The Negative Feedback Loop and How to Overcome It
You have spent countless hours, days, weeks, and even months, putting in a lot of time, energy, and thought into working on your resume, building skills, and applying for jobs. You're optimistic, excited, and hopeful. Then the setback happens. You don't get an interview for that job you wanted, you don't meet the insanely high requirements for even an entry-level position, or you see someone who you feel isn't as qualified as you get an amazing position. Suddenly, all your hard work feels pointless, and you question why you even tried in the first place.
Have you ever felt this way? Then you have experienced the dreaded “negative feedback loop.”
What's a Negative Feedback Loop?
While the negative feedback loop can be challenging, you are not alone. In fact, it is not your fault, it's how the brain functions. In her article THE BRAIN’S BIOLOGY: A NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LOOP SYSTEM, Development Psychologist Dr. Nancy S. Bulk framed it quite simply “your brain is set up to notice what is wrong.” This is because as humans the brain is wired to focus on and correct the experiences that did not meet the expectation set by the brain. Despite all the progress and everything that was going right, your mind focuses on what is wrong, and this can result in a cycle that leaves you feeling stuck and searching for answers. This form of self-regulation is often referred to as the negative feedback loop.
What Are the Consequences of Negative Feedback Loop?
Expert in workplace mental health, Dr. Bill Hwatt described the consequences of the negative feedback loop as “lost time, energy and hope.” It is easy to get overwhelmed during the seemingly endless project of searching for a job, in addition to balancing all that life throws at you. As you are navigating the job market, any setback can lead you to a cycle of questioning your purpose and creating a lack of clarity. Oftentimes this results from taking on too much at one time which can cause you to feel lost, discouraged, hopeless, and incompetent.
What To Do About It
Thankfully, there are ways to combat the negative feedback loop. When you find yourself going down this path of self-sabotage, there are several steps that you can take to help yourself get back on track. Although there are several approaches to this, Bill Hwatt provides a simple three steps approach, and I will describe my interpretation of those steps below
Put simply, to get out of a negative feedback loop first you must realize you are in one and understand that your own actions are what determine how long the loop lasts. Spend some time thinking about what the root cause of this cycle might be. It's important to not fixate on the “why” too heavily, the main purpose is to separate what you can control from what you can't control. For instance, when job searching you can only control certain aspects such as how your resume looks, your education, your skillset, your network, and your LinkedIn presence. You cannot control which companies are hiring, the positions they're looking to fill, or who you're competing with for the role.
The second step and one of the most important is to take accountability. It is natural to want to blame all these other external factors and feel as if you're a victim. However, if you're stuck in the negative feedback loop often your family, health, work, and personal life are being affected and the only way to turn that around is to take accountability. Stop playing the “blame game,” be aware of the danger of making excuses. Take it upon yourself to surround yourself with people who are willing to be honest with you and care about your wellbeing. When taking accountability be cautious of negative self-talk, instead of feeling resentful and blaming yourself, be excited for the opportunity to learn from this and it's even helpful to find the humor in the situation at times. After you take accountability, only then are you able to escape from this negative cycle.
You are aware that you are stuck in a negative feedback loop, and you have accepted that the only one that can change this is yourself. Now what? Theresa M. Szczurek in her book Pursuit of Passionate Purpose Success Strategies for Rewarding Personal and Business Life suggests the best way to reverse this loop is to counteract it with a positive feedback loop. Here is my interpretation of her four ways to take action.
Create clarity in your purpose: Dig deep into what your initial purpose was for starting the job search. Try to keep your answer simple.
Focus your energy on a very small part of your purpose.
Make a list of a few ways you can approach this specific purpose. It's important to try to be creative and think outside the box. Direct all your thoughts, efforts, and energy towards that specific purpose until you gain some positive traction. Keep in mind positive traction does not have to be something major, like a job offer. It could be as small as reaching a goal of making five new LinkedIn connections, scheduling a time to meet with someone in your desired field, or attending a resume workshop. Every small step should be celebrated. It is important to remember to give yourself credit for accomplishing steps towards your goal. Don’t wait until you reach your ultimate outcome, of getting a new job to reward yourself.
The last step is to take action on your ideas. You do not have to have all the answers or know what to do, the most important thing to do is to take action. When there is a disconnect between where you are and where you want to be, you must try something different.
The reality is searching for a job can be a daunting and overwhelming task, especially when you try to take it all on at once. It is very easy to fall into the negative feedback loop and most people don't even realize they are in one. Remember to be aware, take accountability, and take action. If you find yourself in a position where you have tried these steps and still feel stuck, you can always talk to a coworker or professional you trust. Alternatively, you can contact your Workforce Specialist at UAII. They are here to support you and have a lot of services at their disposal to help you overcome these specific challenges.
I encourage you to comment if you have ever been stuck in the negative feedback loop and if so, were you aware of it?