Here's how to turn your job search into a mental game … and win.
A job search is the professional equivalent of an Ironman race. It includes running through obstacles, significant distance, and that moment when you think you will never make it to the end.
In my experience, what gets successful job seekers to their next great opportunity (without burning out) is a strong mental game. No different from elite athletes who are present to how mindset affects their game, successful job seekers are intentional about their attitude and mental job-search preparation.
Just like athletes, job seekers use mental tools to get there. You can borrow those tools if you like.
Here is one of my favorites, based on the book “Grow on Purpose” by Doug Autenrieth. These tips, which he calls “filters” (like colored filters on your camera or Instagram), come from the Discipline of Centering. Centering is about choosing your mental state at will, as opposed to allowing it to be defined by external circumstances. You are not trying to eliminate emotions, but to generate constructive emotions that support your goals.
Try on these mental job-search “filters” and see if they set you up to make better decisions.
Filter #1: You always have choices
Alyssa, a 28-year-old professional assistant, was in job-search mode for seven months. She was not getting as many interviews as she would have liked and came to coaching calls exclaiming “I don't have any options in this job market!” What Alyssa meant was that she was not seeing any options that appealed to her.
What was the problem with Alyssa's thinking? Well, it placed her in victim mode — stuck in a dead end with no clear next step and without anything she could do to change the situation. A victim sees no choices. A winner, on the other hand, is able to see choices clearly, even if they don't like any of them.
After working on this filter and mental job-search preparation, Alyssa realized that her options were wide open. She could freelance as a virtual assistant. She could volunteer. She could change her track completely and answer the “wanted” ad at a local florist shop (Alyssa created all the flower arrangements for a girlfriend's wedding a year ago — she is great at it).
What choices to do you have?
Filter #2: Life's a game that is best played for fun
Research shows that when you approach an activity as a game, you are more likely to stick with it — and get better results. Find a way to turn some aspects of what you must do for the job search into a game.
How do you do that? Here are some ideas:
Make a bet for how long it will take you to create a great cover letter for the next opportunity. Then, set the timer and see how close you came to your prediction.
Recruit a friend or a family member to be your ally. Share success stories and brainstorm on challenges.
Approach interviews as an opportunity to get better at interviewing. Think of yourself as a tennis player, hitting balls on the court simply to hit better.
If you like this concept and would like to know more about it, “SuperBetter” by Jane McGonigal is a fantastic resource.
Filter #3: The present is perfect
The present may not seem comfortable, and it may not be your idea of a good time, but it is perfect — simply because this is the only present you've got. The moment your mind spins into comparison mode, you have lost the game. Just like an endless Instagram feed of perfect shots and sunny overlays, your mental image of flawlessness cannot compete with your real life.
Flawlessness, of course, does not actually exist — the way things “should” be is just an idea in your head. But unlike an inspiring idea that drives you into action, a fixation on flawlessness makes you feel like you are doomed to lose no matter what you do.
You don't have perfect control over every moment and every outcome. The only thing you can hope to control is your mind and your actions. That is plenty if you make wise choices and practice mental job-search preparation. Reflect on your past to see how challenges and disappointments have led to new knowledge and new joys. Look to the future to plan for it. Then, stay engaged in the present moment because that's where you can make the most difference.
Related: Job-Search Motivation: 6 Ways to Stay Positive
The importance of self-care
As you practice utilizing these filters and take steps towards the next great opportunity, don't forget to take care of yourself. It is easy to see self-care as a luxury, something you don't have the time or the money for. Please don't fall into that trap. Self-care is anything but selfish.
Become strategic about restoring your energy. Diet, rest, exercise, nurturing spiritual connections, engaging in a hobby — all of these are important. Be present to what renews your energy and your focus, and make space and time for those activities every day.
Here is a short list of possibilities to get you started:
Eat minimally processed, naturally occurring foods
Drink plenty of water (not just the kind that has been filtered through coffee grinds)
Get a full night's sleep, and take naps
Find a stimulating project that you enjoy for the sake of itself
Learn something new
Create a daily schedule to give your day some intention and structure
I have done a lot for myself in between jobs related to mental job-search preparation. Some of the best things included:
Learning how to drive and getting my driver's license
Sewing my own Halloween costume from scratch
Creating daily routines, even if I had no outside obligations
What will you try to elevate your mental mind game during the job search?
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