Ninety percent of the survivors of any shipwreck die within three days. But to die of hunger or thirst, it takes much longer than that. It is despair that kills those people. "Helpless in the night," wrote Dr. Alain Bombard, French survival researcher and author of The Voyage of the Heretique, "chilled by sea and wind, terrified by the solitude, by the noise and by the silence, it takes less than three days for him to surrender his life."
When people are in what looks like a hopeless situation and they give up hope, it not only causes a breakdown of the body, but they stop doing the things that could keep them alive.
And this doesn't only apply to life-or-death situations. We all tend to give up hope about some things — our dreams, some special goal we have, something we really want, and we stop doing the things that could make them happen.
The loss of hope is a poisonous potion. Optimism is the antidote. Here are three steps to greater optimism:
1. Be negative about the negative. Question those negative thoughts you automatically think when disaster strikes. Argue against the pessimistic conclusions you've jumped to. This must come first. When you feel negative, the next two steps are very difficult. Being negative about the negative brings you up enough to go further.
2. Appreciate what's good about your situation. There's always something good. Think about how much worse the situation could be and be glad it isn't that bad.
3. Create a future. Make realistic plans for the future and actively work toward those goals. This creates life-giving, strength-building, sanity-bestowing hope.
Your mind has no direction of its own. Without your active participation, it will be blown hither and thither by the winds of circumstance and the tides of emotions. But it is possible to grab the tiller and steer. To get to the sunny shore from the ocean of life, wrote James Allen, "Keep your hand firmly on the helm of thought."
Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.