gotten the first major part down, we can move on to the next. I pick up things more easily when they're broken down like that. Thanks!"
posted by tinydancer at 12:51 PM on January 23, 2019

Meditation has helped me calm down when I get anxious, helps me push away negative thoughts, and and gives me that little bit of awareness in the moment that lets me think about what to say/do. It was hard for me to get started and commit to doing it every day but it is very effective and the effects travel into everyday life.
posted by marguerite at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2019

Hey, this sounds like my job! You know what helps? Taking notes. Like ridiculously detailed notes. The person training you should have to sit patiently while you write down every single step and every stupid thing you need to click on in order to accomplish a given task. Then you can impress them by learning things after only being told how to do them once.

Just follow your excruciatingly detailed notes like a dork until you get the hang of it.

That's my secret to being successful at a job.
posted by bananana at 3:42 PM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’ve found that meditation and keeping a gratitude journal help with negative self talk, but also wanted to say that I have a job with lots of steps to remember, and I still use checklists for so many processes. Taking really detailed notes while you’re being trained helps with this.
posted by ellieBOA at 11:20 PM on January 23, 2019

1) I agree with others' suggestions to take copious notes while being trained. And when on your own time, you could also take screenshots and make your own user manual in a word or excel document. It's comforting when faced with an unfamiliar screen or task and you get "blank brain", to have a document to go back to that helps explain and makes you realize that you've done this takes out the guess work and wandering thoughts. Keep a cheatsheet word document or post it of tips / things to look out for. Also, when being trained you could ask the questions "why is this step important?" or "how is this information later used?" to help understand the bigger picture.

2) In terms of mantras, when I start to get frustrated I immediately think to myself: "I have a choice". Meaning, I control my own actions and feelings, and I can do this! It normally makes me pause and reorganize my thoughts/emotions. Also I think to myself: "How much better will I feel after I finish this!"

Lastly, please remember to be especially kind to yourself because... you're brand new at your job! It's totally fine to not be perfect... now is the time to learn and ask questions.
posted by watrlily at 5:00 AM on January 24, 2019

Response by poster: I love these answers and am implementing some of the suggested strategies and it is already helping! I don't want to mark any one answer as favorites because they are all great!
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 5:02 PM on January 26, 2019

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