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Diane Dreher's Tao Leadership Blog

Renewing Your Hope with a New Goal

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."

 

References

 

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.

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Restoring and Building Our Hope

Restoring our hope begins by managing our stress reaction. When we feel fearful, angry, or anxious, we're in  the survival mode of fight, flight, or freeze that Hopeful Mindsets experts (iFred, 2021) call the "Downstairs Brain." We feel threatened and defensive, cut off from our higher cognitive functions in the Upstairs Brain, and cannot think clearly. When our stress becomes chronic, which is understandable with all the challenges of the pandemic, we can get stuck in our Downstairs Brain, unable to come up with solutions to our problems.

 

We can restore our higher brain function and return to a more balanced state by recognizing when we feel stressed, then using stress skills like taking a 90-second pause, breathing slowly and deeply, exercising, connecting with nature, talking to a friend, or listening to calming music.

 

But that's not enough. Building hope, like building our muscles, requires consistent exercise and training. By cultivating more positive feelings with Happiness Habits (iFred, 2021), we can spend more time in our Upstairs Brain to build a more hopeful mindset. Some Happiness Habits include:

 

  • Having a positive morning routine
  • Eating healthy food
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Learning new things
  • Spending time in nature
  • Connecting with our faith
  • Practicing kindness
  • Expressing gratitude, and
  • Spending time with friends.

 

What Happiness Habits do you include in your life? Do you have a positive routine to begin your day? A regular exercise program? A creative hobby you enjoy? Do you meditate? Spend time in nature—taking walks, hiking or gardening? Do you have energizing fun in your days? Spend time with friends? Practice gratitude and acts of kindness?

 

What is one Happiness Habit you'd like to do more of?

 

Take a moment now to close your eyes and visualize yourself doing this.

  • What does it look like?
  • How does it feel?
  • Breathe in that feeling of energizing joy right now.

Then open your eyes and make a plan to add this new Happiness Habit to your life.

 

I wish you joy on the path.

 

References

 

Happiness Habits (2021) from  Hopeful Mindsets International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred) https://hopefulmindsets.com/about-hopeful-mindsets/ and Hopeful Cities https://hopefulcities.org/know-the-five-keys/

 

Hopeful Mindsets (2021) from International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred) https://hopefulmindsets.com/about-hopeful-mindsets/

 

 

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