Walking on Rainbows – The circle of wishful thinking

Thoughts on the anatomy of wishful thinking and its stages

Text, thoughts and drawings by Frits Ahlefeldt, Hiking.org

Sometimes when hikers head out, they seems to be walking on a rainbow, in love with the idea, the trail and the whole endeavor, very sure everything will work out fine. A similar situation to a lot of other times in life. New projects, new ideas,  the perfect solution, investment, business-idea, innovation, match or home… As I spent more time thinking and reading about it I learned that often wishful thinking is seen as moving through a circle of stages. Combining different models and knowledge from my work with storytelling, thrive and recovery, I have sketched up a rough draft, of a strange circle, a model of walking on rainbows, something  I wonder if we all know very well

Some well-known models about wishful thinking

The Fantasy circle

The British Journalist Christopher Booker describes a “fantasy circle” in four stages in a newspaper article in The telegraph. Starting out in the first stage the “dream stage, that last til things start to fall apart in the second “frustration stage” and that last til everything collapse in a “nightmare stage”  that is finally moved into a last stage Christopher Booker calls the “explosion into reality”

The Hollywood model – The hero’s journey (hike) 

the fantasy circle model reminds me a bit about the “Hollywood model” a well-known storytelling model used as a storytelling structure and scaffolding in a lot of blockbuster Hollywood films.  The Hollywood model builds on the top of famous work by the grand old great storytelling and mythology expert Joseph Campbell ( the Hero’s journey as described in his book:  The hero with a thousand faces) and also work with a few distinct stages often called “the hero’s journey“:

  1. Getting the call to adventure
  2. Leaving the ordinary world, starting out on the adventure Path ( story )
  3. Entering a stage of trials and quests
  4. The point of no return – hitting the wall and descending into the underworld
  5. Caught in the ordeal, fighting in a disillusioned darkness
  6. Resurrection and rebirth, reaching the surface and starting the way home
  7. Return to the ordinary home

So many films, stories, myths and hikes follow this universal storytelling path that experts has wondered if this model is somehow hardwired into our cognition and way of seeing reality, and I also used it as a framework to sketch up the “walking on Rainbows” circle of wishful thinking

Kübler Ross – five stages of grief model 

I wonder if the stages in wishful thinking in a strange reversed way might be similar to the five stage grief model of Kübler Ross  – that is going through five similar distinct stage, with grief instead of wishful thinking as the emotion:

  1. denial ( In wishful thinking: leaving reality behind for a wished for illusion )
  2. anger ( In wishful thinking: instead of anger, happy, hyper-trip along an imagined rainbow )
  3. bargaining ( In wishful thinking: Trying to keep the dream alive, by negotiation or excuse )
  4. depression (In wishful thinking: falling into the gap between the illusion and reality )
  5. acceptance. ( In wishful thinking: Letting go of the dream to face reality)

Walking on Rainbows – My  seven stage sketched model of wishful thinking:

First stage. The vision

Man looking enthusiastic -The rainbow wishful thinking model - illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt
First stage of wishful thinking – the grand vision

Wishful thinking often starts with a vision of a grandiose, rich, fairytale, epic, adventure. Something that will move one out of the ordinary. It can be starting out on and conquering, making a famous trail ( Appalachian trail etc. )  Writing an amazing book, creating an world-changing invention, winning the lottery or meeting the one and only soul mate.

Second stage – walking on the top of the rainbow

Man running happily - The rainbow wishful thinking model - illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt
Second stage of wishful thinking – walking on top of the rainbow

In Nordic mythology a rainbow connects the world of the ordinary with the world of the gods. And walking along it often feels like that is where you are heading, at least in the beginning. Some call this kind of energy “new” energy – it is the energy that trips us and fire us up to do extraordinary things when they are all new… Take chances, and dare to jump out on the rainbow. Falling in love, driving in a brand new dream car or stepping out on the first miles of trail, on a sunny afternoon, while your brain burns huge stacks of precious happiness  endorphins

Third stage – facing the rain

Man starting to fall in doubt The rainbow wishful thinking model - illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt
Doubt – third stage of wishful thinking

No rainbows without rain, they say, when things gets tough, the tough keeps going, but in wishful thinking, it is more like falling. Wishful thinking is not based on facts and reality but on illusions, and they are pretty hard to climb, in real life.  But nobody want to end a good party, so often denial and bargaining is heavy used strategies here… Ever tried to get lost on the trail without realizing it? And instead keep walking, working hard to convince yourself that the tough keeps going – and it just got to be the right way – I have and the total embarrassment when you finally realize that “keep going” is not a good strategy, when you are heading in the wrong direction.

Fourth stage of wishful thinking – falling of the end of the rainbow

Man in chock - The rainbow wishful thinking model - illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt
Wake up shock – fourth stage of wishful thinking

Often it comes as a shock, WHAT, did we really get this far out, without even noticing that we have burned all the resources, used up the last matches and turned up at the hoped for shelter, to find it has long been demolished… It’s the sobering ice bucket moment of wishful thinking.

Fifth stage of wishful thinking – entering the underworld

Man sitting depressed in darkness - The rainbow wishful thinking model - illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt
Darkness – fifth stage of wishful thinking

But at this point it is past the famous “point of no return” And this is the moment where wishful thinking really collapse into the dark underworld of disillusion. At this time you have invested too much, too long to possible go back – and the path back is both blocked and longer than the path forward –  but it seems that there are no way forward either.

This is the “beam me up, please” moment, many hikers know well, sitting worn out, cold to the bone, burned out, disillusioned, just wishing you could go home, without ever having started out…

But being beamed out seldom helps, better to make the slow, tough long realization, facing reality, one step at a time… till you reach the next stage:

Sixth stage of wishful thinking: Resurrection and rebirth

Man resurfacing - coming out of water, happy in relief. The rainbow wishful thinking model - illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt
Reaching the surface – sixth stage of wishful thinking

Somehow what keep wishful thinking alive seems to me might be secrets, not really sure how it works, but wishful thinking seems connected to what Carrie Fisher said:

“I do believe you’re only as sick as your secrets”

So resurfacing, throwing the cards on the table and facing reality, in an open way might be more important than anything – to make it all the way to the next stage:

Seventh stage: Returning home

Seven stage - Man crawling onto land The rainbow wishful thinking model - illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt
The return – seven stage of wishful thinking

Crawling up out of the illusion and into reality is the final stage of wishful thinking, not that it stops one from taking another merry go around, the next time a rainbow appear in the sky, but coming this far makes the odds a lot better.

My sketch of a kind of rainbow model of wishful thinking

Man walking onto rainbow and going through seven stages of wishful thinking. The rainbow wishful thinking model - illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt
All stages of wishful thinking sketched up as walking on a rainbow

Text, thoughts and drawings by Frits Ahlefeldt, Hiking.org