Smart Thinking for Hard Times

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

I know some great people, people I love, who feel a lot of fear right now because they can’t find a job. One worked as a high level engineer for a dynamic, profitable big-named company. Another managed a thriving division of a bank. One is a college graduate with exceptional talent, another is a plucky high school student with great character and drive. They wake up every morning, turn on the computer, check Monster, Craigslist, Career Builder and try to keep hopeful. After a time they start questioning their worth. What am I doing with my life? What’s going to happen to me? they ask.

When we feel fear about things like this nasty recession, unemployment or potential job loss, not enough money to pay for the necessities of life, it’s natural to get angry. We want to blame somebody. Sometimes that blame is justified. We get angry at politicians, employers, parents, children, and the family dog or cat or canary. This anger can keep us in panic mode feeding more anger and fear. J. Paul Getty said “A man may fail many times but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” When we blame others we give them the power over our future. It’s like saying, “I’m a helpless victim of what you did to me.When we feel desperate, with few options, we tend to make bad decisions. Fear and anger narrow our thinking. As we stay agitated our brain pumps out chemicals that hamper creative problem solving. This is tough because job hunting in these times requires some serious creative thinking.

In hard times it’s good to stimulate the brain and do things to jump start our creativity. From these new ideas we broaden our options and make better decisions. Try some ideas from the following list to increase your self-worth and lower your anger and stress. Add a few ideas of your own and exercise your creative muscles:

  • Volunteer: Whether you’re stacking shelves at a food bank or passing out goodies at a bake sale, it feels good to use your energy to help others.
  • Dust off that ukulele: You can get free lessons for nearly any instrument on youtube and it’s mind expanding fun!
  • Exercise: So you had to let go of that gym membership. You can still take a walk, wrestle a puppy, weed a garden.
  • Change a habit: You can exercise your brain by using your non-dominant hand, or trying a novel activity, like jumping on a pogo stick, or studying a foreign language.

Our brain forms new pathways when we exercise it by practicing novel and challenging activities. You never know. Your online ukulele buddy might become your new boss.