Restoring Hope

March 7th, 2012 by Steve Pavlina

Lacking clarity about what you want to experience in life is a common problem. Another problem is having a reasonable sense of what you desire but feeling blocked in moving forward. With either of these problems, you may experience a feeling of stuckness, sometimes even hopelessness.

One of the main causes of this stuckness is tolerating too much of what you don’t want in your life. One reason this happens is that your standards for what you wish to experience may have risen, but you haven’t followed up with enough action to ensure that the various parts of your life meet these new standards.

The solution is fairly simple, but it can be difficult to put into practice because it usually requires some courage. That solution is to actively say no to what you don’t want in your life, to release it and let it go. This clears out the clutter, so you can invite and experience more of what you desire. Unfortunately in stuck situations, people often do the opposite. They cling even more tightly to what they have, even though it isn’t what they really want.

Jobs and relationships are typical sources of stuckness, so let’s focus on those. If you feel stuck in a different area of your life, you can apply these same concepts to that area.

A Quick Evaluation

For each area of your life where you feel a little (or a lot) stuck, give it a quick rating on a scale of 1-10. A 1 means that you absolutely don’t like this, and a 10 means that you love it as-is.

If you rate some part of your life an 8, 9, or 10, then I’d say it’s a keeper. This part of your life is meeting your standards, and you’d probably feel worse if you dropped it.

If some part rates as a 1, 2, or 3, it’s usually a no-brainer to drop it. You’ll feel relieved when you do. It may not be easy, but you haven’t got much to lose by letting it go. You’ll let go of some unnecessary stress, and continuing to tolerate it would be bad for your health anyway. As I shared in my last newsletter, each year of high stress that you endure can cause you to age by the equivalent of up to 6 years.

The tricky parts are in the 4-7 range, especially those 6s and 7s, so let’s discuss how to handle them. For the sake of simplicity, let’s refer to that whole middle range as a 7.

The Dreaded 7

A 7 by itself means you’re getting some of what you want, but you’re still not experiencing what you desire. It’s okay, certainly not horrible, but it’s not truly fulfilling either. If you settle for that 7, you’ll be leaving some significant desires unfulfilled in this area.

A 7 might be a career path with work you semi-enjoy, but it’s not the best fit for your talents. Or it can be work you love, but it doesn’t generate enough income to pay the bills.

A 7 might be a relationship with someone you love and respect, but your sex life is dead, and you crave a more passionate connection. Or maybe you’re very close to someone you enjoy spending time with, but their lack of ambition leaves you feeling frustrated.

A 7 means you haven’t tipped onto the fulfillment side yet. There may be a lot of good stuff there, but something that’s pretty important to you is still missing — like a decent income, a passionate connection, or a healthy ambition.

With an 8, 9, or 10, you’ve got the truly important items down. What’s missing is something that would be nice to have but certainly not essential. You’ve already tipped onto the fulfillment side.

A 7 really isn’t good enough since you know those 8s, 9s, and 10s are still out there. It’s not an inhuman task to achieve at least an 8. Those 7s may be in the ballpark, but they aren’t in the right section of the ballpark.

If that 7 is trending downwards, it means that this part of your life is getting worse. As you decline in this area, it will get harder to keep tolerating that 7. One thing that can create a downward trend is if your 7 is a stagnant part of your life, such as a dead-end job that’s the same every year. As you learn and grow, it will feel less tolerable to you.

If that 7 happens to be trending upwards, then this part of your life is improving. If you wait a bit, it may eventually become an 8, 9, or 10.

But if that 7 is likely to remain a 7, then it’s generally best to let it go.

Why 7s Are Stressful

You can hold onto that 7 until you spot an 8, 9, or 10, and then try to trade up. Many people do this, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes clinging to that 7 makes it difficult or impossible to spot an 8, 9, or 10. This is especially true with jobs and relationships. If someone sees you in a 7 job, they’ll often assume you’re a 7 worker, and people don’t usually offer 8+ jobs to the 7 types. You’ll be glossed over, lumped in with the crowd you associate with. And it’s easy enough to see how a 7 relationship can repel more compatible prospects too; you’ve made yourself less available.

What many people don’t recognize is that long-term 7s are often stressful. Stress is largely caused by feeling that your life is out of your control. The dissatisfaction of tolerating what you don’t want reinforces that you’re not in control and increases your stress levels, which can cause health problems and shorten your lifespan.

If you can transform a 7 into an 8, 9, or 10, then by all means do so. But if you can reasonably predict that your 7 isn’t realistically going to improve much, it’s wise to let it go and focus on landing an 8, 9, or 10. Otherwise if you cling to that 7, it will get in your way and block you from improving. Only stick with 7s when there is clear and realistic hope that they are improving into 8s, 9s, or 10s. This means that you’re seeing real signs of progress. When this happens, others will often notice that you’re making progress too, and they’ll comment on it. “You’ve lost weight.” “You seem so much happier than when I saw you last.” “You’re a lot more productive this year.”

Letting Go

Many people assume it’s best to hold onto that 7 until something better is within easy reach, but this is usually an ineffective strategy. The fear is that if you let go of the 7, you may be stuck with something worse. And that often does happen. Upon dropping a 7, sometimes people fall into the realm of 1s, 2s, and 3s for a while. That isn’t a bad thing though. This contrast can be very motivating. A temporary backslide isn’t a reason to avoid dropping a 7 — it’s part of the path to an 8, 9, or 10.

Having a 7 can make you complacent. You can’t be so complacent with or 1, 2, or 3. You can’t convince yourself that everything is fine anymore. The truth is that your 7 was a miss, but you tried to convince yourself you had a partial hit. When you fall from a 7 to below a 4, you’re not really much worse off; you’re just more aware that you’re missing the mark.

A common experience after dumping a 7 is to recast it as a much lower number in retrospect, especially after experiencing what a 9 or 10 feels like. There’s a good chance that your future self would find your current rating of a 7 to be ridiculously optimistic. You may be settling for a 3 or 4 while trying to convince yourself it’s much better than it is. This happens because being stuck for a while tends to cause people to lower their standards. They get used to tolerating what they don’t want, so they give up on some of what they do want, labeling it as unrealistic or impossible. Instead of feeding their desires, they increase their tolerance for the undesirable. Of course this path doesn’t lead to fulfillment; it leads to apathy and helplessness.

Restoring Flow

Whenever I drop those 7s from my life, I usually feel relieved afterwards. Even if there’s nothing to replace a dropped 7 right away, I still feel good about it. One reason is that I’m letting go of stress. It’s stressful to keep wanting a 7 to become an 8, 9, or 10 and having it remain perpetually a 7. When I let go of the 7, I also release any attachment to forcing it to become something more than it could be.

Another benefit is that when I release a 7, I gain more appreciation for the 9s and 10s in my life. Each 7 drags me down a bit. A 7 is a disappointment. When I surrender that struggle, I remember how I created some of the 9s and 10s in my life — through a process of flow instead of force. By paying more attention to the 9s and 10s I already have, I get back in touch with that flow, and I remember what it’s like to flow towards my desires with grace and ease. The 7 struggle reminds me that I took a wrong turn somewhere, accidentally creating what I didn’t want.

Can Your 7 Become an 8, 9, or 10?

Last year I realized that my social life was falling into that 4-7 range. It was right around 7, but in retrospect I’d now assign it a 3. I had a lot of richness with so much online communication coming to me, but it also included a lot of what I didn’t want — the obligation of so much communication piling up, having to spend more time online just to keep up with everything, and being constantly targeted by spammy marketers who see me as a potential dollar sign.

I kept trying to tweak and force that 7 into something better. But eventually I asked myself if it would realistically ever become an 8, 9, or 10. I thought that with luck it could become an 8 someday, but it would clearly never become a 9 or 10. I saw there would always be a significant infusion of what I don’t want, partly because what I want is at odds with what others want.

Your Desires vs. Your Reality

I wanted to receive email from people I’m happy to connect with and no email whatsoever from Internet marketers who are fishing for promotional outlets. But many Internet marketers clearly want the opposite; whenever I have an open comm channel, they flood it.

I wanted to have a Facebook page with better admin tools, the ability to disable the inbox for private messages (I don’t need another inbox), and civil and interesting discussions, but Facebook can actually make more money by keeping their service less user-friendly. More hassle means more page views and more ad impressions, which means more money for Facebook. For the average user this hassle is tolerated. For me it eventually made the whole service not worth the effort.

I wanted to host discussion forums where people would have deep conversations about personal growth, holding themselves to standards of interaction much as they would when talking face to face. But many wanted to use the forums for a contrary purpose, such as posting spam or just messing with people.

These channels certainly provided some benefits. I met some great people. I participated in interesting discussions. I received new insights. Lots of growth oriented people were brought together. There was a lot of good there.

But these channels could only become 7s at best. They could provide some of what I wanted but not enough of it to make them truly fulfilling in the long run. They got close, but not close enough. If I settled for these channels, I’d be forever denying myself the experience of an 8, 9, or 10.

Learning From Disappointment

The benefit of experiencing a 7 is that it can give you more clarity about what an 8, 9, or 10 looks like. The disappointment of being almost fulfilled helps you get more clear about what you truly desire.

I’m disappointed that if I put a contact form on my website, lots of people send messages that are of zero interest to me. I’m disappointed that even if I post clear instructions for what’s okay to send and what isn’t, some people will always ignore them.

I’m disappointed that Facebook forced me to have an inbox if I have an account, which would invariably receive a lot of spam, and their fan page admin tools were among the buggiest I’ve encountered in a major online service. I’m disappointed they seem to put the growth of their user base and going public ahead of fixing known problems that have received hundreds of thousands of public complaints just on Facebook itself.

I’m disappointed that when I hosted public forums, some people would create accounts just to spam it, while others would make personal attacks against other members, get banned by a moderator, and then email me to complain about how they were unfairly singled out.

I don’t have any resentment towards the people involved. I chose these solutions in an attempt to fulfill certain desires. I still have those desires, and I’m not abandoning them. But I did find it necessary to abandon solutions that are never going to be truly fulfilling.

When I dropped these 7s from my life, I let go of a lot of benefits, but I also let go of a lot of stress. I no longer feel a sense of resentment towards these aspects of my social life since the out of control elements are essentially gone now.

Letting Go of Unreasonable Expectations

A good way to let go of a solution that got stuck at a 7 is to acknowledge the hopes and expectations you had about that solution which are not being satisfied. Then admit to yourself that they’re never going to be satisfied. Admit that further progress is basically hopeless. The mistake you made was upstream, and you’re not going to fix it by forcing a downstream solution.

I can admit that it was unreasonable of me to expect that I could host an open communication channel on a blog that attracts millions of readers and avoid the problem of flooding. If I have an open channel, it will get flooded. I may be able to reduce the volume of flooding, and I can semi-control how it gets flooded, but I can’t eliminate the problem entirely.

I can admit that expecting a high degree of maturity from channels where people can hide behind anonymity was an unreasonable expectation. Some people use anonymity to avoid accountability, so they can behave in ways they’d never do in person. So if I participate in communication channels that allow for anonymity, I’ll always have to deal with those consequences.

I can admit that it was unreasonable to expect an online service company that’s focused on growth to slow down and fix serious problems with the user experience, or to expect them to improve the user experience in ways that would likely reduce their income, especially during a time when its business model remains uncertain. That company’s goals for their service are unlikely to mesh well with my desires for the service. It’s never going to be a truly win-win relationship if their priorities are growth and money while my priorities are connecting and communicating efficiently.

One pattern I can see in the above is too often assuming that other people’s values align with my own. I don’t go around spamming people, and if I share something online, it’s linked to my real life identity. But I accept that it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to behave similarly.

Where have you been suffering from unreasonable expectations that are unlikely to be fulfilled? Did you expect something from your job that turned out to be unrealistic in retrospect? Did you cast unreasonable expectations onto a relationship partner?

Is it possible you’ve also been making unreasonable expectations of yourself, silently resenting yourself for not being as good as you hoped to be?

Admitting defeat here may sound like giving up, but I think it’s more akin to growing up.

Enjoying the Silence

Once you identify and release your unrealistic expectations, forgive yourself. So you screwed up. Learn from this and move on.

It’s all well and good to set the bar high, but we need to make sure that we choose the right vehicle for getting there. Otherwise we’ll be subjecting ourselves to a lot of frustration.

You probably won’t get rich working at a regular job since that path rarely leads to wealth. You probably won’t enjoy a fulfilling relationship with someone who’s unwilling to communicate openly about problems. Those are unreasonable expectations.

Once you do release that 7, what then? I think it’s nice to enjoy the silence for a little while. So if you quit that not-quite-satisfying job, just enjoy its absence first. If you leave an unfulfilling relationship, don’t rush into a new one right away.

Allow yourself to enjoy the absence of frustration. Celebrate the release of that 7. Really let it go — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Changing Course

When you start craving some of the benefits you lost, begin moving in a direction that you believe could yield an 8, 9, or 10. Don’t try to return to the old world. You already know that path is a dead end. Trust your earlier judgment, and take a different path this time.

I learned that in order to create a more fulfilling social life, I’ll have a better chance of creating an 8, 9, or 10 if I can avoid the problem of flooding as well as the problems that arise from anonymity. A simple way to do that is to focus on interacting with people offline and to stop using the Internet to invite new social connections. In the offline world, I virtually never have those problems.

I like meeting new people. I like having deep discussions. I enjoy having a lot of input, stimulation, and social variety. But in order to recreate the same type of richness offline that I previously had on the online side, I’m going to have to walk a different path socially.

Because of all the social richness I enjoyed online, I could afford to be a bit lazy with my offline socializing. I didn’t need to rely on my local network as much. Even when I wanted more in-person time with people, someone would always be passing through Vegas that I could meet up with.

But I’ve seen just how important it is to release the old before we can fully invite the new. I was never quite motivated to build a rich offline social network while I had so much going on via the Internet.

The Addictive Nature of 7s

Those 7s can actually be highly addictive. They’re addictive because you only get rewarded some of the time. It’s the same reason gambling is addictive.

It’s well established that intermittent positive reinforcement yields a stronger conditioning effect than consistent positive reinforcement. The former keeps your dopamine levels high, so the emotional reward you feel doesn’t diminish so much over time. This is because your brain stays locked into learning mode. It keeps trying to figure out the pattern. If it can’t figure out the pattern, it keeps giving you emotional rewards for every perceived positive outcome. If there is no pattern in the positive outcomes because the outcomes are random, then your brain can never fully complete the learning cycle.

Online socializing, for instance, can be very addictive. Sometimes you check email or Facebook and get a delightful outcome. Your dopamine surges, and you feel emotionally rewarded. Other times there’s nothing, or you get a negative outcome that may produce some cortisol or adrenaline. It’s very much like playing a slot machine.

This can also happen with in-person relationships. Those hot-cold relationships that are sometimes really passionate and other times downright abusive can actually create addiction as well. It’s one reason people stay with abusive partners. People stay in abusive jobs for similar reasons — they still get those intermittent, random rewards that condition them to stay.

In such situations we need to take a step back and ask ourselves where these patterns are leading. You can try to fight your biology, or you can just accept that this is how your brain works. Then you may decide that it’s best to opt out of systems and solutions that cause you to get stuck in 7s and become addicted to them.

Those 9s and 10s can be rewarding but without being addictive. Initially the dopamine release conditions a positive association, but then the dopamine levels trail off. At that point you can continue to do those activities by choice, knowing that you’ll get a positive outcome, but it’s not going to be an addictive feeling. You remain in control.

The point is that if you settle for a 7, you may be settling for a long-term addiction. That addiction can blind you to the reality that your 7 will never become a 9 or 10. You’re like the gambler who keeps playing in the hopes of landing that big win, which only ensures you’ll lose big in the long run.

Restoring Hope

Changing course can be challenging, but what makes it exciting is the restoration of hope. When you release a 7, you restore hope that you can and will eventually experience an 8, 9, or 10. That alone can move you up a notch or two.

I no longer have to settle for a 7 in this area. I can see a path to a 9 or 10. I can enjoy the benefits I desire while avoiding the blocks that made my social life less than fulfilling in the past.

These days I get just a few emails per day, and most are from friends and family. If I go on vacation for a few weeks, I don’t have to return to a massive backlog of communication. That is so nice!

Even nicer is that I no longer have to deal with the immature drama from the forums and Facebook. No one is picking fights and then whining to me afterwards.

Now I can post something on my blog, such as this article, and not receive any feedback about it. A flood of feedback is just confusing and distracting anyway since people never agree; in fact, they often argue with each other when offering up their evaluations. I can easily live without that. It’s more helpful to rely on my own evaluation of what I’ve shared.

Instead of putting more energy into channels that could only become 7s at best, I’m investing my energy into channels that can become 9s and 10s, which in my case involves building a rich social network of people that I can connect with face to face and whose company I enjoy.

9s and 10s Are Easier

One thing I’ve learned is that the path to a 9 or 10 is often pretty simple. The 7s are usually a lot more complicated.

Managing a busy online community is complicated. Inviting a friend over for tea and sitting and talking for a few hours is easy.

The path to a 9 or 10 is also more rewarding that staying stuck at a 7. Seeing and hearing someone laugh is nicer than reading an LOL. Saying goodbye with a hug is better than logging off. A real smile is more fulfilling than an online smiley.

After hanging out with a friend in person, I often say to myself, “That was a really cool conversation. I should do that more often.”

But I don’t recall processing a bunch of emails and then saying to myself, “That was a really cool email session. I should do that more often.”

Raising Your Vibe

When you let go of a 7 and release the associated stuckness, you’ll probably notice a shift in your vibe. Life will feel a bit different than it did before. This will help you become aware of new opportunities to create 9s and 10s that you may not have noticed before.

In the past I felt so overloaded in trying to keep up with what was happening online that I didn’t have much motivation or energy to invite face to face connections on top of that. Now that my energy has opened up in this area, I’m experiencing easy and spontaneous connections a lot more often.

I do feel that the Law of Attraction plays a role here. When we’re tolerating a 7, we block connections to 9s and 10s. Life can’t help but notice when you’re saying yes to a 7. It’s waiting on you to say no to that 7 before it can bring you anything better.

Tolerating a 7 will induce you to lower your vibe to become a match for that 7. You can’t cling to a 7 and seriously intend a 9 or 10 to show up. I noticed this effect in myself as I felt some resentment towards the hassles of dealing with my online social life. Feeling resentment only attracts more experiences that give rise to resentment. I certainly experienced plenty of that. Now that this resentment is gone, I feel much more optimistic socially, and I keep seeing evidence that the people around me are picking up on this too.

Presently I’d rate my social life at about an 8 right now, which is higher than it’s been in years. One thing that makes it an 8 is this newfound sense of optimism I feel towards this part of my life. I truly believe that the path I’m on will eventually yield a 9 or 10.

Don’t underestimate the power of raising your vibe. If you cling to that 7, it’s sure to drag you down. You’ll be inclined to lower your standards, and you may eventually feel that further improvement is hopeless. You’ll begin to see 8s, 9s, and 10s as impossible or unrealistic. They’re not impossible though. You’ve just made a wrong turn. You’re stuck in a dead end where forward progress is exceedingly difficult. Reject the 7 first, then choose another path, and hope will be restored. Quite often you won’t even be able to see the 8s, 9s, and 10s until you’ve released your grip on the 7.

Hope is a key aspect of growth. It’s important to know and expect that we can and will continue to improve. Without an honest expectation of improvement, we face stagnation, which is stressful and tears us down.

If you feel like some part of your life is stuck and that creating an 8, 9, or 10 experience is highly unrealistic, then start releasing the pieces of that stuck situation. Quit the job that keeps you stuck, and choose another path. Let go of the unsatisfying relationship, and open yourself to new possibilities. Restore hope once again.

Remember that the 7s aren’t there to trap you. Those 7s are there to help you get clear about how to create your 8s, 9s, and 10s.


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