Hope can be defined as the difference between where we are now and where we want to be. Our hopes are not guaranteed, but we think there is a chance that what we want could happen. It requires us to project our thoughts into the future to visualise a change.
Hope theory predominantly uses goal setting as the vehicle to achieve our hopes, which serves a purpose of focusing the mind on how to realistically get to where you want to get to.
But – what happens to our well-being when we focus all our attention on thinking about the future, towards achieving goals?
Science tells us that we increase our stress levels when we rush towards the future, planning out our lives without really living them. We stop noticing and listening to our emotions, we forget to be grateful for what we have, and we become more ‘mindless’. This can lead to a feeling of emptiness and low self-esteem, and it is argued, could result in poor mental health.
So what can we do to counteract the stress when striving for our goals?
We are increasingly advised to find time to be more ‘mindful’ by being fully in the present moment. But mindfulness would seem to be in conflict with goal focused hope as our hopes are for the future and we cannot spend our time thinking of the future, and at the same time be in the moment, accepting things as they are now.
The Vietnamese spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh’s says: “Peace can only exist in the present moment. If you truly want peace, you must be at peace right now. Otherwise there is only hope for peace some day”.
So in this context hope is something that is forever out of our reach, where chasing it gets us nowhere, supporting the notion that happiness is in the here and now, not thoughts of the future.
Hmmm, so is ‘mindful hope’ an oxymoron?
Maybe not. There is value in hoping, and value in mindfully being in the moment. They appear to conflict, but one approach would be to combine goal setting with mindful meditation. For instance, I may set out my goals for the next six months, and then spend some time sitting quietly in mindful meditation. Whilst sitting I can allow my thoughts to drift by, tuning into my body sensations.
Why is this useful?
We need goals that matter to us. The last thing we want is to be part way through achieving them only to realise they don’t mean as much to us as we thought they did. When we focus on the future all the time, driving our plans and not engaging our subconscious emotional state, we may succeed in our hopes, but find out too late that we are not happy.
So, by meditating before we start on our journey we can tune into any messages our intuition wants to tell us about the value of our goal choices. It may be that we start to feel discomfort, and this can be explored to see if it relates to our hopes for the future. We may then amend our goals to better suit us, something that would not have occurred if we had ploughed on with them mindlessly.
If we continue to periodically use mindfulness to meditate over our goals, we will have more success in keeping our actions and hopes in tune with our authentic selves. Allowing our minds to be free of forced thoughts can also liberate ideas deep in our subconscious that we would not have found if we put all our effort into conscious planning.
So next time you are thinking about what you want for your future, write it down then stop. Stop and take the time to be mindful, allowing the experience to guide you to what really matters to you.
About the author: Lisa Jones has a professional background in human resource leadership and employment law. She is currently studying for a MAPP at Buckingham New University where she intends to combine her HR expertise with positive psychology to work with organisations and community groups to develop higher psychological well-being.