September 2021: Message from the President - On Hope and Optimism

September 03, 2021 6:00 AM | Scott Krawitz

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Emil Frankl

In life when things are going well and we are accomplishing all that is important to us, we feel mentally and emotionally healthy, hopeful and optimistic. What about the times when we are in transition or things are out of our hands? This is when we can feel like we lack control over our circumstances or that we lack hope.

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One definition of hope is a feeling of optimism or a desire that something will happen. What happens when we are running low on hope and leaning toward pessimism and the sinking feeling that what we want will not materialize? 

A recent study found that having hope is generally associated with agency thinking. Agency thinking is defined as the motivation to pursue goals and the belief in one’s ability to achieve them.

How do we empower our clients to find their agency thus helping them tap into hope?

The ICF Competency of Listens Actively (which focuses on what the client is and is not saying to fully understand what is being communicated in the context of the client systems and to support client self-expression) can help you detect where the client does have meaning and hope. 

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was an Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist who developed the psychological approach known as logotherapy, which found that the primary motivation of an individual is the search for meaning in life. In 1942 Frankl and his family were sent to concentration camps. As he experienced and observed the abuse of fellow inmates in his years in the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps (from 1942 to 1945) Frankl theorized that inmates who had some meaning in their lives were more likely to survive. The meaning that he believed help him survive was that he envisioned writing a book about his experience and talking to large crowds about finding meaning in their lives. Man’s Search for Meaning was produced in nine days and went on to sell millions of copies in dozens of languages.

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The potential questions below may aid in getting to the core of what gives meaning to the client.

  • Tell me about a time when you found hope in a difficult situation.

  • What does it feel like to be hopeful?

  • What activities make you feel optimistic?

  • Tell me of a time you activated your agency? 

  • What was the situation? 
  • How did you feel in your body? 
  • What did you do to stand up for yourself or what you believed?
  • How might you apply that power you tapped into for your current situation?

Deep listening involves presence to notice when there is more to what the client is communicating. It is paying attention to the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors. This is possible to do virtually if you slow down and observe the client. You can also integrates the client’s words, tone of voice and body language. 

His work resonates deeply with me and for many coaches, I’m sure. Below are some activities that can help clients relax, reflect and tap into what is meaningful to them. When we find meaning, we can find hope.

  1. Gratitude – Write five things you are grateful for every day. This rewires your brain to scan the environment to look for the positive

  2. Movement – Get healthy movement whether it is a 15-minute walk or a gym workout

  3. Support – Speak with friends, family and colleagues who will gently support you. A friend who is a coach is a bonus 

  4. Dream – Though you may have hit roadblocks and it is feeling difficult to make progress toward your goal, take time to dream about what it will be like. Download images and make a digital or physical vision board

  5. Self-love – In our efforts to care for others (our family and teams) we can neglect ourselves. Taking “me time” to exercise, get a massage, read or meet up with a friend are ways to recharge and gain hope and momentum. Remember that when you feel good, you are able to show up as your best self

  6. Past successes – Make a list of your past successes. What makes you proud in the areas of family, career, personal goals, community, hobbies, etc.?

  7. Mindfulness – Find activities that help you relax and feel centered from reading, walking, playing sports, cooking, gardening or other activities that allow you to be in flow

In the words of Viktor Frankl, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Here’s to tapping into hope and optimism for yourself and your clients. 

Shahrzad Sherry Nooravi, PsyD, MCC

President, ICF San Diego

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