Hope is the physician of every misery

The proverb Is dóchas an dochtúir do gach anó – Hope is the physician of every misery reminds of the undefeated spirit that permeates Irish culture and customs. Hope beats defeatism, hope bolsters resolve, hope works wonders.

This proverb has come down to us as hope, but the word dóchas can also mean trust and expectation. This book is all about setting new expectations and trusting yourself – two fine physicians for the misery and the anguish. So yes, set the expectation of success, yes, trust you will achieve. When it comes to hoping, how you hope makes a difference. As I see it, there are two types of hope and no its not ‘slim’ and ‘no’ – its active and passive.

Mostly we seem to see hope in the passive expression – extended like a wish, or held like a lifeline. I hope this appointment goes well. I hope I don’t mess up tomorrow. I hope they won’t bully me today. I hope I win the lottery. It can be something that can get you through – a glimmer of hope is better than abject despair but too often the hope strategy is the category of ‘left to fate’ or ‘leave it to faith’, of patiently forbearing or plaintively pining for the intervention of the Gods – and it can become less of a coping strategy and more of a pipe dream. Don’t loss hope but don’t get so lost in it that you don’t move beyond needing it.

Hope can become all too passive or misdirecting, enabling disassociation from personal action, inhibiting yourself from making leaps forward while waiting on the miracle. Hoping it will rain hard enough to put out your house fire is not as effective as calling the fire brigade.  Call then hope they get there in time, and if it rains meantime – all the better. Calling is active hope – it is trusting that the fire brigade can do their job, that something can be done about the situation, it is the expectation of doing more than watch your house burn, it is the spur to addressing the situation.

Active hope is hope as agency, hope as an optimistic state of mind with expectation of positive outcomes. It is the 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. Hope as stepping forward not standing by. One can activate hope of a better outcome by making that outcome a task to achieve not a wish to be granted. Expect more of that. Trust in that.

Anxiety, is often a lack of hope or 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. It is 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 actually stepping forward you will meet it quicker.

Exercise. Shifting demeanour

We can carry our anxiety in our demeanor. It is often visible to others in our outward behavior and also in our deportment. We can take on its mantle, feel the weight, conform or contort to the burden of it, further shaping our demeanor. We know our thinking effects our feelings or vice versa and then on to influence our behavior 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 is a power stance that tells the brain we are powerful – it actually triggers changes in neuroendocrine chemistry conducive to a sense of wellbeing and autonomy.

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 visualize 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 gestures – whatever to you summons a strong (and even jubilant) demeanor.

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 everybody 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. Trust that.

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