Tuesday, August 6, 2013

{ ACT } creative hopelessness

Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) invites you to cozy up to the idea of

"creative hopelessness."

Caveat: This isn't the kind of hopelessness that most of us think of when we hear the word, i.e., sad, pathetic, resigned, etc.

In ACT, hopelessness is less so about the feeling (about the future), but more about the active stance we choose to take -- towards our present, and in light of our past.

The main question is this:
Has it worked, for you?

"It" being all your previous efforts to deal with -- change, avoid, justify, conquer, or otherwise avoid -- some thought or feeling or experience. Everyone dabbles a bit in this art.

Say you're working on a project and you secretly believe that you're incompetent, a phony. To deal with this, you shake your head and say: "That's silly, I know that's not true. Stop thinking that." Hello, self-talk! Maybe the fear goes away. Or maybe it goes away for a while, just to come back in another shape or form. To deal with it, this time you gear up to attack the problem. You work harder. You stay up later. You plan it all to a tee. And you feel good, for a while.

But that fundamental fear, belief, is never far at bay. It's "sticky" in the sense that it just won't go away, it's one that you keep coming back to again and again. One that rudely pops in for hello like an uninvited guest. And the more you try to show him the door, the more he gets kicks off his shoes and gets comfortable on the living room couch.

So -- has it worked, for you?

For those of us who answer "Um, maybe-a-little-not-so-much...", creative hopelessness involves simply allowing some { space } for the idea that maybe what we've tried so far hasn't worked -- and won't.

Often we pile on strategy after strategy, trying to keep some kind of intact sense of what we can do for ourselves. But sometimes what we need is not to save our own ideas and efforts -- but rather to let them shatter. Because: what if this kind of shattering is what makes room for fresh ways of thinking and being?

As Ayn Rand's character in The Fountainhead puts it,

"All growth demands destruction. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."


Has "it" worked, for you? What was your gut reaction to this idea? It is something people either click with instantly, or take a long time to warm up to. Either is fine...

This post is part of the occasional Acceptance & Commitment Therapy series, where I share concepts from my training & how they relate to life, wellness & creativity. Subscribe to KARMOMO ( bloglovin' or feedly ) to get the latest updates when posted!


  1. I think this is a tricky concept, because some folks may cozy up it all too readily, thus resulting in a sense of "I can't do anything. I might as well stop trying/hoping/dreaming." I see what you mean about needing to release some dreams in order to grasp others, but what if the sticky fear attaches itself to all dreams? *

    1. thanks * for your thoughts ! hm, they certainly highlight the complexity of this idea, and what reactions it can raise in people as they wrap their heads around it. i'm still learning & processing so this adds to my own toolbox as a clinician :-)

      my first thought is to clarify how creative hopelessness doesn't involve letting go of dreams at all -- but, rather, more clearly seeing the limitations of our old strategies & agendas. in fact, ACT is very much about letting dreams (values, hopes, heart) guide the way forward!

      i think creative hopelessness is not a "hmph-no-can-do" type of resignation... though the word "hopelessness" traditionally rings of that! in this case, it refers to an "opening-up" to the { possibility } that the things we've done (eg. to maintain tight control over ourselves & experiences) are not what we truly need to live the open, generous, wholehearted life we value... sure, on the best of days they may help us get by & even look pretty while doing it, but -- ?

      creative hopelessness offers a little crack in that veneer, with the idea that we might, to our surprise, find light & life coming through.

      one more thing: i also don't believe that we have to walk around being "creatively hopeless" about everything ! :-) there is a time and place to problem-solve and generate strategies. this concept applies best when people have reached a point where they find themselves circling back, over and over, to the same place they are trying to leave. then ACT would ask: "have those attempts (to leave) worked? and what if it's not about the leaving, at all?"

      again, thanks for your honest reaction ! this series will certainly continue to explore all these ideas. what i write here is just a faintest dip into the waters.

    2. Thanks for your reply! You're right, this concept is complex. I like how you describe it has an "opening up." As opposed to "giving up," this conjures an image of loosening our grip on ourselves - so that we may more creatively interpret our present and more effectively move forward. Am I understanding this correctly?

      If so, my follow-up question would be this... where do the new ideas/light/life come from, once we reach creative hopelessness? From within? From others (friends? books? counselors?)? Is it that the ideas, light, and life have been present all along, but our own narrow vision has been erecting blinders to them?


    3. *, my gut reaction was that maybe knowing where ideas/light/life will come from is not the point at all. because if we expect that our "hopelessness" has a safety net, then it's not really a full surrender & we are still trying to do it our old way ("change this, to get that").

      at the same time, i do believe (like you suggest) that those things are nearby & present, but we just have not been able to see them for some time...

      so, a mixed-bag answer... my favourite !

  2. Oh, love the lettering and the share, very interesting topic and I love the quote!

    1. thanks miss B for stopping by & glad you enjoyed the quote, i love it too ! maybe it's just that i love omelets...