The Dictionary.com defines hope as “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.”
Hope in the future is of course very easy when everything is going as you expected; you just landed a great job, met the man/woman of your dreams, lost a lot of weight or won the lottery. But what about when things aren’t running so smoothly; you’ve been out of work for a long while, you can’t seem to find a friend or lover who “gets” you, you’ve gained a significant amount of weight, you or a loved one have been diagnosed with a serious illness or you’re coping with a significant loss. Isn’t it harder to hold on to hope during tough times?
Hope is a small yet powerful word. As stated in the definition, “the feeling that what we want can be had,” is an invisible force brought on by our own will to succeed, propelling us to greater accomplishments.
Mice Get It: There was an experiment on the mental association of hope where scientists took 3 groups of mice.
We don’t have to be put in life threatening situations to have hope that our tomorrows will be better then our todays! The key lies in developing our “hope-ability”. If you were raised by loved ones capable of providing hope when you felt disappointed or discouraged, you would most likely have learned “hope-ability” during tough times. But if you were raised by pessimistic, down-beat, or down right negative caregivers, you may have never learned how of your ability to hope when the going gets rough. Unable to hold onto hopeful thoughts, you learned long ago to minimize your expectations so as to avoid disappointment. Perhaps you believe that the future will be a carbon copy of the past and you give up hope before you give something your all. Maybe you’ve developed convenient “excuses” to cover up the hopelessness and to keep you from experiencing any more discomfort, discouragement and loss:
“There is no point in dating anymore, all the good men are already taken.”
“It’s just too difficult to find friends in this city. I’ve tried hard in the past and came up empty-handed.”
“I could never lose all this excess weight–I’d have to live on lettuce leaves and have zero pleasure.”
“I can’t get over the loss of my husband/wife/child/beloved pet–I will never be able to move forward with my life.”
Without hope you may be living a life of quiet desperation. Perhaps you’ve given up on your dreams and goals. You’re using food, alcohol, sex, shopping, working and drama to fill up the emptiness. These activities distract you and provide some degree of pleasure, comfort and soothing. Unfortunately, none of these distractions will teach you the skill of holding hope when things seem bleek.
I know in my childhood I had to fight to hold onto hope. teachers often said things couldn’t be done or said discouraging things about what I wanted to do, like “You won’t be able to…” or “It’s impossible to…” or “Don’t even try to…” In my teens, I rebelled against that pessimism with a defensive brand of optimism. “Oh, yes I can” or “You’ll see”. This gave me the much needed practice for the “hope-ability” I would need as an adult. Some say kids can are cruel, but the truth is that those kids grow up to be cruel adults with money, power, hurt in their heart and grudges. As adults we have to discover our own ability to counter what will come….and yes it will come. Knowing how to deal with it makes all the difference.
Hopelessness is a very real thing and can negatively effect our health, relationships, livelihood, etc. You have to make a choice to want more out of life and hope in the future is the first step.
So, how do you go about developing or strengthening your “hope-ability”? Here are a few steps you can follow:
Step 1: Make a list of all the areas in which you feel hopeless or that you have no control over. Be honest with yourself. This could be love or promotion at work, your weight, your partner’s drinking, your mother’s health? In order to create an accurate road map, we must begin with awareness and acceptance of where we are.
Step 2: Focus on one area at a time and write down all negative thoughts about this situation. One client wrote “I feel hopeless about my weight.” “I don’t feel that I could ever trust myself to stick to a healthy eating plan.” “I’ve never been able to keep weight off.” “I’m lazy and undisciplined.” “I’ll never like this body.” “I fear that I’m going to live a life of hating my body and always feel unfulfilled.” “I’m really sad about all this.”
Step 3: Give your “reasonable voice” a timeout for a brief moment and write about this issue as if you had hope. Try on a child-like imagination of anything being possible; write about the version of you that you’d like to be. One client wrote “I can lose this weight and I can stick to a healthy eating plan.” “I love myself.” “I can trust myself to make healthy choices.” “I’m not lazy and I make time for exercise most days of the week.” “I’m procrastinating less and feeling better about myself.” “I’m pleased with the results I’m getting.” “I’m more comfortable in my body now than I have ever been.” “I really like the way I’m looking and feeling.”
Step 4: Write down the emotions and thoughts that surface when you try on hope. Are you noticing any fears regarding positivity and optimism? One client noticed that she felt more possibilities open up when she exercised her “hope-ability”. Even though they felt foreign and didn’t totally feel “real,” she did notice a shift from feeling frustrated and unmotivated to having a teeny, tiny glimmer of hope. And while this felt good, this state of hope brought with it fear and sadness; the fear came from her ability to imagine being disappointed and the sadness that she hadn’t been raised by hopeful parents.
She was not moving forward in her life, in part, because she was constantly guarding against the experience of disappointment. Meanwhile, she was constantly disappointed with her stagnant life.
Step 5: Write down a few positive statements about your ability to hold hope. Sue wrote “I am willing to practice suspending my “reasonable voice” more often and try on hope and imagination.” “I can learn to be more hopeful.” “Even a glimmer of hope feels better than the depth of hopelessness I’ve been living with.”
Step 6: Practice, practice, practice the above five steps. The good news is that your ability to hope is just a skill and you can learn it. And because this skill won’t magically appear in your skill set, you’ll need lots of practice to gain mastery.
Step 7: Surround yourself, as much as possible, with genuinely positive, optimistic people. Hope and optimism like Group 3 in the example with the mice are contagious. If you don’t know anyone like this, consider a series of sessions with a coach or therapist.
My hope for you is that this will give you new hopeful eyes to see through and that your tomorrows will always be better than your yesterdays!