hope for the best

Right now a lot of folks are probably saying, “Thank God 2010 is almost over.” But will next year be any better?

I Hope So.

Now before you lapse into the common misunderstanding of “Hope” as a word that’s readily interchangeable with the comparatively spineless word “wish,” please permit me to disabuse you of this common error which guts Hope of all its power.

A lot of people equate Hope with dreaming—but I am saying Hope is a practical and necessary antecedent to dreams coming true or to finding your way out of nightmare situations. As the Irish proverb says, “Hope is the physician of every misery.”

Hope has backbone. Hope kicks ass. You can bank on it. It’s a power concept which in practice is so effective and reliable that you may think it almost magical if you don’t understand how Hope works.

If you look up the dictionary definition of Hope, you will see that the word means to “look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence”—in other words, with expectation based on something solid—that a desired thing may happen. The archaic meaning of the word is to “place trust in and to rely on” something coming true.

The Power of Expectation goes to the heart of why and how Hope works.

If you remember your Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who carved a statue of a woman so beautiful he fell in love with it. Pygmalion so fervently believed that the statue could come to life, it did!

In the 1950s a number of researchers began to realize that when people act on their beliefs, they create a reality to match those beliefs. They act on beliefs and expectations in so many consistent and subtle ways, they modify and distort reality until it conforms to their expectations—and all the while are usually unaware that they’re even doing it. Because human beings are social creatures who place a high value on social conformity, socially adept people can usually get others to go along. This phenomenon is popularly known as “The Pygmalion Effect.”

Dr. Robert Rosenthal, a professor at Harvard, collected the results of over 300 studies showing The Pygmalion Effect in action. In one such example, a group of children was divided into two classes that had no real differences at the outset of an experiment. One class was given to a teacher who was told that the students were high achievers and should do well. The other teacher was told that her class was composed of underachievers who needed special help.

By the end of the school year the class that was labeled “high-achievers” was doing better-than-average work. The other class, the “underachievers,” was doing below-average work. On careful examination of the classroom dynamics, the kids who were labeled “high achievers” were better-liked by their teacher and received more attention and approval. For the kids who were labeled “underachievers,” the situation was just the opposite.

We human beings naturally prefer people who live up to our expectations, and we unconsciously create situations which encourage the behavior we expect. If our expectations are positive, we encourage others to behave positively. If our expectations are negative, others behave negatively.

Clinical psychologist Rick Snyder of the University of Kansas has developed what he calls a “hope theory.” This theory assumes that human behavior is primarily driven by the pursuit of goals and suggests that hope comes out of a synthesis of two components that are vital for meeting our goals successfully. In scientific literature these components are called “pathways” and “agency” thinking.

”Pathways” thinking is the organizational aspect of Hope. It reflects our ability to identify a necessary path for achieving a desired goal. “Agency” thinking drives us along the pathway, and reflects our motivation and beliefs in our abilities to use a particular pathway to achieve our goals. Snyder’s hope theory thus recognizes that the individual is the primary source of the energy and planning that moves us from vision to action to the desired outcome. In other words, you are more powerful than you may think.

Hopefulness is a deeply felt neurochemical state that transforms our perceptions and actions in ways that can optimize our personal functioning and performance. According to clinical psychologist Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hopefulness is not just a reflection of optimal function—it actually produces it by broadening a person’s mindset so creative responses are more likely and by building the resiliency to overcome obstacles along the way.

In all things it is better to hope than to despair, even though succumbing to fear and despair may be the easy way out. Newspaper columnist and ordained minister Charles L. Allen once wrote, “When you say a situation or person is hopeless, you’re slamming the door in the face of God.” More to my point, when we despair we’re also slamming the door on the God-ness that’s within us and all the potential and possibility that implies. I think this is the kernel of the truth in a French proverb which says, “Hope is the dream of a soul awake.”

But what if you’re having trouble finding hope? It’s a shitty world out there. How do you awaken your soul so you can walk forward without fear?

The first thing is to identify your heart’s desire and constantly keep this in mind as your goal. Keep your eyes on the prize.

The next thing is to work slowly but steadily toward your objectives. Find gratification and encouragement from intermediate “baby steps” along the way. Do not be discouraged by the distance between you and your goals. Remember: “Inch by inch it’s a cinch.”

The third thing is to surround yourself with hopeful people, preferably folks you may see as better or stronger than you. Share your dreams and fears and ask for their advice and help. Look for ways to help them achieve their goals. You will be lifted up by the good company you keep.

And finally, love yourself and others. Have faith and expect the best from yourself and the people around you. Treat yourself well and take care of others and your journey will just feel better along the way.

Hoping—not wishing—will make it so.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Dixie Chicks performing “I Hope”


2 Responses to “hope for the best”

  1. 1 maxsscoutservicesllc
    December 28, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Nice article.

    The Dixie Chicks never sounded so good, too.

  2. December 28, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Danny –

    That was your BEST so far for the New Year and the BEST inspiration for any New Year !!!!!

    Thanks for your Hard Work and Brilliance in writing and keeping the Diary going in 2010.

    WRITE ON !

    Your Grateful Friend,

    “I believe that these moments of HOPE in death and life give us a reconnection to our primal selves, a reminder that there is something wilder lurking below the everyday, and that, having tasted this wildness, we return to our ordinary lives both changed and charged.

    “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

    –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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