,April 7, 2021
Image: Ian Schneider | Unsplash
It is the notion of hope that makes it possible to create a better future. Even when times are gloomy, it’s imperative not to lose hope. If you are struggling right now to embrace a hopeful mindset, there are plenty of good reasons to try. Take a look.
Since the dawn of humankind there have been struggles and at times cataclysmic events that have tested the hearts and minds of the most optimistic who walk among us. Wars that ripped families apart and divided nations, devastating bushfires and droughts that unleashed Mother Nature’s fury, and pandemics that swept the globe and brought out the very best and the very worst of humanity.
Right now, in the wake of a pandemic, we are living in unprecedented times. You might think, “OK, what have I got to be hopeful about?” While we can’t control the big-picture stuff, there is a lot we can do to develop a sense of hopefulness about the future.
Hope is an optimistic state of mind; it’s a belief that something good will happen. It’s not about being unrealistic. It’s about opening your heart to the universe.
Living a life of hope can encompass many things. Having more but living with less, learning to trust your gut, developing hopeful habits, finding strength and solace, embracing mindfulness and discovering your inner joy.
Emily Dickinson once said, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers — That perches in the soul — And sings the tune without the words — And never stops — at all.”
Hope is something we live for. How often do you begin a thought process with “I hope”? Opening the fridge after a tough day and hoping someone hasn’t scoffed the last KitKat. Maybe it’s hoping your budding 10-year-old Einstein will win the school science prize, or perhaps it’s holding your breath as you hope against hope that the lump you found isn’t something sinister.
So, what does hope look like? It’s something you can’t see, you can’t reach out and touch it, but it can wrap itself around you like a warm blanket when you need it. Hope is imagining a future where we can explore new truths, to learn and to grow, to live an authentic life and explore new possibilities together.
No one really knows what the future holds. As we forge ahead in this brave new world there is uncertainty about tomorrow. Futurist Ross Dawson says few people think about the future, as much as they should.
“The future doesn’t just happen; it is created by all of us individually and collectively. … the first step is we must believe that it is possible to create a better future.”
“The reality is tomorrow will be different from today; you can’t make a decision today about your future without thinking about how the world might be different,” he says. Even in times of turmoil, when you might feel as though you have little control over today’s outcomes, Dawson says it’s imperative not to lose hope — because it’s people who shape the future.
“The future doesn’t just happen; it is created by all of us individually and collectively. It’s fundamental, and the first step is we must believe that it is possible to create a better future,” he says.
Hope isn’t unrealistic or even wishful thinking. Instead, it’s a mindset that embraces the possibility of positive change. It’s feeling optimistic, it’s having faith. And if you are struggling right now to embrace a hopeful mindset, there are plenty of good reasons to try.
A clinical review by psychologist Charles Carver showed those with a hopeful, optimistic mindset take more proactive measures to protect their health. A plethora of research shows those who are optimistic are indeed healthier, recover faster from illness and surgery, and they often live longer.
It turns out being hopeful is something we are born with. Dr Shane Rogers, psychologist and wellness expert, says as part of the human condition, most people tend to lean more towards positive outcomes and less towards negative ones. “It’s called optimism bias, and it’s something that is innate, I think it’s in our DNA,” he explains.
While an optimism bias can motivate individuals to push the boundaries in the belief they’ll succeed, Dr Rogers is quick to add that it needs to be coupled with a healthy dose of realism to reduce risky behaviour.
Cultivating a hopeful mindset begins with honesty. It’s being your authentic true self and acknowledging how you are feeling.
We all have intuitive ability that can guide our decision-making processes to more affirmative outcomes. But Ash King, psychology researcher from the Indigo Project, says that during stressful or anxious times it’s not always easy to trust your intuition. She explains the best way to connect to your gut instinct is to check in with your body and your deeper values. “The desire to live more authentically and courageously can sometimes feel scary, but it’s also exciting, versus anxiety which keeps us living small out of fear,” she says.
It might seem an indulgence to fill the bath with bubbles and sip a glass of wine from time to time, but a little self-care and pampering is good for our emotional health and wellbeing, which in turn boosts our hopeful mindset. We all have things that make us feel good, whether that’s cheering on your favourite footy team, whipping up a batch of brownies with the kids or climbing a mountain. Make time for things that soothe your soul. Spend time outdoors connecting with nature, for it is a wonderful healer.
Discover new ways to find your inner strength and solace. Try the art of mindfulness, which means to be fully present. Sabina Rabold, psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, says developing a mindfulness habit is food for the soul. “I recommend a daily mindfulness practice — even if you only have five minutes,” she says.
Hope is effervescent; it’s all-encompassing and it’s contagious.
If you’ve never practised mindfulness before, wherever you are in this moment — stop right now. Tune into your senses. Hear the whisper of the wind through the trees. Taste the sweet indulgence of a juicy peach. Feel the cool caress of grass under your feet. Savour the ephemeral beauty of a butterfly as it flitters from a sun-kissed flower. If thoughts crowd your consciousness, let them wash over you. Remember to breathe deeply and with purpose. Being present allows your mind to rest and rejuvenate. How did you feel?
Many in the western world are drowning in a sea of superfluousness. Having possessions that you no longer need, or use, can lead to a clutter-filled home which can weigh you down emotionally. Kirsty Farrugia from The Art of Decluttering says decluttering is ultimately very liberating. “Letting go of things that no longer serve you well is a beautiful thing; it brings freedom and joy,” she says. “It makes you feel lighter and you realise that what’s really important in life is relationships and experiences, not things.”
To start the practice of decluttering, the key according to Farrugia is to start small. “Whatever your feet hit first or whatever your eyes land on first. Give yourself a 15-minute timer, or you can start with two minutes and go micro,” she says. “You’ll gather momentum as you exercise your decluttering muscles.” And, of course, pass on whatever you don’t need or want to those who could use a helping hand.
Accept that it’s OK to feel vulnerable and to admit that there are things that make you feel fearful. Rabold says if you are feeling there are things shaping your universe that you can’t control, set small goals and empower yourself to take baby steps towards them. Then congratulate yourself when you achieve them. Doing something you’ve never done before can also boost a hopeful mindset. “Trying something new is a way to remind ourselves that we have resilience, strength and the ability to master new challenges, even if the bigger picture seems difficult,” she says.
When you are a child, life is pretty simple. Eat, sleep, play, repeat. Children seem to be able to discover a world filled with wonderment. Kids are born with that innate ability to be fully present, to find joy in the simple things. They already have a hopeful mindset; they truly believe Santa will deliver a toy they hope with all their heart they’ll find under the tree. They’re hopeful that when a parent says five more minutes at the park, they’ll get away with 10. They don’t have to hope for joyful endings in story books; for them happily ever after is a given. And why shouldn’t it be? We all have choices and can shape our own futures. All you need is hope.
Everyone can get a dose of the blahs. Take a moment and focus. Think about the many ways a hopeful mindset can drive your conscious thoughts. Try the tips below.
Celebrate the challenges you have overcome
Remember the obstacles you have hurdled in the past to be where you are right now. You’ve done some pretty special things. You’ve put yourself out there in the past and worked towards your achievements. If you are struggling with a barrage of hopeless thoughts, Dr Rogers suggests pressing pause on any negativity and flipping that switch. “A simple thing to break out of the cycle of ruminating on negative thoughts is to say to yourself, ‘I’ve been through bad things before — and I got through it OK’,” he says.
Build authentic connections with others
Surround yourself with those who not only bring you joy, but those who you feel safe with. Rabold says to maintain a hopeful attitude, surround yourself with people who offer support and who you can genuinely be truthful with. “Even just one or two people you can speak honestly with and say, ‘I’m really having a hard time’, or ‘I’m struggling with this’,” she says.
It also builds hope when you honour your relationship with yourself. Spend time getting to know who you are; put aside time to reflect and practise the art of gratitude. Rabold says keeping a gratitude journal can lift the spirits. “Each day write down three things that you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be big profound things; a delicious meal shared, a kind gesture or word from others, and read over it when you need a lift,” she says.
Let’s keep it real
Not everyone feels great all the time. Everyone has days where they wish they could just dive back under the covers the moment their feet hit the floor. And that’s OK.
Dr Rogers says sometimes people think that tapping into a positive mindset means they should feel great all the time — and if they don’t, then they have somehow failed. “It’s OK to think I’m not feeling great at the moment,” he says. “If you feel bad, it’s adaptive. You problem-solve, you learn and grow from your experience.”
Figuring out something doesn’t work leads you down a different pathway to developing new and better ways of doing things. It isn’t failure — it’s a funky kind of success. Next time you feel a sense of hopelessness, nix that negativity and think, “I’ve got this. The world is filled with possibilities.”
When situations and events seem to be spiralling out of control look at the situation through a different lens. Dr Rogers says it’s a very simple and profound method anyone can use. “Look at the situation from a different angle or perspective. You might discover there’s even more than one silver lining in a situation you initially though was hopeless,” he says. “For example, during COVID-19 we couldn’t get out and about as much but people not only saved money, they had the opportunity to spend more time at home with their families.”
Helping those you love
If you think someone you care about is struggling with feelings of hopelessness, there are signs to look for. Ash King says they might begin to isolate themselves from others and no longer find joy in things they were passionate about. “They might sleep or eat way too much, or not enough, or be self-medicating by drinking or using drugs, or talk about feeling hopeless and that ‘there’s no point’ and ‘what’s the use?’.”
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say or do to help. The key, says King, is to not try to solve all of their problems for them but to ask them questions about their feelings, to listen and validate. “For example, I can understand why you’d feel like this. Or it’s normal for you to feel this way, given what you’re going through,” she says. If someone you know or love is experiencing difficulties coping, reach out to a helpline, or if there is immediate risk for their safety call 000.
In times of uncertainly we need to believe there is hope. Hope is a shining light. Hope is a way to create a bold new future. Hope invites us to explore, to challenge. Hope is effervescent; it’s all-encompassing and it’s contagious.
Carrol Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist who is a passionate advocate of natural health and wellness. She writes for lifestyle and healthy-living magazines across Australia and internationally.
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