The distinction between hope and intention

What you focus on tends to be what will take up more space in your life—and is usually what you decide to make happen.

The Surdek Team
May 9, 2022
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Leaders can often find themselves in tough situations. Maybe your company is downsizing or going through the middle of a difficult transformation. Other times, leaders need to make hard decisions or adjustments that will have huge impacts.

On the one hand, you may worry that talking about this difficult situation will destroy your team's motivation. But putting on rose-tinted glasses and telling people everything will be fine is not any better. This could lead people to have false hope about the future. They could actually be hit harder when they discover the truth of the matter.

In this article, we will go deeper into the subject of hope and how it is different from setting an intention.

Why hope on its own is not enough

For many people, hope is the belief that things in the future will be better than what they are now. This is not surprising. After all, we are used to stories with happy endings and good triumphing over evil. Although there is nothing wrong with it, this optimism does have a downside.

Hope can sometimes go hand in hand with powerlessness. Consciously or not, you may use it as an excuse to stand on the sidelines and do nothing. In that sense, hope on its own can sometimes cause harm. You hope for the best, start relying on others and then do not act.

What can happen is you are there hoping that the difficult situation will not affect you. You may wait for it to somehow resolve on its own or for someone else to take care of it. In a way, it is the flip side of fear. It can prevent you from acting courageously in difficult times.

To be extra clear here, we are not telling you to let go of all hope and fall into complete despair! What we are saying is that hope when it is alone is not going to solve your problems. Instead, you have to see the world as it is right now.

Passive versus active hope

Passive hope is about living in a fantasy world where everything becomes fine on its own as if by magic. When you think about hope, do you picture reality with dancing rainbows and unicorns or do you see the real world in front of you? For a lot of people, this type of hope is about wishful thinking, optimism, or "the power of positive thinking". It may even feed into your resistance to change.

Active hope is something very different and it can happen when you step into your leadership. It is about looking reality in the face and recognizing a situation for what it is. This grounds you in reality and empowers you to take action.

This is where intention comes in

You can wish for something and hope it will happen. But in most if not all cases, it will not just happen on its own. You have to then take steps to do the wish to actively make it happen.

Intentions are not goals themselves, they are about getting clarity on what you want to do next. For example, your goal may be to finish a project by deadline today, but your intention might be "I intend to stay open to what my team is telling me they need to get it done."

After you have assessed the reality of a situation, intention usually comes in at this point. Intention is about being present in the now and about clarity on where you want to go. It is the root of action. It also forces you to be in the moment.

A clear intention will help guide your actions. If an action you want to take does not align with your intention, you probably should not go ahead and do it.

Facing tough situations with intentionality

To get started facing a difficult situation, you can ask yourself:

  • Do you have clarity about the situation?
  • What is your desired outcome?
  • What is your intention for the situation?
  • Which first steps will you take to get to that outcome?

Leaders who achieve great things know the road in front of them may be hard. Yet they push forward because they have goals they want to accomplish. They find their intention and act courageously time and time again.

When you have a clear intention, you are actually helping your team by having a level of consistency that is easy for them to follow.

When you have a goal that you care about and you believe that it is possible to achieve it, you are more likely to take steps to make it happen.


The key here is that without intention and action, hope is an empty promise. Hope may uplift people for a while, but it does not achieve much if left alone.

When you let go of fear and of passive hope, you realize the reality of what is in front of you. You can then enter active hope by stepping up and taking action. This is what you need, because it forces you to ask yourself: What are you going to do about the situation?

Intention that turns a wish into action is what creates new beginnings. Having both a belief in a brighter future and an intention to drive your efforts is a more realistic way to achieve your goals as a leader.

What is one situation in your life where you could go from passive hope to clear intention and action?