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.