“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” Viktor Frankl
We all have problems, issues, trials and tribulations in our lives. Everyone. The reality is that no one leads a charmed life without some kind of problems. Depression/anxiety, marriage problems, difficult teenagers, taking care of aged parents, financial problems, stress at work, health problems. No one gets a free pass. This is the human condition. So how do we start to make things better? How do we start to make a change when we feel that it’s hopeless?
Building a sense of hope
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence”. Helen Keller
Are you a hopeful person? Do you wake in the morning with a sense of optimism and positive expectations? Take a look at your environment at home and work. Do you have coworkers, friends and family around you that are hopeful and positive? Do you feel connected to them in positive ways? Do you feel a sense that you are capable and effective in your daily life? Do you feel that you are acting from a place of safety and security or do you feel that you are constantly reacting?
Most importantly, ask yourself: Are you willing to work on those areas in which you are less than hopeful? Are you willing to work on yourself and begin changing your attitudes? Your unique outlook on your own life is the key to strengthening your emotional core, sense of optimism and building resiliency in your life. So how do we start to do that?
Accept the present
One of the most important things that can help us start to make change is to take a deep breath and accept our present circumstances, especially if it feels that they really suck right now. I don’t mean you should stop trying and just accept the suckiness. Just that maybe, sometimes we spend so much time fighting and railing against our negative present circumstance, that we don’t use our energy wisely. We spend our energy whinging and complaining about how bad things are and how much it sucks rather than looking at how to move forward and gain some traction in making our world better. To start the process of change we have to accept that our world is truly full of bittersweet paradox. There will always be good and bad in our life but we always have a choice in how we choose to look at our world and what we do to try and make things better.
When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor Frankl
Take an inventory and set some goals
The first step in building hope, and starting to change, is asking yourself: What do you want your life to look like? What’s going right and what’s going wrong? To really build a sense of hope, we have to set our sights on goals and a future that’s realistic and achievable.
Ask yourself, what do you really, really want to change in your life that would really make things better? A good place to start is to ask yourself the Miracle Question, a thought experiment taken from Solution Focused Therapy.
If tonight while you’re sleeping, a miracle occurred, and your life improved (in realistic ways), what would look differently in the morning and how exactly would it look differently? Describe this new and improved world in detail. Although obviously our world usually doesn’t have miracles asking yourself this question is a great way to stop focussing on the problem and start looking at the possibility of a world where the problem has been dealt with and your life has changed and improved.
Once you’ve really figured out what you want to change, a good next step to do that is to set some SMART goals. SMART goals come from management guru Peter Drucker. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant/realistic and time-sensitive.
- Specific — the goal is targeted and not too general or vague.
- Measurable — the goal can actually be quantified/measured so we can see success.
- Achievable and Action Oriented — the goal is something that you can actually work towards.
- Relevant and Realistic — the goal is something you can actually achieve with the skills and resources you have
- Time Bound — the goal has a beginning and ending and a realistic timeline. Next week, next month, six months from now?
Perhaps the most important part of setting goals is actually making the effort to set them! You can’t hit a target if you don’t have a target to aim at!
Develop the conviction that change is possible and things can get better
One of the foundational building blocks of change is starting with the belief that change is possible in your life. Without this firm belief in place, it’s really hard to move forward.
You need to have a firm belief, with little doubt that the achievement of change is a possibility. Decide for yourself that being hopeful and starting change are possible and realistic. Visualise and even fantasise about what your life will be like after you make this change. How exactly will it be better? How will it feel? What will improve?
Try to use positive language and positive self-talk
Part of developing a “firm belief” that we can change is through using positive language and self-talk. I’m sure most of you have heard the term “self-talk” or the term “inner voice”, or even the intimidating sounding “critical inner voice” or “negative self-talk”.
But what exactly is self-talk or the inner voice? Well, it appears to be a form of natural and automatic “inner dialogue” that pops in and out our conscious thinking. It takes the form of thoughts, expressions, suggestions, ideas and concepts that transmit themselves into our “consciousness” and into our awareness. It is often this “little voice” that guides our day-to-day behaviours and tells us we should “call our mom, catch up on our paperwork or try harder at some task”. No, the little voice does not mean you are crazy. Pretty much everyone has a little inner or self-talking voice to some degree.
One of the best ways to build a sense of hope and optimism is to challenge any negative self-talk/thoughts rather than avoiding or ignoring them. Is your “inner voice” telling you that you’re not good enough, or that you’re goals are just too hard and unachievable? Here is an article on how to change and challenge your inner voice if you find it’s really overly negative and critical: https://roberthammel.com/shut-up-quieting-the-critical-inner-voice/
Remember that Buddha said:
All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.
Look to your past to build hope for your future.
Take into consideration all the things you’ve already done in your life. Remember and chronicle your earlier achievements and successes, make a list or journal about them. What challenges have you overcome before? We all have a list of success and achievement that we can look to help build our confidence that we can indeed change. In fact, the reality is that one of the constants in human life is change! Evolution shows that we are constantly evolving adapting and changing… it’s “natural” to change and improve and “unnatural” to stay stuck in a negative rut!
Be around positive, optimistic and energetic people.
Who in your life fills you with that sense of hope and positive energy? Are the people you hang around with helping you feel more hopeful and positive or are they draining your energy with whiny negative attitudes? Water seeks its own level, so make an effort to be around people that support your vision for a better future and want what’s best for you.
Put in the effort, beginning with your commitment to start
Fostering hope and starting to change requires the courage to take that first step. Close your eyes, pinch your nose and jump!!! Take that first step in the right direction and be committed to yourself and the process of change.
Think about why you’re doing this, focus your attention on the goals you’ve made, and fantasise about how it’ll feel and what your life will look like when you complete this important change into your life. We’ve all had the experience of wanting to start an exercise or diet “next week” — when next week just keeps getting put off, and it never actually happens. Make the commitment to begin — and then follow through. Don’t expect a miracle and that everything will change overnight. Becoming more optimistic and positive requires you to check on and even “adjust” your attitude every day and maybe even a few times a day!! Realise it’s a process and it will take work and time! Sometimes change requires us to take two step forwards and one step back.
Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.~ Christopher Reeve.
Look for inspiration wherever you can find it
What charges your battery and makes you feel inspired? Look to your spirituality or faith, to inspirational reading or music. Some people even look to nature and being outside or even to running, hiking or other physical activity that makes them feel inspired. Look for things that “light your fire”. Really try to care for yourself and perform “self-care”, here’s a link to some self-care ideas: https://roberthammel.com/7-steps-to-emotional-self-care/
Start to keep a journal
Chronicle your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Journaling can be a great way to help you understand why you have been feeling lost and start to change to a more positive and hopeful way of being. Choose a suitable place to sit down and just start writing about your thoughts, attitudes and feelings; what you are thinking, or whatever seems important to write about. You can also use your journal as a way to document the progress toward your goals. Journaling is also a great way to keep track of how far you’ve come and how much you’ve accomplished in the journey to completing your goal of change. Buy a new journal that’s appealing to you; a pretty cover, leather covered, nice paper or whatever appeals to your sense of aesthetic. Here is a great place for journaling ideas https://journaltherapy.com/journal-cafe-3/journal-course/
Accept that sometimes change is a bit painful
Finally, we have to realise and accept that sometimes in life, we have to be in an uncomfortable place to move forward in positive ways. Feeling a bit distressed often just means that we are breaking out our “comfort zone”, that we are growing and we are learning to live our life in a better way! Making the effort to change can seemingly require a Herculean effort at first, but that’s why it’s worth it!!! There really is some truth in the tired cliché, “No pain, no gain”. Making a change often takes effort and time, and sadly there are usually are no shortcuts. Change your self-talk and tell yourself that even though it may be difficult and hard at first; it’s worth it, you’re growing towards a better life, that it’s only temporary, and that it will get easier!
Good luck and Godspeed in starting that change in your life! Also, remember that seeing a Psychologist for therapy can also really support you in making changes in your life!
There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow. Orison Swett Marden
This blog is not intended as medical advice, treatment or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a mental health or medical professional.
Drucker PF. The Practice of Management. New York: Harper & Rowe, Publishers; 1954