Hope is a bit of an abstract thing. For me, it’s challenging to try to visualise, and I think when you’re feeling anxious or depressed or any feelings that stop you from living as you might like, it’s certainly hard to feel.
But hope is essential. Hope is the thing that can be the driver for change in other areas of our life. Hope is the thing that helps us to try. We must believe that difficult situations are temporary and that things can change. When I think of all the things that have happened in my life, things I perceive as negative or positive, they have unfolded in just five minutes, for example, the event that spiralled my life into anxiety, but also the moment I met my husband. The list could go on.
And it’s not just our personal lives that can make us feel like there isn’t any hope. Our world is chaotic, and many crises are fuelled by governments that don’t appear to have compassion. These things are not our fault, but these are things we need to find a way to manage within us and still stay hopeful for the future.
Although I find hope challenging to cultivate at times, and there are many times in my life when other people have had to hold that hope for me, I find practising hope and moving towards it is one of the most beneficial things I can do.
So, what is hope?
Hope can encompass all of the following:
- It’s a wish for specific outcomes to unfold
- It’s a desire for something specific to happen
- It encompasses dreams and aspirations
- It’s a belief that the future can be better than the present
How is hope beneficial to our well-being?
- Having hope can increase our confidence by working towards our goals. When we work towards our goals, it can often mean taking ourselves outside of our comfort zone, and then all the small wins of the day and all the small steps achieved add up and make us more confident in our abilities.
- Having hope can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and lead to better life satisfaction.
- Hope can serve as motivation for us to work towards our goals. I believe that in life, sometimes we must have a certain level of acceptance of things that happen. However, the important caveat is that we do not have to be passive – we can still work towards whatever we want, trusting in the journey and process without worrying or getting fixated on the outcome. We also can’t wait and hope things will happen without taking some positive action. We can find motivation in the journey and try our best for specific outcomes to occur. When motivated to work towards our goals, we can develop areas of our life that we want to.
- Hope can improve our relationships with others.
- Hope can alleviate self-doubt.
How can we cultivate hope?
- Develop a Growth Mindset
In her book, Mindset, Dr Carol Dweck describes a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset. A Fixed mindset keeps you stuck and gives you the belief that nothing can ever change, leading to hopelessness. A growth mindset, however, leads to being more hopeful, as it is a mindset that means you believe that things can change and improve. Having a growth mindset and being hopeful means that you believe there are opportunities to come and that any setbacks you are experiencing are temporary and will pass. Hope can be developed and increased.
- Educate yourself
Whatever the situation is that may be contributing to you not feeling very hopeful, it can be helpful to learn more about it. If you are experiencing mental health challenges – research the challenges you may be experiencing, look to peers with lived experience and see what you can learn to help you make some small steps forwards. If you have problems with decision-making, learn about your options to help you make informed decisions. Being more knowledgeable about whatever you are experiencing can help you be solution-focused, explore all the options available to us, and help weigh up which options are best.
- Tap into your support network
If you feel hopeless, your support network can hold hope for you until you can.
Support networks can include many different people – friends, family, neighbours, peers, GPs and community groups. There’s no shame in asking for help if needed – people like to help.
We can feel more supported and understood when we tap into our support network. Our support networks can encourage and motivate us and help us move in the direction we need. Research suggests that if we surround ourselves with more positive and hopeful people, we can more easily take on those traits ourselves.
- Make some goals
Hope and goals are closely connected. When we have goals. We are most hopeful when we are pursuing a goal, and there is something we desire to achieve. The goals need to be truly ours, not other people’s expectations of us or what we think we should do or are supposed to do based on other people’s views or actions. Make those goals authentic and take small steps towards making them a reality.
- Find role models
Having role models to look to for inspiration or guidance can help us to be hopeful. When I feel hopeless, though, it’s not the typical success of a person that I am looking to for inspiration. It’s people who have felt hopeless and felt like they couldn’t see the future they wanted. I look to my peers; I look to the ordinary extraordinary people that have found a way to live the life they want, to determine what success means for themselves, the people that believed in themselves and made changes, the people who believed in what was possible for them. That is where hope can be found and where role models and mentors can be beneficial.
- Notice your inner critic’s judgements
The inner critic is that voice in the back of our head that is telling us we are not good enough. When the inner critic constantly barrages us with negativity, it can make us feel hopeless and destroy our self-esteem and confidence. The thing about the inner critic, though, is that it’s mostly telling us lies, and we all too often believe them. Being able to notice the critic’s words and seeing that they are just thoughts and inaccurate, we can be more positive and look forward. It is possible to tame the inner critic by reframing them and using other techniques drawn from psychology.
- Use your spirituality
We can cultivate hope by finding meaning and purpose in our lives; spirituality can be a way to find meaning. Spirituality has a broad definition but generally means something bigger than ourselves or feelings of interconnectedness. It can mean religion, connecting with nature, having compassion for all and inner contentedness. There can be many spiritual practices, including prayer, breathwork, walks in the woods, and meditation. What is your definition of spirituality, and what is your spiritual practice made up of? How can you use that to be more hopeful?
- Remember your strengths
Hope is a strength and is something we all have to lesser or greater degrees and can be improved. According to the VIA institute of character strengths, there are 24 universal strengths which we all exhibit. Knowing our strengths is a way to cultivate hope and well-being because it’s a way of better understanding ourselves. And when we know ourselves better, we can create more meaning and understand our goals better, all contributing to increasing hope.