Earlier this month, my 7 year-old niece came jumping up to me completely excited and with a voice of pure elation screeched, “Guess what!?! Next week, I’m going to go the dentist and he’s going to pull out two teeth!!” I looked up at her Dad with raised eyebrows and we smiled at each other realizing that it was pretty obvious that she had no idea that going to the dentist to get teeth removed would involve getting a potentially painful shot in her mouth. Not needing to squelch her excitement, I simply continued to listen as she opened her mouth to show me which teeth she was going to get pulled and how the tooth fairy would be coming to her house soon. I figured that she would probably be relaying a different story to me about those two front teeth after they were pulled but as it turned out, I ended up being the one completely shocked and surprised when she called me on her way home from the dentist. Even though it was over the phone, I could feel the utter thrill and excitement in her voice as she told me about her teeth being pulled and how the tooth fairy was finally coming to her house…TONIGHT! I immediately thought that maybe something must have come up that made it so she didn’t have to get a shot. How could she still be so excited having just had two teeth pulled out? However, it turns out that she really did get a shot in her mouth. She was just so looking forward with pure hope to the tooth fairy coming and finally having lost her front two teeth, that the temporary pain she experienced was not what she focused on. She looked beyond that and looked forward. In that moment, my niece reminded me of the importance and the power of hope.
Hope is one of the most powerful feelings which allows us to look forward and get through the difficulties that we will all experience as a part of life. It allows your mind and your body to recognize that this pain is temporary and allows for you to see a different outcome. Being able to visualize and imagine yourself in a future time not experiencing the pain you might be currently experiencing, immediately reduces that pain you are feeling. Hope is powerful. Everyone can recall times in their lives that were truly painful. Not just physically painful like when you stubbed your toe or walked on a LEGO, but emotionally painful times of grief and sorrow. They are truly painful. In fact, researchers have discovered that when people feel emotional pain, the same areas of the brain get activated as when people feel physical pain (the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex). Studies have found that these regions of the brain were activated when people experienced an experimental social rejection from peers and even when people who had recently broken up with romantic partners viewed pictures of the former partner. Whether you are experiencing physical or emotional pain, hope is a powerful feeling which allows us to consider even when it the midst of that pain, a time in the future when we will not be feeling that pain. Hope allows us the joy of tomorrow being a new day, a new chance to start again, a new chance for things to be different than they are now.
There is a another story which helps to illustrate the power of hope. The world here just recently celebrated Easter. The celebration of the story that offers more hope than any other in all the stories of the world where Jesus Christ is crucified on a cross and then is resurrected on the third day. Is there any more hope in the world than that to know that because of Him, that we can be resurrected again one day? That there is more to life than just this one? When we reflect on the story of Easter, there is a tendency to focus on the pain that Jesus Christ experienced on the cross and then we often jump to the morning of the resurrection when the hope of the world was confirmed. However, there is not much focused on what happened during that Saturday in between His death on the second day. We know that Mary Magdalene brought oils to anoint his body on that Easter Morning because they were in such a rush to prepare his body and place it in the tomb before the Sabbath day. Other than that, there really isn’t much we know of that happened other than that the apostles and His mother and other women like Mary stayed. Granted, no one knew or understood what to look for– what resurrection even meant. What they knew was that the Savior was killed and that they put his body in a tomb and rolled a large rock in front of it. There were in no doubt a serious state of mourning and grief. But they prepared oils and they stayed. Their hope was manifest that second day–in the middle of the story– and confirmed on the third day when they saw that He was resurrected. Hope begins during the difficulty. For most of us, life is what happens “in the middle” and where we need the power of hope.
Hope is what rises up from the ashes when we feel burned. Hope is what motivates us to look forward when we are surrounded in darkness and confusion. Hope is what helps us to visualize our lives in a different time with a different outcome and allows us to develop a plan to move forward to that. Hope allows us to picture a time different from the one we are experiencing. Hope is the catalyst for change. Hope is what allows us to survive difficult times and moments in the “middle”. Hope allows for a new ending.
So, how can you apply the power of hope in your life? There are a few proven strategies that can help including visual reminders, vision boards, visualization exercises and utilizing positive reinforcement.
Whether it is spring blossoms on the trees or the sunlight that breaks through the darkness at sunrise, find something which can visually remind you that hope does exist. Winter and darkness are temporary and hope is what allows us to remember the sun and the good things in life that are coming.
Vision boards of what you envision are a powerful tool that help you apply the power of hope in your life. What do you hope for? What holds meaning for you? What do you hope to achieve? What qualities do you hope to gain? Who do you want to become? What are you doing currently to bring that to fruition? Even just asking those questions to yourself can show you how powerful hope can be. The more intentional you are about your hopes and dreams, the more that you can use the power of hope in your life.
Psychologists have recognized the benefits of using visual imagery for decades as a way to help people improve and enhance their performance, change and create new views and feelings, and achieve life goals. In fact, many professional teams now have guided imagery sessions before games and matches. Studies have shown that people who want to learn to shoot basketball hoops can show considerable improvement just by visualizing shooting baskets in their heads. Simply visualizing playing the piano can actually improve someone’s ability to play a piece. Being able to visualize something in your head, greatly increase your chances of being able to do it in real life. Picture what it will look like. The most you can picture and describe it, the more you brain will start to develop neural connections. Think of the 5 senses: What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel? The more you can visualize it, the more motivated you will be to take an action toward your goal. Your brain’s natural ability to problem solve is also jump started allowing you to develop a plan for how to obtain what you want.
Not only can visualization help to start you on your path towards your goals, it also helps during the difficult times in reaching your goals. For example, during the grueling practice, you can train your mind to visualize and to focus on the feeling of crossing the finish line. Visualize the music that you hear are you feel yourself breaking the tape, the cheers you might hear and inner feeling of accomplishment and smile across your face, knowing that you finished strong.
Another proven strategy which can help you apply the power of hope in your life is positive reinforcement. Also known in the parenting world as bribery. While you might think that using a technique that is attributed to the mob might not be a good thing, tying into the power of hope can be a very powerful thing. Just as my niece was looking forward to the reward of the tooth fairy, reward systems tie into the power of hope and can motivate adults and kids alike to get through the “middle” and hard things. It is important to emphasize and reward effort rather than just whether they meet their objective. If they are putting forth full effort into something they are inevitably strengthening their character. Teenagers visualizing what it will feel like to drive their own car has allowed them to get through the at times grueling tasks of flipping burgers, washing windows or cleaning toilets. The key is to make sure you are reinforcing something that you want them to develop for themselves. Earning something based on effort and rewarding them for pushing through hard times. Having something to look forward to is the epitome of hope.
So, apply the power of hope in your life. Hope is one of the most powerful feelings which allows us to look forward, become better and even get through the difficulties that we will all experience as a part of life. Hope can and does make all the difference in the world.
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