We are living in some chaotic times. It’s easy to lose sleep over escalating shooting incidents, political discord and climate change. Heck, the daily pressure to constantly answer non-stop texts, keep up with which frenemy Cardi B. is feuding with on social, juggle childcare and be a rock star at work is hard enough. When life is overwhelming, it can be especially challenging to find hope. But that is exactly when you need it the most.
“When we’re having a bad time, we tend to focus on that,” said Clinical Psychologist Dr. Richard Shuster, who explains that there is a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) that brings whatever you are focusing on, positive or negative, to the forefront of your awareness. “If we are dealing with adversity and what the potential negative outcomes may be, that’s where our brain is going to be pulling data from in our environment to support that belief system. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, even if it’s a transient stressor.”
Hoping for the best can help turn your situation around. Shuster advises looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, even when you don’t believe it is going to happen right away.
“From a hard-wiring perspective, hope is very important because it helps make a cognitive and emotional shift towards what could be a positive outcome,” he noted. “If that is what we focus on, the RAS is going to pull data that helps us become more creative in finding solutions to overcome the issues faced.”
Shuster practices what he preaches. He started a lucrative IT consulting business after college that became less fulfilling as it grew. Shuster was involved in a terrible car accident, suffering extensive injuries including a broken back. Healing over time, he went back to work. However, things were never the same. Shuster quit his job. He felt scared, miserable and stuck.
Within this difficult place, a glimmer of hope appeared as an idea popped into his mind. Perhaps he could use his extensive information technology knowledge to make a meaningful contribution to society. Shuster started collaborating with law enforcement agencies in promoting internet safety in schools and communities, speaking before numerous groups. He ended up obtaining a master’s degree in Social Work and then a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, multiplying his positive impact through training experiences that ranged from providing crisis intervention to students displaced by Hurricane Katrina to assessing NFL players as part of the league’s concussion protocol.
Spreading hope is now a daily occurrence for Shuster. He serves as the CEO of a MARS Industries, a psychological assessment company that helps people of all ages and backgrounds reach their true potential. A popular keynote speaker, he hosts The Daily Helping with Dr. Richard Shuster: Food for the Brain, Knowledge from the experts, Tools to Win at Life® podcast, which is regularly downloaded in over 100 countries. He’s a dedicated husband and father. Shuster’s Every Kid Rocks non-profit also helps provide therapy services for kids in need.
If you want to gain more hope and happiness, Shuster recommends a scientifically-proven trick called the Miracle Question. The steps include:
- Pretend that you’ve got a magic wand. Yes, go all Fairy Godmother, just now on behalf of yourself instead of Cinderella. Ask yourself what would be the one thing that would give you tremendous happiness right now.
- As you wave this imaginary wand, ignore any inner voices that say this isn’t realistic. Discount excuses and cut through the noise to truly identify what brings you joy.
- Engage in joy-generating activities on a regular basis. Shuster says you’ll quickly see the benefits of doing so even as little as 15 minutes at a time, a couple of days a week.
Hope is a natural outcome of the Miracle Question. And this more positive state can improve your career, relationships and all aspects of your life.
“The Miracle Question forces your brain to really focus on that thing that’s going to be hopeful,” continued Shuster. “Pure and simple, if you can envision it, you can get there. If you’ve experienced happiness before, there’s no reason why you can’t replicate that moving forward.”