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October 2022

Why Motivation Is Better Than Hope



One word that I confess I did not expect to see in discussions around psychometrics, personality profiling, motivation, employee engagement, and the general science of people in business, is hope. That may sound like a quite bleak statement, so let me clarify: hope as a word has many powerful associations—religious, philosophical, spiritual—in short, associations which don’t immediately suggest congruity with a scientific approach! Indeed, hope is one of the three virtues described by St Paul (Faith, Hope, & Love) and considered the pillars of Christianity!

However, there is a growing body of research around and interested in hope as not merely a philosophical ideal, but a measurable psychological trait. While it’s important to be wary of the Western tendency to divorce concepts from their spiritual origins, and therefore rob them of their true context and power, it’s easy to see how this trend might be viewed as a boon, where hope becomes a more accessible concept rather than some high ideal that only a small percentage of leaders can aspire to.

In psychology, hope is defined as: “a positive cognitive state based on a sense of successful goal-directed determination and planning to meet these goals.” (Snyder et al, 1991). In other words, hope correlates to our expectation of positive outcomes. Not only that, but “planning to meet these goals”. When we have high hopes, we tend to plan more, which of course becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we are more likely to have a positive or “successful” outcome if we prepare!

However, we can also see that whilst hope can have a positive influence on outcomes, it can also trip us up when our expectations are dashed. Too much hope means our expectations grow out of control. This isn’t the same as dreaming big, or having big ambitions—these are healthy. But when we cling to hope and nothing else, we begin to lose touch with reality. One is reminded of those who spend inordinate amounts of money on lottery tickets, desperately hoping that their number will come up and they will win lots of money… Here Hope can lead us, ironically, into a state of passivity and helplessness.

It is fascinating that so much emphasis is placed on hope in the Western world, because the esoteric mystics viewed hope with suspicion and even outright distrust. “Nor shall a place for hope be found in your Heart” writes David Herrerias, acclaimed artist and occultist. “Hope will lead you to make expectations that will ultimately lead to Selfishness, Egoism, Disappointment, and Suffering...”

Harsh though these words are, we cannot help but see a dark truth in them. To hope is, in some ways, an egotistical act, for it implies that we are owed some kind of good outcome or fortune. And what happens when that egotistical expectation is disappointed? Well, we suffer… And this is a cycle many repeat on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, lifelong basis.

But without hope, how do we function? It’s true that even though we might not fully understand hope, we may feel we need to have positive expectations for our future. For many, the thought of the weekend is all that gets them through the week. The hope—the expectation—of future reward.

But what if there was another way?

To return to the great mystics: they advocate being in the present moment. Western psychology is of course beginning to catch up to the ancient wisdoms, albeit in a much more reduced and stripped down form, with movements such as Mindfulness encouraging people to become more aware of the present. When we totally inhabit the present, fears, anxieties, concerns for the past or future fade away, and rather than our happiness being dependent on a future outcome (which, of course, means we are infinitely delaying present happiness in exchange for an ethereal, unreal future happiness), we totally embrace happiness now. Of course, this is easier said than done; for some, it is the journey of a lifetime to learn how to become present. However, the sweetest fruits are often the hardest to obtain.

But how does this all correlate to motivation? Well, motivation is energy, and energy can only be accessed in the present moment. Whilst it’s true that our nine motivators are divided into three clusters that loosely correlate with a past, future, and present orientation, motivation itself always happens in the present, in the now. For example, whilst a Creator motivator may have a future orientation and enjoy creatively planning ahead, it is the act of creation that motivates and fuels them, and so the energy is found in the moment, in the inspired act. Similarly a Friend motivator finds comfort and energy in their past and in their social bonds, but this is expressed through the very process of reminiscing and socialising with those friends! I doubt any Friend motivator wants to sit on their own remembering the past. They instead want to go and see those friends and relive that past.

So, we have a preferred orientation, a direction we’re looking, but fundamentally motivation happens now.

We are doing something and we feel that feedback of energy, excitement, fulfilment that lets us know we are engaging with something that motivates us and fuels us, something that’s aligned with our motivators and therefore our deepest drives. And when we begin to plan our life around doing more of what motivates us, we find that the abstract concept of a future hope seems less necessary, we can instead seize joy and fulfilment now in the present moment by meeting our motivators.

It is not my intention, however, to slander or denigrate hope, far from it. Even future motivation depends on our believing it is possible, hoping it is possible. But to avoid us being led astray by hope, and perpetually delaying our happiness in exchange for a nebulous future outcome, we have to learn what motivates us, how to meet our motivators, and how to be in the here and now. This, in a paradoxical way, actually strengthens our sense of hope for the future.

To chat to someone about your motivation why not contact one of our team of Motivational Map Practitioners

Or check out one of the books from the Mapping Motivation series.