Cultivating Hope and Optimism in Hard Times


Cultivating Hope and Optimism in Hard Times

July 24, 2020 | Education

This year has been rough. Personal and public tragedies have consumed our days and our timelines, and we’re facing an economic recession that threatens to undermine the hard work we’ve put into growing our businesses. 

As entrepreneurs, something we hear with nagging regularity is, “optimists are resilient and get things done, pessimists quit”. But what can you do if you’re having trouble connecting to that innate ability to find light and opportunities for growth in hard times? Is it possible to cultivate hope and optimism? 

The suggestion might feel trite, given the magnitude of the crises we’re facing, but it just might be worth trying, considering the alternative.  

What’s the Difference Between Hope and Optimism?

Hope is the belief we already have the mental resources we need to achieve our desired outcomes.  People who have hope take action. 

Optimism is the belief that things will work out for the best. Optimists see the silver lining in any dark cloud. 

Optimism gifts us with better mental wellbeing, while hope offers resiliency and perseverance. Success requires we work on both. 

Go for a small victory

Now’s the time to grab some low-hanging fruit. Kick-off your shoestring PR program by responding to that small community radio program, conquer your first Instagram Live or upsell some of your most loyal customers. Don’t put stringent KPIs against these activities, just see yourself as getting back in the game.

According to Author John Maxwell, “If you are able to win small victories, it encourages you. It raises your morale. When you experience a win once, you begin to understand how it works. You get better at succeeding, and after winning several victories you begin to sense that bigger victories are nearly within your grasp.”

It’s his theory that when people sense victory, they:

  • sacrifice to succeed
  • look for ways to win
  • become energized
  • follow the game plan. 

And conversely, when they feel defeated, they:

  • give as little as possible
  • look for excuses
  • become tired
  • forsake the game plan.

Switch from problem thinking to solution thinking 

It’s easy to get mired in how unjust and cruel this moment feels. Dr Erin Lynn Raab suggests acknowledging our setbacks, but quickly moving forward to the solution. She suggests that we focus on cultivating a high internal locus of control.

If we have a high internal locus of control, we believe our own actions and behaviors influence our life circumstances and experiences. If we believe in luck or fate, or that external forces control our lives, we have a high external locus of control. 

Raab suggests that if we center solutions, we can come to problems with resiliency and flexibility. 

“Solutions thinking aligns with the old adage, “Take what you have and make what you want.” Solutions thinking mindset says:

There is a solution to this problem or situation, and ways to reach my goal.

I possess the skills, talents, and resources to discover the solution.

I will devise a workable plan and make it work.”

Make authentic connections 

What would happen if you spent time with a group of people who displayed gratitude, optimism, altruism, and humor? Would it feel contagious?

Vincent Tinto is a professor at Syracuse University. His research looked at why people dropped out of college. Beyond the obvious (the high cost of tuition, academic troubles), he found that the most fundamental factor was community.

His research produced what’s known as the “Model of Institutional Departure.”

According to Nathan Kontny of Quartz, “Tinto’s model informs us that, above all else, college is a transition from one community to another. Our success in college depends on how well we integrate ourselves into that new community.”

We’re told to ‘fake it till we make it’, which is often good advice. But in challenging times, that could just further distance us from people who can help us find glimmers of hope.

“Too many of us, especially those of us who run businesses, suffer in isolation. We tend to hide hard times from friends and people who could help. That’s because challenges can feel a lot like failure.”

Quick tips if you’re finding it hard: 

  • Pick one trusted news and read the daily round-up. We need to stay informed, but we don’t need to hear the ins and outs of celebrities running for president.
  • Add some no-surf principles and rules in your life. We couldn’t run our businesses without being online, but it might be helpful to restrict how much time we spend consuming social media.
  • Read stories or watch movies and documentaries about people who have overcome the odds.
  • Try some traditional anti-anxiety tips—it’s hard for us to think rationally or connect with other people when we’re experiencing fear.
  • Try doing some esteemable acts—participate in a local food-drive, or offer to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog. These gestures will help you build self-esteem and also achieve those small wins.

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