A clear mental image of what you want to achieve can help you achieve those goals that were out of reach
Hope is a word that causes visions of different scenes to play out in my mind. I picture Martin Luther King Jr. in black and white walking in a demonstration. I picture the firefighters raising the American flag after 9/11. I picture the sailor kissing a nurse in the street in Time Square at the end of World War II. I picture myself at 5:00 a.m. this morning, rolling out of bed to head downstairs and do a workout. While the first several images were more important to humanity, the last one was still important and still required hope.
I have worked to expand my hope bandwidth for the past three years. Hope does not come preinstalled and is not an emotion you can catch like a virus. If it was people run over to ______ house faster than an 80’s mom trying to check chickenpox off of the list of things the kids now have immunity from (* note maybe this was just a Montana thing, but when your friends got chickenpox, you would go play at their house for some old fashioned immunity).
Hope instead is an action. And it is one we all need to hone to live into the person we were meant to be.
C.R. Snyder was the first psychologist to dedicate himself to researching hope. Snyder found that hope has three primary components. I like to think of them as the TRILOGY OF HOPE (*to be said with the voice of Morgan Freeman in your head). The TRILOGY OF HOPE requires a goal, a path to achieve that goal, and the motivation or agency to achieve the goal. Mr. Snyder found that hope is a process that occurs in the brain and can be learned.
Hope comes from telling yourself where you want to go and that you have what it takes to succeed. How to get to where you want to go is where most of us let that voice tell us, “Yeah, you probably won’t make it because you didn’t last time.” The moment you listen to the voice, you lose agency for a different result, and we get into a cycle of ‘same.’ Brene Brown notes in her book Atlas of the Heart
Hope is a function of struggle—we develop hope not during the easy or comfortable times but through adversity and discomfort.
We have lost sight of our role in our stuckness or cycle of ‘same.’ As a result, we relive the same failure until we believe the lie that nothing will change.
The Cycle of Same
Hope for a change might start great. We agree to sign up for ‘the race’ because we had a glimer of hope that something could be different. Then we start to train. It is hard. The results were not immediately great or maybe life conspired against us and we didn’t even make it past the first morning of thinking things will be different. Those results or non-results create thoughts. Thoughts like “Well, that sucked” or maybe “I suck.” Those thoughts lead to the emotions that can follow us around. Those feelings of shame, anxiety, fear, and frustration color your interactions and twist what you think is possible.
Here is the crux. When we are looking at results, we THINK we are looking at right now, but what you are looking at in the past. The results you are looking at right now are the result of PAST ACTIONS. Each future month’s possibilities should not be dictated by last month, especially if last month drove you to feel shame and frustration.
In the CYCLE OF SAME, you are in a state where you aren’t getting the results you hoped for, which can compound shame and frustration. This is a huge issue for what can be possible. Shame leads us to believe we can’t be different. Frustration makes us quick to anger. The combination is a dastardly duo, like a bumbling super villain from a cartoon. And like the bumbling super villain we repeat the same results over and over.
Instead of looking at your results and letting those color your thoughts the goal is to use your imagination and picture yourself in the results you want. When you imagine that scene where you are successful what are the emotions you feel? Get out a pen and write them down. What if you let your desired results dictate your thoughts for today? Sure this sounds like I am still stuck in cartoon land asking you to use your imagination to set up your day. This technique can be the start of a transformation. If you are not intentional about living a life that is transforming there will be no change and the CYCLE OF SAME will continue. As a super nerd I can also tell you using your imagination to set yourself up for mental success has been a proven technique in Logotherapy and sports psychology.
Logotherapy was created by Viktor Frankl, a neurologist and psychiatrist. Frankl believed that a person’s greatest desire and what keeps them going through hard times was meaning in their life. He formulated his theory prior to and while living in concentation camps in Auschwitz as a Jew in WWII. Frankl would have his patients answer one question at the start of each day.
“If you were to live this day over, what would you change?”
Obviously, this can be a bit difficult to work through as you have not lived today yet, but you also know yourself, which means you know where you get stuck. You know where you mentally loop in bad places. If you can start your day by asking yourself what you will change it creates a very reachable goal. You aren’t reaching for some lofty goal that is hard to picture. You are reaching for and imaging who you could be in 12 hours. Each day builds upon yesterday by thinking about how you want to change the day before it starts.
Athletes use a similar concept to prepare for their upcoming race or match. Athletes know just like Frankl did that all of us play ourselves in addition to any opponent. The game is between the connscious and the unconscious mind. The conscious mind judges and instructs the unconscious mind tell it things such as, “I can’t believe you missed that.”
Often a coach might try to tell players what to do or what to avoid. That is exactly what we all do to ourselves. The problem is the more you focus on what to do and not to do, the less you succeed as you overanalyze and defeat yourself. No one likes to be micromanaged including your unconscious mind. When you micromanage so many choices throughout the day it is mentally exhausting and you will eventually fail. Your unconscious self can do an incredible job when it is set up for total trust with the conscious self by visualizing success.
The best athletes in the world use this exact technique. Think athletes like the Williams sisters, Micheal Phelps, Sunisa Lee, and Niklas Edin, who was a part of the killer Swedish curling team that took gold in the last winter Olympics. These world-class athletes picture the win with all the hard work that comes with it before they set foot on the court, in the water, on the mat, or on the ice. And they also get that confidence that comes with that visualized win before the win has even occurred.
In order for visualization and Viktor Frankl’s approach to work, we need to learn how to reality-check our goals and the pathways to them. If the result I want is to become an Olympic gymnast, but I am 40 and can’t do the splits, all the visualization in the world will not change my results. Same goes for loosing 60 pounds in three months or deciding you will give up all carbohydrates for a month. Setting realistic goals and working through the pathways to get there is how to take the shame out of having to start over because realistic goals do not require a huge overhaul of your day to day.
When you set realistic goals there are only micro failures that require tweaking to stay on your path. Example time. Steve wants to cut back on his candy consumption. He normally has three candy bars a day and has been having three candy bars a day for the past several years. A realistic goal for Steve is to cut the candy bars in half and have three halves a day. An unrealistic goal would be for Steve to cut them out completely. He would give in on a bad day and then feel shame and frustration about starting over from day one. How many start over days before Steve gives up completely?
With the realistic goal of cutting the candy bars in half there will be less starting over and more dialing in how to achieve that goal of steadily cutting back to one a week in a year. Giving up half of the candy bars is uncomfortable but realistic. If you set an out-of-reach or delusional goal, shame starts a regular visitation on your schedule. Perfection is not attainable. Setting realistic goals is a skill and a prerequisite for hope.
When we don’t have the skill of setting realistic goals, disappointment and failure can grow into hopelessness and despair. If we didn’t learn hope or realistic goal setting from our parents or home environment, we can still learn it as adults, but it’s going to require skilled help and support- a therapist or maybe even a coach.
Take a minute to imagine and think, “what would I feel like if I got my desired results? What are the thoughts I would have? What are the emotions I would have?” Maybe it could be that you feel confident that you can make it through the day on three halves of a candy bar instead of three candy bars. Changing your outlook and emotions throughout the day could allow the results you have been wanting to flow.
Get Deliberate: Pick your goal that you have been thinking about or pursuing. If you are concerned that the goal is too much to bite off, ask a friend if they think it is reasonable. If you hesitate or they hesitate, it is too much and needs to be dropped back to something you will be able to achieve and feel the accomplishment from a personal win. If you are having a hard time coming up with a realistic goal or way to get there, chat with a Nutritionist, Physical Therapist, or Counselor. A coach can also be great but make sure they have training that is more than just a few weekend courses. Get your advice from someone who spent their time digging deep into their learning so they can help others. Check out this article for help on creating realistic goals from my previous posts.
Get Inspired: The next step is to visualize the result you want. Use that result as a beacon to drive your thoughts and emotion so you can push your ship towards the harbor where you land your desired result. There is no limit to amazing stories out there. One group that is always great about showing life-change stories is the CrossFit community. They highlight people who are steadily in the pursuit of goals. Don’t look to shows like “The Biggest Loser” There is a reason why that show didn’t have reunion shows. It is because no one learned lifelong skills. They just did crazy stuff for a few months but didn’t look at how to change their results once they left the show.
Get Going: You imagined your results. You have confidence. You have your goal. You have broken it down into a realistic way to get there. Now find someone to check in with weekly to say, “I did great this week” or “I really struggled this week.” That person should help you stay accountable to yourself and help you tease out if your goal needs tweaking.