4 Simple Ways to Increase Hope Throughout Your Job Search
I was asked the other day to respond to a post to a community of people whom have lost their jobs. The question was "How does one keep their spirits high?" throughout this challenging time of continual failed attempts to become re-employed. In such circumstances, high levels of hope are key to being able to prevent learned helplessness – the belief that 'no matter what I do, I am powerless to changing my circumstance'.
I have recently graduated with a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology where I studied with Martin Seligman who devised the original theory of learned helplessness. He concluded, from research, that when faced with continual failed attempts we (people and animals) learn to believe that regardless of the attempt they would not succeed. As a result, we learn to give-up and no longer try. 50 years after his theory was published, with the help of neuroscience, it has been discovered that learned helplessness is our brains default response to give up. Most excitingly, they have discovered another circuit pathway in our brain that has the ability to inhibit the learned helplessness (giving up) response. Martin Seligman has termed this neurological pathway the HOPE CIRCUIT. The hope circuit is a new area of research and thus science has not yet provided neurologically studied interventions to activate the hope network in the brain, but there are interventions which have been scientifically shown to increase people's self-reported hope levels.
A little bit about hope. Hope theory is founded on the principle that "human behaviour is goal directed". It is conceived as a positive motivational state based on one's perceived ability to think up multiple pathways or routes connecting the present to our imagined future self or circumstances, along with a belief that we are capable to follow those routes to attain a desired goal. The belief that 'I can do this' is fundamental to all goal pursuits as it motivates us to try out the possible pathways and consider alternate pathways along the way.
Measuring Hope: A simple scale is used to measure an individual's perception of both Agency and Pathways. Follow this link to download and assess your current hope levels: https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/resources/questionnaires-researchers/adult-hope-scale
Ways to Increase Hope: Try the following exercises as a way to increase your hope and keep your spirits high during a period of unplanned unemployment.
- Build a Community. Hope is a social contagion and helping other makes us feel good. My first recommendation is to start by inviting others in your network to co-create a hope building community.
- Reflection of Success: Invite your hope community to participate in this hope building activity, and instruct each of them in advance to spend a minimum of 15 minutes writing out what they hope to have accomplished 6 months from now.
Try to get specific: what will you be doing, whom will you be doing it with, where will you be doing it, how will you feel emotionally, and most importantly – what specific steps did you take to get to where you are at?
Once together set the stage as though you are already 6 months in the future and you have gathered with the purpose of catching up on each other's progress over the past 6 months. One by one share your stories with each other as though it has already happened. Be sure to ask your community members questions to help them imagine and envision this future state for themselves – heck jump into their stories "right! I remember the day you got that job at (company) – you called me so excited to have found a role that brings you such meaning – and I brought over chocolate and wine to celebrate with you! What a great day that was!"
- Pathways and Capability: Create a regularly occurring opportunity to connect as a community (ie. every Tuesday morning at 9am) to help each other generate pathways towards a selected goal. In advance, specify which two community members will be the receivers of help for the upcoming session.
- Share with the community a specific approach goal (ie. I want to build my network within company ABC so that when they post a job I want, that I already have a foot inside the door)
- Brainstorm and write down all the pathways the community can think of to obtaining your goal (ie. I can attend a public information session offered by company ABC, I can ask my existing network if they can connect me to anyone at company ABC, I can check LinkedIn to see if anyone in my network is now working at company ABC and send them a message, I can attend or volunteer for a public function company ABC is a sponsor of (charity run, etc), and so on)
- Select your preferred pathway of all the items and think up what obstacles you might face in succeeding along this particular pathway to your goal.
ie. Attend a public information session by Company ABC
Obstacle 1: I will go, but won't talk to anyone
Obstacle 2: I won't feel motivated enough to attend
Overcoming Obstacle 1
Attend with a friend who is a successful networker who will help encourage and motivate me to connect with new people
In advance, write a list of possible questions or lines that I could use to start up a conversation with a stranger
Take-off the pressure. Give myself another reason to strike up conversation with others. Ie. Curiosity about learning more about the info session cause or product. Pick one pathway and verbally commit out loud to the hope community specifying when you will complete the action and what you will do to overcome your obstacles.
- Strengths Spotting. After continual failed attempts, it is natural to start to lose the belief in our own abilities. Perhaps you have sent in dozens of resumes without response or received interviews without call-backs. This practice is to help us cultivate our skills and belief in those skills at the same time through strength-spotting.
- Select two members of your hope community to participate in this exercise. Note: this exercise can be completed multiple times.
- Identify one member as the interviewer, one as the interviewee, and one as the observer. It is the job of the observer to listen and watch intently to body language, tone of voice, thoroughness in responses, and write down all of the things the interviewee does successfully and exceptionally throughout a mock interview (approximately 30 minutes in length). Pay careful attention to the interviewer's responses and what personal strengths they are sharing (eg. Creativity, strategic, perseverance, zest, relationship building, empathy, etc). Because we have a tendency to give more weight to negative information than positive information, it is important that during a session the observer only offers ONE piece of constructive criticism of how they could improve upon something in a future interview. Make a goal of 10 positive feedback points to the one constructive thought.
- After the mock interview allow the observer to share their thoughts on the interviewees effectiveness in interviewing.
- Ask the interviewee to verbally summarize what they did great in the interview. As the other two members of the community, it is your role to encourage the person to not 'explain' away, disagree with, or lessen the positive feedback provided. Help the interviewer to see the strengths you have spotted in their interview skills or within their responses: "It sounds like you are a great activator! You shared with us a story of effectively turning your teams' thoughts into action in a way that improved the quality of the overall deliverable for your project!"
Remember – feeling low helpless, or hopeless is the natural response after being laid-off AND we are capable of increasing our hope and overcoming these feelings such that we can continue our search and successfully land a job!
Darrah Wolfe- Life Coach & Postitive Psychology Practioner