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The Courage to Hope

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We’ve heard a lot about hope recently, but one thing was not said. Hope is scary. Anyone who dares to hope runs the risk of disappointment and feelings of failure. With the overwhelming focus on success in our culture, the threat of failure and disappointment is blown out of proportion. In my counseling practice, I see a lot of people who are afraid to follow their dreams without a guarantee.

On the other hand, hope is what keeps us going, gives us the courage to pursue our dreams, and draws us into creating the future. Without hope, we fall in to depression and despair, and we have no way of getting thorough life’s disappointments and problems.

Optimism works—research has shown that people who are optimistic have better lives. Expectations, on the other hand, are like demanding things of others, and of life . It’s like beginning with the thought, “If I don't get what I want, I'll be upset,” which is throwing a temper tantrum. A life full of little emotional temper tantrums is not a pleasant life. Remember the old saying “Prepare for the worst; hope for the best”?

Certainly, we are happy to the extent that our expectations and needs are satisfied, and so we have a better chance at happiness if we don’t have unreasonable expectations, especially of the people in our lives. If I expect my husband to smile every day and tell me how much he loves me, and there’s a day when that doesn’t happen, I could let that make me unhappy. But if I understand that I’m married to a human being who will have variations in his mood, I could more easily roll with it when his mood doesn’t suit me. If I expect my children to have perfect behavior every day, without a fight between them, I will certainly be disappointed. So, to the extent that limiting unrealistic expectations of other human beings can enhance happiness, I agree.

If I expect and demand more of myself, and I push myself to accomplish something that is really important to me, I will feel happy about that accomplishment. If I encourage my children to expect great things out of themselves, and to understand how amazing they really are, they will feel better about themselves—as long as I don’t set them up to be failures because of impossible standards.

If you are afraid to hope, you may become bored. Boredom is avoidance. That is, you're bored because you're trying not to do something, rather than focusing on what you can do. The alternative to boredom is action. Try something new—get involved in a local book group, take dancing lessons, try a sport, go to church, go out for the evening, take some walks on new pathways. Get out some old board games—like Parcheesi, or Trivial Pursuit—and play with your family. Plant a flowerpot, or a garden. There is no real reason to be bored, and all kinds of opportunities to learn and grow.

Expectations are not wrong in themselves. We wouldn’t get into a relationship, or any other unknown venture, without some expectations, or hopes, about what will happen. Especially for people who are facing their first committed, living together relationship, these expectations can be quite unrealistic, of the “happily ever after” variety. In my counseling practice, I see many people who have been disappointed in life, relationships, career or family, because their expectations were unrealistic, and this disappointment keeps them from trying again, or hoping they can do better. Here are some steps to begin to be hopeful again.

I: Dare to Hope
Hoping and getting disappointed can be painful, but if you take the risk, you can learn to bounce back from disappointment, and going through the failures, mistakes and problems is how you learn to get what you want from life. When you risk hoping, you begin to learn who you are, what you want, and what will make you happy. When you take your idea of self from the definitions, suggestions and opinions of others, you wind up denying and not even knowing who you are. Taking the risk and learning to hope and dream makes you encounter yourself. Knowing who you are inside will help you learn what you need to feel good about yourself and your life.

II: A New Map
Once you begin to dream, you get the information you need to create a plan. Then you can begin to break down that information and create a realistic plan from it, with small steps that you can follow to achieve success. It’s a process, and in many ways it takes some excavating, because you may have long forgotten dreams or plans, and you have to unearth interests and hopes that have been buried under years of hiding or years of mind-dulling work, or simply years of passive television watching!

III: Making Contact
Once you know what you want, the next step is to begin making contact with others who can help you build your dream. You need to find people who are also willing to hope, and the best way to do that is to share your dream. Begin by sharing it with yourself, then a few people close to you, and keep on sharing, until you find that what you need is coming to you.

IV: Finding a New Balance
After you test the water in various ways, you’ll get a sense of how well your plan is working. You are making adjustments and changes in your plan and the steps as needed, slowing down or speeding up. There are likely moments of back-sliding, especially if you get sick, too tired, or life throws you some curves—but you can get your footing again and go right back to where you left off. Just as with a diet—if you fall off the wagon and eat a whole cake, you can still start your diet again the next day. If you hole up and watch TV or lose yourself in internet land for a weekend, you can still grab hold again on Monday and do something that jars you out of the old habit again.

V. Celebrating Your Life
By the time you've reached this step, you’ll be getting a lot of results that tell you you’re on the right track, and it’s time to celebrate. If you celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small, you can keep yourself motivated and on-track. Celebration + Appreciation = Motivation

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