Before there is change, there is hope for change. Hope taps into yearnings to alter our lives, to realize our dreams, end our despair, assure our luck, achieve our desires, validate our ambitions, or confirm our trust.
The meaning of hope can, for some, also be stretched to include wishful thinking, greedy obsessions, lust, gullibility, blind faith, false promises, or ignorance of unwanted consequences.
Hope, when expressed in these extremes, can hurt others when it disregards realities, overlooks pain and sacrifice, or blocks flexibility. The importance of hope in our lives is that it is one key to personal change. We rarely seek change without some expectation of a positive outcome.
More about Hope
Hope is a positive forecast, an opening to the future. Hope is the oil that greases the skids of change by posing the possibility that we can improve on our lives. Hope is an attitude, belief, mood, or strategy in which we overestimate the future, affecting our judgments about uncertain situations so that we anticipate movement in a positive direction.
Hope offers a prophesy of success. Positive overestimates often are self-fulfilling because hope tends to produce action in the direction of realizing the forecast. Hope stimulates us to bring energy and commitment to situations that, in turn, tend to tip the scales in the direction we want them to go. It may even offer us a head start by suggesting concrete pathways and options for change.
Hope springs internal. While our personal needs, values, and beliefs engender hope, hope gains form and direction through our relationships and life circumstances. We base the likelihood of realizing hope on information we gather to make informed decisions.
What Fosters Hope?
Action is the handmaiden of hope. Just as hope can lead to action, action can lead to hope. Realizing hope requires that we move from thinking and observing to acting. Nurturing hope is a way of reducing the risks involved, so that anxiety does not inhibit action.
Though becoming more hopeful is easier said than done, people have been able to raise dim hopes in the following ways:
- Goals energize hope. A goal is a purpose, motive, or reason for the use of time or for the justification of an activity. The simplest way to foster hope is to examine the goals that emerge from our desires and ambitions. The more these goals are:
- concrete (rather than vague);
- achievable (rather than lofty);
- challenging (rather than easy); and
- appealing (rather than dreary),
the more we are likely to believe that acting on them will make a difference in our lives.
Developing goals begins with asking, “What do I want?”
Goals also may emerge from values clarification exercises (for example, writing your own epitaph), imagining our “possible selves,” considering our self-care needs, or identifying the tasks that emerge from our attempts to meet these needs. The test of a useful goal is its ability to motivate constructive action.
- Accept losses and limits. Action to change something in our lives inevitably means there will be a loss of something we value. This could include the loss of an important relationship, a skill, an opportunity, a future, or a dream.
Loss often leads to sadness and anger. Our willingness to talk honestly about the loss and to own these feelings represents the initial steps in mourning the loss. By grieving, we acknowledge the loss as something “that simply happened,” open ourselves to learning something from the experience and how to get on with our lives, turning our despair into new goals congruent with a new reality.
- Examine resources. Knowledge of the skills and strengths we bring to our endeavors generates hope. Reaching out to others to gain their insight, perspective, experience, advice, and support is an important way of extending the resources available to us.
- Think “Can Do.” The “little engine that could” epitomizes how we can generate hope by believing in our ability to act. The following techniques help us to see ourselves as actors and can kindle hope:
- Concentrate on small steps. According to an old Chinese saying, “the longest journey begins with a single step.” Consider a single step in the direction you seek. If the step is the right one, you will progress. If not, you have learned something and you can try another approach.
- Prioritize steps. Review possible steps and choose those that fit your best guess about what will promote progress or convey information about appropriate tactics.
- Rehearse action. Practice action beforehand to clarify and firm up your approach. Role playing or practicing before a mirror or with a tape recorder can offer feedback before you have to commit yourself to a particular course.
- Tolerate errors. For many, the hardest lesson of all is to learn that we progress when we take action, regardless of whether we succeed or fail. As is often said, “the worst thing that can happen is that I might learn something.”
- Normalize barriers. Achieving one’s goals is often difficult, especially when these goals are challenging and meaningful. Normalizing barriers to achievement means accepting barriers as part of the process and even planning for them.
- Act “as if.” When unsure about a goal, pretend a commitment to it and give yourself an “out” before you begin. Bby acting with this “out” in mind, you gain information without obligating yourself to staying with the process. This way, you can always say, “I changed my mind.”
- Reduce risks. Anticipating hazards and needed resources can reduce the risks of taking action. Becoming clear about the risks involved, the potential losses, who can help, what can go wrong and how you will know these are all helpful in deciding whether the risk is worthwhile. Taking the time to pursue your goals in the way you desire promotes a sense of ownership over the effort. Allowing for shifts in goals and strategies, a fail-safe point and a back-up position, and tolerating failure as a learning experience are all attitudes that allow us to tolerate risk. Ironically, acknowledging the anxiety that so often attends risk helps to calm us.
This article was adapted from Growing Ourselves Up: A Guide to Recovery and Self-Esteem, with permission of the author, Stanley J. Gross, Ed.D.