Hopelessness is not the norm, it’s a warning | 5 steps to re-write your story

 In depression, resilience

It seems that the news today is full of sad stories about people giving up hope and sadly, taking that irreversible step to end their lives.

Certainly, the social media newsfeeds of myself, my friends and some of my team here at In8Vitality have also been bearing sad news lately.

When we get bad news in clusters it can start to dominate our mindset, and I think this is a part of how that looming sense of hopelessness begins to spread.

With much in the world to worry about, bad news can start to feel like the norm, the status quo, and something to just be worn as a part of daily life. But I want to say very loudly and clearly that hopelessness is not the norm, and it never should be.

It’s okay to feel sad and to grieve. It’s perfectly fine to feel frustration and the whole myriad of negative emotions that come with the human experience. It’s also important to balance these with venting, seeking help and company, taking proactive steps to boost your resilience, and taking those self-care breaks as needed.

But if you should ever find any negative emotions slipping down into hopelessness — this is the time to take massive evasive action. This is not the time to worry about ‘bothering’ your friends with your problems. It’s not the time to ‘keep calm and carry on’ — it’s the time to make noise, wave a flag or send up a flare.

And yes, this is the case even if you are still functioning in daily life. I know first hand that being high functioning and depressed at the same time makes you look more capable than ever on the outside. But on the inside your light is slipping away.

Just because you are able to get up, dressed and go to work in the morning, doesn’t mean you don’t need or deserve help and support. It just means that you cope differently. But you still need to address the underlying issues that are hurting your soul and damaging your sense of hope for the future.

Sure it’s true that a calm sea never made a skilled sailor, and we all have problems to deal with and adult life to plough through. But hopelessness is different. It’s losing your anchor, capsizing your boat and finding that your life jacket, whatever a metaphorical life jacket is for you, just isn’t enough to keep you afloat.

So as I said in the title, I want to offer you 5 steps to rewrite your story, that narrative that plays in your head, talking to you as you go through life. This narration gets darker and darker as we slip into hopelessness, so as a preventative measure, I encourage you to start re-writing yours as early as possible. The story of our lives has a great deal of power over how we feel about our situation, and how we view ourselves and our ability to cope.

In short, this is tied in with our resilience.

If you’ve read previous posts of mine, then you may know I’ve been talking lately about the top 10 traits of resilient people. One of these key traits is the ability to talk positively to yourself, and about yourself. And that’s really the focus of working on your narrative.

A great many of us, sadly, tend to berate ourselves when something goes wrong, whether it was truly our fault or not. Whereas the most resilient among us will find the positives and the lessons, even if we were entirely to ‘blame’ for the problem — we can recognize that it’s not about blame, it is about learning, growth and moving on up.

This 180-degree shift in perspective makes a world of difference in times of crisis. It can even make a crisis seem like an opportunity!

Here are 5 simple steps to re-write your narrative and talk to yourself with more kindness and positivity.

Step 1 – Be aware of your self-talk

Pay attention to how you speak to yourself, so that you can catch the negativity and replace it with more empowering self-talk.

It might sound simple but just becoming aware and making that switch, when repeated over time, starts the process of re-wiring your brain for your new behavior of speaking to yourself in a kinder way.

Step 2 – Ask if it’s true

Now that you are catching yourself saying things like, “I can’t… I’m not smart enough… I shouldn’t…”, it’s time to ask yourself how true these statements really are.

If you tell yourself that you ALWAYS mess up your finances, check in with yourself if that really is always the case. Knowing if it is true means you can do something to change it, and knowing if it’s not really true helps you with that positive self-talk in step 1.

Step 3 – Look for evidence to challenge the negative thoughts

‘Always’ and ‘never’ are rarely true statements. Even if you really think you do always mess something up — dispute it! Don’t just take the negative voice in your head to be right. Really check in with yourself about when you have had a success in that area, even a small one.

You need to be your own cheerleader more often!

Step 4 – Replace negative statements with positive ones

Once you have identified the negative stories you are telling yourself as untrue, unhelpful and not useful — it’s time to replace them. Re-word those statements with something positive and helpful, and phrase it in the present tense.

For example, “I will be in control of my money” won’t work for you, as it’s in the future tense, and also it might feel like too much of a leap for you to believe you will just ‘be in control’. Remember in re-writing our stories the aim is to give ourselves a more positive perspective, and something we can honestly believe and embody.

So try replacing that old story about how you always screw up your finances with something like this.
I am aware of what I need to do to keep my money on track, and I feel more in control. I’m doing a good job.

This is believable, positive, and applies to the here and now.

Step 5 – Take action to affirm your power

Somebody with a victim mindset and a narrative to match will sit back and allow wave after wave of stress to break over their heads. Where as somebody with a resilient mindset will stand up and take action. Now sure, that action might not save them from their problems immediately — but the key here is the not giving up part.

Sometimes life is tough and we do have to fight our way out of difficult situations. The key to having that fight in you, that energy to persevere and save yourself, is staying resilient. And you already know one way to do this now — to keep working on your narrative, and keep being your own cheerleader.

What we tell ourselves affects us physically as well as mentally. I’ve seen it myself with my clinical patients in the past. Those who practiced positivity tended to recover from illness faster.

Mindset counts for so much that the words you repeat to yourself are like writing lines of computer code for your ‘inner operating system’. We act on what we believe, consciously and unconsciously.

I think the bottom line is this. If we remember to keep telling ourselves that we are capable and worthy, and that we’ve got this — then when the going gets tough, our default reaction is to find help and resources, rather than to slip into hopelessness.

Help can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the emotional support of friends, family and online groups to the practical help of advisors, mentors and tools. No matter how tight a spot you are in, there is always something else to try.

You might hear a truly resilient person state that there is ALWAYS a plan b, and that’s because they truly see the world that way. Therefore they will always find another option or a new direction to move in. They will always have hope.

This mindset is something that you can cultivate for yourself too so that you never have to give up.

Stay safe, support your friends and in turn ask for their support. Know that you are not alone.

To take a small, positive step right now, why not join the #RealSelfLove community Facebook group and expand your online circle of positivity today. There are over 7 billion people on the planet, and we all seek connection, it’s at the root of our humanity. So please know that you are never alone in the grand scheme of things.

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Dr Pennington and Dr Hyman