At the start of a brand new year, I’d like to talk about hope. It seems appropriate as the possibilities of 350+ new days lie before us. If we can muster hope, we have a greater chance of fulfilling our goals and getting through tough times. Why? Because, according to positive psychologist, Charles R. Snyder, our positive mindset gives us the will to get where we want to go and the ability to create strategies to get there. If our mind is relaxed, we have a better chance of tapping into our prefrontal cortex — the reasoning and thoughtful part of our brain — and taking action.
When there’s no hope
I’ve been around people who have lost hope. My mother exemplified hopeless behavior later in life. She often spoke hopeful words to my sister and me. She told me to “Take it one day at a time” or “Brighter days are ahead”. In her own life, she gave up hope and settled for unhappiness.
She had experienced enough disappointment and hurt in her adult life to make her skeptical of hope. Sadly, she relied completely on external circumstances and people to give her hope and happiness. I have a feeling internal optimism eventually felt useless to her. Life had burned her too many times.
If you weren’t raised to be hopeful…
My mom had not been taught how to endure frustration. As a child, she had been given lots of positive surface attention and material goods (read: she was spoiled), but had not really been taught how to struggle and survive. Her parents did not show her how to deal with disappointment. They did not teach her hope. They gave her food (my grandmother was an ace baker) and expensive clothing to keep her happy. Her parents were busy in the community and with her three significantly older siblings. She was given material things but not really taught how to delay gratification or rely on herself.
As an adult, if she didn’t make progress on her goals quickly, she gave up and assumed she couldn’t achieve them. For example, she spent decades of her adult life severely overweight. She did not have the hope or tenacity to change her lifestyle and lose weight. She tried Weight Watchers and a walking regiment for two or three months, but when she didn’t see quick results, she gave up. She lowered her expectations of herself and lost hope.
My mom used food and unhealthy relationships to fill up the emptiness where hope and true fulfillment might have been.
According to Julie Simon in her book, When Food Is Comfort, we have to suspend our pessimistic voice of reality and think about an issue as if we have hope. We need to try on a child-like mindset where anything is possible. Yes, we have to fake it until we make it.
She suggests using a mixture of I and We optimistic statements when we speak to ourselves to comfort our old worrying/doubting selves. Here are a few of her suggested statements:
I know you’re going to be okay.
You’re doing everything you can. It will all work out.
You have lots of resources at your disposal.
We’re going to get through this together.
Brighter days are ahead.
Let’s keep up the faith.
These are statements meant to affect our internal feeling self. How do we feel when we use hopeful language? Usually, lighter and uplifted.
Action feeds hope
I’ve found that taking action also breeds hope. In How Hopeful Are You? The Keys to Getting Unstuck, I wrote about taking steps to find opportunities and surrounding ourselves with hopeful/growth oriented people. Both lead to optimism and relief.
I believe actions dissolve the fear and resignation we resort to if left to our old patterns and wounds. Small actions such as looking at a new job site when we’ve been unemployed for a while, give us that breath of hope that sustains us.
Dr. Judith Orloff, author of Emotional Freedom, says hope reduces stress too. It relaxes our gut, blood vessels and bronchioles.
Basically, I’ve determined that hope is not a passive state. It is active. We have to speak hopefully to our internal selves and take actions externally that give our lives space for hope to enter.
How do you inspire hope in yourself? What gives you hope? Were you raised with a hopeful mindset?