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Hold onto Hope

As children, we are natural practitioners of the art of being hopeful. We hope Santa will bring us something special for Christmas, we hope our teacher will be in a good mood and let us have extra time doing the fun stuff, we hope our parents will take us to fun places on the weekend or over the school holidays.

Don’t ever let the buzz of hope go. Why? Let me take you back to a safe place, maybe it is your bedroom the night before your birthday, or perhaps it is the kitchen table of a grandparent or favourite elder who always made you feel special. It is that moment where you have no doubt that the big gift-wrapped box is for you. At last the time has come when you can open it… You reach for the gift, you feel excitement, you have butterflies dancing in your tummy and a nice tingle sensation over much of your body. In that moment you are invincible, you feel you are the most valuable person on the earth…

What is happening here is powerful stuff. You see a feeling of hopefulness changes your brain by producing chemicals that give a sense of hope which masks feelings of hurt and pain which in turn accelerates healing.

So, what is hope?

The dictionary tells that hope as a noun is a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen; or as verb it is want for something to happen. This tells us that hope is a both a feeling and a state of mind.

The magic combination of the brain and body involves both belief and expectation, which causes the brain to release neurochemicals called endorphins and enkephalins. The affect is they mimic the effects of morphine on our body. The result is that the brain can overcome hurdles and move to a place of recovery. Both the schools of psychology and science, hope and recovery are strongly correlated.

Some history:

Hope is not a new concept in the school of psychology, but it comes with a bad rap. It tends to conjure up one of two images either the image of someone prioritising religious belief and faith in an external controlling force then taking ownership of things themselves. Or that of a naive individual who wants to focus on internal optimisms without taking into account some pessimistic facts distorting any chance of realistic optimism.

However, in 1991 the thought leader in positive psychology Charles R. Synder with a team of researcher published the Hope Theory. Hope Theory suggests that there are three components to hope: (i) goals, (ii) pathways, and (iii) agency.

This team of researchers found that hopeful people tended to plan multiple pathways to goals because they anticipate that there will be obstacles. Which is wonderful but they also found that hopeful people have a high level of agency; which is the ability to persist and sustain a level of energy that gives them purpose to move towards their goals.

Let’s just walk back…

Thinking about the Hope Theory and what we have learnt from neuroscience and the way we know our brain produces chemicals which help us recover from setbacks, can you see how beneficial it is to have a hopeful outlook and hold onto hope?

How then do I to hold onto hope?

Research continues to remind us a number of life practices help us to maintain a hopeful mindset:

  1. Focus on what we can control. In life there is a lot of things that are beyond our control, there is great skill learning to know what is within our sphere of influence so that we can choose to take control of these things.

  2. Accept what you cannot control. Which is the obvious step from the above, but there is a lot of power in bravely accepting ‘the way cookie crumbles’ so that we cannot waste energy on the things outside of sphere of influence; giving more time to focus on what we can influence.

  3. Be a little selfish. This is not giving one permission to always put oneself first; but rather it is about taking the initiative to order our life so that our true priorities are a centre piece to how we live. You might need to take some time to identify what are your true priorities.

  4. Take care of yourself. Make sure you eat well, do a little exercise and be sure to have time out that is about celebrating you. There is lots of research that suggests a healthy body supported by good food and gentle exercise help ensure for a healthy mind.

  5. Be grateful. I know you’ve heard that before but do it; the way the brain responds to taking time to reflect on things worth being thankful for – the neuro conductor pathways open up creating a positive feeling which opens our brain to learn new things, look at things differently and to mask our pain.

  6. Ask for help. That’s right don’t be too shy nor too righteous to ask others to help you.

  7. Reach out to help others. Yes, there is a pattern but further to asking for help by doing things for others you will get great vibes back helping your brain to be happy.

  8. Don’t ignore what you are feeling. Positive and adverse emotions are all about living, so sit with your emotions and allow yourself to feel them. When you have had enough of the not so happy feelings start to practice some of the above tips to help move out of it and allow hope back into your mind.

  9. Be resolute but not stubborn. Remember the Hope Theory tells us that obstacles will get in your way when you set out to achieve a goal, know this and have some alternative options in mind beforehand – expressing these options is being resolute; ignore the obstacle and pushing through is an act of stubbornness (this is when you might need to ‘ask for help’).

Okay but why bother at all?

Well that is easy, we know hope allows people to approach problems with a mindset and strategy-set suitable to success. This hope mindset increases the chances you will actually accomplish what you set out to do. Good luck!


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