2020, has been the year of the Pandemic. Depression is up, suicide is up, domestic violence is up, crime is up, poverty is up, unemployment is up. Hopelessness is up.
When we talk about Hopelessness, we explain it in seven levels, referring it to our individual, group, and organizational effectiveness. To know where we are going, and where we want to be, we must identify what level we are experiencing in the present, starting with the first stage, Hopelessness.
Before we discuss hopelessness and overcoming it, let’s first explain the seven levels of individual, group, and organizational effectiveness.
The Seven Levels of Individual, Group, and Organizational Effectiveness
The Seven Levels of Individual, Group, and Organizational Effectiveness is an excellent framework for assessing where we are at in our personal and professional development journey. This model was created by BeAbove, a neuroscience training and certification academy, and gives curious minds a complete body of work that helps leaders understand how the brain responds to stress and how stress impacts individual, group, and organizational performance.
The thematic premise of the 7 Levels is a barometer that gives insights into how people work, think, and behave when they are operating above and below the power and freedom line.
The 7 levels are:
Synchronicity, Innovation, Engagement and Courage are above the line energies and continue to expand and gain momentum as the person or group moves higher up the levels. On the contrary, effectiveness wanes and success becomes more elusive as a person or a group falls below the power and freedom line.
Level 7: Synchronicity
The highest level of effectiveness is the energy state of Synchronicity. When a team is operating in sync with one another, things just work. Completion of one project cascades results to many other projects, creating momentum in the organization.
Level 6: Innovation
Below that is the level of Innovation. Teams and individuals operating at the level of innovation set aside their ego and personal agenda for the betterment of what can happen. The possibilities for collaboration, invention and organizational improvement are endless when teams possess and emulate the energy of innovation.
Level 5: Engagement
Just below innovation is Engagement. A team in engagement is the team every CEO wants in their organization. This level is present when high performance teamwork is happening, when members of the team accept each other’s differences and actually seek out new opinions and perspectives. A team operating at the level of engagement need not worry about diversity or inclusion because it is already the foundation of the engagement energy.
Level 4: Courage
Courage is the lowest level of the above the line energies. In courage an individual, group or a team has hope of a better future, often despite any evidence that a positive future can be attained. In the energy of courage, there is risk-taking, determination, and a stepping forward into action. The energy begins to expand in a positive direction.
As the above the line energies expand and build off of one another, the below the line energies narrow the focus to what is not working, and what is wrong. As the individual, group or organization takes on the energy of these below the line levels, Frustration, Fear and Hopelessness effectiveness is greatly constrained.
Level 3: Frustration
At the level of Frustration, anger, and annoyance with self and others is paramount. At the forefront is feeling the need to resist, push back, argue or fight against, not with others.
Level 2: Fear
In the level of Fear the focus is on protecting oneself from almost certain loss or attack. The walls are up in fear and the focus becomes more and more narrow. The world becomes very small when a team or a person is operating at the level of Fear.
Level 1: Hopelessness
The lowest level of personal, group, or organizational effectiveness is in the energy of Hopelessness. When in hopelessness, there is simply no hope. One has given up.
For this article, we will be focusing on the first level of all seven, Hopelessness.
What is Hopelessness?
Hopelessness is the energy a person experiences when they have a core belief that they just can no longer move forward in an area of life that at one point in time was very important to them.
When a person is experiencing the energy of hopelessness, every conversation, person, place, or thing is taken in through the senses inside the perception of hopelessness. When we are operating from an energy of Hopelessness, we are operating at our lowest level of effectiveness. The way we think, feel, see, and hear is shaped through this lens.
In the energy of hopelessness, shame, and dispiritedness are the overriding sentiments, hence suffocating any possibility of things getting better. Dr. David Hawkins, author of ‘Power vs. Force’ documents the energy of hopelessness is so debilitating that people only experience happiness 1-5% of the time.
How does Hopelessness Impact Our Performance and Satisfaction in Life?
When in the energy of Hopelessness, people primarily withdraw or shut down, this happens because of a conditioned response to stress, triggered by a small almond-shaped organ in the brain’s limbic system, called the Amygdala.
Daniel Goleman of Emotional Intelligence first labeled this response as an “Amygdala Hijack.”
When the brain perceives something as a threat, it signals the body to produce adrenaline and cortisol– chemicals involved in the fight, flight, or freeze response. This flood of chemicals makes the Executive brain less effective and less focused.
As Hopelessness is more dominantly right brain, this response is reflected through disorganized, chaotic emotions and if not acknowledged and addressed, over time could turn into depression.
When employees are treading the hopelessness waters on a daily basis, even the slightest letdown or curveball can trigger even a deeper level of dismay, causing a spiral down effect. The impact of the downward spiral on decision making, stress management, and wellness can be devastating.
How COVID-19 is Heightening Hopelessness
The reason COVID-19 has led to a cascade of hopelessness and breakdowns throughout society is that the brains of our fellow human beings are looking for some element of certainty and that has been virtually impossible during the Pandemic.
The brain seeks continuity in terms of connection with other human beings, the certainty of day-to-day happenings, and recalibration from stress. With continually changing responses, policies, reactions to COVID-19, and no standard way to navigate; people’s brains are spinning out.
The brain needs a certain amount of dopamine to feel at ease. Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter. Your body makes it, and your nervous system uses it to send messages between nerve cells that help our brain and body calm down. When stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol are flooding into our highest level of thinking, there is no room for dopamine to calm us down.
When we cannot calm ourselves down; it is very, very difficult to remain grounded, centered, and present. When experiencing the energy of hopelessness, we never make our best decisions.
How I’ve Coped with Hopelessness
When I was younger, if I was experiencing the energy of hopelessness, it was hidden from my view. My younger self was so afraid of failing that admitting I was hopeless about any situation, person, or even myself, would have been accepting defeat.
As I reflect on my twenties, thirties, and most of my forties; I realize the more distress I experienced the harder I pushed for success. While hard work has certainly paid off in my life; it has come at a tremendous cost. I suffered much more than I had to.
My inability to acknowledge my hopeless energy around the challenges I faced had me cope with stress in my typical programmatic manner. Work harder and faster. The harder and faster I worked, the more I stepped over the things that simply did not work that were the root cause of my hopelessness.
Ignoring Hopelessness Won’t Help
Ignoring my feelings and experiences did not make them go away. Those feelings and experiences lingered much longer than they had to and manifested as much bigger problems that I later needed to resolve. The last 10 years of my personal development and spiritual journey has taught me that darkness has its teachings.
When I feel hopeless it is time to sit still, breathe, and process where the hopelessness is coming from and how the energy of hopelessness is showing up in my body. When I stay present to my emotions and breathe through them, the hold they have on me dissipates.
Unfortunately, my experience of stepping over my hopeless energy is all too common. Most people don’t even realize that they’re stuck in the energy of hopelessness because they unconsciously, automatically deploy their coping mechanism to aid them in dealing with any dis-ease they may feel. Whether it is grabbing for the bag of chips, binging on Netflix, isolating from friends and family, retail therapy, or digging into work-a-holism; none of our unconscious avoidance enables us to be our best.
How Do We Navigate through Hopelessness?
With regards to dealing with and overcoming the energy of Hopelessness, it is important to understand how the conditions for hopelessness metastasize. Our body has a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and together these systems work to regulate the body’s response to stress.
The sympathetic nervous system directs the body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. A flash flood of hormones boosts the body’s alertness and heart rate, sending extra blood to the muscles.
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body’s rest and digestion response when the body is relaxed, resting, or feeding. It undoes the work of the sympathetic system after a stressful situation. The parasympathetic nervous system decreases respiration and heart rate and increases digestion. The brain seeks patterns to operate from (regimen, routine, structure) and when the pattern is nonexistent or is disrupted, the brain reacts by looking for something to ‘hold on to’.
The best method for responsibly dealing with the energy of hopelessness is to do something different. Identify an early warning signal that alerts you of the hopeless energy that is taking hold of you.
Change the Scene of Hopelessness to one of Hope and Courage.
The energy of being in a state of Courage is powerful enough to shift a perspective from “there is no way out” to “I am getting out and I will find a way.”
As soon as you realize you are stuck in hopeless energy, it is vital that you change your scene. Whether you:
take a timeout
forgo your attendance at a meeting
ask for a few minutes to get your thoughts together
take some deep breaths and shift your perspective
move your body and change your state
Just like learned helplessness is a result of the same behavior repeated over and over again– thus creating a neural pathway of “I can’t in the brain”– repetitive thoughts of being stuck where you are with no way out, creates a pattern of thinking in the brain.
The power of Courage is that it, (even the declaration of it), will be different. It changes the thought patterns.
When we make a choice to move forward, even with a small step in a positive direction, the act of stepping forward physically and emotionally has our brain release positive impact chemicals into our system. When the shift happens, as human beings we simply feel better, are able to see alternatives and possess the fundamental ability to believe in a new possibility. Courage and Hope are symbiotic energies, critical for altering one’s state of mind.
Living a Life of Hope and Courage With These 5 Steps
Following the 5-step process for shifting works as a system for moving from hopelessness to hopefulness.
Acknowledge where you are at without making yourself wrong. Just notice where you are at and have compassion for yourself and your emotional state. By simply naming the emotion, the parasympathetic nervous system comes on line and calms the sympathetic nervous system down.
Use the 6-count breath process to ground yourself and get present to the truth about what is. Often our emotions run rampant and make matters seem worse than they really are, we overdramatize and spin ourselves out. Using the 6-count breath calms us down, so we can objectively experience the difference between what is real and what is our perception of what is real.
When we take time to breathe from our belly, and count 6 counts on the inhale and 6 counts on the exhale, and do that 6 times, we find ourselves at home in our body and we remember what homeostasis feels like. The deep breathing sends messages to the tend and befriend part of your brain and allows the Executive Brain to open the aperture of our sight and perception and see things more clearly.
As hopelessness is a right hemisphere below the line emotion, once grounded and at home with the level of hopelessness you are experiencing; it is helpful to look to the left hemisphere for a guidepost that can empower you to get out of the hopeless state and stay there indefinitely. Some empowering left hemisphere behaviors might be making a list of things that are working, categorizing possible solutions, creating a step-by-step action plan, designing a ritual that allows you to ground yourself daily.
Remind yourself of, or create your core values. Identify and get connected to what is important to you and what your purpose/passion is. If you proactively do this before hopelessness sets in, it serves as your compass to help you navigate through rough waters when they arise.
Get your body moving. The movement of your body sends energy throughout your cells and mixes up the energy. If you can get outside in nature and take in the smells, sights, and sounds, it will give you a new perspective. This new perspective allows your parasympathetic nervous system to do its work and calm your nerves.
Now that you are in a new space, call a friend, share what is happening for you and what you saw when you took time to pay attention and shift your mindset. With a friend or in a journal, create a plan of action, a daily ritual that nurtures your mental health and well being. Triggers happen, hopelessness happens and when it does, you will be one step ahead because you took the time to proactively condition yourself for the tough times.
Find Hope Again
In summary, all human beings experience hopelessness at one time or another.
The feelings come and go for all of us. The degree to which we recognize the feelings and energy of hopelessness and train ourselves to process the emotions of this below the line energy will determine how long we suffer through it.
Our effectiveness, happiness, and well-being in life are a direct correlation to the level of consciousness we allow our Self to operate from. A higher level of awareness about our feelings, emotions, and reactions to the things in life we find challenging gives us the empowerment to choose, create, and respond to life from free will.
Free will equates to power.