Have you ever been in a situation where your hopes were dashed repeatedly, only to be built up again and dashed again…in a seemingly endless cycle?
Perhaps a friend or partner made a promise never to be kept, or you’ve been encouraged to apply for promotion that is knocked back again and again, each time for a different (to you) spurious reason…
I’m sure we all have our own experience of that in relationships, business/work or health issues, to name a few. Perhaps you even broke your own promises to yourself about kicking a bad habit?
Whatever the circumstances, the game of hope yoyo grinds you down: loss of trust, frustration, anger, hopelessness, anxiety and depression and compensation behaviour can all be (unintended) consequences.
What prompted this reflection is the hope yoyo the UK government appears to be playing with the nation right now. It may be unintended, but the sequence of end-dates for covid-19 lockdowns giving way to yet another restriction with another timeline to be revoked, picked up again….is endlessly giving hope and taking it away again.
And it appears that the basis of this game is the ‘wish’ that all will be fine by whatever date set, or the ‘want’ to avoid the ‘pain’ of giving bad news. Check out @MarinaHyde‘s take on that here!
What anybody ‘wants’ to happen in this context doesn’t really matter: the virus does not sense our wishes or exercise empathy in its ‘behaviour’.
The hope yoyo’s consequences for the individual are reflected in the words and the eyes of pub and restaurant owners, teachers and parents, shop owners and anybody dependent on the tourism industry. We see them every day on the news.
(And I’m not even talking about the situation of NHS and other frontline workers, severely ill patients and for the bereaved here. That’s an entirely different story.)
Don’t get me wrong: managing a global epidemic isn’t easy.
The very nature of the challenge is unpredictability, the only certainty that people will suffer and die.
What isn’t unpredictable is the impact of the hope-disappointment-hope cycle on wellbeing and mental health. Check out Ack’s personal take on that or a more general appraisal of the importance of hope as a resource.
This post is really about leadership and managing expectations.
What matters is the truth, including a rational appraisal of probability and uncertainty. What matters is to learn from mistakes.
As Jon Stokes and Stefan Stern in The Conversation put it as early in the Covid-19 crisis as April last year: “Solving wicked problems requires a post-heroic mindset. Heroic leadership of single-minded dogged determination inevitably fails to develop and enlist the collaborative and empowered response required for their solution at the local level. “
Can we wait for the country’s leadership to transform its style during the Covid-19 crisis?
Moreover, experience shows us that we cannot rely on external circumstances to protect us from the game of hope yoyo, or for that matter, suffering any other setback.
That leaves us with the only option: to rely on ourselves.
To decide what we think, hence how we feel and respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in.
That requires insight, acceptance and resilience.
Perhaps it is best to go to people with direct experience to illustrate how that hangs together: Andrea Rosenhaft does this succinctly, simply and beautifully here.
Featured Image: “Yoyo” by XuliánConX is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0