You can harness hope even when you’re feeling stuck in the mud.
I have to be honest. Sometimes it’s really hard to be hopeful. I totally get it. This recently came up with clients in my practice, so I wanted to discuss it more.
I know, I know.Since I love metaphors, think of it like this.You go to organize a closet that has gotten to be a huge mess. The door has been closed so it’s easy to walk by and have it be out of sight and out of mind. When you open the door, it’s overwhelming. You have to take everything out of the closet, lay things out all over the place.
Digging into self-help can feel like wading through a swamp and feeling more stuck than when you first started.
Wait, aren’t I supposed to be an advocate for personal growth and change? Yes and I am. Why does this happen? When we embark on the journey that we’ve been avoiding for so long, we uncover more and more things that we didn’t realize were things. Things to be addressed. Things to feel. Things to talk about. Things to think about. Things to just deal with. Everyday. All the things.It can feel like more weight to carry than less. You may want to scream, “I don’t want one more thing to deal with!”
The room surrounding the closet will definitely be messier than when you started.However, you’ll start to organize it. You’ll get rid of unneeded items. You’ll put things in the proper place. You may feel overwhelmed, defeated at times, frustrated, tired, and want to stop. You may not feel hopeful that you’ll ever get the job done.But, eventually, the closet gets cleaned out and organized, just like your thoughts and feelings in personal growth work.
So how do you dig out the hope in the mess of all the things? Hope is a feeling of possibility, affirmation, and potential.Brené Brown, a researcher on shame and vulnerability, has found that hope is not seen as an emotion, but as hopeful thinking. She has found a good understanding of hope through C.R. Snyder’s work on hope.
She explains that hope is not an emotion, it’s a cognitive process, a way of thinking about ourselves and the world. Hope has to do with the relationship among goals, pathways, and agency. Hopefulness is about the ability to set a goal, to find innovative and creative ways of getting there (pathways), and believing we can do it (agency). Also, hope is about the ability to “Plan B” something.
Lastly, Brown explains that hope is a function of struggle. When we don’t expose ourselves to struggle, when we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to know failure or disappointment, we reduce our ability to be hopeful. In the midst of the closet clean out, the sorting of difficult emotions in disappointment, failure, or rejection, one has to dig out his or her own tenacity and the perseverance to keep going.
Every time this is practiced, it builds the hope muscle. It gets stronger each time you exercise it during a struggle so that you have the hope, knowledge, and belief that you will get through it.So, when stuck in the personal growth swamp, you’re realizing you’re knee deep in the muck and your hope muscle isn’t the strongest, what can you do?Not knowing how to find hope when you’re feeling hopeless, start out with these 5 simple tips:
Not knowing how to find hope when you’re feeling hopeless, start out with these 5 simple tips:
1. Notice and name the feelings.
Lay them out. It takes their power away and helps you connect your experience with the feeling and where you feel it in your body.
2. Phone a friend.
Talk to a really close, good friend who is able to listen without judgment or tell you what you should be doing.
3. Give yourself permission to not know “the right thing to do.”
It’s OK to stay there until you build the grit and tenacity to figure out the next right thing to do. That’s all you have to do: the next right thing to deal with all the things.
Talk about it. Write about it. Mull it over. Don’t numb out if you can help it.
Find those who’ve experienced similar struggles either through Google or by through real live people. Knowing that someone else has survived something similar can provide relief, validation, and start giving you the first drops of hope you need.
5. Start collecting evidence.
Confidence comes from evidence. Hope comes from struggle. What evidence do you have of overcoming previous struggles? What part of this struggle have you already dealt with?
Keep the evidence. Log everything. Every. Little. Thing. You will show yourself you are capable of action and movement, however big or small the steps may be.
To quote Desmond Tutu, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.”
Anya Surnitsky is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator.
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