The number one cause for hopelessness is living a lie. This lie is usually a narrative you were raised to believe in from a very young age and thus your brain over the years has become wired to look for signs and signals that support your belief in this false narrative, leading you to make daily decisions which support this lie.
The problem with lies is that when we make decisions, or attempt to solve problems based on a lie, (aka problems that don’t exist) nothing changes. Take for example, there was once a young man who was being treated by his family physician for irritable bowel syndrome. During treatment, his condition remained the same for a long time and then took a turn for the worse. It was only when things got worse, that the young man explained to his doctor that he had been abusing laxatives, as part of his diet plan. Now that the doctor and the young man where no longer making decisions based on a false narrative, they could get him the appropriate help he needed for abstaining from laxatives.
This story is a concrete example about how we spin our wheels when we attempt to live our lives on false narratives. A false narrative is a logical fallacy, where the solutions we attempt to apply to our perceived problems make sense, if only the foundation were true. In the story shared in the previous paragraph, only the doctor was in the dark about what was the true cause of the problem. Perhaps some might argue the young man to some degree was also in the dark because he might not have made a connection between his use of laxatives and his stomach issues. Most people who experience hopelessness have no clue that they are attempting to live a lie.
They feel hopeless about their situations, because they have reached the conclusion the path they are taking is the only sure way of getting their needs met. It’s like someone who believes that he can walk through a wall, and repeatedly bangs his head against the wall with the expectation that the wall will eventually give in. Eventually, the person gives up, slums against the wall while massaging a wounded head. Hopelessness feels the same way, you keep tackling the same problem with solutions that make sense, but to no avail. Eventually you begin to lose faith in yourself, and when you see others whom you perceive are doing a great job in getting their needs met, you begin to see yourself as a failure and you start to develop a pessimistic view about your ability to thrive in life.
But what if the problem, or set of problems you have been desperately attempting to tackle, have never been the true issue at all? What if your core beliefs are foundationally based on myths? If you struggle with feelings of hopelessness, then this is good news. It means that there are other ways for you to get your needs met, but first you must go through great pains to revise your beliefs.
Most people who are genuinely lost in regards to where to start in revising their belief systems, would benefit a great deal from a seasoned therapist, who can guide them in addressing all aspects of their lives.
In a previous post, I wrote about understanding anxiety and depression in the concept of a person’s thinking being constrained within a box. This is how feelings of hopelessness develop, people come to believe that their lives should only progress in a linear and specific way and when things go wrong they become depressed.
Hopelessness is a learned state, theoretically it’s a state of mind you get into when all hope for survival is lost. With clients who struggle with depression, a reoccurring theme I learn from them is a persistent feeling of emptiness they experience. They usually will then proceed to inform me about how this feeling of emptiness doesn’t make sense given that things in their lives are going smoothly. However, upon further processing, I discover that there are a number issues with the manner in which they are handling their affairs and commitments. This lead to a brief scenario in the therapeutic relationship of helping the client determine what is causing the other, their feelings of emptiness or their lack of follow through with commitments. It’s usually the latter, which usually turns out to be a continuation of unaddressed issues.
Regardless, if you find yourself experiencing hopelessness, here are four key strategies you can start practicing right away to experience hope and optimism in your life.
Envision Your Future
With this strategy, you write down three or more major things you would like to change in your life. They could be as concrete as you want them to be or otherwise. Here are some examples;
You want to own your own home.
You want to have more friends.
You want to experience less anxiety in public.
Don’t hesitate into going into a much detail as possible, i.e, the color of the home you want to live in, what neighborhood you will be living in, e.t.c. This allows to believe in your vision becoming more of a reality.
Develop a Plan
With this strategy, you take the first practical step of putting your vision down on paper. A plan on paper allows you to pre document what specific steps you are going to take towards seeing your vision or visions to reality. Often times, when we write down our plans, the realities and obstacles of what we are trying to achieve jump out on us. This actually provides the motivation we need to solve problems on paper that we anticipate we will encounter towards realizing our vision.
Commit to a Set of Routines
Once you have developed a plan towards realizing your vision, your next step would be to identify specific things you have to do on a daily basis as you build up towards realizing your vision. For example, the aspiring realtor who needs to pass an exam in to be licensed as a realtor will develop a study plan every day to study for the exam, until the day of the exam. Or someone who seeks to build a social network will engage in certain habits on a daily basis as she works to build up her network of friends.
With a set of routines documented, you will be able to identify certain habits that bring you closer to your vision, and certain habits that pull you further from your vision.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
While different strokes may be for different folks, you are not the first person in the history of mankind to be struggling with feelings of hopelessness. I usually will encourage clients to enroll in local support groups to connect, trade ideas and receive support from others who are in a similar situation as themselves. Another chief benefit of a local support group, is that you will get to meet with people who have overcome hopelessness and learn from them what worked and what didn’t. You can then apply some of these strategies you believe will work best for you.
So there you have it, four strategies you or someone you care about can begin using immediately to overcome feelings or hopelessness and start experiencing genuine hope and optimism in your life today.
So what are your thoughts and feelings about these strategies?
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling private practice located in Tucson AZ.