Through years of research, Anthony Scioli has found 14 distinct aspects of hope. While it is not important to remember every aspect, trying these exercises will help boost your hope and your health.
1. For Supported Mastery
Ask “What Would My Role Model Do?”
Pay attention to every aspect of your role model’s presence, including approaches to problems and situations, attitudes toward work, what the role model has learned, and what he or she would do differently if starting over. When you have an important decision to make, visualize your role models. What would they do?
2. For Ultimate Ends
Do Your End-of-Life Reflections Right Now
Imagine you are at the end of your life reflecting on your accomplishments. Which things do you do that make you feel wise, fulfilled, or at peace? How much time and energy do you invest in them? How can you devote more time to them?
3. For Building Trust
Experiment with Smiles
As you walk down the street, make eye contact and smile at the first 10 people you pass. Keep track of the number of positive responses. Next, invite someone of a different faith or ethnic group to lunch or coffee. Disclose something about yourself that is personal but appropriate and see if he or she responds in kind.
4. To Boost Openness
Travel! Travel! Travel!
Put yourself among others, including those who may appear to be different from you. Travel to a remote island like Yap. Visit an ethnic neighborhood. Try a new cuisine. Read National Geographic or watch the Discovery Channel.
5. For Personal Terror Management
Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple exercise for invoking the “relaxation response” from the parasympathetic nervous system (it lowers blood pressure, steadies the heart rate, reduces sugar released into the bloodstream, and opens constricted blood vessels, reducing tension and improving circulation). Breathe in for the count of four from your belly (not your chest), and out for a count of six. Put your hand over your stomach and watch it rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. Practice this technique at least twice a day for five minutes.
6. For Managing Social Terror
Take Stock of Your Connections
Write a list of the members of your immediate as well as five members of your extended family. Next, list your five closest friends and five co-workers or acquaintances. Next to each name, place three numbers, rating them from one to five (poor to excellent) for reliability, honesty, and sensitivity. Now list ways you can improve your connections.
7. For a Positive Future
Reenvision Your Next 10 Experiences
Take two sheets of plain white paper as well as three pens, pencils, or crayons–black, green, and red. In black, write down 10 things that you expect to happen in the future. Circle positive events in green and negative ones in red, and then put a green “A” (for “active) next to those events that you will shape or create, and a red “P” (for passive) next to events over which you have little control. At a minimum you should have more positive than negative expectations, and more active than passive expectations. Reflect on the negative, passive events and consider how to change your “hope horizons.”
8. For Spiritual Empowerment
Read from the Wisdom Traditions
Hope sustains believers across the spectrum, whether they follow the stars, Wakan Tanka, Jesus, Mohammed, or the Orishas. To boost your hope, reread those special passages that speak to you.
9. For Spiritual Openness
Experience a New Sacred Practice
In the West, it may come as a prayer for “grace,” or as “listening prayer.” In the East, people turn their palms toward the heavens. Aboriginal people in Australia transform ordinary consciousness into a fluid “receptacle” through endless dance and rhythmic chanting. Yogis meditate. Sufis whirl. The Ifa in western Africa direct a place on their forehead to the heavens to receive the Orishas. Some Native American tribes attach feathers to themselves to bond with the Spirit. Find a practice that resonates with you.
10. For Mystical Experience
Play with Your Brain
Research shows that sustained exposure to drumbeats, music, or dance can suppress activity in those parts of the brain that divide the inner self from the world, while stimulating regions that produce feelings of oneness. Mind-altering substances, prayer, grand cathedrals, and glorious waterfalls are reported to work also.
11. For a Benign Universe
Make Kindness Your Research Project
Those who have been let down by others may cease to believe there is still goodness in the world. Consider it your job to research and find examples of “random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” Also, research the lives of great saints, prophets, and humanists, and immerse yourself in their visions of the universe.
12. For Spiritual Terror Management
Detach, Master, or Attach
Buddhist teachings may help you achieve a deep level of detachment that can help control suffering and bring peace. Those who are more “mastery-oriented” may find what they need in a deep yoga practice. Attachment-oriented Christians might turn to the Book of Proverbs and the Twenty-Third Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”
13. For Symbolic Immortality
Spread Your Love
Build a toolshed or a playhouse; grow a garden; teach children how to prepare the soil and harvest a crop; build or improve on a playground or ballpark; build a house for someone in need through Habitat for Humanity. Write your memoirs and give a copy to younger family members.
Look up old friends. Join a community organization. Include institutions as well as other people in your “circle of care.” Donate your time to a local YMCA, a home for the elderly, a favored political party, a project in the developing world. Become a mentor to someone of a younger generation, through teaching, coaching, or other forms of volunteering.
14. For Spiritual Integrity
Write Your Mission Statement
Your “life mission” or “calling” will be evident when you grasp the nature of your unique gifts and discover something larger, a cause “beyond the self” that is worthy of “spiritual investment.” Reflect on where your passions, your skills, and your core values connect.
Related article: Growing Hope
Louise Danielle Palmer has been editor of Spirituality & Health, a political reporter in The Boston Globe’s Washington bureau, and a feature writer for Boston Magazine. She now lives and writes in Berkeley.