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The Power and Science of Hope

The most intriguing piece of advice I ever received as a counselor in training came from one of my favorite professors. He told me, “In the very first session always give them a little magic.” Now that’s an interesting choice of words. The more I thought about the concept, the more the idea excited me. Magic messes with your head. It messes with the impossible by making it appear possible. When in crisis, despair, struggling with insurmountable problems or even the daunting task of navigating or creating change in our self or a life situation, a little magic could go a long way.

So I will let you in on a little secret. The magic that he was talking about, the magic we all need in our lives is actually not so magical at all. It is something much more powerful than magic and it is quite real.  It is the power and science of hope. It’s the voice of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation that either whispers or shouts –anything is possible.

Researchers in the field of positive psychology have posited that hope is the single most important feeling state.  Individuals who have significant levels of hope are more physically healthy and less susceptible to disease.  They perform better academically and athletically.  In fact, elite athletes score exceptionally high on psychological measures of hope, indicating that raw talent, grit, or even optimism without hope is insufficient when pursuing difficult goals.  Research also indicates hope is positively correlated with self-esteem and healthier relationships.  Hope increases the sense of meaning in life and identification and realization of goals and dreams even in the midst of adversity.  Individuals with high hope set loftier goals and are more likely to realize them.  That’s because hope is a better predictor of success than intelligence or innate ability alone.

Psychologists define hope as the overall perception that goals can be met.  There are two factors that work together to optimize hope.  The first factor is the quality of your thoughts related to your goal or situation.  A person with high hope has thoughts that are positive and embody the old adage, nothing is impossible.  Individuals with high hope are not unrealistic but they are also not pessimistic.  They set the bar high knowing what seems impossible today may be possible tomorrow as they set forth towards their goal with a positive attitude.  The second factor involves coming up with multiple pathways to achieve the same goal. This is embodied by the adage, if at first you don’t succeed try, try again. Except, individuals with high hope take this to the next level. They recognize that there are multiple paths to a goal and don’t give up when one or more paths do not lead them there initially.  They recognize that trial and error is essential.

Hope is not only magical, but essential to wholeness and recovery.  Foster the power of hope in your life by connecting with the dreams and goals that you have for a healthier, more meaningful and successful life.

By: Margaret Nagib, PsyD., Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center