I have been reading a lot of blogs lately, and every so often I come across someone who is going through a difficult time. It got me to thinking about the difficult times in my life, and what was helpful to me. A while back I decided to adopt a policy that goes something like this,
If in doubt, choose hope over despair.
I came up with the policy, because it occurred to me that if there was any kind of choice involved, it would be in my best interests to be backing the hopeful options, rather than the negative. I found this was particularly important when I was feeling overwhelmed by difficult thoughts and feelings, and the hope option didn’t seem very strong.
We tend to think of hope as some kind of magical thing out there in the universe. Maybe it is. But I like to think of it as a muscle. Muscles need exercise, and the more you use them, the stronger they get. I think hope works the same way. The more little choices you make in the direction of hope and possibility, the stronger and more hopeful you are likely to feel.
When I talk about choosing hope, I am not talking about denying how you are feeling, or ignoring the reality of the situation you are facing. I am not talking about simply replacing negative thinking with positive thinking, or grasping at things that are unlikely to succeed. I am talking about understanding the reality of your situation, and taking small steps, baby steps even, in the direction of something that is going to be helpful and constructive for you.
Something that can be helpful if you are having difficulty in choosing hope, or even finding hope, is to get in touch with your observer. If you are flooded with uncomfortable feelings and emotions, or negative thoughts, it can feel as if thats all that there is. But oftentimes you will be able to locate that quiet inner voice who is able to observe what is going on with you. Its that voice that says “Hey, I’m feeling lousy – whats going on here?”
The observer is your friend because it allows you to get curious and notice things that are happening to you, and that gives you a bit of perspective. You might notice that your body feels heavy, that you don’t want to get out of bed, and you are thinking that you might never want to get out of bed again! Deciding to check in with the observer to get perspective on what is going on, rather than getting totally absorbed in negative feelings is exercising the hope muscle.
Another thing you can do to choose hope is draw conclusions from the process of what is going on that will be helpful to you, rather than drawing conclusions from the content of what is going on that might be destructive. For example just because you are thinking “I am never going to want to get out of bed again” does not mean that you have to accept that as the truth. Its just how you feel right now. Be aware of the difference between observing the content of your thoughts and feelings and believing them. This is important because we are very upset, the content of our thoughts and feelings can be misleading.
Instead of accepting the way you are thinking and feeling as the permanent truth of your life, your observer can help you work out what might be a helpful thing to do in your situation. You could observe that you are feeling bad, and having negative thoughts, and conclude the thing that would be helpful is to take care extra good care of yourself until that feeling passes. Or you might observe that you are very frightened, and are worried that you are going to feel even worse. You might conclude from this that you are feeling overwhelmed and need to ask for help before things get out of hand. Looking for constructive things to do that would help your situation is another way of choosing hope.
Sometimes when things seem very black, hope seems impossible. But even in those times, you can choose hope by doing nothing. You can choose hope by not acting in ways that are self destructive, or going to hurt other people. The policy in this case might be changed to “When despair seems like the only option; choose hope.” Sometimes if you are having a very difficult time, other people might notice and try to choose hope for you, by offering some form of help. Another way of choosing hope is to let them choose hope for you and accept their offer.
Each time we choose hope, we create a possibility for a better outcome. This doesn’t work by magic. Realistically, sometimes things don’t turn out quite as we had hoped, and we need to allow for that possibility. The important thing is not to give up on the big picture if one option doesn’t work out. For example you might ask a friend for help, and they might not know what to do. That doesn’t mean you give up on choosing hope. It means you need to choose again. Its a numbers game. The more small choices you make for hope, the more likely you are to see a shift in your situation.
Here is the best thing. The more choices that you make for hope over despair, the more you learn to trust yourself. You begin to believe in yourself as a person who is able to respond to a bad situation in a good way. This works like a power plant, it generates hope. That very choice, that series of choices, brings hope into the situation in a very practical way. You might start feel a determination to give hope the best shot you possibility can. If you do can that, then over time hope becomes your life companion, and you become a source of hope, not just a beneficiary.