“To turn a twist on an old saying, when the going gets tough, the hopeful keep going.” Rick Snyder
I am sure you have experienced a time when life, or a part of your life, seems like a long, dark tunnel with no light at the end of it. You are just in it. And there is nothing you can do. I have been in such a tunnel. Perhaps you have too. So, I thought it would be valuable to look at how to cultivate the essential psychological quality of hope when you are in that seeming darkness.
Hope is the expectation that circumstances will get better. Even if there is no evidence of this, we decide to remain in hope. When we lose the belief that conditions will get better, we are opting for hopelessness and the depression that goes with it. Hope contrasts with optimism which decides in any situation to see how things could work out for the best.
One experiment done with rats in the 1950s by Harvard trained researcher Curt Richter supports this. (I will say at the outset that I am totally against animal experimentation, especially in neuroscience, but will stand back from that here to highlight this study). Curt Richter wanted to see how long rats could swim under different conditions. He put them into two groups. The first group were put into water and left to swim for as long as they could. They all lasted approximately 15 minutes before they gave up and drowned.
The second group were put into water, left to swim, but just before 15 minutes, they were taken out of the water, dried off and given a rest, before being put back in the water again. This second group continued swimming for… guess how long… 60 hours before they gave up. That is 240 times longer. Why? Richter surmised that it was because they had hope. They had seen a better future, a chance of rescue and survival. So, they kept going.
This begs the question, how can we keep swimming?
Here are some suggestions:
* Look forward by looking backwards. To sustain our belief in a more positive future, often we have to look to the past to see that situations have worked out. Circumstances did improve. Our patience was rewarded. Business/relationships/life did take an unexpected turn for the better. When we do this, it enables us to see that there was always a light at the end of the tunnel. It just took more time than we anticipated to reach it.
* Stay focused on your goal. As we journey to our goals, there is always a period when we are experiencing the exact opposite of what we are seeking. That tempts us to become disheartened. To believe that it is not happening. If though, we can accept that this is a natural part of the progression to our goal, then it is easier to keep taking those baby steps that we know are taking us in the right direction.
* Believe that you can do it. Even if you have lost the faith that you can create your ultimate goal, maybe you can believe that you can generate a definite step towards it. One tangible proof that you are moving forward. Each small success will allow you to think that more is possible.
* Be willing to pursue multiple routes. Achieving our intentions, which in turn supports both our hope and optimism, requires that we step into the unknown. That we let go of our assumed route to their acquisition and instead, leave our comfort zone and take a different journey. Our psyches are naturally unwilling to do this, and it is the internal struggle we then enter over this that causes us to do nothing and, as a result, lose hope.
* Keep faith. In life, we are all tested. We are all pushed to struggle against the tide. It is not personal. All we can do is remain trusting, knowing that somehow all is coming together for our good. Trusting that behind the scenes, our desires are coming to fruition.
In conclusion, see if hope is something you can cultivate to a greater degree. If you imagine a spectrum with hopeless at one end and hopeful on the other, see if you can use some of the ideas I have suggested here to take you further towards the hope end… and stay there.
Remember the Sanskrit poem: Each today, well-lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness and each tomorrow a vision of hope. Look, therefore, to this one day, for it, and it alone is life.