Cultivating Hope in the Eye of a Storm
As attention turns to one of the greatest natural disasters our country has seen, Hurricane Sandy, it’s for those who are affected to feel like this is one more punch to a currently weathered nation. Our minds can get the best of us leading us to unhealthy states of heightened stress, anxiety or depression. One of the elements that I believe gives us strength in the face of adversity is the belief in hope.
Albert Einstein said “In the face of difficulty lies opportunity.”
One opportunity is the build the strength of hope. So what is hope? Hope is a combination of an emotional state with thoughts that we believe we can reach certain attainable goals. In this way, hope is a strength as it gives us motivation and energy to focus on the tasks in life that we believe will serve us best. It wasn't until recently that Psychologists actually broke down what they believed the components of hope are.
Psychologist, C.R. Snyder and his colleagues say that hope is cultivated when we have a goal in mind, determination that a goal can be reached, and a plan on how to reach those goals. In this sense, we can hope for big things (e.g., the Presidency) or we can hope for small things (e.g., a clean room). Although people who have hope will have a sense of determination and a plan on how to achieve these goals, they will also be flexible, understanding that they may need to have a couple backup plans in case the first one doesn't work out. Like the little engine that could, they keep telling themselves "I think I can, I think I can".
As a Psychologist, I use a hope-barometer to see how a person is doing at any particular moment so I can support them. On a scale of 1 to 10, if their hope for getting better is a 2, that tells me that they are not only likely pretty depressed, but can't envision the light at the end of the tunnel (e.g., goal), have little sense of a plan on how to get there, and their motivation and determination is low. When the number moves from a 2 to a 5, I often ask how they make sense of this difference. Many will say they can see what feeling better might be like (i.e., goal), the plans they have put in place are allowing them to realize more pleasure and interest in life, and they feel some motivation to continue doing things that feed their well-being.
We can turn this moment from one of devastation into one of inspiration and motivation with a common goal in mind, with a plan on how to reach that goal, and with a determination that can motivate volunteers all across the country to support one another.
How to cultivate hope in your own life:
Try to envision something realistic you want for yourself in your life. Create a plan on how to get there, and be like the little engine that could and keep saying "I think I can". If you are feeling particularly low, start with something very small like cleaning a room. If you find yourself getting distracted often, go ahead and read another blog I wrote on mindfulness and work that may support you with some pointers for this. Cultivating hope is also like building a muscle, little by little, keep at it and it will get stronger.
As always, feel free to share your own experiences, comments, and questions below. We can all benefit from your questions, insights, and wisdom.