By Scott Westerman
“The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started.” – Norman Cousins

The holiday parties I’m attending this year seem to have a common theme. Fear, uncertainty and doubt pervade.  Many people are feeling stuck in assignments that don’t tap their full potential, or are afraid that their comfortable existence might be disrupted at any moment.

This isn’t new. Every generation faces it’s test. And there is always opportunity out there for those willing to grab the brass ring.

I run into people every day who are doing great things and having great fun. Some say that if achievement were easy, everybody would be a star. But the reality is that just anyone can take steps right now toward a more happy, productive and hopeful adventure.

Life is fired at us point blank. The old saying that we can’t choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we react has never been more true.

How can we be more like those wonderful people who seem to thrive, even in the most trying times? How can we keep the faith and tap our “capacity for hope” in a world that often seems hopeless?

Empty your emotional wheelbarrow – We all push an invisible wheelbarrow around that we fill up with all the emotion we must stifle to survive the tough times. If we let it get too full, we can’t push it anymore and our bodies will react in dangerous ways. Find a safe place and blow out as much of your pent up anger and sadness as you can. This  “clearing” is an exercise we all need to do with regularity to dump some of the load out of our wheelbarrow and give us the capacity to push harder and further.

Envision happiness – What does it look like and feel like? When you were at your happiest, what were you doing? What’s stopping you from being happy right now? Resolve today to chase your happiness. Life is too short not to.

Design your ideal life – What is your definition of a life well lived? I’ll give you a clue. It isn’t sitting on the beach and sipping umbrella drinks all day. Who are the most fulfilled people you know? What do they do? How do they face a challenge? Write down a detailed picture of your Wonderful Life. Where will you live? Where will you work? How will you spend your days? Paint the picture in high definition and full color, right down to the diet and exercise plan.

Take stock of your people portfolio – Time is the one finite resource that we all share. How are you spending yours? Who are the people who can help you get to where you want to be? Are there energy suckers in your orbit that you need to de-prioritize to make room for more enriching relationships? Do you have enough quality time in your day set aside to nurture those who are most important to you?

Create a step by step action plan – When you have a clear definition of happiness and have painted a vivid picture of your ideal life, building the stepping stones to get there can be quickly done. It won’t be easy. Pieces of your uncomfortable current reality will creep into the picture. Identify those unproductive patterns. Be brutally honest with yourself about your motives for everything you do. Create clear, reasonable and achievable goals. And write them down.

Begin – The hardest step is first step, followed by the personal commitment to continue. Research tells us that it takes 30 days to turn a behavior into a habit. Even then it’s easy to fall off course without tenacious resolve. As Ghandi wrote, “Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”

Be grateful – Everything that happens to us, even the worst things,  can be stepping stones, if we learn from them. Make your heaviest burdens the defining moments of your existence. And be as grateful for every bump in the road as your are for every beautiful sunset. You need to experience one to fully appreciate the other.

Have hope -Christopher Reeve said, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” And he said it after his riding accident robbed him of his superpowers. When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”

Having a capacity for hope when those around you have lost theirs can move you more quickly toward any goal. But the true magic of hope is that it’s contagious. Hope’s infectious nature can also inspire others to move beyond negativity and fear and into the sunlight of opportunity.

Clear. Envision. Design. Surround yourself with positive people. Plan. Begin. Be grateful.

And keep the faith!