William James, the American philosopher, said “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, stresses that we can choose how we think. One of his insights is that “styles of thinking become habits.”

All of us know that habits are hard to change. It’s so easy being in the groove of something – cleaning our plate even if we’re full, hitting the “snooze” button even though we know we will probably be late for work, brushing our teeth every morning even if we’re running late, biting our fingernails even in public, going for a run every single morning even if our legs hurt. A habit – good for us or not – is hard to break.

One of the most important habits to break is the one of speaking negatively about and to ourselves, of “predicting” the worst, of expecting bad outcomes, of doubting ourselves and our abilities.  Our thoughts do have power.

Do this experiment to see what happens.

  • Say out loud “I am worthless.” Notice how you feel. How your body feels. The expression you get on your face. Your mood.
  • Now say out loud “I am wonderful!” Notice how you feel now. The expression on your face. Your mood.

I feel sad when I say the first and happy when I say the second. My body gets tense when I say the first, and loosens up when I say the second. I frown at the first, and smile at the second. I feel depressed and discouraged when I say the first, and happy and more energized when I say the second.

I much prefer the second set of feelings! So I’ll say it again: “I am wonderful!”

Now a little voice may come up and say “oh, you are so silly!” or “Who are you to say that?” or even more bluntly “No, you’re not!”

This is where you can see habit coming in. And this is where  you get to do an intervention on yourself, to begin changing the habit.  Being aware of what you say, how you treat yourself, is the first step toward making a change.

Here’s how it affects job search.

When you are down on yourself, comparing yourself to others and coming up short, doubting that you’ll ever find a job, or feeling desperate to get a job – it puts you at a disadvantage.  People can smell the anxiety and it turns them off.  People are reluctant to help you, or they feel sorry for you. And you feel anger at their pity at the same time you may want them to rescue you. You begin to believe your own bad press and lose hope. You put less energy into your search, take fewer actions because you can’t tolerate being disappointed one more time.

I’ve experienced all of this! Not so much fun. And I had a very hard time finding a job.

When you think well of yourself, everything changes. You have more energy and so you take more actions. You understand that every “no” is one step closer to “yes” because you have confidence you ARE on the path to your “right fit job.” Your confidence is infectious and attractive. People want to help you. And opportunities come your way.

And I also experienced all of this. And I found my “right fit job” fairly quickly. Guess which one I prefer?

The work of changing a habit of thinking takes:

  • consciousness of when you speak harshly to yourself;
  • willingness to try a new way even if it feels silly
  • talking nicely to yourself.  When a negative thought comes up for me, as it does (because I have a lifetime of conditioning), I say “that’s not true. In fact, this is the truth:” and I insert the opposite thought.

I make a habit now of writing about positive things, of putting things in positive terms, of rarely using the words “not,” “can’t,” and “but.” And I coach my clients to do the same.

It takes mental effort to retrain the brain. It is well worth the effort! Try it for 30 days and see what happens in your job search. And let me know how it goes.