If you've been feeling listless and low on energy lately, you're not alone. As psychologist Adam Grant (2021) said in a New York Times article, languishing may be the dominant emotion of 2021. As we make our way through a succession of gray days, the clouds hang over us. We're tired, run down, exhausted with Covid coping, mourning the losses, large and small, in our daily lives.
What we need is hope. Hope brings us something to look forward to, bringing a vibrant sense of color, meaning, and zest to our lives.
Hope researchers in the new Hopeful Mindsets project (iFred, 2021) have found that that having a goal, taking inspired action, can bring greater joy, meaning, and hope to our lives.
They encourage us to choose a new goal for one area of our lives. It might be returning to a favorite hobby, beginning a new project, finding a new job, starting an exercise program, reaching out to learn something new, reconnecting with friends, or something else. Your goal needs to be intrinsic, something that brings you joy and meaning, not something someone else thinks you "should" do. It needs to be an approach goal, not an avoidance goal. Instead of an avoidance goal like "I don't want to be lonely," an approach goal would be "I want to meet new people." Your goal needs to be SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (iFred, Hopeful Cities, 2021). For example, a new exercise program might be "I will walk around my neighborhood for 20minutes 5 days a week, beginning on Monday, and will have walked 40 miles by next month. If you have a pedometer, you can measure your progress.
The classic work on hope by psychologist C.R.Snyder (1994) defined hope as having goals, pathways, and agency. We first set our goal, then come up with specific steps (pathways) and motivation (agency) to achieve it. In my research with my friend and colleague psychologist Dave Feldman (Feldman & Dreher, 2012), we assigned college students to set a goal they wanted to achieve in the next 6 month, then think of three steps they could take to get them there, three things that might get in the way, and three alternative steps they could take if needed. We then had them visualize themselves taking these steps, facing the obstacles, taking the alternative steps, and reaching their goal. This simple practice significantly increased their hope, motivation, and goal success.
Now it's your turn.
- Think of a goal in any area of your life that would bring you greater joy and energy and write it down on a piece of paper.
- Now think of three steps you can take to get there and write them beneath your goal.
- Beneath each step write down an obstacle, something that might get in the way.
- Beneath that write down an alternative step to overcome that obstacle.
- Then close your eyes and visualize yourself taking that first step, feeling excited and motivated, then facing the first obstacle and taking your alternative step to overcome it.
- You're back on track to your goal, taking that second step, then facing that second obstacle, and taking that second alternative step.
- You're that much closer to your goal. Now see yourself taking that third step, facing the third obstacle, and taking your third alternative step as your goal is in sight.
- Take a deep breath and see yourself achieving your goal and realizing how you feel.
Then gently open your eyes. And take that first step. feeling your hope growing stronger as you move forward. There is power and magic in beginnings, for as the Tao Te Ching tells us, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Feldman, D. B. and Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759.
Grant, A. (2021). There's a name for the blah you're feeling: It's Called Languishing. The New York Times. https://www.neprep.org/resources/Documents/COVID-19/Family%20Care%20Resources/NYT%20article%20-%20Languishing.pdf
iFred (International Foundation for Research on Depression) (2021). 5 Keys to Hope. https://hopefulcities.org/know-the-five-keys/
iFred (International Foundation for Research on Depression) (2021). Hopeful Mindsets. https://hopefulmindsets.com/about-hopeful-mindsets/
Snyder, C.R.(1994). The psychology of hope. NewYork, NY: Free Press.