If life where an onion and you peeled it down to its last layer, what you come to is choices. Life is about the choices we make, while the meanings we ascribe to these choices are secondary. A sense of hopelessness arises when we encounter pain and difficulties based on a series of choices we made and we have come to believe that there are no alternatives.
Perhaps we believed that these choices would lead us down a path of happiness (as is often the case) perhaps we have come to believe that these choices which led us to our current predicament, are the only path we could have taken to fulfill happiness. The latter is a primary and recurring cause for feeling hopeless.
Consider another analogy, you are traveling down a path in a cave, and you come to a dead end. There is no where else to go, there is a slab of rock in front of you, to the left of you, to the right of you and behind you. Such a scenario is highly improbable, (except if you fell into a deep hole in a cave) which most people (if not all) in that scenario would feel hopeless. Yet, this is the illusion people create in their heads that results in the feelings of hopelessness. There are three reasons for this, and they are as follows:
Believing Your Choices are Your Identity.
While the choices you make in your life, definitely influence whom you are as a person, they are certainly not you. So a doctor, a boxer, an engineer, an uncle, etc. are nouns used to describe persons who engage in certain professions, and relationships. They are under no circumstances genuine descriptors of a person’s identity. When people become enmeshed in certain choices they have made, be it a profession or a relationship, they often resort to a sense of hopelessness when things in regards to their choices don’t work out. This is because this choice has become (falsely) an integral part of their identity, making it difficult for them to thoroughly consider other options.
Social Status and Pressure.
Then there are others, who have done a good job of separating the choices they have made from whom they are. However even when they find themselves thoroughly unhappy with a life decision, they remain hesitant to change due to social pressure and perceived status they have earned from adhering to certain norms via the choices they have made. In these situations, it is not the specific choice the person has made that keeps him miserable, it is the choice to give into social pressure that keeps him miserable. Further, as long as he continues to hold unto the beliefs that encourage the pursuit of status, when faced with life changing decisions he will see no options better that the choice he made, which he is currently unhappy with.
Lack of Knowledge.
The third reason some people struggle with hopelessness is simply a lack of knowing. In worse cases, the person may not even have a clue that a better life awaits him or her other than the life he or she is currently experiencing. This third reason is the most predominant when it comes to feelings of hopelessness, because until we know what we don’t know, our frames of references will remain limited.
When I work with clients who struggle with depression, I always encourage them to consider that there is a brighter alternative to the path they are currently taking. Further, in order to consider this brighter alternative they have to practice keeping an open mind and taking accountability for unhealthy thoughts which create fears for them and keep them stuck.
At the end of the day, we are our own prisoners and consequently our own liberators.
What motivates you? Have you ever experienced a sense of determination to get something accomplished? You knew what you were going to accomplish, also you knew how you would benefit from your accomplished work or project.
It could be something as easy as cleaning a room in your home, performing a repair on something that you use, or creating something entirely new. Recently, my seven and four year olds made thirteen dollars a piece from selling lemonade and brownies at the park with their mother. They had both approached us about their desire to bake the brownies, make the lemonade and sell for some profit. My wife obliged them, and it was a success.
While the idea for the sale was borrowed from one of their teachers, what I found amazing is the drive they each had for the sale. They were both extremely motivated to accomplish this sale, and were also very confident that they would make sales and be rewarded for their hard work. All things considered their lemonade and brownie sale was a success. So if two children can find the motivation to follow through on an idea, what happens to us as adults when we experience routine bouts of poor motivation and in extreme cases, lethargy? Especially when we know we have the competency to follow through on the idea?
The answer lies in the narratives we have come to believe in ourselves.
“Though the brain is enclosed in a single skull, it is actually made of two separate lumps…which are designed to disagree with each other.” —Jonah Lehrer
In the field of neuroscience it is generally accepted that the left hemisphere is responsible for constructing positive narratives of our existence, while the right hemisphere is responsible for bringing the more pessimistic aspects of our lives into perspective. I would argue that a healthy mind is where the negative traits of a person can be taken at face value, with the addition of a positive narrative that does not corrupt the integrity of the negative narrative, so long as the negative narrative is accurate.
In other words, even if I find my feelings hurt by the number “2”, I will always agree with myself that “1 + 1 = 2, and not 3”. Therefore as I go about constructing a positive narrative, rather than ignoring or negativing the number “2”, I will bring myself to accepting “2” for the number it is.
When working with clients on increasing their experiences with motivation, the most common issue they experience are their feelings of hurt towards the scarification of their personal time towards achieving their desired goals. A common reason for this is that over the years they have come to believe in a narrative that negates the investment of their personal time towards achieving their goals. This is a very subconscious but powerful narrative, and always take precedence over the conscious narrative for achieving their desired goals.
So in other words, a common reason that adults struggle with poor motivation, is a conflict of narratives. This is due to the development and implementation of a previous narrative designed to cope with an acknowledged negative, which now interferes with the implementation and follow through of a new idea. Old narratives can be especially difficult to change, especially if they were originally put into place to cope with difficult negative narratives. Such as narratives for coping with rejection from society in various facets of our lives.
You can learn to tell yourself, believable and reality based narratives that will truly inspire you towards bringing your ideas to fruition, with an experienced therapist.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and Life Coach
One of my favorite exercises to give a client who has announced his readiness for change, is the narrative exercise. The narrative exercise, involves a person writing out of narrative, or a story line where he lives out his desires, or the type of change he desires to experience in his life. This exercise is only as potent as the willingness of the writer to be honest, this is because what gets revealed in the first draft of a honest narrative, is a series of logical fallacies.
In case you are wandering, a logical fallacy simply means an error in reasoning. In the first draft of narrative exercises, I witness clients make logical fallacies whereby the logic they use in an attempt to construct a new reality for themselves, contradicts the existence of important variables they have not accounted for. As a result, the error in reasoning occurs when the person’s happiness becomes dependent on the outcome of his en-devour as opposed to his process of pursuing the en-devour.
An example would be a writer’s motivation for writing a book; if his motivation is primarily based on selling a lot of copies of the book and making a bestseller’s list, his process in writing the book would becomes difficult. As opposed to a more humble approach of writing a book solely for the benefit of a specific audience. The latter is more attainable, because little to nothing is compromised as the author uses his authenticity to connect with his targeted audience.
In other words, chances are that the reason you are reluctant towards practicing the changes you desire in your life is because it simply makes no sense to your subconsciousness. If you can agree that your subconsciousness only understands information on a prescriptive level, versus a descriptive level, the nuances of what you really desire to accomplish will become lost to the subconsciousness, if the information for the change you desire contradicts itself on a prescriptive level.
A narrative exercise will expose the irrationality of your beliefs and desires and will become the first step in your guidance towards producing a healthier and more believable story.
Believable stories we tell ourselves, motivate us in following through with our commitments.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.