When the World Feels Scary Cultivating Hope is an act of Resilience

#5 of 7 research-backed ways to become more resilient.


Resilience is the psychological strength that allows some people to adapt, thrive, and/or return to their baseline faster after adverse experiences happen.

Fear and its Antidotes

At the moment, the world feels scary. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, schools are closed, borders are closed, there are angry protesters, unstable presidents, hunger, and fears of an oppressive government.

What are hope and optimism? How do they make us more resilient?

Optimism and hope are related but slightly different:

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“After all, what are birthdays? Here today and gone tomorrow.”- Eeyore

Practices to Cultivate Hope & Optimism

1. Switch from Problem to Solutions Thinking

To feel hopeful you need to think realistically and flexibly about the problems you encounter (why it’s related to locus of control). To do this, you need to acknowledge the negative, and potential setbacks, but also move beyond the problem and think about various solutions, ways you could mitigate against potential setbacks, or ways you can navigate around potential pitfalls. Solutions thinking aligns with the old adage goes, “Take what you have and make what you want.” Solutions thinking mindset says:

2. Look for the gift

Similar to “hunting the good stuff”, looking for the gift means to try to find the silver lining in every challenge or difficult situation. It does *not* mean denying that something is hard, traumatic, or painful — it *does* mean actively seeking the positive, even if we would have never chosen to have the experience. It means consistently asking, “what did I learn?” “what positive might come from this?” and, “how do I make lemonade from these lemons?”

3. Challenge negative thoughts

When you find yourself overwhelmed by scary thoughts about the future, it’s a good practice to challenge them directly. The most damaging negative thoughts are the 3Ps: 1) Personalization — the belief that we are at fault for something bad, or things happened because we are bad; 2) Pervasiveness — the belief the event will affect all areas of our life; and, 3) Permanence — the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.

BONUS PRACTICE: Turn off the News.

This is true all the time, but especially in COVID-19 when the news is filled with people dying and global anxiety. Turn off the news if you want to cultivate hope and optimism. Our news is designed to get your attention, because that’s how they make money, and our attention is most drawn by catastrophe and negative information. Death and destruction sell. The availability bias, which tells us that what we see most frequently is more like to happen to us, means that the news right now is almost certain to provoke fear even beyond what is likely. Pay attention only so much as to keep up with what’s important, then turn.it.off. And, in all times, ‘social distance’ from negative and overly pessimistic friends. Emotions are contagious — surround yourself with hopeful optimists and you will be more optimistic and hopeful.

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“Hope” by Colwyn Thomas

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Solving systemic problems to create a more just, loving world. Transforming education for human flourishing and thriving democracy. Co-Founder @ REENVISIONED.

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