Saturday, October 16, 2010

I wonder wonder wonder...

Wonder versus Hope

“Don’t wish for it to happen.
Don’t wish for it not to happen.
Just watch it happen.
Let the wonder of life unfold.”
– Susan Jeffers

I came across this very cool neuro-linguistic distinction on the difference between hope and wonder and have been playing with it, and it’s so life enhancing I wanted to share it with you!

The idea came from a blog by Stephen Mills: The Rat Race Trap - Tools to improve your mind and escape the trap:
“I got the idea for this article from Susan Jeffers in her book Embracing Uncertainty.  It really struck a chord with me.  The whole idea is that hoping, wishing, wanting, etc. opens you up to disappointment because you cannot control the future.  When what you hope for doesn’t happen, your hopes are dashed.  You then judge the situation as “bad” because it didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to turn out.  You are hurt, disappointed, frustrated, etc.

The idea is to replace your hopes with wonder.  Instead of hoping you’ll get a particular job you wonder if you’ll get that job.  Instead of hoping your partner will act in a certain way you wonder if they will act that way.  Instead of hoping your child will do well in school you wonder if they will do well in school.  Instead of hoping a certain thing happens, you simply wonder what will happen.  Do the same thing with wishing and wanting.

This immediately takes the pressure off of the future by removing the need for it to turn out a certain way.  You are free to let your life unfold in the way it is going to unfold regardless of your hopes and desires.  Wonder frees you from the anxiety of a specific outcome.

This is NOT about pessimism.  Pessimism sucks.  Hope is better than pessimism.  Wonder moves beyond hope and doesn’t open the door for pessimism.  If you had ask me a few years ago what I thought about all of this, I probably would have said it was total crap.  What a difference a few years make!”

Words are powerful!

Now as you know from many of my blog posts (e.g. Life Enhancing Language, De-nominalising your world, Positive Words are life enhancing, O-priming your life, Positive Emotion Words) words are powerful tools that we use to filter, construct and create meaning in our lives.

It is through words that we limit ourselves or alternately inspire and direct ourselves. So a distinction like the one above is a gem. It’s a fantastic insight and really does produce a very different response in your neurology. And I wonder just how often and how life enhancingly you will use this insight now!

Wonder is a creative emotion

According to Dr Gordon Coates, in his fascinating exploration of the origin of human emotions and how to relieve emotional distress, the act of wanting or desiring leads to a cascade of emotional and cognitive responses. Two key parallel cascades occur - hope that the outcome will occur and fear that it will not. This in turn leads to both happiness and sadness, which lead on to more fear and hope. These then loop back onto themselves, creating ongoing stress and suffering. This can be summarised as:

Wanting/Desiring -> Hope + Fear -> Happiness + Sadness -> Fear + Hope
and is displayed in Dr Coates’ diagram:

Note how this links to the distinction above about the potential negative neuro-linguistic effects of hope. And contrast this with ‘Wonder’, which is a creative emotion that does not lead to the parallel cascades of happiness and sadness, and so is more generative. Wonder opens the mind to possibilities and contains no fears of loss. Wonder connects to freedom and choice and flexibility. It creates fascination. It's creative. It’s life enhancing.

So I truly wonder how much you’ve enjoyed today’s blog post and I look forward to hearing comments and feedback on how you use this cool neuro-linguistic tool.

with life enhancing wonder,

Read more of Susan Jeffers' book:

Embracing Uncertainty: Breakthrough Methods for Achieving Peace of Mind When Facing the Unknown


  1. Grant, I love it! "Wonder opens the mind to possibilities and contains no fears of loss." The differences in the words we choose to speak or think are often subtle, but so powerful.

  2. Hey Jean, you are so so right, if people realized just how subtle and powerful the effects of words can be, they'd pay far more attention to how they language their lives!

  3. Good article! Hey, remember in the movie Zeitgeist, there is no past and no future, there is only the now. The past and future are subjective thus not real..the only reality is the now...and the true "now" is not polluted in anyway with the past or the future...that is the zen time slice!


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