Believe in silver linings

While it helps to have a healthy dose of optimism, temper it with concrete plans of action

Published - March 19, 2017 05:00 pm IST

Satheesh Vellinezhi

Satheesh Vellinezhi

You have failed in three papers in your B.Com. final-year exam. Your parents are livid and tell you that they are ashamed of you. Or, you are the only one in your cohort who has not received a promotion in the company. While your colleagues are celebrating, you head home and dive straight into bed. Or, the girl who you have been dating for five years breaks your heart when she says she is getting engaged to someone else. Or worse, you meet with an accident and wake up to find one leg paralysed.

While the four scenarios are distinct, the way you navigate and tide through tough times depends on your ability to hope. In his book, Making Hope Happen , psychologist Shane Lopez distinguishes hope from optimism and wishing. While the latter two may centre around positive or rosy thoughts about the future, hope involves a set of concrete plans for realising that future. For Lopez, hoping is having “exciting thoughts about the future” while “acknowledging the challenges” that lay ahead.

Hopeful people also feel that they are the protagonists in their own life stories. They have a strong sense of agency that they can make things happen. Further, they think that there are umpteen paths to their future goals, each with their own set of obstacles. Believing there are multiple pathways to get us from Point A to Point B makes us more resilient. If one path does not work out, we can always tread another. In fact, hopeful people rise above their situations when the odds are stacked against them. Despite hitting roadblocks, they hold on to their visions and find alternative routes to fulfil them.

Positive emotions

Research by Snyder and his colleagues has shown that hope is related to positive educational outcomes right from elementary school through college. He also cites the work of fellow psychologist, Barbara Frederickson, who posits that positive emotions tend to enhance our attentional and cognitive functions. When we feel secure and happy, we think more lucidly and creatively. So, if you are feeling unduly stressed about your exams, perhaps, you need to try to reframe how you think about them. Only if you calm your nerves will you be able to focus and remember what you are studying.

In order to make your hopes more concrete, Snyder advocates using when/where plans, which is based on the work of Professor Peter Gollwitzer. While we often have good intentions, our lofty goals often wither into thin air because we don’t have a concrete plan of action. But if you force yourself to make a more specific commitment, you are more likely to actualise your plans.

Thus, you might say that you will work on your report in your cubicle on March 21 soon after your weekly meeting with your projects group.

If you cultivate a hopeful mindset, there is literally nothing that can stop you from achieving your dreams. Keep hoping and don’t let dismal naysayers get the better of you.

The writer is Director, PRAYATNA.

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