As human beings, we are creatures of habit.

From the moment we come into this world, our mission is survival, and our brains start franticly trying to decipher “what works” and “what doesn’t” in terms of getting our wants, needs, and desires met from the environment around us — whether one is talking about a caveman thousands of years ago, trying to track down a warm cave and a square meal, or a more civilized professional in today’s world seeking the path to a steady, satisifying career.

The problem?  Sometimes our wiring fails us.  As has been documented by far smarter people than myself, in books like Who Moved My Cheese? and similar publications, we can easily fall into comfortable patterns of behavior that grow stale and don’t keep up with our surroundings.  Our perceptions of the world can calcify.  We can grow complacent.  And we can readily fail to adapt to the times — even when there is clear evidence (as an example, check out this prior article of mine here) that our belief systems, however well they’ve served us in our lives and careers to date, are in dire need of a firmware upgrade.

This is particularly true when it comes to job hunting.  Many individuals I meet continue to operate under the failing philosophy that good jobs are an entitlement in our culture — and that the key to being successful is to go to school, keep your head down, and simply try to perform your job duties to the best of your ability.  What’s completely left out of the playbook, however, is the concept of marketing yourself and self-promotion.  This is the new skill set that’s grown increasingly critical to career marketability, and yet so many people continue to ignore it or show a callous unwillingness to even learn the basics of this important life skill.

And while the world’s a big place, and plenty of people who operate by the “old programming” will continue to find employment here and there (hey, even COBOL made a resurgence in the Year 2000…), my mission is to get more and more job seekers of all ages to realize that they CAN learn the new mindset — and improve their career prospects significantly — if they can first open their mind to some fresh thinking and change.  Is it easy?  Not on your life.  I’ve got an awfully healthy stubborn stubborn streak, myself, so I’m by no means exempt from clinging to the status quo in MANY aspects of my life.  Trust me on that.  But it sometimes just takes a small crack of revelation and a few tentative positive results, if you can spring them loose, to start shedding some of your old thought patterns for new ones.

Two recent cases in point? One of my clients who just landed a new assignment recently wrote me an e-mail about her journey, in which she attributed a substantial part of her success to finally embracing the notion that looking for work, compared to decades past, is now much more of a numbers game.  As she expressed it: “Matt, the blog of yours that has stuck with me most in the last couple of months is the one

[which I’ve linked here] in which you said something like ‘stop analyzing what to do — just do SOMETHING!’  This reminder has forced me to hit the send button or pick of the phone numerous times when I knew I probably wouldn’t, otherwise…”

This is a perfect example of the kind of “rewiring” that many people need to bring to their job search activities. They need to realize that given the fast-moving and highly competitive nature of the labor market these days, those candidates who err on the side of consistent and immediate action, versus drawn-out analysis, are going to have a distinct advantage.  And my sincere congratulations goes out to this client for successfully challenging and beating back an outdated job hunting assumption that was holding her back.

In another instance, I had a client who had been been dealing with months of similar frustration and setbacks in terms of not being able to create viable leads and interview opportunities for himself, despite having a fairly decent set of qualifications.  One day, he said he finally hit a wall.  Literally.  He got so fed up about his lackluster job search results that he ended up punching his fist clear through his living room wall, at which time he realized enough was enough and he needed to change his “operating system” (in his own words) and completely rethink the way he looked at himself, the market, and the job hunting process.  He accepted the fact that he needed to learn how to promote himself in a more modern and aggressive fashion.  In fact, he said he even took a picture of his broken wall and has made it his computer screen-saver, going forward, just so he wouldn’t forget the lesson.

As my former boss and mentor used to always say: “You don’t usually know when you’ve had enough until you’ve had more than enough.”

Change is hard.  Our cheese loves to stay put.  But whether it involves job hunting or other aspects of life, it pays to be as conscious as you can of your lifelong habits, patterns, and perspectives — and ditch them for “better programming” when the circumstances demand it!