From the Pit to Your Peak ... The Pathway of HOPE

“Don’t get your hopes up!” were the words the upper classman spoke to me when I was getting ready to compete for the only open chair in the symphonic brass band.

“Don’t get my hopes up? You’ve got to be kidding me! I’ve been rehearsing for this, working for this, and sweating bullets over this! (Actually, it was a time when it was popular to say/think: I’ve done blood, sweat & tears over this!) Don’t get my hopes up?” That’s what I was thinking as I just stood there stunned and trembling with nervous energy as I walked into the blind audition room.

How many times have you heard that? “Don’t get your hopes up?” Why on earth would we say that to anyone? For any reason?

Why is it that we are so afraid to have people hope? Perhaps because we are afraid they will be disappointed? Discouraging hope is not only damaging, but cuts off the pathway to our peak!

Let’s talk about hope, what research says about its benefits, and how it can help you reach your peak.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition of hope: 

The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.

Why is hope so important to each of us? Research says it adds these benefits to our lives:

  • Improves respiration rates
  • Reduces feelings of helplessness 
  • Increases happiness
  • Bolsters self-worth
  • Improves self-confidence 
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Boosts immune system function
  • Enriches sleep
  • Increases emotional mastery
  • Reduces depression
  • Relieves anxiety 
  • Improves our quality of life 
  • Helps us keep a positive attitude when facing challenges
  • Induces better mental health
  • Reduces joint pain
  • Enhances social relationships
  • Motivates positive action that creates success
  • Improves brain activity 
  • Boosts academic scoring

If for no other reason, the benefits make hope a crucial aspect in each of our lives.

But I want to focus on one specific area where hope serves us if we will allow it—getting from the pit to the peak on life’s pathway.

Perhaps you’re in a pit now, or you’re on the edge.  Or maybe you just came out of a pit.  We all experience it differently.  Some say it feels like a valley. Some call it a dark hole; some of us call it a dark night of the soul. Whatever you call it, we have all experienced it.

We can get to this place in a number of different ways.  Maybe it was our poor choices.  Maybe we were thrown into the pit unfairly. Perhaps we accidentally fell into it.  How you got there makes no difference.  The way out is the same for all.

The way out is what I call the “pathway of hope.”

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying it’s an easy pathway. Nor something that feels “natural.”  But I am saying that it is a way out that you can choose.

So YES! I’m absolutely saying that when you’re in the pit … GET YOUR HOPES UP!

What does that look like? What are the steps to get there?

After 25+ years of clinical experience and studying years of research on hope, here is what I have learned it can look like (if you choose it), and what the steps are. I am using HOPE as an acronym to help you remember:

Halt all words of defeat. Unless you’re speaking to your coach, a pastor (or clergy person) or counselor, you need to bring a screeching halt to words of defeat. Words of defeat activate hormones in the brain chemistry that cut off access to options and solutions.

I know it’s easy to let words of defeat slip out. Words like:

“Nothing ever works out for me.“

“I knew this would happen!“

“I’ll never get out of this mess!“

Such words are actually confirming your stay in the pit. It requires great strength of character to take a deep breath and overcome the urge to blurt them out.

Instead, utter words that will get you on the pathway to hope. I’m not suggesting that you be ridiculous and say things like, “Oh yay! I’m in the pit! This is just the best day of my life!” Of course that’s not helpful!

Instead, speak words that call out your best.  Words like: “I am going to get myself up, dust myself off, and get on the pathway of hope to shorten my stay here in the pit!”

Those are actually my words of preference to fight my way out.  What will yours be? Take a moment right now and write them down. You may not need them now, but you may need them at an unfortunate moment.

Offer to help someone else in the pit. You may be thinking, “You’re joking, right? How could I possibly help someone else?“

Actually, it’s always easier to see options for others than it is for ourselves. And when we engage in helping others see options, research shows it helps us.  Helping others activates the reticular activating system (RAS) in our brains.  This helps us focus on our own devoted search for options.

Practice your proclamation. If you have followed my work, you probably already have your power proclamation.

But if you don’t, get one today.  Whether or not you are in a pit, you will need your power proclamation at some point. So write it today!

Begin by choosing one word that feels like a powerful word for this season of your life. I choose one word each year (and if I feel it has been fulfilled in my life before the year is over, I choose a new one). I’ve had such words as devoted, determined, advancing, triumph, faithful. This year my word is prosperous.

Then write your word vertically down the page, and use each letter as the beginning of a few words or a phrase to define what that word means for you. For example, this is what my word prosperity means this year for me:

Priceless moments of connection

Relentless faith

Outstanding stages

Spontaneous recovery from challenges

Pure love experiences

Extraordinary relationships

Radical career change

Outrageous increase

Undeniable favor

Simply irresistible

The moment you find yourself in the pit, reach for your power proclamation. State your word out loud, and read each sentence or phrase out loud with great confidence. This intentional act releases neurotransmitters that give you the motivation and energy to get up from the bottom of the pit and climb up onto the pathway of hope.

It literally accelerates your journey to the peak.

Entertain only the media, friends, family, foods, etc. that will support you and speak life to you.

There is a very natural pull to return to those who pushed us into the pit, hoping that they will help us out. Or sometimes, we isolate, which is laying a foundation for your life to remain at the bottom.

Instead, go outside and breathe in some fresh air. Research tells us that sunshine and fresh air activate the neurochemicals that help us regain our balance. Surround yourself with people who will offer encouraging words of restoration and redemption.

Stop reading about “somebody done somebody wrong“ on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Take in media that is supportive and encouraging. You will know when you are entertaining the right people, eating the right foods, placing yourself in the right circumstances, because they will inspire you. (And by the way, that beer, margarita or glass of wine you think you must have while you are in there serves as superglue to the bottom of the pit!)

You may be thinking that these are just such hard things to do. And they are. They require a level of faith, determination, and courage.

It doesn’t require months of doing these things to get you on the right path. Just do a bit of them, faithfully, and you will find yourself on the path.

My clients often ask me, why do so few people reach their peak?

I have two answers to that:

  1. Actually, a lot of people make it to their peak.  This causes you to misjudge how common it is. You might want to read my article from last week about your inner circle of influence. (Click here to read more).
  2. Some people will do what it takes to get on the pathway of hope.  But they get just enough relief, and they stop living those four steps.

Make the four HOPE steps a lifestyle, not just tools for today. You will find yourself reaching peak after peak after peak.

Years ago, I decided I wanted to embrace peak living.

It actually started the day that the results of the auditions for the elite symphonic brass band were posted.

There were ten slots open. Nine of them were already guaranteed to be filled by the superstar junior and senior brass players. No freshman had ever earned one of those seats. I began to read down the list. 

1. Leland Norman

2. Wayne Freeman 

3. Timothy Holmes

The list went on. I would not let myself look at the bottom of the list. I was holding my breath as if my life depended on it. I was almost to the bottom when I felt a hand on my shoulder, and heard Dr. Larry Nesvadba’s (the executive director) voice say, “Congratulations girl! You deserved it!”

I couldn’t decide whether to melt into tears or just squeal in delight, so I think I did both. He stepped back with a huge smile and watched me for a second. Then just before he walked away, he said, “Don’t ever live in any way or any place other than at your peak!“ 

I didn’t quite know what it meant at the moment.  But I was determined to figure it out and do exactly as he suggested. It has taken years of research, studying with masters and trial and error. But I can now say I enjoy living at peak levels. Do I ever fall in a pit? Of course! But I know how to jump on the pathway of hope and get back to my peak.

Today I bring this message to you saying, “Don’t ever live in any way or any place other than at your peak!”