Q | At midlife some women seem vulnerable to depression, or at least to a big dip in hopefulness. Do you think this is because by the time we’re over 40, we’ve lost confidence in our ability to reach our goals?
A | Well, I have no data to support this, but I think that for women, part of the dip in hopefulness—and the discontent that goes along with that—may come from having put their own goals second to other people’s needs for a long time. They might really benefit from reorienting themselves to a focus on “What do I want, not for other people but for myself?”
Q | If you aren’t in hope therapy, is there anything you can do to raise your hope level?
A | Yes. In fact, nobody’s in hope therapy yet, because we’re still researching it. But all the things we did in the study can be done outside that setting. You could start by articulating goals.
Q | Suppose your biggest goal is “I want to be thin.”
A | Well, that’s a very broad goal, which makes it hard to work toward. Try to break that down into something more concrete. And think in terms of things you want to approach rather than things you want to avoid. Instead of thinking, I don’t want to be so fat, you might say, “I want to fit into size 8 jeans.” Having goals you’re moving toward instead of problems you’re mov-ing away from is more energizing. We already have enough things in our lives that we’re trying not to have happen. And the more specific the goal, the better.
Q | Thinking in terms of negatives can be a hard habit to break. How do you turn that around?
A | Part of it is self-talk. Remind your-self of past successes, including successes in other areas that might spill over. For instance, if you’ve been able to take care of other people for a long time, you’ve certainly developed plenty of skills. There’s no reason to think you couldn’t apply those to the things you want. Another tool is self-care. This is an important part of the agency aspect of hope. Make sure you’re eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise. It’s hard to move forward toward a goal when you’re always feeling tired, hungry and cranky.
Once you’ve decided on a goal, start thinking of all the different pathways you could use to reach it. Pick one or
two so you don’t get distracted by having too many pathways.
It helps to map out your plan on a piece of paper or poster board. In our study we had people make goal maps with “you are here” on one side of the board and their goal on the opposite side. Then they would draw the different pathways they could use to reach them, along with any obstacles they anticipated and the things they thought were going to be a problem for them.
Q | How do you handle the obstacles?
A | Sometimes you can just use another pathway. That’s part of the reason for generating a lot of them. You can also make getting around the obstacle a little subgoal, as in, “Can you think of a path that would get you around the obstacle?” It’s the kind of visualization that groups like Weight Watchers use. For instance, you anticipate going to a party where there will be lots to eat, so you mark up a paper plate with a pen to show how much of each food you will take. On a goal map, you draw the obstacle blocking the pathway and then draw the little detour that gets you around the obstacle and puts you back on the big pathway.