I have to be honest. Sometimes it’s really hard to be hopeful. I totally get it. This came up in tonight’s group when processing parts of our shame stories. Digging into self-help can be like wading into a swamp, and may lead some to feel as though they are more stuck than when they 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. 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. The room surrounding the closet will definitely be messier than when you started.
However, you’ll start to organize things. 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, 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, rejection, etc., 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 and you’re realizing you’re knee deep in the muck, and your hope muscle isn’t the strongest, what can you do?
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. (Regis Philbin voice) A really close, good friend who is able to listen without judgment, tell you what you should be doing, etc.
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.
4. Reflect. 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 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, like, every.little.thing. You will show yourself you are capable of action and movement, however big or small the steps may be.