A couple of weeks ago, I suggested to a job-hunting client that she spend a few minutes every day sending herself some self-kindness. She looked at me a bit skeptically. "How will this help me get a job?" she asked. Good question.
When you're focused on improving your career situation, taking time to be gentle and understanding towards yourself probably isn't a top priority. However, the truth is that self-kindness has a positive impact on every stage of the career transition process.
Read on to see how it can improve your confidence, motivation, creativity, and even your resume-writing skills. Then you'll learn a four-step process for building your own self-kindness habit.
4 Ways Self-Kindness Improves Your Job Search
1. It builds confidence.
Do your inner voices tend to be cheerleaders or inner critics?
If you're a recovering perfectionist, your inner peanut gallery is probably happy to point out the ways that you're falling short, missing opportunities, not fulfilling your potential, or just plain screwing up.
This relentless inner monologue can really affect your attitude towards your job search. If you're not convinced of your own worth, why should you try to share it with others? If you don't think you can do the job, why should your prospective employers?
When you consciously cultivate a habit of self-kindness, you're providing a needed counterpoint to those voices. You're taking a stand and saying, "I'm a person who has a lot to contribute. I know I can do this."
Which attitude do you think makes it easier to land a new job?
2. It improves motivation.
Inner critics often masquerade as motivational speakers, which is why so many people are reluctant to shut them down. "If I stop being hard on myself, I'll never get anything done!"
This is a lie. Don't listen to it.
Constantly trying to prove to your peanut gallery (or your prospective boss, in-laws, ex, parents, etc) that you're good enough is exhausting.
What's more, your inner critic makes it so you can't win, no matter how hard you try.
- You work on the thing and it succeeds. Your peanut gallery: "You probably got lucky."
- You work on the thing and it fails. Your peanut galley: "You suck and can't do anything right."
- You ignore the thing and numb out with your substance or behavior of choice. Your peanut gallery: "You're so lazy! You must not want this that much."
See how you never get to feel good about yourself?
Mindful self-kindness turns this scenario upside-down. Rather than saying, "I'll do the thing, and then I'll feel good about myself," it posits that if I feel good about myself first, doing the thing will become easier.
It can feel scary to abandon your carrot-and-stick philosophy, especially if you think it's what's gotten you this far to begin with. Don't take my word for it - try it with something small and see what happens.
3. Self-kindness increases creativity and problem-solving skills.
If your peanut gallery has a habit of shutting down every idea before you have a chance to explore it, you're missing out on your natural creative abilities.
Letting yourself dream big, crazy, and impractical before you pull yourself back to earth is a vital part of the process. That's why writers have rough drafts - if we needed every word to be perfect from the start, most of us would never get anything down. Give yourself some creative breathing room!
4. Self-kindness improves your interviewing skills and application materials.
The human brain is capable of processing millions of bits of information a second, most of which happens subconsciously. When you talk to someone, you aren't just listening to what they're saying - you're tracking their body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and many other small cues. And they're doing the same to you.
This means that no matter what face you deliberately put forward while in an interview or writing your resume, the person on the other side of the desk is picking up a lot more than you might intend.
If your habitual messages to yourself are critical and harsh, you will speak and write about yourself differently than if you feel secure in your innate value.
To change the message you send to other people, you have to change your own internal programming first.
So how do I start practicing this self-kindness thing?
The first thing to keep in mind is that if your peanut gallery is loud and active, you won't be able to turn them into a cheerleading squad overnight. But over time, you can train your brain to travel down new (and kinder) neural pathways.
Pretend for a minute that your brain is a moving car driving down You Suck Boulevard. Even if you wanted to back out and drive down I Believe in You Avenue instead, you can't instantly throw it into reverse - the car (and your patterns) have a certain amount of momentum. You have to hit the brakes and let your car (/brain) come to a stop, then shift it into reverse. So the first step is...
1. Slow down.
Become aware of whatever monologue is playing inside your head. Is it critical or supportive? Is it useful? You can't make any changes unless you know what's going on. Just becoming aware that this ongoing stream of thoughts is happening without your consent or control can be a big mindset shift.
The best and quickest way to stop the internal chatter (even if it's only briefly) is to pull your attention into the present moment. Fully focus on the sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nostrils. Notice the colors and shapes around you. Put your hand on your heart. Act as though this is a holy moment created just for you. Experiment and see what works for you. You don't have to fix or change anything at first - just practice noticing the chatter and then bringing yourself to a place of neutral quiet.
Picture the small, scared part of you as something tiny and defenseless: maybe an animal or a child. Imagine that you can pick it up and cradle it against your heart - or just sit near it, if it doesn't want to be held. Tell it, "May you be well. May you be safe. May you be happy." Continue to send it loving messages until you sense or feel it relax. Notice how that feels in your own body. (Buddhist followers may notice the similarities to lovingkindness meditation.)
Once this part of you is completely soothed, you may feel inspired or motivated to take a particular action - or you may notice that your resistance to something you've been trying to get done has dissolved. In any case, you've just positioned yourself to act from a place of peace instead of panic.
4. Practice. Often.
You are literally changing your brain here, and that doesn't happen overnight. To your brain, the old self-critical pathways look like a six-lane highway and these new, kinder behaviors are the equivalent of hacking through the jungle with a machete. You have to keep walking that trail to keep the jungle from growing back over. Over time, you'll notice that it becomes easier to return to peace and equilibrium.
If you're looking for a next step to take, why not spend a few minutes learning how to become your own career detective? You might be surprised what insights come to light when you give your inner critic some time off. :-)