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Focus on Goals - The Positive Psychology of Hope

By Mary Travis

My favorite Positive Psychological strength is HOPE. If you have high hopes you look down the road of your life and see lots of potential accomplishments. You know there will be hard times - even times you'll want to give up. You are, however, confident that ultimately your abilities (and your ability to solve problems) will lead you to new and better things. Your goals make life exciting and interesting!
Contrast this with a person of no or low hopes. That person still has dreams and goals, but those goals cause anxiety and self-doubt instead of interest and excitement. That person looks down the road of life only to see potholes, detours, and dead ends. Often just thinking about all those obstacles is enough to make someone quit before they even start. Better to stay wherever you are, even if it's stuck in the mediocre mire, than to start something that will be a lot of trouble and won't work anyway!
Good News! Hopeful thinking is something you can acquire at any age. Some people learn it as children, but if you learned just the opposite in your childhood there's still time to change your outlook. No matter what your family background, your money "issues", your education (or lack thereof) - you can raise your level of hope and look towards a more exciting future. Keep in mind I didn't say it was easy - there are old habits of thinking and living that are safe and comfortable. Some of these old standbys will have to go. They will not go quietly.
Hope is active. Hope involves setting goals and finding ways to accomplish those goals. Sometimes it requires finding different ways if one path turns out to be a dead end. Hope also involves a driving energy force that keeps moving you towards your goal. You need the power of both your will and your creative ways. This is interesting - hope does not depend upon achieving your goal 100% of the time. All you need is a little taste of success along the way as you practice. Those little victories keep the feeling of hope building inside you.
Hope can be measured and hope can be taught. The first step is to ask the miracle question: If a miracle occurred and I could have my life exactly the way I want it, what would it be like? The next step is to look at all the arenas in your life and ask yourself that same question. If a miracle occurred and I could have my personal relationships exactly the way I want them, what would it be like? If a miracle occurred and I could have my career and work life exactly the way I want them, what would it be like? Do the same for physical health, education, finances, mental health, recreation and spirituality.
It is interesting that satisfaction with life does not necessarily mean the achievement of grand and glorious goals. It does mean that you have met the goals you set for yourself to your satisfaction.
Let's say that your life would be most different if a miracle occurred in the arena of physical health, fitness and recreation. These may be areas that could benefit from a little boost of hope in your life. You might decide to set a goal to begin an exercise program. Next it's up to you - your ability to find a way to begin and willpower to carry you through. The way is usually easy at first glance. You decide that a way to begin is to get up at 5:00 AM and run for a mile. Don't forget to plan for a way to make you get out of bed! Maybe you need to move the alarm across the room and leave the snooze feature disabled. Will power doesn't come into play right away, as evidenced by how many folks religiously pursue their New Year's Resolutions - for three weeks. Will power has to kick in when you get tired or bored or aren't seeing the results you wanted.
Hope is a way of approaching life that says YES and I CAN. Positive Psychology reminds us and our coaches and counselors that hope can be learned at any age. The best we can do for ourselves is to focus on what we CAN do and where we want to go. Clarity and persistence come from the hope we nurture in ourselves.
Dr. Mary Travis practices positive psychology in Winter Park, Florida. She evaluates for giftedness, learning disabilities, attention deficit, depression, anxiety, asperger's disorder and emotional intelligence. Her practice niches are trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), trichadrem (skin picking) and victims of female bullies. She coaches and counsels individuals and groups for anxiety, depression, social skills, female bullying and body focused repetitive disorders.


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