Have you ever started looking at a new car and then suddenly you find that car everywhere?
You’re not the only one. This experience is a scientifically verified phenomenon known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (also known as “frequency Illusion.”)
Neurologically, your brain is a pattern-building, story-making machine. Your brain is trying to make sense of all you’re experiencing and it processes massive amounts of data at a rapid rate. Because of the recent event (buying or considering a new car), your brain prefers that information and it expands the pattern (which it also prefers).
As a result, the story we tell ourselves is that “this car is everywhere!” The truth is those cars have always been there; it’s just that you had a new perspective, a new expectation, and therefore a new experience.
You might say you found what you were looking for.
[callout] This article is the second in a series of four articles on hope. The first article released last week and focused on the places we look to for hope. If you’d like to receive future articles in this series and other posts to empower you with a new perspective, please enter your email address below. In the meantime, I’ll send you a copy of my ebook on forgiveness. [/callout]
Your Heart is an Amplifier
I was having dinner with my friend Danny last week. We were talking about cynicism, fear, and hope. He talked about an idea he’s been processing lately.
Danny is an incredible guitarist, touring nationally with a band while in his early 20s. He said, “The heart is an amplifier. With my guitar, the sound goes from it into my amp and the amplifier expands and distributes it. The heart works the same way. It takes in cynicism and amplifies it. It does the same with hope.”
We talked later about how this is the true meaning of the warning in Proverbs 4:23. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” What reaches our heart will be distributed out from it – both the helpful and the harmful.
I think we underestimate the power of our hearts and minds to magnify what we’ve seen – both in our lives and the lives of others.
A Stubborn Hope
In part one of this blog series on hope, I shared Kevin Gerald’s definition of hope. Gerald says, “Hope is a stubborn, unrelenting determination to not allow the hardships of life to downsize the bigness of God.”
I love how Gerald highlights the stubborn nature of hope. Too many of us perceive hope as weakness or even passivity. When in reality, hope produces a relentless focus, where we are fighting for our perspective amidst adversity. And if Danny is right and our hearts are amplifiers, then we have to fight for what comes in and fight for what comes out.
Be honest. Have you ever perceived a hopeful person as weak or weak-minded? Most of us have moments where we have looked down on the hopeful dreamers as out of touch with reality, fanciful or even dangerous.
So, let’s be clear on what hope is not.
Hope is not weakness; it demands incredible strength. To maintain a view of God and the future during adverse conditions and disappointments? Many of us lack this kind of resolve.
Hope is not idealism. Idealism doesn’t have the strength to survive its head-on collision with the reality of a broken world. Hope acknowledges reality and as I’ve said before, our hope in the Resurrection of Jesus doesn’t deny reality – it defies reality.
Hope is not innocence. Innocence is like a glass vase in a living room where young boys are practicing for a future UFC. Hope is not fragile like that. Hope’s robust determination pushes through setbacks and pushes forward with vision.
Hope is stubborn. It pushes back and pushes through.
How Do We Stay Focused on Hope?
So, what does the path look like for us if we want to be hopeful people? How do we stay focused on our hope when life’s experiences threaten to defeat us or convince us to abandon our vision?
1. Set our focus filter in advance.
One of my favorite books in the Scriptures is Philippians. It’s arguably the most hope-filled book of them all. In chapter four, verse eight, the Apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
Paul seems to think that we can shape our focus and choose the things which will occupy our minds. In light of this, I believe a huge part of being a hope person is deciding in advance that you’re going to go looking for what fuels your hope. Knowing that Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon or “frequency illusion” exists, we can leverage this tool in our brain to find what we’re looking for in life.
This isn’t choosing to only see the positives, though. We cannot ignore the darkness, the brokenness and the pain of our world. But we can decide we will look for hope, focus on the good and celebrate what gives life. Before we begin each day, we can set our radar for the good, the hope-filled, and the life-giving.
2. Meditate on the good stuff
There’s a ton of research emerging today about the power of gratitude. The benefits of gratitude are incredible and include improved mental health, boosted well-being, better performance at school and work, healthier relationships, improved sleep, healthier hearts, a stronger immune system, increased team morale, and emotional protection during an extreme loss.
As a result, many people are learning to meditate on the good things, through daily affirmations or gratitude practices. These practices are intentional choices and habits to focus minds and hearts around the stuff that gives life rather than being a victim to whatever events and emotions come our way in a given day.
Through meditation, we literally have the power to rewire our brains and change how we respond to those big life events we can’t plan for or anticipate. Choosing to focus on the good stuff and encouraging our mind to “feed” on that kind of positive content makes a world of difference.
3. Interpret negative stuff in light of your hope.
Many of us allow one negative event to entirely destroy our hope. We’re like a Jenga-tower and when you pull out one stick, we come crashing down. We let our hope vary depending on our circumstances rather than moving through our circumstances as hope-driven people.
You can either interpret adversity in light of your hope or you can interpret your hope in light of the adversity. But you cannot do both. According to Gerald’s definition above, “hope is a stubborn, unrelenting determination to not allow the hardships of life to downsize the bigness of God.” This means hope resists the temptation to shrink during the negative and to choose to rise instead.
Someone once told me fear stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real”. Later, I found a better acronym. When negative experiences make us afraid, we can either Face Everything And Run or we can Face Everything And Rise. Hope lifts us and empower us to rise to the occasion, even when we’re overwhelmed and terrified.
[bluebox] You can either interpret adversity in light of your hope or you can interpret your hope in light of the adversity. [/bluebox]
4. Invite accountability from others to living this out.
I’ve learned a lot about accountability over the last fifteen years of ministry to college students and adults.
Accountability cannot be imposed, it can only be invited. We’ll only be as accountable as we want to be. I’ve seen leaders with every kind of structure around them to facilitate accountability, but when they chose to resist the structure, they found a way to do their own thing anyway.
However, when we invite others to hold us accountable, they can prompt us when we’re challenged. They can remind us when we’ve lost sight of our hope. Mike Foster, a best-selling author and leader of the People of the Second Chance movement, writes, “A friend is someone knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
This is the essence of healthy accountability. We all need people who love us enough to call us to be our best selves, the people God created us to be.
5. Ask God for strength to accomplish this challenge.
You cannot do this on your own. Being a hopeful person in a broken world is a brazen act of defiance.
My friend Nona is an incredible example of this kind of hope. Nona was diagnosed with cancer during the summer of 2015. Our church was about to begin a sermon series called The Warrior, targeted at engaging men.
One Sunday during that series, we hosted Ron Wolfley, an All-Pro fullback and special teams player for the Arizona Cardinals during the 1980s and 1990s. “Wolf” is now a local sports radio personality and radio analyst for Arizona Cardinals games.
He shared his story and the way his faith gave him courage and hope. During the message, he quoted many passages of Scripture from memory and mentioned a series of nearly 50 Scriptures which he recites on the way to work each morning before sunrise.
Nona had not been looking forward to this series, thinking it was going to just be some rah-rah man stuff. But she came that Sunday and was challenged to be a warrior in her fight against cancer. She created her own set of Scripture cards and memorized verses about courage, hope, and faith.
These verses and her faith sustained her through chemotherapy treatments. During the Christmas season in 2015, Nona sat down and recorded her story on video. She’s now cancer-free and a reader of this site.
In that video, Nona said, “These Scriptures got me going through chemotherapy when I’m weak or not strong. When I’m struggling, I pull out my cards and I find the hope or the strength – I find whatever I need for that time.”
The Strong and Hopeful
In a world of cynicism, criticism, and fear, we need more strong, hopeful people who have the dogged determination and grit to not let adversity or difficulty reduce the bigness of God nor the size of their hope in Him. While some might mock hope as weakness or naivete, we know the truth. Hope is strength embodied. May you choose what you’ll focus on today as you cultivate greater and greater hope.
Question of the Day
How do you stay hopeful? What habits have you developed to filter your focus and meditate on the good stuff? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!