2016: A New Hope

“Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.” The Architect, Matrix Reloaded

I confess, sometimes I can be a little bit rigid.  And grumpy.

Every New Years Eve, I get a tinsy bit frustrated by the vague aspirations that adorn social media statuses everywhere.  From the self-realisation types …

“Lets make 2016 the best year ever / I’m gonna take 2016 to the next level / Be the love, feel the power, live the life, bask in the light”

through to the typical vague self-improvement ones …

“This year I’m gonna lose weight / stop smoking / be nicer to people / save more / give more / love more / exercise more / eat less …”

It’s all a bit too much for my inner cynic.

My pragmatic cynic dismissed them as pointless. “These aspirations that people post are just pathetic, they won’t benefit anyone.  Goals need to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic and Time-Framed.  Why bother with anything else.”

The activist cynic chimed in, “Honestly, there are so many other more important things … who cares about ‘going to the next level’ when you’re being conned everyday by charlatans and snake-oil salesmen.”

My core cynic was like, “What’s the fuss anyway? The transition into 2016 ‘holds no more meaning that the silent segue from March 14th into March 15th, or the almost imperceptible movement of the minute hand as 2:38pm becomes 2:39pm. If we’re going to celebrate one meaningless moment passing, then shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to all other moments too? Why does the passage of time matter so much more at the stroke of midnight? I bet 11:58pm feels a bit miffed.’”

I thought about letting my sceptical trinity loose on this post today, but somehow I felt like it wasn’t quite right.  And then I had a small epiphany – each aspiration represents more than vague self-affirmation and cyclical mediocrity.  Together, they represent hope, and who am I to stifle the incredible power of hope.

The power of hope is being realised in secular psychology in recent times.  Hope involves having goals, along with the desire and plan to achieve them.  Dr Shane Lopez, a leading expert on the psychology of hope, describes hope as “the golden mean between euphoria and fear. It is a feeling where transcendence meets reason and caution meets passion.”

Hope leads to everything from better performance in school to more success in the workplace to greater happiness overall.  There may also be a role for teaching hopefulness in the treatment of depression.

So how can we harness the power of hope?  How can we use hope to make 2016 a better year than 2015?  Hopeful people share four core beliefs:
1. The future will be better than the present.
2. I have the power to make it so.
3. There are many paths to my goals.
4. None of them is free of obstacles.

So if we’re going to engage the power of hope, we need to believe that the future is brighter and it’s within our grasp, so long as we keep moving toward it, in spite of the expected obstacles.

Of course, like the Architect noted in the Matrix Reloaded, hope can sometimes be a weakness.  Like Lopez noted, hope needs the right mix of caution and reason, not just passion and transcendence.  If you want to move forward into a better future, you have to keep your feet on the ground.  You need to be aware of those that would take advantage of blind trust.

The conclusion: I’m glad to have my sceptical inner trinity on board, so long as I temper them with a bit more optimism, and maybe an occasional self-affirmation or two.

I hope that 2016 would bring you new hope, along with prosperity and peace.

Happy new year everyone!

Bibliography

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/03/21/the-psychology-of-hope/

http://psychcentral.com/news/2008/08/19/hope-therapy-for-depression/2778.html

http://wonkyperfectionism.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/new-years-vague-sort-of-aspirations.html

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Looking backward, moving forwards

I used to think that with each new year, I was getting wiser.

In reality, I’m probably just getting older … like sun-baked plastic, slowly growing more rigid, cracked and brittle with each passing day. Which is why I no longer blog about subjects like the eleven steps to self-attainment or the seven habits of highly effective nose pickers, or new years resolutions in three easy payments. Call me a grumpy old man, but I’ve been down that road. Hey, if it lights your candle, then I wish you all the best. But to everyone else, if you’re happy to humour a cantankerous old sceptic, I’d like to share my musings on a year that was more morbid than magical.

2014 was quite a year. After suffering from depression for most of the three previous years, I was hoping that 2014 was going to be a year of consolidation. It turned out quite the opposite. I celebrated a birthday milestone with a party that was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and is still remembered fondly by those who could. That, and I published my second book. In terms of highlights, that was it.

Otherwise, it was a year of adversity. Nearly every one of my family members was in hospital this year at some point. And death came for my wife’s mum, Robin Williams, the cricketer Phillip Hughes, and everyday heroes like Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson in Sydney’s Lindt Cafe siege. In late October, I nearly lost my wife. Many of my friends suffered untold tragedies too.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it, 2014 was a tough year. In the shower this morning, where I get all of my best thinking done, I was contemplating the year that was, and how I was going to move forward. 2014 had left me emotionally bruised and bleeding, and I will carry some of the scars forever. Though while I may be broken, in many ways, that’s not such a bad thing. Brokenness changes your perspective. I’m more grateful for my family. I can empathise on a deeper level with my patients in their distress. I’ve come to understand the wilderness experience of the soul.

I’ve come to realise that goals without deeper values undergirding them are vacuous and futile.

I have a deeper understanding of the grace of God, who despite my brokenness, misery and existential despair, was holding me up and bringing me through. He was my lifeguard, keeping my head above water, swimming me to shore.

Hmmm, perhaps I’m not as rigid or as brittle as I thought.

In 2015, I won’t be making any silly resolutions trying to better myself, because in being broken, I can finally see what’s truly valuable in my life. I may be limping, but at least I’m finally limping in the right direction.

If you’re broken and limping too, let’s limp together into a new year that is richer and more fulfilling than the last.