S1, Ep.10 | Practicing Hope vs. Wishful Thinking

I really hope that I win the lottery someday.  I have many plans for how I will pay off my parents, sisters and friends mortgages and student loans and invest in multiple high yield stocks and then travel the world stopping only now and again to do volunteer work and a spiritual guide. The one problem with this plan is that I never buy lottery tickets.  I just wish and dream about what I would do if I win the lottery.  So an essential piece is missing to actually ever seeing my wish fulfilled sans a fairy godmother or a genie coming to grant it. 

I am a proponent of believing in magick. Magick being the act of making something from nothing, or changing something from one thing into something else. By this definition we are doing magick every time we cook, every time we engage in a creative act, every time we make an idea reality through the four worlds of idea, thought, plan, action.

What is not this type of magick is what I call “wishful thinking” or Magical Thinking.  This is just sitting on your butt wishing for things to come to you and not doing anything to make them happen.  My lottery ticket story is an over-simplified example. Another example is when people send “thoughts & prayers”  to something – as they are choosing magical thinking versus doing something about the tragedy.  Or someone saying “I wish I had more money.”

But they do not go out and get more money via a better job, implementation of an entrepreneurial idea, or even a side-hustle. The key piece missing in any type of wishful thinking is responsibility (i.e. acknowledgment of the ability to respond) and personal agency i.e. action taken based on the acknowledgment of the ability to respond.  

Magical thinking is the abdication of personal responsibility, the abdication of action – and is simply a person doing nothing but wishing based on the belief that simply by desiring/wanting something you deserve to get the something and thus it will come to you.  This is the definition of entitlement.  The belief that you deserve something simply because you want it. With entitlement comes a sense of victim because when one does not get what they believe they deserve they then think someone took it from them, and they are hence wronged (and now a victim). When in fact they never had anything to begin with. And when this lack mentality, this win/lose mentality starts to pervade every thought process of a person, you get thought structures and false realities that entrench a person in being stuck, in lack, in victim, in powerlessness, and the results are not pretty. We are seeing them at work in the collective consciousness every day. 

If you are listening to my podcast you are likely not at a critical level of hopelessness, or wishful thinking in your life.  But I want to challenge you to examine where in your life that wishful thinking might be at play.  

  • Where are you feeling entitled? 
  • Where do you feel like you deserve to receive something just because you want it? 
  • What places do you feel as if someone took something of yours? 
  • Or that they got in the way of something coming to you?
  •  Or where are you simply wishing for something to happen? 
  • What are you actually doing about that wish? Where are you saying if I won the lottery…but then not buying a ticket. I’m not saying go out and start buying lottery tickets – but where is this same mentality at play in your life? 
  • Do you want a better job? 
  • Are you looking for that better job? 
  • Have you defined what that better job is even? 
  • Have you updated your resume? 
  • Are you looking at increasing your skill set, starting a business instead?
  •  Do you want less stress?  Are you exercising, meditating or practicing deep breathing? Or are you Doom Scrolling on Reddit and Facebook for hours on end instead? 
  • Is the TV on a 24 hour new station for more than an hour a day? These are just examples of places where this wishful thinking could be at work.  Take a look at what you are doing or not doing where do you believe something is supposed to happen to you but you are not taking any action to make it happen. Where are you wishful thinking?  

In some ways this is another way to identify a lack mentality in your life. But it is a different flavor, as this is finding entitlement and non-action which stop the flow of abundance in our lives. So looking honestly at the places where we are creating stories and fictions about what we want and what we are doing about what we want – is very important so we can be in personal integrity and from there flow abundance.  

Now a lot of people when in the mode of wishful thinking use the word hope instead of wish.  I Hope I win the lottery versus I wish I win the lottery. Heck, the lottery is called “The Hope Tax” by some. So Hope is frequently synonymous with wishful thinking.  But Hopefulness isn’t wishing nor is it wishful thinking because true hope is an active thing and mindset.  In Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection she provides a really great definition of hope as a practice of open hearted people. A definition I really liked, inside a book I really liked – so I am going to encourage you, if you haven’t already, to read or listen to her book in its entirety. It is based on research of people who live openhearted lives and the practices they engage in. And it is written in such a way as to help you start practicing these things in your life instead of just saying “Be happier!” or “get over it!” or whatever else self-help books may tell you to do, but never really give you the true tools to do.  Her book has a lot of suggestions provided in a structured manner to allow you to actually integrate things into your life.  Anyway, enough about her book and back to Hope. 

Hope is an action. Wishing is a thought. So hope involves the process of believing that something could be different than it is, plus that you have the ability to be an agent in the scenario of changing it. To be hopeless is to be completely stuck. No way out. To have hope means you are not stuck, that you have agency.  You may not know exactly what the right thing to do is, but you will definitely keep trying until you find something that shifts it. 

So paraphrasing Brene, and her summary of the researcher C.R. Snider of the University of Kansas. Hope is actually a learned cognitive process that consists of three things 

  1. Goals
  2. Mental pathways
  3. Agency

These three things are supported by an underlying attitude of flexibility and tolerance for disappointment or as I like to call it – the willingness to fail forward. 

So, hope happens as a life practice when we can First set goals for ourselves. When we can choose a direction we want to go, a place, or something we want. In my Buddhist practice the saying is “Earthly desires equal enlightenment.” Because those desires (i.e. goals) become the fuel that for our hope, and motivate us towards accomplishing things.  Second , we figure out how to achieve those goals, in part by trying things persistently until we get there.  I call this the practice of failing forward.  This involves a lot of idea, thought, plan, action and willingness to try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. As the old adage goes. But its true, the first plan you make to achieve your desire may not work, so you change the plan based on what you learn and you persistently keep moving forward towards that goal.  If you fail, you pick yourself up and you start again. Finally the third ingredient to hope is agency.  In other words we fully believe we are responsible for the result.  We believe we can do it. That we have the ability to respond.  We are completely capable of making it happen. (eventually)

So hopeful equals persistence and hard work and the willingness to fail until you succeed. It is extremely active and involves no waiting or externalizing the cause. 

So can you see here the difference between wishful thinking and hope? Wishful or magical thinking is “I want this thing. I will do nothing and wish it towards me because by my wanting alone I deserve it. ” So magical thinking is entitlement.  A belief that things should come easy with no effort, simply by wanting something one believes they deserve it.  Hope is “I want this thing, getting it is tough but the effort will be worth it and I can in fact achieve it.” There is power in hope.  Power as defined by Martin Luther King Jr. “ the ability to achieve our purpose and affect change.”  The opposite of which are powerlessness and hopelessness which result from

1. Fear of disappointment/fear of failure/fear generally

2. Entitled thinking or the belief that everything should just easily come to you 

3. Performance pressure or perfectionism or belief that because its not easy it means you are not good at it, and thus shouldn’t even bother trying to make it happen. 

From this combination of things we have an epidemic of wishful thinking and hopelessness which is the same problem as the level of victim mindset we have in the United States.  

So I want to encourage us all, as a law of abundance in our lives, to practice hope.  In fact to learn how to hope. Hope is certainly learned behavior.  I learned it really well with over 20 years of Buddhist practice and 4 trips up the tree of life in the study of the Universal Kabbalah.  Rule #1 for cultivating hope is to set a goal, a tangible measurable result, a desire for your life and yourself.

Don‘t know where to start, start with something you want.  Buddhist practice 101 is to chant for a material thing that you want. It will get you going. Its not selfish, its fuel for enlightenment. Rule #2 take action toward the goal – make a plan, take steps on the plan, put yourself out there, go do the thing and never give up until you achieve the goal or desire or learn along the way that your first goal was actually just a stepping stone to a bigger thing.  Or maybe what you wanted wasn’t good for you , but in the process of failing forward to that goal or desire you learned what you truly needed and pivot toward that.  Rule # 3 recognition that you have the power within to do the thing. Taking responsibility for your life. 

Acknowledging that you have ability to respond.  Actualizing your potential as a human being, tapping into your divine nature, your buddha nature, recognizing that you create your reality. Whatever words you use – this is the a path of agency. 

And there you are living and breathing hope, resilience and are on the path of a joyful life.  Where you rest on an unshakable foundation.  You won’t need to wish anymore because you know the power to create your reality rests inside you. 

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