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With all that’s happening in the world today, from the pandemic to the protests and now to the start of the hurricane and fires seasons, you might be experiencing a feeling of fear and anxiety — and rightly so! You may be exhausted, and your sense of hope may be faltering.
Now more than ever, we need the tools to help us move away from a feeling of being overwhelmed and uneasy to a place of calm and inner strength. Hope can be that power source for us.
What is hope exactly? Some say hope comes from a spiritual belief. Others may say that hope is the glass half full way of looking at life. Merriam-Webster’s definition states that hope is a desire to want something to happen or to be true. But is a desire for a particular outcome enough?
Is there such a thing as the biology of hope? After all, people claim to have cured their cancer through meditation and positive thinking. It may seem more like magical thinking rather than science, but there may be a biology of hope. After all, there is a biology of other emotions: fear, anger, and depression. So why not hope? And if the biology of hope is indeed real, what are its limitations if any?
It turns out, hope is good for the brain. Neuroscientists are studying the science of hope, and they’ve found that hopefulness changes your brain. When we experience the sensation of hope, the brain releases endorphins and enkephalins which mimic the effects of morphine and block pain. Regarding hope and healing, scientists are finding that hope and recovery are connected.
While watching the evening news, I was recently reminded of the myth of Pandora. Most of us have heard about opening “Pandora’s Box,” as unleashing bad things, but the full myth reflects the Greek’s deep wisdom. You see, Pandora was the first mortal woman on Earth. Her name in Greek means “the one who bears all gifts.”
Zeus gave her a box (in ancient Greece this was called a jar), but he warned her never to open it. Curiosity got the better of her, and when she opened it, all the world’s troubles were released: greed, envy, hatred, pain, disease, hunger, poverty, war, and death. All human blessings escaped and were lost. All save one. Hope remained in the box — because, without hope, the Greeks knew, mortals could not endure.
Some of you might find that your lives aren’t what you thought they’d be. You may be stuck in an unfulfilling job, have oodles of debt, feel trapped in a loveless relationship, or stress about your declining health.
Optimists are quick to say that “everything will work out.” It’s not enough to be a Pollyanna. The truth is, not everything works out. Sometimes, things turn out very badly. Hoping these things will get better on their own won’t work. Why not? Because that type of hope is a passive hope, and often it’s a crutch used to make excuses for why things aren’t working in your life.
The power of hope comes from a person’s inner strength. It has the ability to transform. The difference between a passive hope and real hope is that real hope lies in belief, and it requires a goal.
Now more than ever, we need real hope to become our power source. We need to learn to tap into that renewable stockpile and maintain it, especially through these challenging times.
Here is a list of 5 actions you can take right now to cultivate hope.
- Dare to Dream.
You deserve to live the life you want. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose if you will allow yourself to dream.
How do you see yourself in your perfect life? Think about what you want — what you really want. Don’t worry if it seems unattainable. Make it clear in your mind what you want, and write it down. Make a list and put it somewhere where you will see it often. No judging here.
You might be saying to yourself, that’s all very well and good, but if you’re feeling beaten down, and you have no inner strength, how is it possible to muster up this real hope — that things can be better? How is it possible that things will change?
When you find yourself knocked down by life, repeatedly, the easiest thing to do is give up. You hope to get ahead in the bills, you hope to get a good-paying job, you hope you get into that college. This kind of spinning-your-wheels thinking can become a prison of sorts because this passive hope dominates your thoughts. That’s when you need to stop and let it go.
Letting go allows you to regroup your thoughts. Like a soldier in battle, you have to know when to fight and when to retreat. When you take a step back and stop fighting battle after battle, hoping each problem will go away on its own, you can free your mind from its fixations, and open your mind to finding real solutions.
2. Allow pain to be your catalyst.
It’s only a matter of time in a person’s life when a painful event will cause a major shift. This could be the death of a parent, a spouse, or a child. It could be the destruction of your home by fire, or the loss of your job by downsizing.
At times like these, grief will pull you down and crack your life wide open. Allow yourself time to grieve and feel the pain. You will hurt, cry, scream, and question everything. To overcome pain, you have to move toward it, desire it, acknowledge it, and embrace it. Once you do this, the pain will eventually shrink away. From this grief, you will find a strength you had no idea that you had. In time, you’ll feel as though life is a do-over, a 52 Pick-Up, where anything is possible.
3. Don’t just sit there. Do something.
To get something you hope for, you’ve got to work for it. There’s no magic pill. You can’t cross your arms in front of your chest and blink your eyes. People tend to avoid change because they aren’t willing to put in the work necessary for change to come about. That kind of thinking falls into the same passive, “Boy I hope things work out,” category. Some of you have spent way too much of your life there. Time to pull up the big girl or boy undies, and get to work.
4. Take it one step at a time.
You might look at the list of dreams you wrote out and think to yourself, “There’s no way I can do these things!” To make lasting, concrete changes, you have to set goals. Goals will focus your mind and give you direction. These goals might seem impossible now, but if you take things one step at a time, you’ll get there. It’s how mountains are moved one shovelful at a time.
I recently read about a woman who wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. She was out of shape, and none of her friends thought she could do it. She started out walking half a mile, then a mile. She bought hiking boots. Then she wore an empty backpack on her walks. Then she loaded the backpack with items she thought she would need. Eventually, she booked a trip to that mountain and climbed it. Baby steps. That’s all it takes. That and never giving up.
5. Know in your gut you can do it.
Your world is created from the inside out. This is the most important aspect of the power of hope. You must believe that your goal will be achieved. Know in your gut it will happen. Real hope is generated through the power of your mind.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the placebo effect. It focuses on the relationship between the mind and body. Your brain can convince your body that treatment is real, and so the body reacts by healing itself. Why is a placebo such an effective treatment? The reason is that it’s all in the mind. One study, for example, found that if a doctor told the patient they were going to feel better by taking a particular drug, the patient actually felt better.
In another case, Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist asked a shy client of hers what she normally did whenever she attended a networking event. She replied, “I stand awkwardly off to the side and wait to see if anyone will come talk to me.” When asked what she would do differently if she felt confident. “I’d initiate conversation and introduce myself to people.”
The client found the solution to her problem. To feel confident, she had to act confident. In essence, she had to rely on the power of the mind to make it happen. If there’s something you want in life, “act as if” you already have it, and it will manifest into being.
You don’t have to know how it will happen. You have to hold fast to the belief that it will happen, work hard, take those baby steps, and know in your heart you will get there.
In today’s turbulent world, a veritable Pandora’s box is opened every morning when we turn on the news or read the newspaper. Remember the wisdom of the Greeks. All is not lost, because even in the darkest hours, hope remains. It is within your power to harness the power of hope. What are you waiting for?