Remember Pandora from Greek mythology?
Pandora was the first human created by the Greek gods who unleashed all the evils into the world when she opened a box that Zeus told her not to touch. Just as she realized that evils like greed, jealousy, anger, and plagues were flying out into the world from the box, she quickly closed the lid, catching one last thing before it could escape. That last thing, of course, was hope.
Psychologists have been researching hope for years, providing evidence that it is a useful, positive strength that everyone can apply to their lives. The most popular hope theory, developed by psychologist Rick Snyder, suggests that hope is about having goals for the future and navigating obstacles as you actively work towards those goals.
We all have goals, whether they are small (“I want to work out today”) or large (“I want to put more time into my relationship with my partner”). Inevitably, obstacles come in the way of these goals and sometimes we can get off-course. Hopeful people have the mental energy to stay focused on their goals, and they also find avenues to get around obstacles.
Hopeful people seek support from others, problem-solve, or tell themselves positive statements to keep them motivated. Sometimes they even modify their goals. Either way, they are able to pick themselves up and find other ways to tackle their challenges and keep moving ahead. Research also shows us that people who are hopeful are more satisfied with life, have higher academic achievement and are better able to manage physical and mental health concerns.
The beauty of hope is that we can teach it to others, model it for our kids, and work on building our own hope each day. How many times have you encountered an obstacle on the way to a goal? This is pretty much an hourly occurrence for most humans. We spill cereal in the morning, we’re running late to drop off the kids, we feel tired after a bad night of sleep, or we’re experiencing conflict with someone.
Obstacles are prominent in everyone’s lives, and being hopeful gives us a road map for how to navigate them and move towards our goals.
Below are some exercises to develop your hopeful road map:
1. Spend some time each day thinking about your goals. Try to identify the short-term goals that you want to get done that day, as well as the larger goals that you would like to work towards over the next days and weeks. Try to make sure they are realistic but don’t be afraid to dream big as well.
2. Talk with important people in your life about your goals, as well as theirs. Describe the obstacles that are coming up for you and brainstorm ways to support one another as you navigate the challenges.
3. The next time you face an obstacle, pause for a second and recognize it as such, reminding yourself that everyone faces obstacles towards the goals they want to achieve.
4. Consider how you want to model hope to your children. How do you want them to see you handling obstacles? Don’t be afraid to say your hopeful thoughts out loud (for example, “Okay, we can’t find the right building but we are going to ask for help and we’ll be able to find it. We’ll figure this out.”)
5. Periodically review your goals and see which need to be revised. Think carefully about which goals stretch you in positive ways, and which might not be realistic. Remember that part of the joy of hope is that you can adapt and create new goals if you need to!
This article was originally posted on hopefulmama.com on October 21, 2015.
Yes, the Fall semester is upon us. Summer is over and despite all my best intentions to come up with a summer plan to be super productive, I don’t feel like I got enough work done. Now I need to quickly finalize my syllabus, attend college and department back-to-school meetings, and start responding to the emails about reference letters that have already begun to fill my inbox.
It would be easy at a time like this to become sour and start to dread the semester, especially because we know it can be intense. In some ways, semesters are like marathons, where you give more for 15 weeks than you probably ever would during a normal “run.”
If the semester is like a 15-week marathon, it seems like we should be psyching ourselves up with positive thoughts, rather than pessimism and negativity. No-one starts a marathon thinking “this is going to be so awful,” right? They probably think it will be hard, they’re up for the challenge, and they’re going to do their best.
As I look ahead to my marathon of the Fall semester, I’m going to do all I can to start the race with a positive attitude. I’m not expecting that every day will be positive, or that I’ll be able to maintain my positivity through all of the challenges, but I want to at least have that as my starting point.
Below are some strategies for starting the semester off on the right foot:
Intentionality – Rather than watching the semester fly by like a kite being dragged by the wind, I’m going to be a little more intentional about my planning. First, I’m going to try and stop my work early (in other words, not when I’m already 10 minutes late for the daycare pickup), and “take stock” for a second. What priority tasks have to be accomplished the next day, and in what order should I tackle them when I arrive to the office? I’m also going to schedule a coffee or lunch meeting with a colleague every few weeks because I know that type of break will help me stay energized. And if I don’t put something on the calendar in advance, it will be November before I remember to even think about doing it!
Focus on Positive Colleagues and Conversation – I love venting as much as the next person, but I realize that after a while it can bring me down. Not to mention that I can also start to spread my own negativity and bring others down. My goal for this semester is to complain a little less, and to try and get extra time with those colleagues who lift me up (see Intentionality above). I’m also going to adopt one of Dr. Christine Carter’s 19 ways to reduce workplace stress: Stop talking about how busy and stressed I am. Dr. Carter reminds us that the more we talk about being busy (even if it’s just in our head), the more we’re actually training our brains to believe we should be freaking out.
Mix Things Up – There are positive things I sometimes want to try but hold back from doing because they sound like they will be too complicated, take up too much time, or adjust the family routine in some challenging way. Ironically, it may be just those things that I need in my month or semester to stay positive. Exercising early one morning while my husband gets the kids ready, scheduling a monthly get-together for drinks with a friend, using that gift card I got three years ago for a massage, or trying a new craft or cooking class. Why not treat one of these like an experiment in my life, and see how it works? Will it be disruptive or time-consuming? Maybe. Will it help with my self-care? Maybe. I’m guessing I’ll really enjoy it and it will give me that burst of positivity I might need, but I won’t know until I try…
What will be your strategies for starting Fall with positivity?
This article originally appeared on hopefulmama.com on 8/28/16.
This morning as I was driving my daughter to school my eyes darted to a house on the right side of the road just as we were approaching the parking lot. I suddenly noticed that there was a really large dog lifting his leg and peeing on a tree in the yard. My eyes went back to the road assuming I was the only one who had seen it, but then I quickly looked through my rear view mirror at my daughter and could tell she had also caught the scene. I asked, “Did you see that dog?” She burst out laughing and said “YEAH! It was peeing on the tree!” Then we both started giggling, really loudly.
I can’t explain why it was so funny, but it was. We laughed and laughed, and with each laugh I could literally feel the positivity pulsing through me. All the stress from the morning routine was gone, and all the anticipation of a busy day at work was gone. There was no discussion of how animals urinate, of how we don’t use potty words, or of anything else. It wasn’t a teachable moment; it was just a moment to enjoy. It was me and my precious girl, laughing our heads off about a dog peeing.
As I drove into work after dropping her off I found myself chuckling thinking about the moment. I told a colleague with kids about the story and we laughed together. And as I am writing about it right now, I’m smiling. I’m reminiscing, which is making me feel good. Social psychologist Fred Bryant calls this savoring, and his research suggests that savoring can help us maximize the positive effects of good experiences in our lives. He says savoring is like “swishing the experience around in your mind,” much like you’d do with a sip of wine in your mouth. By deliberately reliving the positive moment, or talking about it with others, you are bringing the memories back into awareness, along with the happy feelings associated with them.
The next time you find yourself laughing out loud with your kids or partner, or smiling with the happiness of a shared joy, take a mental picture of that moment. Later, when you need a burst of positivity, go back to that moment and swish it around in your head a bit. Enjoy!
This article was originally posted in Hopeful Mama on April 4, 2016.
In many ways Fall reminds me of being pregnant or having a new baby. Everything is in flux. Outside leaves are changing and falling, the weather is becoming cooler, and nature seems to be preparing for a new season.
Inside, things are changing even more quickly and dramatically when we are pregnant or postpartum: our bodies, our homes, our emotions, our partners and our family life.
In any time of transition, especially as we welcome a new baby into our lives, we can feel incredibly unsettled and overwhelmed. This is normal. In these times it is critical to find ways to be grounded, just like the trees outside whose leaves are being blown in all directions during Fall. We need strong roots and a sense of being supported.
Below are a few suggestions for how to stay grounded during times of change:
*Find some time for yourself. For moms with children, even a brief moment may be hard to find. Still, it is important to try to identify something”whether it be a few minutes in the morning in the bathroom or a break during the evening if you have a partner or friend who can help. Try to avoid turning on your devices for at least 5 minutes so you can have a moment to yourself to sip some tea, flip through a magazine, or just sit quietly and listen your favorite song.
*Nourish your body. Make sure to eat, and try to eat some snacks during the day that will support your health like fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts. If you can, move your body during the day. Take a walk with baby outside, or do some gentle stretches while you are on the floor. Every little thing you do will help your body and mind.
*Take a moment for imagery. Sometimes in the midst of chaos and feeling overwhelmed, we need to quickly get re-centered. The following exercise is simple but the best part is that you can do it while you are holding your baby: Take a second to imagine you are a strong tree with deep roots. Picture how solid you are. You bend with the chaos because you have to adapt, but at the core you remain firm and strong. Come back to this image when you need it!
*Rest when you can, and rest well. This one is always funny to moms, but it’s important. Even though you may not be getting more than 1 hour of rest or sleep at a time, make sure that time is as good as it can be. Try not to get distracted by social media or other responsibilities that can wait. Some moms actually get their “space” ready: they prepare the pillows and a blanket and turn off their phones so that when the moment comes for rest they can dive right in.
*Reach out to others for support. All strong trees (and mamas) need food, water, and care. Others in our life can serve in this role of providing care for us. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what we need, but we know we could use some help. If you have a partner, family member or friend who you think can provide support, let them know. Maybe you can just ask for a meal to be cooked, a visit so they can hold the baby, or a phone call to talk.
If you are unsure of what you need or prefer to talk to someone who isn’t in your immediate circle, consider calling the Postpartum Support International Warmline at: 1-800-944-4773.
Remember, fellow mamas, you are doing a great job and your roots are strong. Take care of yourself and reach out for support when you need it. We are here for you!
This morning during the chaos of pouring cereal and children bickering over a Lego figurine at the breakfast table, I tried to get my husband’s attention. He hadn’t heard the news yet so I knew I couldn’t let him start his day without telling him what had happened. As I whispered into his ear my words came out awkwardly, like a pilot giving instructions without using complete sentences: “mass shooting…over 50 people were killed…outdoor concert…” When he finally grasped what I was saying we looked at each other and no words came out.
The kids continued to get ready for school and I distractedly packed lunches, put away breakfast, and got myself prepared for the day. I remember wondering if I should say something to them? It felt too horrific to talk about just now, but I worried that my oldest might hear from someone else at school. Then what? What kinds of fears might grow inside of her before we had a chance to talk? What misinformation would she get?
I knew it would be too much for my youngest, especially because she had recently started asking big questions. Like what happens when you grow old and whether or not you come back as a baby once you die. Her innocence makes my heart ache and I wasn’t sure she could grasp any of this.
So, I said nothing.
I went through the motions and got them in the car. We listed to KidzBop and I gave them huge hugs as they left the car. As I watched their little bodies walk into school I thought to myself,
This is parenting: trying to protect my children from the real world, while knowing this is the world I have to prepare them to face.
If your children are privileged, like mine, this process of facing reality has been gradual. There was no extreme suffering at a young age for my kids, no witnessing of disasters or violence. No perpetual discrimination, trauma, or major hardship. Even with the expected pains, losses, and health concerns that we’ve endured as a family, I’ve managed to keep hidden from them some of the scariest parts of living.
But I’m aware that just as it’s my responsibility to protect them to some degree, it’s also my responsibility to gradually, inch by inch, lift off the fabric to reveal some of the awful parts of life. To show them that scary things happen, and to hope that they will feel. Feelings like empathy, sadness, shock and anger…and motivation to help others and alleviate pain in the world. And hopefully they will realize the tough lesson that I am still working on—to treasure each day.
I’m not sure what I’ll say to my kids about what happened in our country today. I may just wait to see if they ask questions. If they do, I will probably stifle my tears and fumble around with my words until I say something that sounds reasonable. Something that gives my children peace that they are safe right now, so that they can get to sleep without fear. And then I will give them huge hugs… because that’s all I have for now.
Have you ever heard the phrase:
“Eat the frog?”
It comes from a quote that is often used by productivity authors to emphasize that we can avoid procrastination by completing the tasks that we’ve been putting off early in the day, so we can then focus on other things.
Though the quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, it actually came from a French humorist named Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794):
Swallow a toad in the morning if you want to encounter
nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.
I’ve found this advice to be helpful in many areas of my life, mostly because I have a tendency to procrastinate with tasks I am dreading to do. I often wait till the last day something is due before finishing it, whether it’s my driver’s license registration, field trip permission slips and immunization records, or projects at work. The tasks float in and out of brain, taking up energy because I continuously remember them and realize they are not getting done. Then, I get stressed completing them at the very last minute, sometimes missing deadlines, or even worse, getting it done just in the nick of time and having the (undeserved) reward of completing the task…which only makes me more likely to do it again! All in all it’s a cycle that doesn’t work well for me.
When I’ve tried to ‘eat the frog’ in the past, I’ve noticed that those dreaded tasks get out of my head and I am free to move onto other things. It is such a relief! They are not poking and nagging at me all day, or week, and instead they get checked off the to-do list and I can do something else. For me this technique replaces the negative energy of an unfinished job with a boost of satisfaction and motivation.
As I was thinking about this technique the other day, it suddenly occurred to me that there’s a whole other set of tasks that I keep putting off and not “eating”: my self-care. Those tasks that nourish my body, mind and heart, and that help me be more productive in every area of my life. I’m not sure they are really ‘frogs,’ because I do feel like I want to do them. Nevertheless, I am procrastinating and they are not getting done even though I need them in my life. Simple things like getting my hair cut regularly. Or using that gift certificate for a massage that my husband gave me years ago. Important things like scheduling a night out with a girlfriend or calling the babysitter to finally plan that date night everyone keeps saying we need to do.
Why don’t we use productivity principles for things that matter but that keep getting pushed aside, like our self-care?
For example, what would happen if early in the day I “ate the frog” and found 10 minutes for myself to sit quietly with a cup of coffee? Or how might my week feel different if on Sunday night I texted some friends to make plans for the next weeks, or identified a date for that ever-elusive spa treatment by myself? It might just have the dual benefit of getting out of my head AND providing the opportunity to do something that I know will benefit me and my relationships.
How can you “eat the frog” this week to promote your well-being?