10 tips for remaining hopeful
Life is unpredictable and doesn’t always go the way you want, so how do you continue to live well no matter what life throws at you? The key to staying afloat during life’s difficulties is to have hope.
Hope is a word not often used in conversation and people find it hard to describe, but at its simplest hope is the belief that positive things can happen in your life despite what has occurred in the past. How, then, do you hope when life gets tough? There are eight key elements that make establishing and holding onto hope easier.
Eight key elements of hope
The following elements of hope can help you to cope when life is difficult and you are feeling at your most vulnerable. They are not things you will think about once but rather you will return to time and time again.
- The mindset you choose in response to a situation.
- Finding a sense of meaning in your life.
- Accepting the changes that have happened to you.
- Appreciating the things you still have.
- Setting new goals for the future and getting active.
- Staying connected to others.
- Staying connected to the present moment.
- Supporting your body and mind.
Choosing your mindset
Life is 2 per cent what happens to you and 98 per cent how you respond to it. This is because how you react to your life is a choice; the beginning of hope or despair begins the instant you choose what you tell yourself about your situation, the perspective you take.
We all have an inner voice that provides constant commentary on our lives. Unfortunately, this voice is often set to “doom and gloom” and can completely skew your perception of what is happening in your life. It is vital to replace those negative messages with messages that are more balanced and more positive.
While it is good to be reminded that you have a choice about how you respond to a situation, it can be extremely difficult. Hope is, after all, what you draw on when life is at its hardest, not at its easiest and happiest.
It is hope that you look to when, for example, you have lost a loved one, been the victim of a crime, been diagnosed with a serious illness, lost your career or ended a marriage. In these types of situations there is a huge amount of grief and that, in turn, can lead to a whole gamut of emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, rage and depression.
The decision to hope happens within this gritty and dark time. Hope is not a denial of what you are feeling or about “putting on a happy face”. Hope is about feeling the emotions associated with your loss but not letting them get so out of control that they completely overwhelm you and keep you stuck.
For some this transition may happen naturally; for others it may be necessary to seek professional help in order to get to a place where future possibilities and opportunities can be seen and acted on.
One psychoanalyst who has known great suffering is Dr Viktor Frankl. Frankl not only survived multiple Nazi concentration camps but went on to write a book about hope based on his experiences in the camps. Frankl believes hope is life’s most powerful force and that in order to have hope you must have a sense of your life’s purpose and meaning.
Friedrich Nietzsche famously stated, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” It is your why for living that provides you with the motivation and inspiration to hope and to make something positive of your life.
In the quest to discover or recapture your life’s purpose and meaning it can be helpful to ask yourself, “What would I do with my life if I had only one year to live?” Your answer to that question will clearly show the things you value and the things that inspire you the most. When you know what drives you and what you can offer the world, dealing with and accepting what has happened in your life become a little easier.
Once Frankl was released from the concentration camp he went on to practise psychology and would ask his clients who felt hopeless why they hadn’t taken their own lives. It was their answers that made him able to help them see their reasons for living. He explains, “When the impossibility of replacing a person is realised, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude.”
Knowing your life has a purpose and meaning is the foundation for living hopefully and is the element you will return to when your positivity and emotions falter. Once you have a strong foundation, you can then begin to get your head around the way your life has changed and appreciate what you still have.
Without accepting your life as it is, you remain focused on what was, which keeps you in the past and unable to move forward. While acceptance is not about being happy with your situation, it is about acknowledging that things have changed and then renavigating your life from there.
It’s important to realise that a lot of energy can be wasted trying to change the unchangeable.
Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is a good reminder of the need to be discerning in life, particularly in relation to how you invest your time and energy: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Part of moving forward is accepting and taking stock of what you still have and being grateful for those things, and then using them to your greatest potential.
It is very easy to focus solely on the things you have lost or the things that have changed, but one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is, “What can I still do in this circumstance?” By looking at what is still possible you allow yourself to stay engaged in your life. Remaining engaged in your life is vital to combat feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Focusing on what is possible shifts your mindset from feeling like a victim to seeing how much you can still direct and influence your life.
Trusting in your ability to cope
People are incredibly resilient and cope with much more than they assume they can. After an accident that left him paralysed, Christopher Reeve showed great insight when he said, “Before a catastrophe, we can’t imagine coping with the burdens that might confront us in a dire moment. Then when the moment arrives, we suddenly find that we have resources inside us that we knew nothing about.”
It is so easy when you are feeling overwhelmed to assume that everything is hopeless and you don’t have it in you to pull through. Reminding yourself of all the things you have managed to cope with in the past can help you focus on your resilience and the coping skills you have previously used. Once you have chosen to view your circumstances from a place of hope, it is then necessary to begin to live that hope by setting goals and getting active.
Setting goals and getting active
Developing goals is fundamental to the development and maintenance of hope because it keeps you moving and it keeps you actively engaged in your life and with others.
Magella was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome just over 20 years ago when she was in her early twenties. She has had to renavigate her life and find new ways of being. In addition to dealing with her illness, she also faced the challenge of caring for her husband, who was diagnosed with brain tumours. Sadly, he passed away just three months after the diagnosis.
Magella could have become angry and bitter about the losses in her life but she speaks positively of her experiences. For her, remaining hopeful was about staying engaged in life. She says, “At times when I have gone through isolation or depression or grief, I will consciously think, ‘Right I will do something, just get moving, just make something, offer something.’
“That is just the practical thing that you do that helps you out of trouble because you know it will carry you somewhere eventually. Even if you are just going through the motions and not feeling a great deal of joy, it will carry you.”
To remain hopeful you must keep active, set goals and try new things in the hope that it will lead to something new and positive.
Part of setting effective goals is making sure they are flexible and adaptable in order to respond to the ever-changing nature of life. It’s important to be open to how your goals may be achieved as positive change can happen in the least likely of places and in the most unexpected ways. It can be hard to stay focused on achieving your goals, so having people around to support you is extremely helpful.
Staying connected to others
It is not uncommon to feel that you are the only person going through whatever you are struggling with. The wonderful thing about talking with people is that you soon learn that everyone is dealing with one thing or another. There is a lot to learn from other people’s ways of coping.
Community and support groups can be a great way to get connected with others who are going through similar things and can provide useful suggestions and tips on how to get through your difficult times.
In the same way that is important to stay connected to people, it is equally as important to stay connected to the present moment.
Staying connected to the present moment
Hope is a balancing act. It is incredibly dangerous to look back to the past too much and get stuck on what was. It is also detrimental to look too far into the future and place all your hopes and happiness on a future time.
No one knows what the future holds, or if they will be there to see it. By deferring happiness to a future time you disengage from your life in the here and now. You only ever truly have the present moment and that’s where you should focus your energy.
While in the concentration camps, Frankl noticed how looking to the past and lamenting what was, rather than what was still possible in the present and future, impacted on prisoners greatly. “A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself occupied with retrospective thoughts … in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist.”
Since there are always positives to be found in any given situation it’s necessary to support your body and mind so you have the energy and resources to react to your life in the most beneficial and healthy way possible.
Supporting your body and mind
It takes energy to stay motivated and positive, and to form goals and set them into action, so being as energised as possible is important. Getting good sleep, eating a balanced diet and exercising can help you approach life with more energy. The healthier your body and mind, the easier it is to stay motivated and positive.
Engaging in activities that ground you and help you find new ways of seeing your issues is essential for a healthy body and mind. For some this means attending religious or spiritual activities, while for others it might mean yoga, meditation, creativity, volunteering or spending time in nature. Whatever helps, the important thing is that you find a space and time to check in with yourself and begin to place your problems within the larger scale of your life.
10 tips for remaining hopeful
- Challenge negative thoughts with more balanced and positive thoughts.
- Write about what you would do if you had one year to live.
- Get grounded by spending time in nature, volunteering or through religious/spiritual activities.
- Get active.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Meditate to bring your body and mind into the present moment.
- Spend time with people who inspire and support you.
- Write a list of things you are grateful for in your life.
- Set some short-term and long-term goals and develop an action plan.
- Seek professional help if you need to develop your coping skills.
How you respond to what happens in your life determines your experience of life, your outlook and ultimately your happiness and health. Hope has the power to keep you afloat when life is at its hardest and to move your life in a positive direction. Having hope is about believing that where there is a will there is a way. Hope is about choosing to never give up looking for new opportunities and, above all else, it is about investing in the belief that your future will be bright and positive.
Jessica Stead is a freelance writer. She has completed a BA (Hons) in communications and has written a thesis on the role of hope in the lives of refugees. She has a particular interest in writing about hope and ways to enhance personal wellbeing. E: firstname.lastname@example.org
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