Here's how to turn your job search into a mental game...and win. [TWEET]

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 burn-out) is a mental game. No different from elite athletes, who are present to how mindset affects their game, they 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 (he calls them “filters” – like colored filters on your camera or on 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 tips or “filters,” and see if they set you up to make better decisions.

Filter #1: You always have choices.

Amanda, 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 with “I don’t have any options in this job market!” What Amanda meant was that she was not seeing any options that appealed to her.

What was the problem with Amanda’s thinking? It placed her in victim mode, stuck in a dead end with no clear next step, and nothing she could do to change the situation. A victim sees no choices. A winner is able to see choices clearly, even if she does not like any of them.

After working on this filter and mental job search preparation, Amanda 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 (Amanda 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 in 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 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 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, 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.

In closing: Importance of self-care.

As you practice utilizing these filters, and take the steps towards the next great opportunity, remember 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 a nap.

  • Go on a walk or a run.

  • Meditate.

  • 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.

Some of the best things I have done for myself in between jobs related to mental job search preparation. They 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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