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Though it's natural to feel down while searching for a job after a layoff, a new study shows just how critical it is to keep your spirits up.

The research reveals that maintaining a more positive and motivational outlook can have a positive effect on the job pursuit.

That’s especially true at the outset of the search, but the ability to stay energized and keep negative emotions in check is even more critical as the hunt drags on, the research shows.

The study, involving 177 unemployed people looking for work, conducted weekly assessments of self-management, job search status and mental health. At the beginning of the study, the participants spent an average of 17 hours per week looking for a job and reported a gradual improvement in their mental health. By the fourth month, however, time spent on the search had declined to 14 hours per week, and mental health began to decline

"These findings show that the self-management strategies that people actually use make the key difference," said study co-author Ruth Kanfer, a psychology professor at Georgia Tech.

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Part of the difficulty in keeping spirits up throughout a lengthy job search lies in the general lack of feedback that the unemployed get on how they are doing in their hunt for work.

"Searching for a job isn’t like learning a skill, where maintaining a positive attitude may be easier as you see improvement with effort," Kanfer said.  Short of actually finding a job, she said, "you get almost no feedback on how you are doing or what you might do differently."

To successfully sustain motivation over time, people need to become increasingly proactive, Kanfer said.

She advises candidates to seek increased social support and develop daily routines that can provide positive feedback and support positive attitudes toward the search. 

The study, which appears in the current issue of the Academy of Management Journal, was conducted in conjunction with researchers at the University of Minnesota and Arizona State University.

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at chadgbrooks@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.