2016: A New Hope

“Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.” The Architect, Matrix Reloaded

I confess, sometimes I can be a little bit rigid.  And grumpy.

Every New Years Eve, I get a tinsy bit frustrated by the vague aspirations that adorn social media statuses everywhere.  From the self-realisation types …

“Lets make 2016 the best year ever / I’m gonna take 2016 to the next level / Be the love, feel the power, live the life, bask in the light”

through to the typical vague self-improvement ones …

“This year I’m gonna lose weight / stop smoking / be nicer to people / save more / give more / love more / exercise more / eat less …”

It’s all a bit too much for my inner cynic.

My pragmatic cynic dismissed them as pointless. “These aspirations that people post are just pathetic, they won’t benefit anyone.  Goals need to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic and Time-Framed.  Why bother with anything else.”

The activist cynic chimed in, “Honestly, there are so many other more important things … who cares about ‘going to the next level’ when you’re being conned everyday by charlatans and snake-oil salesmen.”

My core cynic was like, “What’s the fuss anyway? The transition into 2016 ‘holds no more meaning that the silent segue from March 14th into March 15th, or the almost imperceptible movement of the minute hand as 2:38pm becomes 2:39pm. If we’re going to celebrate one meaningless moment passing, then shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to all other moments too? Why does the passage of time matter so much more at the stroke of midnight? I bet 11:58pm feels a bit miffed.’”

I thought about letting my sceptical trinity loose on this post today, but somehow I felt like it wasn’t quite right.  And then I had a small epiphany – each aspiration represents more than vague self-affirmation and cyclical mediocrity.  Together, they represent hope, and who am I to stifle the incredible power of hope.

The power of hope is being realised in secular psychology in recent times.  Hope involves having goals, along with the desire and plan to achieve them.  Dr Shane Lopez, a leading expert on the psychology of hope, describes hope as “the golden mean between euphoria and fear. It is a feeling where transcendence meets reason and caution meets passion.”

Hope leads to everything from better performance in school to more success in the workplace to greater happiness overall.  There may also be a role for teaching hopefulness in the treatment of depression.

So how can we harness the power of hope?  How can we use hope to make 2016 a better year than 2015?  Hopeful people share four core beliefs:
1. The future will be better than the present.
2. I have the power to make it so.
3. There are many paths to my goals.
4. None of them is free of obstacles.

So if we’re going to engage the power of hope, we need to believe that the future is brighter and it’s within our grasp, so long as we keep moving toward it, in spite of the expected obstacles.

Of course, like the Architect noted in the Matrix Reloaded, hope can sometimes be a weakness.  Like Lopez noted, hope needs the right mix of caution and reason, not just passion and transcendence.  If you want to move forward into a better future, you have to keep your feet on the ground.  You need to be aware of those that would take advantage of blind trust.

The conclusion: I’m glad to have my sceptical inner trinity on board, so long as I temper them with a bit more optimism, and maybe an occasional self-affirmation or two.

I hope that 2016 would bring you new hope, along with prosperity and peace.

Happy new year everyone!

Bibliography

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/03/21/the-psychology-of-hope/

http://psychcentral.com/news/2008/08/19/hope-therapy-for-depression/2778.html

http://wonkyperfectionism.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/new-years-vague-sort-of-aspirations.html

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My patient, Kev

I meet a lot of people in my job. Some are not particularly memorable, and some I truly wish to forget. But every now and then, I meet a person who’s memorable for all the right reasons. Kev was one of those people.

Once upon a time, Kev was a business man, a corporate manager who started in the postal service in his late teens, but got more experience and moved into the Commonwealth Bank, where he quickly moved through their ranks and became a regional manager. Towards the end of his career, he moved industries to become the CEO of one of the smaller private hospitals in Brisbane in the 1980’s.

After he retired, his wife developed dementia, and he cared for her at home for many years, before he became too weak. They both moved into a nursing home, but his wife succumbed a couple of years later.

When I met Kev in early 2013, he was dying. His heart and his lungs were failing, and he couldn’t walk ten metres without gasping or needing oxygen. He was gaunt and frail, and extremely thin. I was worried that if he fell, he might snap.

But his intellect remained untouched by the disease ravaging the rest of his body. He was quick-witted, jovial, and always polite. He was the consummate professional – always showing respect, and earning it. I could see why he was so good as a businessman. He was a pleasure to be around – so much so that I spent extra time with him every week just chatting, when I should have been finishing off my work.

In the week before he died, the last time I saw him, as I sat in his room listening to some more of his stories, he looked me in the eye and said,

“Don’t sweat the small stuff. You don’t have to do everything. Let people flow in the things they can do. There are more important things in life.”

He smiled as he looked at the photos on his wall of his wife and kids.

I smiled and shook his hand. “I’ll see you later, Kev”, I said. I never did see him again.

I still remember him now, skinny and breathless, but with a big smile on his face and a sparkle in his eyes every time I entered his room. And I remember his advice on living a life driven by values.

New Years Day is a time to start afresh, a celebration of new beginnings, a focal point to take stock and refocus. But if we’ve learnt anything at all from our previous attempts at New Years resolutions, it is that they don’t work. Don’t be mislead by the occasional partial successes. I sometimes hit a golf ball straight, but that still doesn’t mean my golf swing is any good. New Years resolutions are the same – they are fundamentally flawed, in spite of the accidental successes that we sometimes have.

The truth is that etherial statements, or short term goals for self-improvement don’t help us. We don’t need New Years resolutions, we need New Years re-evaluations.

Values are different to goals. A goal is like a destination, where as a value is like a direction. Our individual values are like the direction of the breeze. It’s easier to sail with the breeze of our values than against it.

We often get goals and values confused. Goal orientation means that we move from place to place, sometimes travelling in the same direction as our values, but sometimes against them. When we live according to our values, the goals seem to set themselves as we live according to what we truly believe in, what truly motivates us.

A few things can acts as guides to help us learn what our values are. What are your passions or what makes you mad? Is it justice, or injustice? Is it relationships? Is it children, or family? The environment? What is it that gets your juices flowing?

Another way of understanding your values is to do the eulogy exercise. It’s a little morbid, perhaps. But simply, the eulogy exercise involves writing your own eulogy. What is it that you want others to remember you for? What do you want your epitaph to say?

The eulogy exercise helps us to plan our lives with the end in mind. When you’re on your death bed, will you regret not finishing that report, or will you regret whether you lived according to your values, your deepest desires. Putting your values into perspective makes it much easier to let things go that aren’t truly important. It’s a lesson I’m continually working at too.

May 2014, and the rest of your life, be about the important things. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

I hope you have a happy new year.

Cheers, Kev.