Listening to client’s stories when they come for outplacement support, I frequently find many of them get caught out by the notion that in the face of constant rejection, they can continue to doggedly apply for jobs by harnessing will power over emotion. When hope, energy and motivation to keep this up drops, they get annoyed with themselves and become increasingly self-critical. Not surprisingly their confidence takes a nosedive. The fact is that willpower rarely succeeds in trumping the things that go on in our imagination. This is because emotional memories are stronger and rejection is a strong emotion. If your imagination is pattern matching [consciously or unconsciously] with memories telling you how terrible everything is, you cannot simply bully yourself into thinking or feeling differently. Willpower alone will not protect you from the emotional pain and damage that unemployment and rejection can cause. What is needed is different to willpower, it is emotional resilience, the ability to understand what your needs are and how to use your own unique resources to these needs met even when dealing with difficult life challenges.
The reality for most people experiencing the stress of protracted job-hunting, with its inherent lack of responses or feedback, is that it can become a deeply frustrating and demoralising experience. One of the most misunderstood aspects of this traumatic journey is the idea that you can simply ‘think’ yourself optimistic. Emotional resilience can be developed, but it is a process, not an attitude. Acquiring and mainatining a positive attitude in the presence of rejection and in the absence of feedback requires focused attention on the process of sustaining emotional resilience. This is because when you feel down, worried, the shame of rejection, guilt or any other negative emotion, the brains complex survival system, the limbic system, also known as our emotional brain, often gets involved. This ancient survival mechanism is geared to protect us in situations of mortal danger, but in the modern world it can also work against us because it’s purpose is to only allow black and white type thinking. I am a failure if I have not got a job, being an example of this type of thinking. The limbic system evolved for speed and strength of response rather than appropriateness of response in the modern world. Thankfully our uniquely human brain has evolved to include the resources of our frontal cortex. This is our thinking rational brain, which among other things, serves to mediate the reactions of our limbic system. However, our emotional memories are not stored as discrete precise records, incongruities can occur in the retrieval process that curtail the ability of the frontal cortex to sensibly intervene. Strong emotional memories have the power to close down the influence of our rational thinking brain. When this happens there is no information coming from our frontal cortex to prevent inappropriate all or nothing, fight, flight or freeze reactions. Forced by the actions of our emotional brain into extreme black and white thinking, we become prone to laying down negative memories associated with negative feelings. This repeated pattern matching can reinforce these every time we get a rejection, or when things don’t go as we would like. This is how we condition ourselves to the damaging patterns of negativity that contribute to the development of anxiety, depression and other maladaptive psychological outcomes. Breaking this process is part of developing emotional resilience, the first step being to understand the cycle and recognise what is happening.
The following list of actions have helped my clients deal with the spiral of conditioned negative feelings that often happen when people are underemployed. They are all steps in the process of developing the emotional resilience that helps preserve your well being during challenging times. All the action points suggested are informed by up to date research and knowledge about how our brains work. They apply the thinking from Human Givens Psychology, which is an organizing approach to human psychology incorporating knowledge and ideas from across different schools of psychology, social science, neuroscience and evolutionary biology.
ACTION 1 – PRIORITISE YOUR MENTAL FITNESS
- Learn about what goes on inside our heads, how neural networks are formed and the amazing power the brain has to rewire itself [neuroplasticity];
- Understand the control you have over building your emotional resilience – you have resources you can use to deal with life’s rough spots, identify these and use them;
- Take time out to learn from and deal with rejection and come out mentally stronger as a result:
ACTION 2 – KNOW YOURSELF & YOUR EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS
- Keep a diary of things that alter your mood and learn from your patterns
- Learn how to recognize and reduce your high levels of unhelpful emotional arousals for example learn some simple breathing exercises that relax you
- Find out about and practice mindfulness or meditation:
- Learn from setback or failure –
- Rejection is painful and makes us focus on our shortcomings, break this negative cycle by using your ability to take a step back and observe yourself in the second person, visualize the pattern matches in your memory leading to any feelings or thoughts of failure, challenge these and replace them with rational thoughts that make sense. Allow yourself to feel stronger every time you challenge a negative thought and replace it with a positive feeling
ACTION 3- KICK THE URGE TO RUMINATE
- Be prepared to deal with the games your mind will play on you. The urge to ruminate can be very, very strong. Recognise this and have a plan to break the cycle by using a 2 minute distraction. This really works, do it everyday for a week to reduce the rumination urge.
- Avoid lying in bed in the mornings, develop a routine get up at the same time everyday, treat finding a job as if it is a job
- If you do occasionally drift into rumination mode, challenge your thinking, ask yourself if any productive action can come out of the energy you are using while ruminating, if the answer is no – then redirect that energy into another goal, even if its as simple as making a refreshing cup of tea
ACTION 4 – REWIRE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
- Put energy into believing in yourself, stop waiting for an employer to define your success. Change how you feel about yourself by writing down 5 things that are good about your life every day for a month. It does not matter if you repeat some things. This simple exercise will start to rewire your emotional memories
- Pay more attention to what you think about yourself rather than worrying about what other people think about you. This is heavy stuff but be honest and answer the questions: What are my values? What do I stand up for? What do I bring to others? What am I here to do? Your answers can help you redefine what success looks like for you and prevent you from being swayed by what others want or think of you
ACTION 5 – PROTECT YOUR SELF ESTEEM
- Stop thinking and using the term ‘unemployed’, this tells people and yourself what you are not and can be demoralizing, Come up with more positive alternative statements such as “active job seeker”. See how many alternative statements you can come up with and share them with others via social media
- Create a list of what really makes your self worth – your authenticity, your emotional resilience, your skills, your ability to adapt, your knowledge, your concern for the environment, your problem solving etc. Add to this list every time you think of something else. Review the list often and ask others for suggestions that you can put on the list. Facts you develop about yourself can be useful points of discussion in job interviews
- Get into the habit of sharing the 3 best things that happened to you, no matter how small, every day with someone.
- Look forwards to enjoying the sense of freedom that comes from not having your self worth depend on other people, things or a job. Brainstorm ways that you can make a difference that are not associated with a job, this is a mood boaster
ACTION 6 – STAY CONNECTED TO THE WORLD AND RESIST ISOLATION
- Join communities that interest you
- Share your feelings with others, this helps validate them and reassures you that you are not going crazy.
- Resist cutting off the people who care about you, allow them to show their emotional support for you
- If you are short on close friends and family that understand you, reach out to support groups in your community
- Use the luxury of having some time to enjoy a hobby
- Do some volunteer work, it is great on your CV
- Spend time with friends and family – the most precious thing you can give to anyone is your time
- Get out of the house, meet up with people for coffee
- Find and attend networking events
- Go to your local library rather than sit on your PC at home all day – they are full of interesting resources
- Routinely schedule some fun time for yourself, its really important to connect up with others and have a break from constant job searching
ACTION 7 – SET YOURSELF ACHIEVABLE GOALS
- When you get up in the morning, set your yourself a few achievable goals
- Plan how you are going to achieve your goals and set out your schedule
- Track progress against the goals ticking off your achievements, allow yourself to feel good about achieving them;
- At the end of every day write down the things you want to achieve the next day
ACTION 8 – EMPOWER YOURSELF AND GET YOUR NEEDS MET
- Understand what your innate needs are and identify which ones are not being met appropriately
- Identify the difference between your wants and actual ‘needs” let go of the wants, they are not important, your energy and resources should be focused on getting your needs met.
- Recognise the resources you have to get your needs met and enjoy the control that this gives you over your mental well-being.
- Understand the benefits of having positive safety nets when you have a bad day – identify them and use them. Call a friend, listen to a favourite piece of music, read a book for a few hours, have an exercise routine
ACTION 9 – BUILD YOUR MOJO
- Learn a new skill, do a course;
- Write a blog, keep a diary
- Give yourself a challenge that you will enjoy achieving, even if its painting the house.
- Ask someone you know to be your mentor during your job search
- Draft a few lines that summarise what you can offer an employer, practice saying them out loud, get comfortable with your pitch
- Ask a few people to write references for you, that you can include with your cv
- Do some exercise, job search is a marathon and better to be in shape
ACTION 10 – BE PREPARED TO ADAPT TO CHANGING CIRCUMSTANCES
- Think outside the box such as ideas to make money not associated with a traditional job, even if its only temporary, for example clear out the attic and take it to a car boot sale, de-clutter and sell your unwanted items on ebay;
- Be open about less than perfect job options, few jobs are for life these days and contract work is often a good way of keeping your skills fresh
- Harness the power of technology if you do not have a computer, check if you can access one in your local library or join a job support group that can help with internet access
- Budget and plan your finances, its amazing how much money we can waste if we do not do this
- If you are facing a financial crisis get help from free debt management and financial planning support services such as Citizens Advice
- Get innovative, find ways of having fun that do not involve spending money and enjoy the feeling of developing resourcefulness, which is a great life skill;
- if your financial situation forces you into looking at jobs of lower status and/or pay than you would like, remind yourself that you are not defined solely by how you earn money or how much money you earn, go back and revisit action points 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9 in this article.
There are many useful resources available on the web for working through the action points. Here are a few we would recommend.
Back To Work Charities
Information About Human Givens Psychology
Work Out Your Needs?
Dealing With Rejection
Elaine Dundon Ted Talk “Reject Rejection”
Understanding Our Brains
Brain Structure & Function
Memories & Meaning