Hope is a fragile motivation

I don’t organize my experience around hope very much, because I can’t know how the future will unfold and I don’t need to know. I can accept that we might be headed towards doom, and still feel an internal drive to work in directions I care about. I have intrinsic motivation so I don’t need to really worry about hope.

If you are relying on hope for motivation, it implies you are not enjoying your current reality. Hope implies a level of despair or hopelessness that you are enduring, hoping it will not last forever. It’s a passive position of coping.

I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, when I was dealing with situations I really couldn’t change, but it was a pretty terrible place to be in. Sometimes it can’t be helped, because you really can’t see a way out and hope is all you can manage. But it isn’t something I see as a very good source of motivational fuel. It’s almost a last-ditch option.

And overall, I don’t think we can solve any of our problems from a position of enduring and waiting for salvation. So I suppose I see acceptance of reality as a better choice that creates more peace and internal freedom. And then from that position, you can let go of any expectations for the future, and ask more present-moment questions, like:

  • What would feel good to do?
  • What would improve my life today?
  • What direction do I want to go in?
  • Where do I feel called?
  • What is needed today?

In general, using an idea about the future to avoid the present is a very bad strategy for managing despair, because it just perpetuates it. So if you find yourself in that position, at least start experimenting with other approaches, or you’ll never get free.

Once you really accept that reality will unfold the way it unfolds and it’s largely out of your hands, then you can focus on what you can create in the present that feels alive for you.

It’s sort of like treating the possibility of doom like the weather. We don’t normally feel despair that it’s raining. We accept the weather is out of our control. We don’t feel bothered by it. I think living in modern times requires accepting a certain possibility of doom, and accepting the reality of the existence of massive systems of oppression. Once you accept that, you can find your place in it. Acceptance lets you move beyond fear and despair and regain a sense of freedom, creativity, power and agency.

Just to be honest though, I had to go through a huge grief process to get there. Acceptance is the last stage of grief. You have to move beyond denial, bargaining, anger, and depression to get to acceptance. So, from that perspective, trying to maintain hope could be seen as a form of denial or bargaining. Getting to acceptance about the reality of humanity’s problems is hugely clarifying and strengthening, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

How I live today and whether I enjoy it or find it meaningful doesn’t really depend on if humanity survives the meta-crisis. These things aren’t connected in reality, they are only connected in our minds. If we stop thinking we need to control the future to enjoy the present, there’s a lot more possibilities for enjoyment, and also more energy to work toward change, if we want to.

Whenever you work on a project, you have to accept it might fail. There is always that risk. But if you enjoy what you are doing as you are doing it, you really haven’t lost anything, even if it fails. It’s only if you told yourself you couldn’t enjoy it unless you succeed that you lose all that time and energy.

So this is somewhat about a shift from goal-oriented motivation to process-oriented motivation. However, not everyone is motivated by process, so if that’s the case for you, you can also focus on more short-term goals that are more in your control than the collective future of humanity, which is vague, nebulous, and out of your control.

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