Stuff happens. Just this last week a good friend shared that her cancer had returned. Another friend has been unemployed for months and is uncertain about if or when another job will show up. And let’s not even start talking about the people touched by the tragedy in Washington D.C. or the floods in Colorado. And what about the rest of the world? Unfortunately, no matter who we are, at some point stuff happens. The question then remains—what happens next? Fortunately, some people seem to bounce back and stay focused and positive about the future regardless of the situation. While many words describe such a person, recent research suggests that anyone who keeps going with a positive attitude, no matter how uncertain their future might appear, is considered a high-hope individual. So if stuff can and will happen to each of us, learning why hope matters and how we too might be one of the highly hopeful is certainly SMART information.
If you’re anything like me you probably think of hope as something related to wishful or faith-based thinking. In that light, hope may sound nice, but never seems that practical. However, with the advent of studies during the last 50 years in the growing field of Positive Psychology a new approach called “Hope Theory” has been born. Professor C.R. Snyder from the University of Kansas, and author of The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There From Here, was one of the leaders. Snyder’s theory of hope emphasized goal-directed thinking along with, “the perceived capacity to find routes to desired goals…in conjunction with the motivations to use those routes.” With hope re-defined in such a practical way, a Hope Scale was developed to track and measure the levels of hope in both adults and children. This short test can quickly determine whether a person can be rated as either High-Hope or Low-Hope.
What does it matter? According to over 50 studies done in the last 20 years on hope, both children and adults who score higher in hope:
- Cope better with injuries, disease and physical pain. According to Shane J. Lopez, hope researcher and author of Making Hope Happen, “In one study, hopeful people tolerated pain almost twice as long as people who were less hopeful.”
- Are generally healthier and take better care of themselves;
- Show up for work more and are consider 14% more productive;
- Are more engaged at work (involved and enthusiastic)
- Are more creative at problem solving (better able to churn out big ideas);
- Score higher in satisfaction, self-esteem, optimism, meaning in life and happiness; Lopez claims, “Hope is worth a 10% bump in happiness.”
- Perform better in sports of all kinds;
- Achieve higher high school grade point averages, a higher graduation rate, and college success. Engaged students have an emotional connection with their school. They are more likely to show up for class and are active participants in the learning process. Again according to Lopez, “Hope is worth one letter grade in school with all other things being equal.”
- Are more flexible, adaptable and resilient;
- Experience increased longevity. Hopeful people live longer and live better.
Okay, so clearly research shows that hope is a practical strategy with amazing results. But in order to reap the benefits, a clear understanding of Hope Theory and the practice is necessary. According to both Snyder and Lopez, there are four steps to effective hopeful thinking. They are the belief and understanding that:
- The future will be better than the present.
- I have the power to make it so.
- There are many paths to my goals.
- None of them is free of obstacles.
As you can see, Hope Theory says that a big key to being hopeful is setting effective and realistic goals. To further enable hopeful thinking we need to develop a high quality and positive relationship with the future using a three-step process, which involves a) effective goals; b) pathways; and c) agency.
Goals–Encourage goals that excite:
- -are clear and specific
- -calibrated to age and circumstances.
- – ranked by importance.
- -select several goals using an alternate when profound blockage in one goal.
- -set clear markers for goals (e.g., instead of “getting good grades,” instead use, “to study an hour each day in preparation for my next math exam”).
- -encourage additive/approach to goals (more productive).
- -think in terms of “we” goals in addition to “me” goals.
Pathways–Strategies to develop pathways thinking include:
- -break down large goals into smaller subgoals (a step-by-step sequence).
- – spend time thinking about and rehearsing goals (e.g., what will you need to do to attain your goal?) and identify several routes to a desired goal (e.g., what would you do if you encounter a blockage?).
- -support “keep-going thinking.” If one pathway does not work, try other routes.
- -learn not to attribute a blockage to a perceived lack of talent. Instead, search productively for another route that may work.
- -recognize if new skill is needed and encourage learning.
- -remember that you can always ask for help.
Agency–Strategies to enhance agency thinking include:
- -Keep in mind that goals that are built on internal, personal standards are more energizing than those based on external standards (e.g., imposed by peers, parents, or teachers).
- -set “stretch” goals based on their previous performances.
- -monitor self-talk and encourage talk in a positive voice (e.g., I can do this; I will keep at it).
- -learn to laugh at yourself and avoid seriousness
- -Engage in exciting activities that involve teamwork.
- -get plenty of sleep and lots of exercise.
- -Learn to enjoy the process of getting to your goals.
While the above may seem rather technical, at their core these ideas demonstrate something incredibly important—that hope is something we can all develop. Regardless of what is going on in your life right now, we can all learn strategies that will increase our abilities to be hopeful. Even better, most of these tactics are not that difficult and are extremely effective. Some of the best include:
- The MOST IMPORTANT strategy is to find hopeful people and spend as much time as possible around them. Hope, just like pessimism, is extremely contagious.
- What kind of television are you watching? Obviously television news is horribly pessimistic and unhopeful but so are many documentaries. If you must watch television, escapism TV is actually more healthy.
- Practice Nexting. This term created by Lopez is the practice of getting together with other hopeful people and talking about the NEXT thing that you are looking forward to in your life. Talk about why it’s exciting to you, how you hope to get there, and why you’re the person to do it in spite of any challenges.
- Seek out stories in magazines or books, television programs and information online that consistently shows other people overcoming obstacles and reaching their goals in spite of the odds. Our own individual hope increases when we watch others being hopeful.
- Watch your self-talk and make sure that it is positive and reflects a succeeding attitude.
- Take the time to review your past successes and dwell on them for encouragement.
It’s also important to note that this definition of hope is much different that merely wishing. Wishing is a passive approach where you just set back and think about how nice it would be if things were different. Unfortunately that can lead to the opposite of hope, which is a feeling of hopelessness, powerlessness and despair. The problem with those emotions is, according to Lopez, “Your pessimism and fear have sent you on a downward emotional spiral. When you’re overwhelmed by those negative emotions, your only options are to fight, flee, or freeze. You can’t solve problems well when you are this way. You walk through life with blinders on, unable to see possibilities and opportunities. So hassles turn into insurmountable problems.”
This new way of looking at hope is a practical approach that recognizes that life is uncertain and stuff happens to everyone—but every single one of us has options about where to go from here. Up until now we may have allowed our thinking to stay trapped in a low-hope with little or no possibility for things to change or improve in the future. But Hope Theory transforms all that by reminding us that by learning certain hopeful strategies we are better suited to reaching our goals in spite of any challenges or obstacles any of us could face. In the past I’ve always considered myself more optimistic than hopeful. I’m now aware that while optimism may be a great trait, being hopeful is a process that we can all use to experience a happy, healthy and more rewarding life—in other words, a great way to live SMART 365.
Want To Take The Hope Test? Go to Hope Monger and then scroll to the bottom of the page where it says “Test Your hope…”