Hope is critical in these tough times. Meaningful hope is not fantasy, it’s real. It’s also not random, it can be generated. Here are 10 guidelines for generating meaningful hope.
MY OWN experience of going through personal tough times, which I shared in a previous post, taught me that you have to end each day with hope. I also shared some examples of how I did this for myself, and in that way identified some broad principles that underpin hope. In particular, I mentioned how the anticipation of a real event that you’re involved in can impact your entire state of being—thoughts, emotions, and physical state—right here, right now.
I emphasised that real, meaningful hope can’t be based on a fantasy. It’s also not wishful thinking where you hope that something or someone will come along and rescue the situation. It’s not about convincing yourself, where you have to use energy to make yourself feel better. And nor is it about positive thinking in that superstitious sense of, Well, if I just think positively then I’ll attract the right circumstances. Positive thinking is useful if it leads to positive action. Otherwise, it tends to lean over towards that kind of superstition. Meaningful hope, on the other hand, is based on real action towards a real possible future event.
This post provides a set of guidelines that you can follow as you navigate your way through the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, in order to create meaningful hope for yourself and others. Firstly, as a citizen whose leaders and politicians may well inspire dread more often than hope. Then also as a leader, whether that be of a family, a small business, a company, or even one of those governments.
The 10 Guidelines for Generating Meaningful Hope
Here are 10 guidelines for generating meaningful hope.
#1 | Hope is based on the promise of a better tomorrow.
[Video start time 01:46] This is obvious, although it needs to be stated. There must be something better to look forward to in the future.
#2 | Hope requires both a far and a near future.
[Video start time 01:57] There must be a bigger vision or purpose (a distant future goal). In tough times, there must also something close (like literally tomorrow) to hook onto. That meeting that you have to look forward to in three weeks’ time may not be enough. You want to connect yourself—or, if you’re a leader, your people—to that thing at the end of each day that’s going to get you through the long night and into the next day. Ask yourself, or them: What have you set up for yourself today, that you can look forward to, for tomorrow?
To generate hope, ask yourself, or your people: What have you set up for yourself today, that you can look forward to, for tomorrow?
#3 | Even a tiny amount of hope is enough, especially in tough times.
[Video start time 02:45] A set of scales with a thousand tons on each side still only needs one gram to tilt the balance. A palace is built one brick at a time. Similarly, you only need to focus on the next step. You only need that one tiny bit of hope to get you to the next day. If you wake up in the early hours and start to feel that panic and despair, and you can’t sleep, you can bring your attention to that little bit of hope. You’ll be amazed how powerful it can be to calm you down enough to get you back to sleep. You literally take it one day at a time.
#4 | Hope is based on taking the next step, not chasing rainbows.
[Video start time 03:27] Even in the best of times, hope should never hang on inventing the killer app to become the next Internet billionaire and take over the world, or winning the lottery*. At all times, and especially in tough times, it should hang on the idea of just taking the next small step. In tough times, you basically just want to win that next piece of business, and a good way to approach that is thinking about who needs your help, who can you offer that to in a way that they might want to remunerate you? When you approach it like that, you come across as less desperate, which is valuable in those times. It’s also more realistic**, more grounded. The bigger picture can take care of itself. And to support you to do that, it’s useful, and important, that you are willing to live within your means.
#5 | For hope to be meaningful, it must be underpinned by action.
[Video start time 04:20] Hope is not wishful thinking, for example, that something or someone will rescue you or the situation. It’s not about convincing yourself that everything’s going to be OK. It’s also not about positive thinking in the superstitious way that it’s often applied by New Age hippies. Just like in the example given in the previous article about when you booked that holiday to the Maldives, or Cape Town, the impact of hope is felt immediately – in other words, hope is activated – by taking real action towards a real and realistic** goal.
#6 | Having hope is not the same as achieving the goal (i.e. you can’t rest on hope).
[Video start time 05:08] Once you’ve generated hope, that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels—or on your hope, to be precise. Some people are dreamers. They take action until they have one giant prospect in the bag, and a meeting in three weeks’ time. They convince themselves that this one’s in the bag, and then they sit back and relax. The deal’s at ninety percent, they’ll say, just chill. No deal is ever really at ninety percent. It’s always at zero percent, or it’s done. So until the money’s in the bank and the deal is delivered, continue looking for new prospects, continue taking action.
As quickly as possible, let go of those opportunities that are not materialising and create a new one for yourself. That’s how you generate hope.
#7 | You can’t flog dead hope back to life.
[Video start time 05:58] When food passes its sell-by date, it’s clear. It smells, and you don’t want to eat it. Opportunities and possibilities have a sell-by date too. Because they’re ideas, it’s hard to see and accept when they’ve past that date. You spend a lot of energy wondering whether you should follow up or not. When it’s time to follow up, then do it, for sure, but let it go. As quickly as possible, let go of those opportunities that are not materialising and create a new one for yourself. That’s where you generate hope. Often you don’t want to, especially if you attached a lot of hope to them. However, they can steal your attention away from creating new possibilities and thereby eat away at hope. It’s always good to know when to let an opportunity or a possibility go, and focus on creating a new one.
#8 | Hope is not about how. It’s about what (and what flows from why).
[Video start time 06:44] Two quotes come to mind here. The first is by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, author of The Little Prince: “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” In this context, it would be to create hope based on what the sea has to offer. Then next is by Simon Sinek who said in his popular TED Talk, “Martin Luther King had a dream. He didn’t have a plan.” In other words, he inspired people to buy into his belief, into his why, out of which flowed the what, and the how, in those instances, takes care of itself. So hope is about inspiration and letting people find out for themselves how they can get there.
#9 | Hope doesn’t happen by itself. You have to generate it.
[Video start time 07:50] Life doesn’t stand still. A simple example: your hair on lockdown. It didn’t sit around and wait for your hairdresser to become available again. It grew relentlessly. In the same way, life moves on and if you’re going to wallow in worry or self-pity, it will quickly consume you. You’ll be overtaken by despair. And hope won’t come on its own. Life’s not about to hand you a lottery* prize, just because you bought a ticket. That’s wishful thinking. It’s like trying to get fit without exercising. You have to generate it. Hope itself has to be your commitment.
#10 | Hope must be guarded from attack.
[Video start time 08:49] Of course, there are those who will consider themselves hardened realists who don’t need hope. Everything that they or someone does that is geared towards building hope will invite a sneer, or a sarcastic remark. This may be overt, or it may be the conversation a person has with him- or herself. Know that this is probably a defence, based on past disappointments, and it’s not useful. Just as you don’t want to be a dreamer, or misled by a dreamer, you don’t want to be a cynic, or brought down by one. Let cynicism keep your feet on the ground, but don’t let it stop you from reaching for the sky—or for a better future at least.
In summary, hope provides the energy that carries you forward through tough times. Hope is generated when you take an action that holds promise—the promise of taking you one small step closer to a bigger goal. What that action is for each person and in each situation will present itself if you just ask the question. What do I need to plan and put in place for tomorrow, that will give me hope today? When you do this, you’ll see that it’s possible to create your own hope—and for people to create their own hope. And hope is there. It’s lying in wait. It’s within our grasp. We can pick it up. We can generate it ourselves, each day. So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and conquer!
* A lottery ticket can certainly give you some hope, especially if you can’t do maths, ha ha. But you’d be a fool to rely on it to the extent that you think you can rest on your laurels. So by all means buy a lottery ticket, and if you can’t sleep at night, then imagine all the things you’ll do when you win. Then in the morning put it aside. Think of it as being like the flare that people keep ready when they’re stranded on a desert island in case a ship comes by. It’s not going to feed you, but one day it might happen, so you have it there, just in case. Then you forget about it and go about your daily tasks, the ones designed to give you real hope.
** Realistic also means not trying to go for the biggest deal possible because you think that’s what’s needed to “get you back where you were”. I hear that a lot from my male clients in particular. Men who find themselves in a crisis of any sort, whether financial or emotional, almost always say they want to “get back to where they were” and “as quickly as possible”. They look for quick, easy solutions, and try to make giant leaps to some new solution. I point out it took them forty years to get where they were, and they got there by being that person that they were. The way out is not back, it’s through, and it takes time. The temple is built one brick at a time, and you don’t want to put up something that’s going to come crashing down. If you do, then you’re more likely to give up. You need to set manageable markers. Keep it small and simple. Any meeting, any prospect, can be enough to inspire hope and get you to the next day. Keep at it. Somewhere along the way, something will happen.
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