Sunday, August 11, 2013

Incentivizing Yourself During a Long Job Search

A job hunt is one of those times when we are inundated by responsibilities, tasks, schedules and deadlines. What can be very discouraging it that you are working at least as hard as ever, and you are not getting paid for it. How do you keep yourself motivated as you were before? The answer is that you need to reward yourself.

The Psychology of Reward
First of all, it’s important to understand that at a time like this it is not frivolous to be thinking about rewards, as though it is too selfish under the circumstances. Actually, quite the opposite: It’s absolutely critical that you reward yourself regularly for achieving your goals along your job search. One of the reasons a job search stalls amidst hopelessness, lethargy and a creeping loss of motivation is the lack of reward. On the other hand, if we reward ourselves during this process (or during any extended endeavor), we will begin to feel like as though we’re making progress. A gift also becomes a material reminder of the efforts we are making. And when you feel better, you will maintain your enthusiasm. 

Another important point to keep in mind is that this notion of incentivizing yourself is not about rampant materialism, greed or selfishness. This is about a psychological reward. As much as we would like to think we can’t be manipulated, in truth we can be influenced easily. Human beings are taught to crave appreciation as well as a reward. So if material rewards during this job search bother you, then think of something else you can use to compensate you for your efforts. Because it is your reward system, it is entirely up to you to decide on the reward.

The research I have conducted indicted that that there are several types of incentives, but we will consider only three that we can give realistically generate for ourselves:

  • An economic incentive that results in some form of material reward, such as money or a gift certificates.
  •  moral incentive to behave in a particular way when it is perceived to be the "right" or "worthy" thing to do. This usually results in personal self-esteem.
  • A physical incentive results in a contribution to our physical health and well-being. 

We can receive some form of these incentives in our jobs. Economic incentives come in the form of pay, benefits, paid time off and more. But we may also derive personal satisfaction about the product of our work, such as building a road or administering medical care in some capacity. A person in the military may rightly feel pride as a defender of the country, a teacher can be cited for contributions to shaping young minds, and the head of a financial institution can claim to disperse funds that allow citizens to start businesses or purchase houses or cars. When your job requires you to move around, such as a police offer, postal carrier, stock keeper, or even an office manager, it exercises the various parts of our bodies.

I understand that incentivizing yourself is easier said than done. While you are in the middle of this maelstrom, facing so many tasks and responsibilities, it may be fatuous to say, “I am going to indulge myself.” I still encourage you to do so. Even though I have advised you to make the most of your time, I also wish that you resist the urge to be productive all the time. There are rates of diminishing returns, and since you cannot be truly fruitful in all of your moments, you should plan some off time just to recharge. Here are some easy ways to take care of yourself from each of these three broad categories of incentives that we mentioned. 

Economic incentive

Spend money to fight a feeling of scarceness. Theologians generally agree that when Jesus proclaimed “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” he was not encouraging people to be materially impoverished. Instead, he was encouraging them to be humble. Similarly, I encourage you to consider spending money at times to fight off “feeling poor.”
True-life Story! Several years ago, my wife and I had planned a trip to Italy to visit our families during Ferragosto, which is a holiday celebrated on August 15, a summer bacchanal that is not dissimilar to America’s Independence Day. We booked the flights, contacted our relatives and were set to go. Months earlier, my consulting business hit a wall, and we could have just as easily canceled the trip. One day, as our departure approached, Marie said to me, “I know that you have not mentioned calling this off. I would understand if you did.”
I said, “Marie, I don’t want to do that. If we don’t go, we will feel poor, and I don’t think that will be good for our spirits.” We went; we had a great time and received a lot of loving from our families, and we were able to say that we were in Italy for one of its most popular holidays. 
While I was there, I posted photos of the trip on Facebook and my social media, and that maintained everyone’s interest in what I was doing. Furthermore, I received phone calls about a possible job at a company back home. All of this helped keep us in a positive mood; there is no telling what the effect on our mental health had been if we stayed home and wallowed in pity and regret. It remains one of the best events in our long marriage.
Think about this for yourself. Were you scheduled for your own vacation, a remodeling job on your home or some other outlay of money? If so, weigh the hidden and real costs if you cancel. 
Though it may be counterintuitive at this time, it may turn out to be the best decision you ever make.

Moral incentive
Give your time to the community.  Figure out the amount of time you can spare from your job of searching for a job, and give at least some of it to someone else. Volunteer at the public library. Tutor a student in the area you know best. Drive seniors to their medical appointments. You will be surprised at the mutual benefits derived.
Give away material goods. This may be a good time to clean out your closet or attic to the benefit of others. You may be tempted to wear your oldest clothes to an interview, but rid yourself of that lure by giving the clothing away first. Then see what old but functioning appliances are hanging around, and consider how others can make use of them. At a time when you are not drawing a regular pay, you may discover just how rich you truly are.  

Physical incentive

Take time to laugh. We learned a lot about laughter therapy from Norman Cousins, the famous editor of Saturday Review. In his revolutionary book, Anatomy of an Illness as Described by the Patient, Cousins described the effect of emotions on his own health. In 1976, he had been diagnosed with a very painful, life-threatening form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis. Doctors gave him little chance of recovery. Eschewing traditional medical treatments, Cousins took megadoses of vitamin C and watched Marx Brothers films and TV sitcoms. He found that good old-fashioned laughter, out-and-out guffawing would relieve his pain and allow him to sleep. He eventually recovered from the disease and wrote extensively on the links between humor and health.

We know today how laughter relaxes the whole body and relieves our physical tension and stress. Laughter also boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and improves the function of the entire cardiovascular system. So turn off the TV and find things that make you laugh. (I have several comedy stations on my Pandora list, so I turn on comedy whenever I take a break, when I am up in the morning, and before I go to sleep each night. It has made demonstrable differences in my own physical and emotional health.)
Take the weekends off as you would any job. As I have written, this job hunt is your job right now. But as with any job, you need time off. So let up on yourself and keep your weekends completely open for a movie, time in the mountains or at the shore, and perhaps most important, a date with your significant other. Turn off the e-mails and cell phone and just unwind.

These are just a few of the ways we can keep our sanity during a job search. I will be discussing more in future posts and in my upcoming e-book on how to rejuvenate a lagging job campaign. The book is untitled at this time.