Activate Hope through Goal Setting

by Adriel Anderson

Have you ever considered how the placebo effect points to tangible consequences of hope? When the simple belief that you’ve received effective treatment (when you haven’t!) leads to actual improvement, it’s clear that hope changes things. Researchers have even found that high-hope people experience more happiness, have less distress and burnout at work, are generally healthier, perform better in school and athletics, and are overall better at coping and recovering from physical injury.* Hope is real, and we all want it, but the wishful way hope is often expressed leaves it subject to our circumstance. When stress runs high, wishful hope accomplishes little, and when wishful hope fails, it can leave us cynical, demoralized, and despairing.

On the other hand, hope reframed as an action, not a wish, is always useful. If “hope” is the expression of something we want, then goal setting is how we attain it. The best practice for hope-as-goals boils down to “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and to be the most effective, we need both. Here, “will” means you have a sense of agency and sustained energy, and “way” means you have many paths to your goal.†

Sustaining the “Will” for Hope-as-Goals


  • Own your goal—it’s your goal, so it’s your job to pursue it
  • Learn positive (not negative) self-talk
  • Recall earlier success, particularly when stuck
  • Have a clear sense of what your motivation is
  • Learn to joyfully laugh at yourself, especially when obstructed
  • Find substitute goals when the original goal is completely blocked
  • Enjoy the process and the journey


  • Be constantly surprised by roadblocks
  • Get impatient if you’re not instantly in the right mindset
  • Conclude that things will never change
  • Engage in self-pity
  • Continue pursuing a goal that is truly obstructed

Finding the “Way” for Hope-as-Goals


  • Clearly visualize concrete, reasonable goals
  • Break big, long-term goals into steps—start on the first one
  • Brainstorm many ways to accomplish your goal, pick a path, and adjust as needed
  • Prepare in advance for how you want to respond when you encounter an obstacle
  • Reframe obstacles as challenges
  • Learn new skills to reach your goals if necessary
  • Develop healthy friendships that are mutually beneficial for goal setting


  • Expect to reach big goals easily and immediately
  • Feel rushed to pick a direction
  • Overthink options and assume there is a perfect route
  • Jump to the conclusion that initial failures result from lack of talent

When we embark on reframing hope as goals, we don’t have to do it alone. There is power in sharing goals with other hopeful people who will support you and offer constructive criticism—hope begets hope.‡ In times of intractable hopelessness, there are also trained individuals—from prayer counselors to professional counselors—who are ready to step in and help. And best of all, as children of God, we are given the Holy Spirit, who leads and encourages us every step of the way. So go get it, girl! You’ve got this!