By Ann Schiebert, PsyD
When I first had the honor of being invited to be a guest on Open to Hope TV, I was taken by the title “Open to Hope” and began to consider what being open to hope actually means. I started by thinking about what hope is, and what one has to do to open one’s self to hope. How do we operationalize hope?
For me, hope usually applies to the idea that we want something positive to happen to others or us. We hope for a miracle recovery for someone who has been told they have a terminal illness. With each lottery ticket we buy, we hope that ours is the big winner. We hope that a loved one stops drinking or using drugs. We hope that Prince Charming or Princess Wonderful makes his or her way to our front door.
The question becomes, can we put hope into action? Here are a few ways that come to mind:
- Know what you want. Be able to articulate it.
- Visualize your hope.
- Believe that if you are destined to have that particular thing that you hope for, you will have it.
- What you hope for doesn’t usually come flying through your front door. Investigate what YOU have to do to get what you want.
- Realize that, much of the time, what you hope for is out of your hands. Accept that the destiny of others is out of your hands.
Let’s examine these five action items. The first one is, “know what you want and be able to articulate it.” If you can’t express your hopes, your hopes hang out in what I call the grey area of non-expression. You have to be able to articulate what you are hoping for, and you benefit from having a defined hope, not just some general unclear longing. For example, “I hope my dad changes.” That’s a great hope, but a hope that can be put into action might involve hoping your dad goes to AA and stops drinking. It might involve you attending ALANON and learning about how others deal with addiction. Maybe you put prayer to work for you. Your hope might be shared with one’s father in a non-accusatory manner. You might seek the assistance of someone who is familiar with addiction to help you phrase the hope you will share with your father. I call this “putting my hope to action and letting go of the outcome.”
I have found that Hope is also “actionized” by visualization. Imagine what you hope for by visualizing it. If you want a college degree, visualize yourself on a stage with a mortarboard on and hands extended to receive the degree you worked so hard to get. I once had a patient who wanted to go to Julliard. She was seventeen years old and a talented musician. Her parents didn’t have the money to send her. She “hoped there was a way.” We put her hope into action. She wrote the admissions dean and expressed why she wanted to attend Julliard, what she could contribute to the school, and then said that she wasn’t going to apply because her parents couldn’t pay the tuition. She mailed the letter. She enclosed her transcript, certificates of her accomplishments in music, and a picture of herself. We were both shocked when she received a letter back from the dean, encouraging her to apply!
It gets even better! My patient visualized Julliard. She went to its website and printed out pictures and carried them in her wallet. She went to her teachers for letters of recommendation. She completed her application that was accompanied by an application for a scholarship. She visualized the dean opening her packet and being so impressed that she was awarded a scholarship. She prayed.
Lo and behold, after waiting and waiting, she got a response from Julliard. They awarded her a partial scholarship! My patient was speechless! But the partial scholarship was not enough. What could she hope for next? She came up with the idea of getting a job at the school. She investigated if they offered such a program. She discovered they offered a Work-Study program. She applied. She got an administrative position. In addition, my patient’s mother decided to get a second part-time job to help her daughter with other expenses. My patient’s hope was actionized and actualized. She is now a graduate of Julliard and has a well-paying music career. I’ve heard that she sends her mother money for trips to a spa and her mother is thrilled.
Every hope doesn’t evolve into the type of fulfillment my patient experienced. However, if she hadn’t actualized her hope and worked toward it, she would not have gone to Julliard.
My patient had to adopt the belief that if she was destined to attend Julliard, somehow, she would. She did the work that gave her belief a chance to actualize. She was equally prepared to accept that Julliard might not be the place for her. We created a back-up plan. She placed all her hope on Julliard, but the back up plan was acceptable to her. We discussed how some hopes are just not answered because we are hoping for something that is not in our destiny and over which we have no power.
Notice that my patient’s hope for Julliard did not just happen! She worked very hard to actualize it. Her parents helped. I helped. Her friends at school shared her hope. So did her teachers. My patient did not sit around hoping. Hope is not a passive idea. It requires action.
Lastly, you must realize that much of what you hope for is out of your hands. You can hope for someone to get well, but that might not be their destiny. You can hope to win the lottery, but if you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t have a chance. Accepting that chances are extremely low that you will buy a winning ticket is part of the reality check you must give yourself when you hope for anything. Can you actionize your hope? Is it out of your hands and you’ll hope it comes true anyway?
Consider how you embrace your hopes. I invite you to think about what you can do to actualize them.