Get Your Hopes Up

Yael Shy
February 9, 2024
A watermelon wearing sunglasses

I went home for Thanksgiving by myself about three weeks after I started dating someone new. 

Over the holiday, I could not stop thinking about my new relationship. Would it last? Was he thinking about me? Would calling him look needy? Would not calling him be rude? Why wasn’t he calling me? Was that a bad sign? Around and around these thoughts went in the miserable echo chamber of my mind. 

One evening, my aunt asked me about the relationship. I filled her in and then told her what had been my unofficial mantra throughout the weekend: “I’m trying not to get my hopes up.” 

Actually, my mantra sounded more like, “THIS IS ALL GOING TO HELL JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER PSEUDO-RELATIONSHIP YOU’VE EVER HAD SO DON’T YOU DARE GET YOUR HOPES UP,” but I decided to give her the saner version.

“Has that ever worked?” She asked, gently. 

“Has what ever worked? I asked, confused. 

“When you’ve told yourself not to get your hopes up, were you totally fine when you didn’t get what you wanted because you had reminded yourself, ad nauseum, to not get your hopes up?”

I thought about it for a few moments. I could not remember a single instance in my entire life that telling myself not to get my hopes up had ever worked. Not once. Every single time, I repeated the mantra in the face of my anxiety, and every time I still experienced disappointment. I was always gutted. It was always awful. 

“But what’s the alternative?” I asked, “Getting my hopes up and then getting the rug pulled out from under me?”

She said, “The alternative is asking what you actually want to happen, and then choosing the best possible scenario to imagine, rather than the worst. Is it possible you will get the rug pulled out? Yes. But the opposite is also possible. Wouldn’t it be more fun to be in the excitement rather than the disappointment?” 

I thought about it for a long time. If I truly didn’t know the outcome, why shouldn’t I choose to live the in-between in the pleasure of my longing, rather than my go-to anxious, frantic attempts to self protect—which ultimately fail, anyway? My mind was officially blown. 

Putting my aunt’s suggestion into practice, I started to realize so many startling truths about anxiety and desire. 

First, every single anxiety has desire within it. 

When I am anxious about a presentation at work, it is because I really want the feeling of competency. When I am anxious about climate disaster, it is because I yearn for a long future for myself, my descendants, and all life on the planet. 

Why does shifting from anxiety into desire matter? Because when I live in worry and anxiety, I feel sick and constricted. When I allow myself to feel the desire instead, it feels expansive and heart-opening. Try as I might to shut down the longing, I do want these things, and so acknowledging that fact feels liberating.

Second, acting out of anxiety causes many more problems than acting from my deepest desires. 

This plays out a lot in my working life. As a self-employed consultant, I am not always sure whether I will make the income I need to meet my expenses. When I lean into anxiety in those uncertain periods, I often say “yes” to gigs I don’t want to do, for less than the job is worth, because I am so worried the better offers won’t come around. Then when it comes to time to deliver the project, I am resentful and annoyed. 

With mindfulness, I can slow down and ask myself, “What do I really want, work-wise, at this moment?” I try to take time to listen for the answer, deep inside. Sometimes I want a new, big project from an ideal client. I imagine what it would feel like if I got that offer—energized! excited! driven!—and I spend some time with those feelings. Other times, my deepest desire is to just stare out of my window for a little while with zero pressure to produce. When I imagine what that would feel like—relaxing, rejuvenating—I try to let those feelings in. From this clarified place, I make much better decisions for my business and my life. 


But what if I don’t get what I want? 

Inevitably, when I practice opening up and actually feeling the desire at the heart of each anxiety, there is an inner voice that arises. It screams, “But what you want is impossible and will never happen!” In other words, “SHUT IT DOWN! DANGER! ABORT THIS DESIRE THING!”

Here is the good news: I don’t have to believe this voice. I do have to pay attention to it, because like a loud toddler, ignoring it will only cause it to get louder. But when this voice visits me, I turn towards it and say, “Thank you, inner protector. I see you. I know you are trying to help me. I know we are facing an uncertain future right now. But we are okay here, in the desire. It’s okay to be scared. You can sit next to me, as we keep leaning into the longing.” 

So give it a try. If an anxiety is consuming you, find the longing underneath. Allow yourself to feel that desire as fully as possible. Let it wash over you. Ask yourself, “How would it feel if I got what I wanted?” Bring that feeling into your body, filling yourself up with it as much as possible. When that protector voice pops up that says it’s not possible, thank the voice and acknowledge that desire is scary, and that you are prepared to be brave. 

Will this make all your desires come true? No. We aren’t in control of the universe, unfortunately. But it will make the time between the desire and the outcome so much easier to endure.

Yael Shy is the CEO of Mindfulness Consulting, where she supports individuals and institutions with transformative mindfulness coaching, consulting, and teaching. She is the author of What Now? Meditation for Your Twenties and Beyond, and can be found on Instagram at Yaelshy1.

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