Have you ever purchased a new vehicle and then started seeing that exact model (and color!) everywhere? It’s as though everyone decided to make the same purchase at the same time. The truth is that those cars were always there. You just didn’t notice because your attention was focused on other things.
That’s the way it is with hope.
Once we start feeling hopeful, it becomes easier to find more reasons to hope. We start to recognize it in the most unlikely places. Before long, little messages of hope are popping up everywhere. At the beginning of the month I compared hope to a fire – easily extinguished when small and hard to stop when it takes hold. This quote is similar to that analogy. When we are able to focus on hope, it appears to be all around us. It’s a matter of perception and focus — a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless of our attention, reasons to be hopeful are always present. They exist independent of our ability to perceive them.
Have you ever suddenly noticed birds?
Several species of birds live in my back yard, but I don’t always notice them even though I see my back yard every day. Some days I only hear them. Other days, I recognize the species and hear their song. The difference is not the birds. It’s my ability to perceive them. Hope is always available when we are able to recognize it.
So why don’t we see it?
A lot of things compete for our attention. The human brain can only pay attention to a limited number of things at once. When your attention is already full, you might not recognize a source of hope even if someone points it out. Plus, there are thinking errors or bad thinking habits that can blind us from hope.
- Black-and-White thinking limits us from seeing all of the possibilities.
- Over-generalizing focuses on a single treatment failure or insensitive comment as expected events that will never change.
- Mental filtering blinds us from seeing positive evidence.
- Disqualifying the positive rationalizes that good news or positive outcomes don’t matter or don’t count.
- Fortune telling predicts that treatments will turn out badly.
- Catastrophizing magnifies the negative aspects of events.
- Emotional reasoning uses feelings to make rational decisions rather than facts.
- “Shoulds” and “oughts” criticize one person for not doing enough.
- Labeling engages in namecalling instead of accepting that behaviors and thoughts are simply mistakes.
- Blame puts the responsibility for an outcome entirely on one person, overlooking the actions and thoughts of multiple people.
Resilience helps us find hope.
What we really need is a fundamental attributional error. That’s the tendency to see things (and ourselves) in a more positive light that reality can support. This cognitive distortion helps us hang in there when treatment failures pile up and the pain seems to never end. It’s a quality that resilient people all share. You might be wondering if this is just a fancy psychological term for “positive thinking.” It is similar, except that “positive thinking” tends to focus on evidence that it is out of our control. This cognitive distortion focuses on our own ability to control circumstances to our benefit. The truth is that very little of life is within our control. If we focus on that too much, we can become depressed.
A little hopeful delusion is healthy.
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