There is an old Irish proverb that states ‘Is dóchas an dochtúir de gach anó – hope is the physician of every misery’. It is a reminder that a glimmer of hope is often the first flicker of that light at the end of the tunnel.
Normally I am not a fan of the word hope, it is too often found lingering in the category of ‘left to fate’ or ‘leave it to faith’ and while belief in some higher-power action is often motivating and consoling, it can be a cue to hand it over and disassociate yourself from personal action, inhibiting you from making leaps forward while waiting on the miracle. Hope in that context is more of a note in a bottle scenario, while a coping strategy is closer to a shelter, a signal fire and actually looking out for ships that might pass your deserted island. I am all for coping strategies.
So, hope as wishful thinking, is not the hope that’s going to fix your misery, it may help you temporarily avoid it, but it’s a can kicked down the road or a bottle tossed into the vast ocean. Yet, hope as agency, hope as an optimistic state of mind with expectation of positive outcomes, hope that provides the will to change or the strength to act, that’s a powerful physician. So, I am all for reclaiming hope as a dynamic process. One can activate hope of a better outcome by making that outcome a task to achieve not a wish to be granted.
Anxiety, is often a lack of hope (positive expectation) in favour of doubt and apprehensive expectation. Even those of us who may identify as ‘born worriers’ can build more hopeful perceptions and attitudes via cognitive reframing and engagement with a positive psychology. Its about seeing the good, noticing the encouraging, considering the alternatives and anticipating the positive. Hope for a better future is a step toward one… but also step forward.
Exercise. Shifting demeanour
We can carry our anxiety in our demeanour. It is not just visible to others in our outward behaviour or bearing but we feel the weight, we conform or contort to the burden of it, further shaping our demeanour. We know our thinking effects our feelings or vice versa and then on to influence our behaviour but just as we don’t always have to act it out (we really don’t always have to act it out), we don’t have to adopt the pose either. We don’t have to step into the shape of it, we can adopt other stances.
The legs apart, fists on hips, chest out ‘superhero stance’ has been shown to inspire positive self-belief, in part it is because when we move to a position that takes up more space and projects power we move out of subordination and self-doubt. It is not a bravado stance, it actually triggers changes in neuro-endocrine chemistry conducive to a sense of well-being, the power stance tells the brain we are powerful.
So why not adopt a superhero stance every morning this week, before you start your day, no matter how stupid it feels at first, it is dropping cortisol levels, it is tricking the brain in to experiencing confidence. You can have the morning ‘go get em’ mantra or ‘yes I can’ affirmation on the go too.
There are other stances that be carried out like a psychological yoga move, which you can do in private (pulling out a wonder woman or exuberant goal score gesture doesn’t play well in crowded elevator) or indeed you can visualise it, mentally performing it is flight simulation action, it is still putting the hours in, still accomplishing the skills acquisition.. So a goal score celebration, holding up the world cup or champions trophy, hand on heart at the Olympic gold podium, Zeus about to fling a lightning bolt from mount Olympus, the double fist in the air or other winner gesture – whatever to you summons a strong (and even jubilant) demeanour.
Each one embodies success, puts you in the place of triumph, fires up positive brain circuitry. They are all private boosters but you can take that shift further, you can project some confidence into other parts of your posture during the day – walk tall, sit up straight, don’t slump, head held high, look people in the eye. You don’t have to swagger, or high five every body you pass, just let your bearing bear witness to your inner strength, to the you that you can be, to the survivor and thriver you are.