“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

-Albert Einstein

Hope is the belief that you may be able to have what you want. It motivates us to get out of bed in the morning. It gives us a reason to show up: because we think things will be ok, or even get better. Hope is the most basic ingredient of change. You may know that things are difficult right now, but if you think there’s a chance they might improve, you have a reason to put effort into attempting change. Without hope, we don’t try to make changes.

Sometimes hope eludes us. It can feel like things won’t change and we’ll never have what we want. So how do you generate hope when it seems like there’s none to be had? First, take some time to really notice your hopelessness. What does it feel like? When does it start? What memories or thoughts come up when you think about your hopeless situation? At first it may feel like there are no specifics, just general thoughts like “nothing ever goes my way” or “I’ve tried before and it didn’t work,” but try digging deeper. Where in your body do you feel these feelings? Does this remind you of any other times you felt the same way? As you examine your feelings, be kind with yourself, as you would be with a beloved child. The point of this exercise is not to find fault with yourself. The point is to know yourself.

What, specifically, do you feel hopeless about? Maybe you fear that you can’t find a new job. Or perhaps you’re worried that you and your spouse won’t be able to work out your problems. You might be convinced you’ll never find love. Ask yourself, what evidence do you have for these assumptions you’re holding? Let’s take the example that you’ll never find love. Maybe you feel absolutely certain your belief is true because you haven’t found love yet. This is a mental game called “fortune telling.” The fact is, no one can predict the future. “Never” is an awfully long time and neither you nor I can possibly know all the different things that will happen over the rest of your life. When you were born, you didn’t walk or talk. That didn’t mean you would never walk or talk, it just meant that you hadn’t yet. Try to get more comfortable with not knowing. Within not knowing exists an exciting world of possibility, and right in the middle of possibility lies hope. Shine the light on it. Hope is real, and it comes from inside you.

Exercises like this are at the heart of a process called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT consists of identifying your assumptions, looking for evidence about them, naming the mental games you play with yourself, and replacing them with more helpful alternatives. Doing this type of work with a trained therapist to guide it has helped many people develop healthier ways of thinking about themselves, their environments, and their futures.

Many tools exist to help you. Whether you engage in psychotherapy, read a book, talk to a friend, or work on it on your own, you don’t have to stay stuck if you’re feeling hopeless. You have choices, and one of them is finding ways to hope.

You can read more about CBT here and here.

Photo by pol sifter on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.