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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

10 Things to Do If You’re Feeling Hopeless About Your Future

10 Things to Do If You’re Feeling Hopeless About Your Future

Whether you’re a mother who wants the best for her children, a hard worker waiting for your promotion, or someone dealing with a personal tragedy such as a job loss, divorce, or losing a loved one, when we are feeling hopeless, we all need to dig deep through these challenges.

However, hope can only be accessed once we get out of our heads and quit over-rationalizing. We need to be truly convinced that better things are in store for us. Even if things may not seem to be going right in the present, we need to believe that there’s a bigger plan that we cannot yet see.

These 10 steps will inspire you and give you the boost of hope that you need to keep going when you’re feeling hopeless about the future.

1. Take a Step Back to Regroup and Honor Your Feelings

If you’re overwhelmed by your emotions, and if the feelings of insecurity are plaguing your mind, it’s a sign that you need to step back and engage in some serious self-care.

Go for a walk, speak with a friend, take a mini-vacation, listen to music, meditate, or journal. Do anything that helps you return to center and balance.

Acknowledge and reward yourself for each milestone you reach, no matter how small. Every step you take matters and will bring you closer to your dreams.

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Focus on the now by taking conscious, deep breaths and appreciating all that’s in your present moment.

2. Revisit Your Vision and Goals

If you’ve hit a wall, it would be beneficial to revisit your goals and vision. Take note of the exact goals that you have laid out and remind yourself what inspired you to create them in the first place.

For example, if you want to lose 10 pounds, was it because your doctor recommended it or because you want to get healthier?

The key is to set goals that you’re fired up about and that you’re willing to commit to. Your goals need to be connected to an overarching vision that will galvanize you to overcome any obstacle.

Create a vision board, or write a descriptive and vivid account of what you would like to achieve.

3. Manage Your Expectations

Another possible reason that you’re losing motivation and feeling hopeless is that your expectations are too high. Often, our biggest disappointments occur from having unrealistic expectations. “Unrealistic” doesn’t always mean that you can’t achieve your goals, but that you may need more time or resources to actualize it.

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For example, when opening a new store, instead of hoping to make 10K, focus on breaking even and perfecting your system of operations. Set positive and specific goals that feel manageable, especially in the beginning stages. Setting healthy expectations that are easy to reach will encourage you to keep going.

4. Have a Contingency Plan (Plan B)

There’s always a chance that your plans won’t work out as you hoped they would. I know that it’s hard to accept failure as a possibility without getting dejected, especially if it’s important to you. But I’ve always found that having an alternative plan keeps failure in perspective[1].

Plan B is like a safety net, there to catch you in case you lose your grip. In creating a Plan B, it’s essential to assess what went wrong in your previous plan. What could you have done differently? What are the lessons from the experience that can equip you with the knowledge to get it right the next time around? Ask friends, mentors, and coaches for candid feedback to supplement your own insights.

Let a solid Plan B comfort you in knowing that failure is not the end of the road but merely a bend that’s leading you somewhere else.

5. Find Sources of Positive Reinforcement

Hope is like a candle flame that can burn out without constant positive reinforcement. We need reminders to stimulate us with hope about the future. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to be inspired, such as acknowledging our small successes along the way and remembering the times when we were able to overcome obstacles.

You can also find inspiration in books, music, movies, affirmation, and other people’s stories. I also love being in the presence of young children who radiate optimism. Find your own unique sources of motivation that work for you.

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6. Have a Strong Circle of Support

As social beings, we benefit tremendously from having support from a community of people that matter to us when we are feeling hopeless. Friends and family members are the primary lifeline for most of us, but we can also extend our network to include a trusted group of mentors, coaches, counselors, or a support group who are open to hearing our story and who believe in the vision that we have for our life.

Whenever we’re down and out, these are the people who can be a source of comfort and help us get back in the game.

7. Stay in Touch with Your Vision

It’s easier to feel hopeful when we’re guided by a strong vision for our future. That’s why it’s essential to clarify your vision.

Goal-setting, vision boards, and visualization are a couple of techniques that can give shape to our dreams. By committing to these practices, our vision will become more tangible and within our reach.

Touching base with our goals will make them feel real and give us a focal point towards which we can direct all of our energy.

8. Stay Well-Informed and Be Proactive

Without knowledge and action, hope is just psychological fluff. Hope should propel us to seek out more information about what we desire and take directed steps towards realizing it.

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Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and it gives us the capacity to make more mindful choices. It strengthens our belief that we have what it takes to influence outcomes and to consciously move forward.

9. Stay Focused on the Present Moment

Hope has a future orientation and can, therefore, direct our thoughts away from the present. It’s essential that you don’t spend too much time planning for the future as this can lead to feeling hopeless.

Even though we want things to get better, we have to make peace with where we are in our current lives. This quiet acceptance will give us inner peace and prevent us from becoming overly attached to future outcomes.

The truth is that the present moment is all we’ll ever have, and we should make every effort to capture its beauty and its essence as we go through it.

10. Practice Gratitude

Gratitude generates a feeling of warmth and abundance. Based on the Law of Attraction[2], the more appreciative that you are for all that you have, material or otherwise, the more you’re likely to attract tgood things to you.

So, the next time you’re feeling down about the future, take a deep breath and think of all the wonderful things and people around you. You’ll feel an instant shift in how you see your life when you see how many things in your life you can be grateful for. You can maintain a gratitude journal or think of a few things you’re thankful on a daily basis.

The Bottom Line

The next time you feel hopeless while waiting for things to happen in your life, remember that life is ultimately about the journey and not the destination. Hold your dreams close to your heart, work steadily towards them, but don’t forget to look around you and appreciate the gift of being alive on this beautiful planet.

More Tips to Help When You’re Feeling Hopeless

Featured photo credit: Jurica Koletić via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Which Is More Effective?

Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Which Is More Effective?

It has been said that rarely am I short of words, and yet I’ve rewritten this article on positive and negative reinforcement five times. Why?

It’s not as if I have a lack of thoughts on this subject. It’s not as if I don’t spend my days enabling people to communicate powerfully and get what they want in life. So why the rewrites?

I’ve found myself thinking about the diversity of people I’ve coached and how different we all can be. Usually when I write for Lifehack, I’m able to see instant commonality in the subject that means I could share some ideas that would resonate wherever you are in life, whoever you are, regardless of what you were looking to achieve or what adversity you may be facing.

However, with this, it’s a “How long’s a piece of string?” answer, i.e. I could probably write a whole book’s worth of words and still have ideas to share.

Let’s look at some key points:

  • You will have times in your life where you need to get someone to do something.
  • You will have times when someone needs you to do something.

Let’s look at how positive and negative reinforcement would work. In both of these situations, you can face some big obstacles:

  • Someone may resist your desire for them to change.
  • Someone may challenge your authority or leadership.
  • Someone may be at risk of getting hurt.

The important thing to remember is that, in life, we all have to be influenced and influence those around us, and some ways will help us get the result we want, and others won’t. However, that may differ on where you are, who you are talking to, and what you want to see happen!

So, how do we know when positive reinforcement is effective[1], and can there ever be a time when negative reinforcement is good?

Worryingly, if you get positive and negative reinforcement wrong, you can risk your career, your business, your relationships, your reputation, and your brand.

Positive and negative reinforcement each have their merits, so it’s imperative to know when to employ them. Interestingly, despite a ton of evidence to the contrary, we still rely on the wrongs ones in society, business, and even in parenting.

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The 4 examples below showcase the use of positive and negative reinforcement, and whether they personally apply to you right now or not, they will resonate and be very useful to you personally in every area of your life.

For each we will look at:

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. What have you tried?
  3. Now what?
  4. The results!

The Boss

Okay, you may not be a boss, but everyone will have times in their life where they need to get people organized and working together to get the best result. Often, leaders say things like this to me:

  • “I’ve told them until I’m blue in the face not to do that!”
  • “They constantly refuse to use the new system.”
  • “They just don’t listen.”
  • “They don’t respect me.”

What Did the Boss Try?

Often, I hear “We’ve tried everything!” No matter who is reading this, trust me, you’ve not tried everything. (That’s the first thing to accept.) When you accept that, you then need to look at what you have tried to move forward.

The boss has tried:

  • Giving the person training.
  • Spending time with them and showing them how to do it.
  • Telling them it wasn’t good enough.
  • Telling them we aren’t doing that any more.

Now What?

The above situations create tension between the two as you constantly battle to maintain your position on the situation. If you are looking to get someone to do something, and they constantly resist, you need to stop and ask yourself some questions:

  1. What have we tried? This helps you to understand what they are good at, so you can utilize that in the conversation.
  2. From their viewpoint, what could prevent them from doing what I’ve asked? What could they fear, and how will we allay those fears?
  3. What do they want? Seeing their viewpoint enables you to use their terminology and language so they feel listened to.
  4. What do they believe? Do their beliefs prevent them from seeing the benefits? Beliefs can be changed but not by force—coaching is very powerful for this.
  5. How do these answers differ from my beliefs and views? Bridging the gap helps you to see both views and communicate more powerfully.

In my experience, rarely does a boss or leader need to say the word “No.” If someone is not doing what you want them to, the quickest way to see results is to ask questions and listen. Often, when you really listen, you discover a big gap between what you think you are saying and what the other person is hearing.

The reasons why someone is not doing what you want can include:

  • They don’t know how to do what you’ve asked them to do.
  • They are scared to get it wrong.
  • They fear what people will think of them.
  • They don’t have the confidence to come and tell you they need help.
  • They are scared that someone will tell them off.
  • They don’t understand where the boundaries are.

People tell me, “But I said that to them!” If you are too close to the situation, then how likely are they to take notice from you? Here’s what you can do:

  • Get out of your usual environment – Neutral environments make difficult conversations easier. They can take you both off your guard, which can be good.
  • Start by making that person feel safe to say anything. Start with ground rules like “This is a confidential conversation” and “I won’t make any judgement on what you say, I just want to understand.”
  • Be prepared to say “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t realize.” When you do this, positive and negative reinforcement can be used.

Learning how to coach people instead of tell people is key. Enabling the other person to see the benefits of what you want for them (and not you) is quicker than trying to dictate action.

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  • Lay out expected outcomes.
  • Create boundaries.
  • Explain what support and help you will provide.

The Results

This style of reinforcement is about utilizing both positive and negative reinforcement. It enables someone to feel safe to explain why they’ve not been taking action and helps them to overcome the limitations they feel while safe in the knowledge that they will get the support to change with the positive results explained in a way that matters to them.

The Young Child

If you’ve ever found yourself on the wrong end of a relentless tantrum of a small child, you will know it can feel impossible to get through to them. While many elements of The Boss scenario could work, there are times where you may need some negative reinforcement.

What’s the Problem?

My children are now 15 and 18. I can honestly say that, while we have had some challenging behaviors, our parenting means I have two children I’m very proud of–great communicators, great work ethic, kind, funny, considerate. The point is that, for my children, this stuff works. And, to be honest, when I’m with other people’s children, they often say “How did you get them to do that!”

Young children are amazing. It’s like they’ve just woken up in a new body and have been told to go touch, feel, experience everything–every emotion, every taste, smell, experience, texture, the lot! They are curious and keen to know more. They sap up everything, and a lot of that we don’t want them sapping up!

When they go to put a pencil in an electric socket, or let go of your hand as you cross the road, it’s imperative they get the learning and knowledge they need fast. I once was talking to a parent that said I was wrong to say no to my children. I asked, “At what age would you like me to introduce them to that word?” to which they had no answer.

While I agree that there are usually a lot more words than just no for children, “no” is a word that kept you and I safe when we were small.

What Have You Tried?

While young children are incredibly intelligent, explaining the merits of your preferred course of action is not going to keep them safe. Tying them to your waist isn’t working. Punishing them and telling them there’s no more park time until you walk next to me doesn’t work either. So how do you say no and keep them safe?

Now What?

Sometimes negative reinforcement is essential[2]. For instance, my son (who adored Bob the Builder when he was little) was playing with his plastic tool kit and discovered an electric socket…I didn’t stop to explain the merits of how that could be dangerous. I said calmly, “No, that’s dangerous!”

Here’s the important point: It’s not just about your words. With young children, it’s important that your body language clearly says the same.

The Results

I did feel like the luckiest parent on the planet to have two children sleeping through the night, but that didn’t tell the full story. I can remember spending a few weeks calmly picking my daughter up with no eye contact, no overly big hug, no conversation, just saying, “Sorry darling but now’s bedtime, so back we go.” And yes, being the strong-willed girl that she is, there was sometimes a good hour of that until she got the message that Mum really isn’t going to play, turn into a dinosaur, sing, or read a story.

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The thing with positive and negative reinforcement is that you need to have faith it will work, and you are doing the right thing.

Of course, when I went in to get her from her cot the next morning, I had a big grin on my face that said, “Wow, what a grown up girl you are staying in your bed all night!” I used positive reinforcement to get the day started.

The Teenager

What’s the Problem?

If I’m honest, I don’t have problems with my teenagers. However, I think that is in no small part to my style of communication. Having respect for them is key, and appreciating how much change is happening in their lives really helps–as someone who helps large teams of people deal with change, I know how hard it can be.

However, when I wrote the article How to Enjoy Parenting Teens and Help Your Kids Thrive, I was inundated with stories of hellish behavior from other parent’s teenagers, tales of staying out all night and not phoning home, abusive behavior towards parents and teens–I really felt for all involved.

What Have You Tried?

The problem with teens is they know exactly how to wind you up like a little clock-work toy. And if you’ve had a tough day, the last thing you want is to have to deal with someone who can’t even communicate with words, let alone put their dishes in the dishwasher.

Losing it is never the option, but it can easily happen. Shouting, bribery, and doing it yourself because it’s just easier really don’t work in the long run.

Now What?

If you consider everything we’ve covered, you can see that you need to communicate using positive and negative reinforcement. In life, there are consequences to all actions, and teens have a ton of stuff to learn to become effective, successful, happy adults.

Before you embark on any course of action, consider how the other person perceives the world. What are they going through?

You may have loved being a teen, but that doesn’t ensure your children will. Likewise, in life, there are things you love that others will loathe–seeing the world through other people’s eyes really helps you to understand the best way to communicate.

The only big difference for teenagers is to use emotion with caution. I personally let my children see all emotions–I’ve not hidden my tears when I’ve lost a loved one as it’s a perfectly normal thing to do. However, if a teenager in a foul mood can spot a weakness, they may just take advantage of it.

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The Results

My kids love to tell everyone I’m a scary mom. I’m not, I just have high standards, and I’m not prepared to drop them.

We shy away from telling people what we expect and then wonder why we are getting as stressed as the other party because no one knows where they stand.

I’m happy for my children to take over the TV room and eat far too much sweet stuff and binge on a box set. Just don’t put cups on the carpet, we have places for drinks. It’s having the confidence to say this is the rule.

People think negative reinforcement is a bad thing. However, how can someone change if they don’t know what they are doing wrong? And that’s the issue: so many of us are fearful of saying “Stop doing that!” If you lack confidence, find your voice because people aren’t mind-readers.

Final Thoughts

Before you start considering whether positive or negative reinforcement is best for others, ask yourself what you respond better to.

Personally, I respond far better to negative reinforcement–I can improve and be more successful and happier if I know what I’m doing wrong. Furthermore, I know that sometimes negative reinforcement works better with some clients who really don’t want to look at the issue–but it’s always done with respect and love.

Coaching people is also a great representation of when positive and negative reinforcement is best. We are looking to find ways to increase the positive action with positive reinforcement and ways to reduce the negative results with negative reinforcement–and usually my clients keep those changes for the rest of their lives.

More on Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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