How to stop overextending yourself : A self-care worksheet

The job search is strenuous. That’s because the brain is designed to learn something and make it automatic to conserve energy. Here’s how to rewire your brain without overextending yourself.

Looking for work after a job loss takes energy. Besides the physical energy required to create resumes and make calls, you have to marshal emotional energy to cope with your feelings about the situation. You’re dealing with the emotions created by losing your job and the inevitable rejections that occur in any search, the mental effort to rebrand yourself as well as learn new skills and behaviors, and the spiritual challenge of staying hopeful and positive.

Your job search at least as strenuous as the job you used to have and likely even more. That’s because the brain is designed to learn something and make it automatic to conserve energy.

Re-wiring your brain

In the late 1940s, psychologist Donald Hebb first identified that within the brain, “cells that fire together wire together.” As a child learning to tie your shoes, for instance, your brain cells fired in a certain sequence; as you practiced, the cells wired into a pathway that is now grooved into your brain. You don’t have to think about it, so it takes hardly any energy at all. Likewise, at work, over time, your brain habituated to tasks until you could perform them with ease.

Now you’re asking your brain to work harder and in new ways, so you need to build up your energy reserves. Consider it part of your job description as a job seeker. Otherwise, you won’t have the oomph to succeed.

That’s what marketing executive “Ruth McFee” (who asked me not to disclose her real name) discovered when she was recently laid off from Microsoft. She knows she needs to network, but never having needed to do it before, she’s having trouble getting into action. “It makes me tired just to think about it,” she told me.

Train like an athlete

Is Ruth crazy? Lazy? She’s simply experiencing the truth that it is more effort to learn new behaviors.

Rather than just give her a rah-rah speech about how she needed to get out there, I suggested she fill out a worksheet that we at Professional Thinking Partners created after reading The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Loehr and Schwartz point out that executives need to treat themselves like high-performance athletes in order to excel. Athletes have strategies for extending themselves (by lifting weights, for example) and strategies for recovery as well (resting, for instance). To have maximum energy, all of us need extension and recovery strategies in four domains of our existence: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. “Physical” refers to our bodies, “mental” to our intellect and “emotional” to our feelings. “Spiritual” can refer to religious practices, or it can reflect how you feel you are living your values and sense your connection to a larger whole.

The worksheet below provides a snapshot of where you are right now so you can see what you need to do differently in order to fuel yourself for the challenging task of finding new work.

In each domain, think about what you’re doing to stretch yourself in that arena and what you do to recover. Write them in the boxes on the right. Then rate yourself on a scale of one to 10 in the spaces on the left on how well you’re doing in each, with one being very low and 10 being extremely high.


Now, what did your self-assessment reveal? Hopefully, your recovery scores are about as high as the ones you noted for extension – but job seekers frequently find themselves out of balance.

For instance, Ruth’s analysis discovered the following insights:


  • Extension strategies

She was swimming in the summer and doing 30 minutes on the elliptical the rest of the year. She gave herself a 5 (probably not enough extension, not doing it every day.)

  • Recovery strategies

For physical recovery, she reads novels and sleeps 8-9 hours at night. She gives herself an 8 (hitting it most days).


  • Extension strategies

Her job search has got her down after months of looking for work. She rates herself fully extended at a 10.

  • Recovery strategies

As a recovery exercise she journals once a week, but is still struggling with her feelings so she rates herself a 5.


  • Extension strategies

Mentally, she’s exerting herself looking for work. She marks down a 9.

  • Recovery strategies

For recovery, she does yoga and gives herself a 0 because she hasn’t done it for months.


  • Extension strategies

In spiritual extension, she is working on trusting she will find work and gives herself an 8.

  • Recovery strategies

For spiritual recovery, her strategy is yoga, and so she again rates herself 0.

Your strategies will be different. That’s OK. A client of mine swims every day for physical exertion strategy as well as mental and emotional recovery. There’s no one right way. What’s important is what the information tells you.

Ruth discovered her extension numbers are very high and her recovery ones very low. She decided to go back to taking a yoga class. That’s helping her acquire the energy to get out and network herself into a new position. You may discover that you’re doing fine on recovery, but what’s needed is more extension in one domain. Or that you have very limited strategies and want to expand your repertoire.

Self-care isn’t optional when you’re putting yourself out there looking for work. Make sure you’re building up your reserves!