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How To Stay Hopeful Through Chronic Overwhelm?

It makes sense that you worry about the people you care about, the places you love, and/or the experiences you hope to enjoy. In many ways, it's easier to focus on the overwhelming because it's very much a part of reality *and* it's easily consumed in a ten minute scroll. Though counter-intuitive, it's harder to check in with what's good, hopeful, powerful, beautiful, or magical. A lot of it is not sexy or thrilling, which makes it easy to miss.


In fact, some of the most hope-filled ingredients that break the cycle of chronic overwhelm can be found in 'mundane' places, experiences, and relationships. A lot of the most meaningful relationships are cultivated in every day moments in the midst of whispered dreams and easy laughter with trusted ones. Lots of the places people hold dear are every day places like someone's kitchen, a coffee shop, or a park. Yes, that includes beaches, mountains, and beautiful landscapes because they're someone's every day somewhere. A lot of the experiences that shape a person take place during a song that reminds you of a moment in time, a book that speaks to your core, a milestone achieved after many steps, or a business idea that makes your spine tingle. While most of it isn't sexy, it's all vital.


Given that your nervous system exists to keep you safe, your default tends to be to register the most dreadful parts of every day life more fully to protect you from the real or perceived threat they pose. That makes the practice of honouring the complexity of reality at any given time a necessity. Why? Because chronic overwhelm has a stronger grip on you when you reduce all of reality to the most dreadful parts of it at the expense of *also* noticing the wonderful parts. Chronic overwhelm robs you of money, health, relationships, and purpose. Finding Door #3 where the dreadful and the wonderful can coexist is what will allow you, yours, and your nervous system to reduce uncertainty and eventually break the chronic overwhelm cycle. How? By teaching your nervous system that the discomfort of uncertainty is not physiologically dangerous, which is easier to do when hope can *also* be found. As a leader, you have 3 doors available to you to make this happen: Door #1: debilitating cynicism and nihilism convince you that none of it matters. Part of you will likely convince you of this to protect you from the reality that, no matter how hard you try, you efforts still fall short. There will always be more suffering and more work to do. That part of you sees, hears, and understands *part* of the truth.

Door #2: denial and toxic positivity have you wishing "love and light" to shut down conversations instead of starting them. Part of you will likely convince you that everyone, yourself included, is better off focusing on the silver linings rather than all the horrible things that you can't do anything about. There will always be something that breaks your heart. So, you might as well drown the heartbreak by forcing yourself not to 'wallow' in it. Part of you see, hears, and understands another *part* of the truth.

Door #3: you come back to what Thich Nhat Hanh explained when saying that "Life is both dreadful and wonderful." This is the door I consistently invite you to get curious about and do your best to find. This door invites you to come back to a core skill: practice. In this case, practice recognizing different parts of the truth and holding the duality of reality being *both* wonderful *and* dreadful. If that's the practice, then what's the tool? Oh, you know, the usual favourite: "yes... and..." This tool can help different parts of you to *also* hold the wonderful without freezing in the midst of the dreadful. How does that change anything in any meaningful way, though? It. Keeps. You. Going. And. Showing. Up. Why? It helps you to keep track of hope. Hope then keeps you from panicking in the hopelessness of nihilism or freezing in the denial of toxic positivity. The more you practice noticing the duality of any given situation, the more your nervous system can understand that complexity does not represent a physiological threat. When the positive input of hope is also present, you give yourself an anchor through chronic overwhelm, change, challenge, and opportunity.


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