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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Breaking down Barack Obama’s Psychology of Hope and how it may help you in trying times…

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 5th 2008

bridge to the sunWell before Barack Obama came onto the scene, Psychologists and business leaders were working with the concept of hope as an effective way of motivating people, dealing with difficult emotions, and cultivating well-being in daily life.

So what is hope? Hope is a combination of an emotional state with thoughts that we believe we can reach certain attainable goals. In this way, hope is a strength as it gives us motivation and energy to focus on the tasks in life that we believe will serve us best. It wasn't until recently that Psychologists actually broke down what they believed the components of hope are.

Psychologist, C.R. Snyder and his colleagues say that hope is cultivated when we have a goal in mind, determination that a goal can be reached, and a plan on how to reach those goals. In this sense, we can hope for big things (e.g., the Presidency) or we can hope for small things (e.g., a clean room). Although people who have hope will have a sense of determination and a plan on how to achieve these goals, they will also be flexible, understanding that they may need to have a couple backup plans in case the first one doesn't work out. Like the little engine that could, they keep telling themselves "I think I can, I think I can".

As a Psychologist, I use a hope-barometer to see how a person is doing at any particular moment so I can support them.  On a scale of 1 to 10, if their hope for getting better is a 2, that tells me that they are not only likely pretty depressed, but can't envision the light at the end of the tunnel (e.g., goal), have little sense of a plan on how to get there, and their motivation and determination is low. When the number moves from a 2 to a 5, I often ask how they make sense of this difference. Many will say they can see what feeling better might be like (i.e., goal), the plans they have put in place are allowing them to realize more pleasure and interest in life, and they feel some motivation to continue doing things that feed their well-being.

Whatever our beliefs are about Barack Obama, the fact is he managed to inspire hope in enough people with a goal in mind, with a plan on how to reach that goal, and with a determination that motivated more volunteers than had ever been seen before in American history. There is no question from this example that hope is a strength that can help each of us in our lives and can be cultivated.

How to cultivate hope: Try to envision something realistic you want for yourself in your life. Create a plan on how to get there, and be like the little engine that could and keep saying "I think I can". If you are feeling particularly low, start with something very small like cleaning a room. If you find yourself getting distracted often, go ahead and read another blog I wrote on mindfulness and work that may support you with some pointers for this. Cultivating hope is also like building a muscle, little by little, keep at it and it will get stronger.

As always, feel free to share your own experiences, comments, and questions below. We can all benefit from your questions, insights, and wisdom.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Re. Obama - a bit hard on Mary ? - JR - Nov 24th 2008

While I have no doubt that many people will be with me in regarding Mary's comment as a bit ... well, off the mark, it is perhaps a bit hard to term it "subconscious[ly] racist".  Sadly, many people will have been influenced in this direction by the disgraceful, dishonest attack propaganda made available to the public, both officially and unofficially, in the interests of his opponent's electoral campaign.  If such propaganda was not effective, it would not be distributed or made available.  Not that Mary is not responsible for her comments but - should some fine, upstanding Republicans not be seen to bear some responsibility for this sort of thinking as well ?

Best regards,


Comment to Mary - - Nov 22nd 2008


Your comment is very offensive and inappropiate and in fact it is what is considered to as subconscious racist category.  Please respect the community of this board and if you cannot say something to bring an uplift instead of pain to another, please do not comment. 


Valuing Dr. Elisha Goldstein's "Hope" - Dr. Bonnie Goldstein - Nov 10th 2008
Dr. Elisha Goldstein wrote an insightful and accurate article describing the value hope plays in our lives.  I value his comments and his wisdom.

unwarranted trepidation - Dr.T - Nov 7th 2008

What we need in addition to help that will make us feel less insecure and afraid, is education about the truth and education about how bias and misinterpretation can add unnecessary stress and worry. Some worries are heightened by biased perceptions that we may not in fact be aware of (or perhaps that we are aware of and refuse to face about ourselves). Self-disclosure or introspection could help us with the subliminal feelings that can perpetuate exaggerated and artificial emotions, which can of course appear real, such as unwarranted and even prejudicial fear.

Each candidate can propose conceptions that are abysmal; subjectively, one might say this is not the case. But factually it is. Each candidate poses ideas that then create unforeseen and/or predicted consequences (whether good or bad). All of this remains to be seen with any presidential elect. Until then, because none of us can change the course of our reality now, and hopefully a continually wonderful reality for those who desire CHANGE, we should be astute consumers and creators of unity and hope for our nation and for our children. We don't know what will happen tomorrow enough to say that "we're in danger." Many would agree that we've certainly had many presidential elects who were alarming and we've still been given a chance to see today.

Lets try not to produce gratuitious self-fulfilling prophecies. Our children need to know that there is a future and the future may very well be bright.

The possibility of integrity - Larry Drain - Nov 6th 2008

I have published an article that deals with some of the same issues from a little different perspective.  It is called "the possibility of integrity" .  It can be found on

I would be interested in any comment you have.

Larry Drain

Response to Mary - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Nov 6th 2008

Hello Mary, 

Over the past 2 years of this election, I have seen and heard so much fear from all sides fearing that either candidate will take this country into the wrong direction. As a Psychologist, my job isn't to take sides, but really to address the stress and pain that either person is experiencing. So, your experience of fear doesn't come as a surprise to me.  Fear can be absolutely debilitating if not handled with awareness and care.

The fact is that an event has happened and you're responding with fear. Judging your fear as right or wrong isn't helpful here, what is helpful is learning how to approach your emotion so it doesn't snowball into thoughts of catastrophe, and major tension in the body, leading to  intense anxiety and becoming debilitating. In an earlier blog I noted how to work with difficult emotions. It is my sincere suggestion that for your own health and well-being you read it over and see if it makes sense to you to work with. Even with this fear, you can cultivate a sense of hopefullness for your own life that you will persevere. This can turn into a strength for you and help you deal with difficult emotions. I hope this is helpful, Thank you for your comment. 

Very Frightend of Obama - Mary - Nov 6th 2008

I am so terrified of Obama for my children and family because of his associations with radical university educated killers who have plans to kill tens of millions of Americans in concentration camps. We are very afraid.


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