Image: Viktor_Gladkov, Getty Images/iStockphoto

I spent the holidays with my parents, who religiously watch the evening news. One of the segments could best be described as “all the disasters of the decade,” and it paraded by the key tragedies and celebrity deaths of the past 10 years, with a feel-good event or two dropped in, presumably to prevent viewers from jumping out of the nearest window out of pure despair.

SEE: IT burnout: Causes and solutions (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Similarly, at work it’s easy to get caught up in the undercurrents of negativity that constantly swirl around most offices. There’s always some element of political intrigue, where those at the top or on the board aren’t placing appropriate focus on priorities that are obviously important, or someone’s advancement in the organization seems to be based on criteria other than merit.In the realm of workplace politics, disputes, seemingly misguided leaders, and apparently favoritism have been with us in the workplace since the first few humans collaborated eons ago.

The cost of pessimism

If you spend hours of each day gnashing your teeth and wringing your hands about how Joe in finance has stacked the deck against you, those are hours that could have been spent leading your people, developing new skills, or merely getting a better night of sleep. If you cede control of your life to these dark forces, you have willingly and happily shackled yourself to an immovable weight and surrendered control of your own destiny to entities over which you have no control.

It’s wildly empowering to realize that you are indeed captain of your own ship, and that your focus, time, and mental energy, in short your headspace, are your greatest resources. This is far better than consigning yourself to a Hobbesian life that is “nasty, brutish, and short,” and where you have no control over your own destiny and are subject to a life dictated by the whims of dark forces.

SEE: IT burnout: Watch for these 9 warning signs (TechRepublic)

Benchmark where you’re spending your headspace

Even if you do not think there’s a conspiracy around every corner, you may find yourself slogging into the office, uninspired and feeling that nothing you do has any quantifiable impact. This could be a sign that you’ve given over control of your headspace almost unknowingly, allowing others to dictate your schedule, opinion, and outlook to the point that life feels like a grind.

One easy way to change that feeling is to start monitoring how you’re spending your time, since that’s a reasonable indicator of where you’re investing your headspace. Android and iOS both provide a feature that tracks which types of apps you’re using on your phone, but taking the time to track in more detail can be a worthwhile investment, if for no other reason than it forces you to acknowledge the hour you just spent trolling comments on a news website, or acknowledge that 80% of your workday was spent in meetings scheduled by others, most of which did not require your input. Apps like ATracker, Superday, RescueTime, and a slew of others (search your favorite app store for “Habit Tracker”) let you see where you’re placing your time and mental energy, pulling the covers back from what have become automatic actions for many of us.

Just as you wouldn’t open your wallet and hand wads of cash to a politician you dislike, the office gossip, or whomever darkens your doorway, nor should you happily give away your headspace to these same entities. You’ll likely be able to make more money during your career, but you’ll never get back the time and mental energy wasted on these trivialities.