This is not a time for us to panic. That’s what the media is for.

Nor is it a time for blind optimism, either. That’s what Instagram is for.

Somewhere in between is where normal people live. For folks like you and me, it’s a time for tough-love because it does no good to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. Folks need a kick in the butt, and to be reminded that the world needs more than a fantasy ending right now.

In other words, we need hope. That word may seem a bit quaint and old-fashioned, but it’s time to dust it off and roll it out of the closet. Hope requires a good plan, a great attitude, and an even better vision for the future.

2020 has been a hard year on almost every level. We learned we are a hardier bunch than we imagined ourselves to be, yet I suspect most of what we learn will be internal, deep within us. While the ground on which we stood shifted beneath us, we instinctively looked deeper within ourselves to find the hope we need to move forward.

Hope has become a necessity. It’s the emotional engine we need to engage with life, with each other, with ourselves. Hope is fertile and full of possibilities. To be clear, it’s not the same as optimism which can easily spill over into daydreaming and wishful thinking. Hope is a positive attitude about life; without it, we would be asking, “Is this all there is?”

This is why you need hope during this difficult time:

1. Gives You Permission To Pursue What Is Important

It’s well past time you decide who you are and what you want to be when you grow up. No matter your age, the first step in getting things done is to figure out where you’re headed in life.

Our vacuous and self-focused culture only asks us to identify what makes us happy, and then gives us permission to substitute happiness in life for a purpose that provides meaning to our life.

It’s time for us to become the adult in the room and conduct an internal life review, the kind that asks the bigger question, “What am I designed to do?” It means we’ll need to review paths taken, those not taken, and decisions that led to crucial turns in our life.

It’s time to identify not only what is essential, but also what is important. The two can be very different things. Food and shelter are essential, but the important stuff informs us of how we want to live our life; what brings us joy, what makes us feel alive and appreciated.

Don’t expect the answer to drop from heaven. Hope is an attitude that we cultivate for these reasons:

  • Encourage you to pursue a life of fulfillment.
  • Remind you that you can always find ways to be a better person.
  • Inspire you to make your world, and the world around you, a better place.

If you think the answers to what is important are ones that will make you rich, powerful, and more attractive, you’re still in second grade.

How To Make It Work For You: Often it helps to create a series of targets for behavior. The steps to get there should be:

  1. Specific, not vague, actions you will take every day. The more specific, the more motivated you’ll be to get started.
  2. Growth-producing activities that will encourage you to grow, learn, and improve. Measure progress against yourself, not someone else.
  3. Prioritized so when the unexpected shows up and disrupts your day, your urgent items are the first to get your attention. You’ll know that you’re making the best choice for your busy and ever-changing schedule.

2. Kicks You Into Action

Psychologist Martin Seligman discovered a phenomenon called learned helplessness. When animals are confronted with difficult situations they can’t control, they stop trying to escape. They become passive.

The same thing happens to us! Once we feel that we don’t have control over our circumstances, we give up. We lose hope. When we don’t have hope, there’s no motivation to change our situation. We sit back and feel sorry for ourselves. After all, why make the effort? It always turns out the same. Why risk the pain of further disappointment?

That sorry-ass attitude is for losers, so you need to decide which path you plan to follow. If that path isn’t filled with something that’s important to you, it’s easier to lie down and take the beating that life will surely hand out.

Yes, there will be days when the outlook is bleak and it seems as though nothing has changed, or ever will change, for the better. This is when you need to be mentally tough and remind yourself that no, your circumstances may not change but yes, you will prevail in the midst of your circumstances. That’s called grit. It means you wake up and find ways to Be. Fiercely. Awesome.

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How To Make It Work For You: Try an act of kindness, whether it’s a family member or a complete stranger (for many of us, they are one and the same). Kindness is a powerful emotion because it releases serotonin and makes us feel better about ourselves. Part of kindness is not judging yourself too harshly and finding ways to be kind to yourself.

3. Develops A Plan Of Action

Hope is not just a nice word or a warm, fuzzy emotion we can roll around inside our head to keep worry and stress from driving us mad during difficult times. For hope to bloom where it’s planted, we need to get a shovel and start working because it won’t grow itself.

The kind of hope we need in difficult times comes from a good plan because we’re dealing with life and death issues, financial worries, and the safety of people we care about. Daydreaming and living in a fantasy isn’t going to move us anywhere except into a deeper hole of despair.

Action plans don’t get the attention they deserve. The beginning is exciting and the end feels gratifying. It’s the middle of the journey that drags us down; the mundane day-in and day-out persistence it takes to keep moving down the road.

How To Make It Work For You: Brainstorm multiples routes and alternatives to plan for unanticipated roadblocks. Some extra preparation can really help when you get bogged down in the middle. If you have different options already identified, you’re far less likely to feel panicked and more likely to experience hope when the unexpected hits you in the face.

© 2020 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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