When I first met him he was at a point a point that must have felt like the end of hope. He was an unemployed university drop-out with a history of severe depression and a drunk mother.
Meet Chris who takes part in a programme to help him find an apprentice position. Chris is not his real name, of course. He’s intelligent and thorough and wants to create better life for himself. But he’s also convinced that he sucks.
We all feel like Chris on occasion. Desperate for life to get better but with no belief in our own ability or even worthiness to achieve that.
Here’s what I taught him.
You don’t find hope. You do it.
Stop thinking about hope as something very vague or a belief that magically descends upon you. Hope is created by how you experience yourself and the world and how you express yourself, your life. It’s about the assets you build and the actions you take.
There are a multitude of good things that science has uncovered in the past years to help you build hope, resources and resilience. I chose my four favourites and taught them to Chris:
self-compassion to get to “I’m ok”
growth mindset to know “I do ok”
pathway thinking to have strategies that move you closer to your goal
agency to take one step after the other and shoot for progress, not perfection.
Even more than feeling better or achieving personal goals, scoring high in hope also brings business benefits to your organisation. A study has “found that more hopeful sales employees, mortgage brokers, and management executives had higher job performance”. But that’s not all. “Higher hope management executives produced more and better quality solutions to a work-related problem”. This suggests “that hopefulness may help employees when they are confronted with problems and encounter obstacles at work.”
Tuning your inner experience.
The entry point to experiencing and knowing “I’m ok.” and “I do ok.” is taking full responsibility for yourself. This is not about putting the weight of the world on your shoulders and taking responsibility for circumstances or the actions of others. But you need to be willing to own your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Knowing you’re ok.
Many of us struggle regularly with our self-worth, thinking we’re not good enough. Especially in moments when everything seems to go wrong and we fall short of our ideals. While you are still taking responsibility for your own part in this, there’s no point in being mean to yourself. Self-blame only makes you anxious and depressed. Self-compassion on the other hand happier and more optimistic, even in hard times.
Love yourself up, be kind to yourself instead of judgemental so you can accept your current situation with sympathy.
You should also know you’re not the only one. Pain and suffering is part of being human. Remind yourself that everyone has hard times on occasion.
Stay present with how you’re feeling. Be aware and observe your pain and negative emotions. Don’t push them away but don’t pull them too close either.
Knowing you’re doing ok.
Do you know how we learn? By doing things. How do we know we did well? By assessing the outcome. And what if we didn’t meet expectations? We try again, try in a different way, keep going until it works.
Expecting to be flawless and getting everything right from the get-go shows that your fixed mindset has the upper hand. As Carol Dweck found out, being in this state of mind has quite few downsides:
We tend to avoid challenges and give up easily the moment we face obstacles.
The mere fact that we have to put in effort is a sign for us that we’re just not good at it and think it’s pointless to keep trying.
We’re ignoring feedback that might help us get better and look to others’ success with envy and feel threatened.
Tapping more into our growth mindset instead helps to
embrace challenges and keep going despite obstacles
see effort as a necessary path to get really good at something
learn from negative feedback and see others’ success as an inspiration
At any given time do the best you can with what you have in that moment. Keep trying, learning and judge yourself based on effort and progress rather than just on outcome or vanity metrics.
Expression is action.
Expressing hope leads to achieving a goal. So before you can develop strategies or take action, you need to know where you’re going. Orient your energy in the direction where you want to end up. This is important.
Remember the conversation Alice had with the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
Your strategy should consist of multiple pathways.
This may sound contradictory. To increase your hope, think about what could go wrong. This forces you to think of more than one way to achieve your goal.
Example: You want to live a long and healthy life. So as one strategy or pathway to get there you start to exercise regularly. That’s one pathway to achieve your goal. Now what if you break your leg and can’t exercise for while? Does this mean you are making no further progress towards your goal?
That’s what additional pathways are for. In this example more pathways could be getting good sleep, building loving relationships and eating healthy food. It’s worthwhile to explore multiple pathways, the obstacles that can get in the way and make a plan how you’ll deal with them.
Keep taking small steps consistently.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You probably heard that one before. And it’s really the trick to accomplishing anything worthwhile: Through taking action consistently, even if it seems small and not making an impact. Over time the smallest actions taken consistently amount to grat things.
It’s pure mathematics. One word added after another makes up a sentence, a paragraph, a blog post or a book. The hike up to Machu Picchu is a series of small steps taken one after the other. And since hope is not to be confused with “hoping for the lottery win”, wealth is built by saving up small amounts of money. Consistently.
Hope is something you do, not something you have.
All of these things are incredibly hard when you feel stuck, overwhelmed or desperate. Hope isn’t you standing at the ocean, looking at the sun at the end of the horizon with inner serenity.
Hope isn’t a destination. It’s not a place you go, but it’s something that helps you going there.
Thinking about it this way helps me and it surely helped Chris to take charge of his own life. Since we first met, the way he sees the world started to change and so did his judgement of himself. He’s following multiple pathways and keeps taking small actions every day to find an apprentice position. So far he scored a few interviews and an internship.