Life’s circumstances can feel difficult and challenging for all sorts of reasons and there are many things that stretch us both globally, and personally. Sometimes we feel like the situations drop us to our knees and we feel a loss of hope. We can give each other words of encouragement and support, but it’s still tough to pull ourselves out of despair, anger, disappointment and frustration. However, by understanding that hope is a choice, we can cope better and keep it alive.
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible,” said Christopher Reeve, best known for his role as “Superman”. He knew the power of hope. Hope helped him to endure a devastating spinal cord injury caused by a competitive horseback riding accident in 1995. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe without a ventilator. In spite of this traumatic, life-changing event, he made a deliberate choice to be productive and not be a burden to his family, which gave him hope.
So, I have 8 ways to keep your hope alive. You will always hear me say – what is the one small thing that you can do to get started. It is not necessarily about doing all these at once, just being conscious of them as options. They are simple and yet powerful.
- Express your feelings
During a setback or loss, it can be healing to express your feelings to a loved one or write them down in a journal. This helps release the negative emotions that are causing you to feel less hopeful. When you feel negative emotions arise, try not to judge them. Rather, shift your attention to the future. Can you plan a trip? Indulge in a creative hobby? Although it may not be easy to do this right away, each time you think about what’s possible, you’ll feel a rise in hope.
- Look for hope in unexpected places
Did you ever catch a glimmer of hope from somewhere unexpected? Perhaps you were sitting in a park with your dog and saw two people laughing and then embracing. Suddenly, your singlehood felt a little brighter. Take a good look around you. Hope is in our playgrounds, at our coffee shops, in the books we read, in our friend’s voice and our mother’s caring words. Create a challenge today to look for hope in your daily routine, and notice your spirits lifting.
- Cultivate optimism
Do you see the “glass half full” instead of “half empty”? Do you make lemonade out of the lemons life throws you? Then you’re an optimistic person. If you are, you’ll enjoy a higher quality of life and better physical and mental health according to scientific research. However, if you tend to be more pessimistic, especially during hard times, then here are some ways to cultivate optimism: Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses, maximise your successes and minimise your failures, challenge self-sabotaging thought patterns by creating new ones that empower you, and look at all the possibilities in your life, not the limitations.
- Practice gratitude
As cliché as practising gratitude may sound, it can make you more hopeful. Thinking about all that you are grateful for puts things in a new and happier perspective, which naturally makes you more hopeful. You can practice gratitude by writing down daily three to five things you are grateful for in a journal. Alternatively, you can think grateful thoughts before you start or end your day.
- Look at the possibilities in your life, not the limitations
When you feel a loss of hope, visualising a better future can give you the will to find ways to make it so. For help with this, you can create a compelling vision, which is a clear and specific mental picture of a desired outcome. This outcome must inspire and energise you to go after it no matter what obstacles come up. For example, a compelling vision might be to live somewhere else more desirable to you, write a book on a favourite topic or start a business. Thinking about your vision inspires hope.
- Go outside to look at nature
Have you ever looked at a flower or sunrise and felt a rise of hope? Nature has a way of doing this for us. We see that no matter what the sun and moon appear, birds sing, grass grows and the seasons change. We can also rely on a new day bringing us a fresh start, a chance to make a change, get it right and say what needs to be said. What better way to practice hope, than to marvel at nature’s beauty every day.
- Do a random act of kindness
Kindness gives hope to others. You can choose from these 100 Ways to Be Kinder to give you some ideas. For example, paying for someone behind you at a drive-thru can start your day in a more hopeful manner. You feel good and so does the person receiving your kind gesture. Any act of kindness will give a rise in hope for the receiver and the giver. Why is this? Because it helps re-instil our faith in the goodness of one another.
- Take some time for self-care
Loving ourselves can be a challenge any time but especially during hard times. A job loss can shake our confidence. We can blame ourselves for a mistake we made that caused something unfortunate to happen. This is when we most need to practice self-love. Some ways to do this are to notice your negative self-talk and work to change it, believe in yourself and your capabilities, engage in self-care by meditating, taking a vacation and exercising and eating better. Finally, visualise the life you want and commit to making it happen, which surely increases hope.
By making a choice to hope, you put yourself in control of how you react to your circumstances and how you’ll handle what comes next. Although it’s not so easy when going through bad things to maintain a hopeful disposition, always know that you can draw upon hope to see things in a new way.
Realising that we are not our thoughts, or our emotions, is freeing. We all have an internal ‘sat nav’ which guides us to let us know whether we are on the right path or not. It is important to remember that one of the mind’s jobs is to protect and we all know the signals that give us a feeling that something isn’t right. Quite often we ignore these responses or jump to blaming someone or something else for our discomfort rather than be self-reflective.
When we regularly or, in some cases, constantly feel unsettled, we need to be able to see this differently. It is often an alarm resonating in our bodies and a message from the mind. It is usually there because we are not doing what is right for us. The mind can then distort a situation or associate it with something external. These alarms become more and more sensitive as our beliefs and self-esteem take a beating.
Our responses, like anxiety, anger or sadness, can suddenly appear, almost like coming out of the blue. It could be a stomach churn, a nauseous feeling or a doom sensation. These physical symptoms are often part of the internal world bringing our attention to something that we perceive as wrong or dangerous. It is these feelings that we often desperately want to avoid although it is so often a call to action and a wonderful lesson in disguise. We can get so uncomfortable that we want to run away or feel the need to fight back. While this is a natural response, avoiding the situation or being angry towards another may mean that a personal lesson is missed. When we miss our lesson, there is a high chance that similar situations will be repeated until we do!
Do you ever hear yourself saying ‘Why does this keep happening to me’? It can become more and more painful and challenging each time – in my book I call this the ‘resit’ class? When you learn to sit with the uneasiness and not run away, you are more likely to see the insights, both positive and negative and can take a different viewpoint on the experience. A word of warning, this will feel like a stretch, particularly in very painful and harsh situations, although well worth it. Instead, move from a position of feeling sorry for yourself (victim position) or blaming (persecutor position) towards looking for the lessons available. These lightbulb moments are a gift and bring the most significant changes which can be transformational. By changing our perspective and looking closely at ourselves then we can see more clearly. This could be something as simple as ‘when my girlfriend is running late, what do I need to do for myself to be settled rather than losing it’? Remember, challenging situations and when there appears to be a mistake, these can be lessons in disguise. We can either beat ourselves up and feel devastated, or instantly blame others, or we can take it as an opportunity to improve. Making more mistakes creates more feedback and an opportunity to learn more lessons. In many people’s lives, unfortunately the biggest mistake that they make is not acknowledging the lesson. To move away from this type of thinking, look within and find out what you are doing or not doing which is causing you the issue. It is far better to see each situation as an opportunity to grow and develop rather than consider it a disaster. Being mindful of your thinking and behaviours behind why you do certain things and noticing what triggers the emotional responses gives you a new platform. It is a clear signal that something needs to change.