Hope springs eternal

As I ran in the rain this morning (yes the world has definitely returned to normal), I thought about the what-ifs of England's performance last night. What if Kane had taken his chance in the first half or Lingard had put his foot through the ball instead of trying to side foot it into the bottom corner? What if we'd managed to stop them delivering the ball from wide areas, or if the ref had decided that the equaliser was actually a foul for a dangerously high foot?

What I realised was that none of it really mattered. In fact, it wasn't even football that mattered. What counted was that the nation of England had come together with one thing driving them; hope.

Before the game yesterday, Goran Ivanisevic the giant Croatian tennis player had berated the English for their arrogance in thinking that we were already in the final, we'd already won it. Roy Keane did the same after the game in an entertaining spat with Ian Wright. Luka Modric accused England of not showing Croatia enough respect, but all of them missed the point, except Wrighty who captured the mindset of the English nation perfectly.

We didn't think we'd won it, we never even thought we'd make the final, we just hoped. And about three weeks ago, if you'd asked most people, they'd have said we had no hope. Listen to the lyrics of the rejuvenated Baddiel and Skinner song, most of them are about our disappointments, the moments when we lost hope. 'It's coming home' doesn't represent an arrogant notion that the Jules Rimet trophy will again be paraded through the streets of England on an open top bus, it just reflects our hope that one day, it might.

The performances, actions and behaviours of the England team and management reignited hope in the last few weeks. A hope we haven't seen in football for over twenty years. We've had it in the tennis, with Murray finally bringing a British victory at Wimbledon and the 2012 Olympics ignited it for athletics and sports rarely watched at other times. And look what happened there; Murray did it again a few years later and Team GB went on to better their 2012 medal tally in Rio 4 years later.

Of course, hope for the sporting performances of our superstars is one thing, but it's not in our control. We can only support them, cheer them on from the sidelines. But it's well established that sporting successes bring a feel-good factor to a nation, a stronger bond and a sense of identity that may sometimes be hard to feel, especially in a world of Brexit, Trump, terror and fear.

Science tells us that hope is a good thing. Positive language has been shown to be contagious; it literally infects the mind of others. Obama's famous slogan 'Yes we can' probably wouldn't have gained as much traction if he'd opted for 'Erm...well maybe we could' and Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream...but it's not very likely' speech wouldn't have gone down in the history books.

There's also work to suggest that optimism, which is closely linked to hope, can positively affect wellbeing. But optimism is different to hope. We were optimistic about England's chances for the first time in years, and whilst this positive feeling will have been acknowledged by the players, it couldn't directly affect the outcome. Yes it could have made them feel better, inspired them and therefore boosted performance that way, but there was no direct link. 

But hope about your own situations is different. If you're hopeful of achieving better health and fitness, science suggests you'll be more determined to get there and less likely to give up should the path to success not run smooth. And that's the key to health, fitness and happiness; the repetition of behaviours frequently over long periods of time. A few weeks of exercise followed by months of nothing, or 9 days of dieting after which you revert to unhealthy habits will not lead to balance. If you give up, you'll never reach your goals, if you keep going, you might just get there.

Hope appears consistently in human history, from the works of ancient Greece to Shakespeare, the romantic poets, Dickens and Tolkien, from politicians and influencers like Lincoln, Churchill, Luther King, Mandela and Lennon, it's ever-present. It's one of the key tenets of the Star Wars films and maybe its popularity endures because, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, there's always hope.

This is summed up brilliantly by two very different characters. Martin Luther King said "we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope", whilst last night in his on-air tiff with Roy Keane, Ian Wright repeatedly asked him 'why shouldn't we get excited about being in a semi-final?'

Be like Ian Wright, be hopeful, good things might just happen.

Impossible made possible shutterstock_111393362.jpg