“We can’t live without hope, ” says Gallup Senior Scientist Shane J. Lopez. As I prepared to lead many workshops over the last week and reflected on this week’s political transition, hope has been on my mind. That’s when I stumbled upon Shane Lopez’s research. According to his research, hope is both essential to our mental well being and contagious. As I watched students, friends, and strangers struggle with hope in this transitional time, I wondered, if hope is so essential how do we lose it?
Many years ago hope was missing in my life. I didn’t look forward to going to work, my relationship was lacking optimism, and the zest I felt for life was missing. A major consumer of news and analyzer of violence because of the nature of my work and research, I spent my time often focused on the worst of humanity. I felt worn out, like I was just getting by, and as if each day was just another day to survive in order to make it to the next. Upon realizing the level of depressive energy I witnessed in my mind and body, I knew it was time to create change. Sitting on the kitchen floor with myself I looked outside in the big sky above and wondered what had changed. How could a person so easily inclined towards hope lose it?
Determined to change my state, I embarked on a path that included endless experimentations, hiring a life coach, working with different healers, learning meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. All of these tools were essential to my healing, but a single factor in the middle of it all was the change maker...hope. As my hope was restored, I believed in possibility, opportunity, and change. I had faith that even when things were tough, I could turn a new page in the book of my life. And I realized after a life of boundless hope, what it was like to feel little or no hope.
Our brains are wired for a negativity bias.
Its meant to help us survive and since you’re reading this and I’m writing this our brains have done a good job making that happen. However, it also means that our minds naturally incline towards negativity. Naturally want to try to protect us. And naturally download the depth of negative experiences while moving past the positive.
Neuroscience teaches us that as your neurons fire, so they wire.
This means that whatever we focus our mind on, our brain starts to set up structures to support that. Think: grey matter changes based on where we invest our mental energy. During the period of time I lost hope, my mind was focused on everything that was wrong and nothing about what was right. How my hope was restored over time was in part by finding a new focus. Here are some ways I restored my hope:
I limited my news intake. One of my teachers once told me that he never read news that he would not take action on to influence. I started implementing his policy.
I prioritized time for myself. This included regular time for meditation, yoga, more retreating, reading, and painting.
I started releasing my emotions. I got a journal and started writing on a daily basis to express myself, empty negative emotions, and create space for new feelings.
I prayed prayers of gratitude. I started saying thank you for everything I received instead of only asking for everything I needed.
I did what felt good. I prioritized time with the people, the activities, and the spaces that felt good. I mean afterall, life is too short. Why are we torturing ourselves?
I relied on the power of pause when I found myself falling into old thinking habits. I learned many tricks to create space in my mind from negative thoughts to choose something different including focusing on my breathing, getting inside my body by focusing on body sensations, and
For this week’s Joy Tip Wednesday I want to invite us to intentionally build some hope.
Choose one of the approaches I listed above and turn it in a daily practice. Cut down your news intake, or at the very least make a commitment to not consume news in the morning. Carve out just 5 minutes of dedicated “you” time each day. Or identify a favorite go-to “pause” technique and implement it daily regardless of whether you are stuck in a negative cycle of thinking or not.
Remember the research I mentioned earlier? Let’s not forget the second half of this amazing by-product of your hope generation. Hope is contagious. Lopez found that hope spreads through networks of close friends, colleagues, and family members. It literally is contagious. As you’re taking on the intention to connect more with hope, keep the bigger vision in mind. Remember that as you invest in hope for yourself, you also are investing in the others you care about.
In the meantime, let me know in the comments below what strategy you decide to implement and how it goes. I'll leave you with where we started...“We can’t live without hope.”