More than wishful thinking – putting hope into practice

I use the word ‘hope’ all the time, but rarely think about it’s meaning. It’s one of those slippery words that’s difficult to define. For me, hope means allowing yourself to look forward. It means imagining a future that doesn’t follow the only trajectory you can imagine at a particular point in time. When life is really crap, it’s believing the things people tell you that seem impossible or unlikely: that ‘this too shall pass’, or that you are capable of change.

In the past I have seen hope as simply a philosophy – wishful thinking to keep you going. But I’m realising that hope is more than a comforting placebo – when we act on it, it is a powerful force for change. It is something we can grab hold of and put into practice. We can’t always force circumstances to shift in our favour, but we can allow ourselves to invest in searching for something better.

Here are two ways I’m going to try and ‘practise hope’ over the next few months:

1. Respond to other people’s hope for me
When we face difficulties, hope is often offered the people around us. But it takes humility to let someone else have a say. I’m no stranger to shutting down conversations about my health, parenting, or anything else that really matters to me.

Here’s an example. For years I have rejected my consultant’s suggestion to increase one of my RA meds. Every six months, she would sit there and suggest a slight increase might help my fatigue and pain level, and I would politely decline. I was worried about side-effects. I believed my RA was as controlled as it ever would be – this was life now, and I was OK with that. But at our appointment this summer, I realised that the consultant had something I didn’t – hope. I also recognised that her hope was based on experience that I didn’t have. That she had seen it work before and believed it could for me. I decided to trust her and give it a go, and the result has been wonderful. Taking one more tiny pill each week has meant less fatigue, less pain and more ‘normality’.

Of course, the result may have been different. But even if her suggestion hadn’t worked at all, there was something wonderfully releasing in taking action against my doubts. Which leads me to…

2. Pushing against the impossible

There are things I would like to do in life that I have written off as impossible – courses and jobs that I haven’t allowed myself to explore because I have believed they are too tiring, too complicated, too risky. I just haven’t gone there. But this year I’m going to let myself explore these possibilities. Because even if I things don’t work, the act of exploring makes a statement about how I see my future.

Choosing hope isn’t easy. It’s a discipline that requires us to overcome feelings of fear and failure and choose not to dwell on negative past experience. But I believe if you can start practising hope in your life, the results can only be positive. I hope you’ll join me in making hope practical this year.

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