Recovering your hopeMy client Carla came into the office, her eyes alight.

“I know what I’m going to do!” she exclaimed. “I’m going to contact some folk I’ve met on Facebook and ask for their recommendations – I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before!”

Carla had decided several months ago that she was going to change doctors. She wanted a more holistic medical team, that included alternative practitioners, and she wanted a doctor who could help her get off some of her medications and work with other forms of pain management. It was a big goal – and pursuing it gave Carla energy – and more significantly – hope.

In a recent article in The Psychology Monitor, Kirsten Weir describes the research and outcomes scientists found as they studied the effect of having hope.

First, they distinguished hope from optimism. They are related, but the belief that things are going to turn out ok or even better than expected is not the same as having hope. Hope is a little more muscular. The classic definition came from the work of Charles Snyder. His definition of hope included three things: agency, goals, and pathways.

Agency means that you think you have the means to change something or have an effect on the outcome. Goals are what you want to have happen, and pathways are the strategies and plans you use to get there.

Carla had all of these in her pursuit of a new healthcare team. She believed – even though she encountered a number of obstacles, that she could create the kind of medical care she wanted and needed. She saw a clear goal of a few people who could understand her needs, and meet them. She kept searching, using multiple pathways to get to her goal. Our conversation about using social media was one of many we had about how to find her “tribe” as she described it.

Hope is very active, it is not just wishing or believing that things will turn out as we desire. To be hopeful is to be engaged and involved. The benefits of are great – better success in life, less depression and anxiety, more productive work life – researchers have documented an impressive list of results that accrue from being hopeful

But how do we get that hope when we’re at the bottom of our reserves?

Shane Lopez, a senior researcher at Gallup, and author of the book, Making Hope Happen has several suggestions. He believes it is absolutely possible to recover hope, and that hope can co-exist along negative emotions. We can be hopeful, even when we’re not feeling well or we’ve had a difficult experience.

The first thing that researchers have found that boosts hope is to laugh. Just a simple belly laugh can shift out mood and our thinking.

What amuses you? Where do you find humor? Cultivate those sources – they are golden for you!

A second resource is our social group – family, neighbors, friends, our community tis – they all contribute to weaving a web of connections. Those connections – and what we offer and give to our network also create a foundation for our recovery of hope.

Finally Lopez has three steps:

“Futurecasting” – being able to see and feel our goals, where we’re going. Don’t just think vaguely about what it will be like – see your desired future in detail, as my client did.

Work towards your goal – take steps that get you a little bit on the way every day.

Plan for contingencies – those who are most successful is restoring their hope use multiple solutions. They don’t get stuck on just one way to get there. They are willing to try various routes when one is blocked or they get stuck.

Finally he says that we also sometime need to “re-goal.” What we are hoping for realistically won’t happen. We have to gently let go of a goal and put a new one in place.

A client of mine had set a goal to do a half marathon. He worked very hard to train and prepare, and the goal stoked his hopefulness about his body and his health. A major flare the week before the event sidelined him, and it would have been easy for him to fall into despair. But he began to “re-goal” for himself, and was able to climb out of the downward spiral and decide where he would aim for in the next six months.

Each of our ways to cultivate hope are unique. While these strategies and ideas may help you – you probably already have your own methods that are specific for your life.

Let me know where you are building and recovering your hope. It matters!