Hope in dark times, Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

The dark cloud of negativity: how to keep hope?

I noticed that this time of the year, November-December, I tend to get a bit more negative than the rest of the year. It’s strange because I love Autumn and Winter, cold weather and staying cozy inside, the atmosphere of Christmas decorations, hot chocolate and mulled wine. I know it’s quite common in the Northern hemisphere, as we have shorter and darker days and the stress of the holidays building up. As we approach the end of the year, it’s also a time of review: did we accomplish what we had hoped? Did we stick to our resolutions? Do we still have time to finish our annual checklist? Is our life where we would like it to be?

I was recently talking with a wonderful branding magician, about how not to lose hope and lightheartedness when there is so much darkness and pain in this world, how can we balance negativity and hope. For anyone who cares at least just a little about people, animals, the planet, you can’t be insensitive to what is going on. The temptation to repress the discomfort is high, and the repression methods are endless. Whether it be binging TV/food/alcohol/…, over-working, or isolating one’s self in a bubble and disconnecting from the outside world (my poison of choice). So, how can we hold on to hope? How can we remain open, optimistic, inspired, and inspiring?

My dark cloud

Dark cloud, Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Around this time last year, I was in a bit of a depressed state. I mean, I’ve seen worse, but still, I was free-falling in a rabbit hole. It started with a car accident with a cyclist. Luckily, it wasn’t serious, he was fine, my car had small damages, and it was his fault. But he tried to take advantage of my kindness (and I would argue of my gender and age).

At the same time, I was quite invested in following the craziness around the US elections, the COVID madness, and other hot topics. I watched documentaries about the state of the world, internet algorithms, racism, gender inequality, climate change, … That was in addition to being stranded at home for almost a year, in an unstable world. This was just a bad combination. I felt miserable and I was losing hope in humanity and myself. It triggered much anger and despair.

The cyclist had no chance, as he became the recipient of all my revolt. The respectful but strong warrioress in me was unleashed. I wasn’t going to be a doormat for injustice and lack of integrity. It took me months, but I won. All the while, I wondered how to embody positive traits, such as empathy and kindness, without losing myself, and without being taken advantage of. I also wondered if it mattered in the grand scheme of dark things.

The fight inside all of us

The tale of two wolves

Last year, my bad wolf had the advantage. This year, my energy is different. A sense of meaning, a focus on growth, and a personal spin on spirituality are helping me navigate life. Taking care of what I feed my mind and my soul (my good wolf), I have been clever enough to avoid depressing documentaries in what appears to be a vulnerable period. I have also been lucky enough to have no car accident or any other major dramatic event! But I have to be honest, I can still feel the pull in the dark hole of despair. Yet, this time, I am not letting it drag me down. With awareness, self-care, and some tools, the cloud is not as dark and as big as it used to be. In the fight between negativity and hope, I’m fattening my good wolf.

We are responsible for our two wolves, and all of us have two wolves. It’s the work of a lifetime. It’s impossible to completely starve one wolf to death, there will always be two. There has always been and always will be light and darkness, yin and yang, peace and war, love and hate, pleasure and pain. But we always get more of what we focus on, like a social media algorithm. I am certain you have examples of things that suddenly appear everywhere once you pay attention to them. That’s because the brain is built that way.

Hardwired to see what we focus on

We have cognitive biases that are hard to dispel unless we consciously challenge them. The confirmation bias will make you see and believe only the things that confirm your currently-held beliefs. When we think there is so much selfishness around the world, we see it happen everywhere. And when we think there is much goodness in this world, we can watch it happen all around us. The magic of our brain is that we can choose our thoughts and focus. We can feed the good wolf voluntarily, and the more we do it, the easier and more natural it becomes (thanks to neuroplasticity). As a result, negativity and hopelessness lose their grip.

But isn’t it important to be objective about what is going on in the world, the good and the bad? Yes, definitely! I believe it is crucial to be informed, so we can make choices and have a deliberate impact. A certain level of awareness is needed to vote, consume, invest, behave, etc. But our negativity and hope ratio needs to be balanced. And there is also a right time and a right mindset to engage with upsetting information. I see that in my case, November-December is not a time where binge-watching revolting documentaries is beneficial. However, there are other moments where the same documentaries in reasonable doses could give me the energy to move mountains. Self-awareness and consciousness are key here.

Mindset starts with you

Ripple effect of mindset, Photo by Janke Laskowski on Unsplash

If you have read a few articles on this blog, by now you have probably realized the common thread: we have power over our mindset, we have a choice in how we look at the world and how we react to it. Well, it’s not just a choice, but a responsibility. And everything we think or do also has an impact on the people around us. If you wish the world to be a better place, humanity to be kinder, it has to start with you.

Think about what kind of ripple effect you want to have… Is what you are focusing on really serving you? Is it helping you lead a better life? Which wolf are you feeding, and why?

How to feed your good wolf, even in darker times:

  • Before going to bed, think about at least three things to be grateful for (science shows gratitude wires our brain for happiness and meaning, neuroplasticity means that you are creating and strengthening these positive pathways in your brain the more you do it)
  • Go out, move, sleep, hydrate and eat healthily (your physical needs have to be met for good mental health)
  • Stay away as much as you can from drama, negativity, and bad news – or balance it with more positive ones!
  • Surround yourself with inspiring ideas, warm and benevolent people
  • Acknowledge your thoughts and emotions, and watch them go through and move on, as if they were floating on a river and you were just peacefully watching from the river bank.
  • Whatever you do, bring consciousness to it, that’s where the power of choices lies.
  • And be kind to yourself! Always!

How are you feeding your wolves these days?

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