I was asked the other day to respond to a post to a community of people whom have lost their jobs. The question was "How does one keep their spirits high?" throughout this challenging time of continual failed attempts to become re-employed. In such circumstances, high levels of hope are key to being able to prevent learned helplessness – the belief that 'no matter what I do, I am powerless to changing my circumstance'.
I have recently graduated with a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology where I studied with Martin Seligman who devised the original theory of learned helplessness. He concluded, from research, that when faced with continual failed attempts we (people and animals) learn to believe that regardless of the attempt they would not succeed. As a result, we learn to give-up and no longer try. 50 years after his theory was published, with the help of neuroscience, it has been discovered that learned helplessness is our brains default response to give up. Most excitingly, they have discovered another circuit pathway in our brain that has the ability to inhibit the learned helplessness (giving up) response. Martin Seligman has termed this neurological pathway the HOPE CIRCUIT. The hope circuit is a new area of research and thus science has not yet provided neurologically studied interventions to activate the hope network in the brain, but there are interventions which have been scientifically shown to increase people's self-reported hope levels.
A little bit about hope. Hope theory is founded on the principle that "human behaviour is goal directed". It is conceived as a positive motivational state based on one's perceived ability to think up multiple pathways or routes connecting the present to our imagined future self or circumstances, along with a belief that we are capable to follow those routes to attain a desired goal. The belief that 'I can do this' is fundamental to all goal pursuits as it motivates us to try out the possible pathways and consider alternate pathways along the way.
Measuring Hope: A simple scale is used to measure an individual's perception of both Agency and Pathways. Follow this link to download and assess your current hope levels: https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/resources/questionnaires-researchers/adult-hope-scale
Ways to Increase Hope: Try the following exercises as a way to increase your hope and keep your spirits high during a period of unplanned unemployment.
Try to get specific: what will you be doing, whom will you be doing it with, where will you be doing it, how will you feel emotionally, and most importantly – what specific steps did you take to get to where you are at?
Once together set the stage as though you are already 6 months in the future and you have gathered with the purpose of catching up on each other's progress over the past 6 months. One by one share your stories with each other as though it has already happened. Be sure to ask your community members questions to help them imagine and envision this future state for themselves – heck jump into their stories "right! I remember the day you got that job at (company) – you called me so excited to have found a role that brings you such meaning – and I brought over chocolate and wine to celebrate with you! What a great day that was!"
ie. Attend a public information session by Company ABC
Obstacle 1: I will go, but won't talk to anyone
Obstacle 2: I won't feel motivated enough to attend
Overcoming Obstacle 1
Attend with a friend who is a successful networker who will help encourage and motivate me to connect with new people
In advance, write a list of possible questions or lines that I could use to start up a conversation with a stranger
Take-off the pressure. Give myself another reason to strike up conversation with others. Ie. Curiosity about learning more about the info session cause or product. Pick one pathway and verbally commit out loud to the hope community specifying when you will complete the action and what you will do to overcome your obstacles.
Remember – feeling low helpless, or hopeless is the natural response after being laid-off AND we are capable of increasing our hope and overcoming these feelings such that we can continue our search and successfully land a job!
Darrah Wolfe- Life Coach & Postitive Psychology Practioner