Hope. A powerful and popular word, the truth is that few people outside of the realm of human psychology genuinely know what the word “hope” means. Many say things like “I hope it doesn’t rain on my vacation” or “I hope you feel better soon” but, aside from those invocations, they have no real clue about the true power of hope and its value as a human survival tool.
What is the Definition of Hope?
The word `Hope´ is used in an attempt to capture a pattern of thoughts that we have. A hopeful pattern of thoughts is not just a desire for something to occur, but it is also`having confidence and trust that a particular event or outcome can and will occur’.
Hope is Not Just Wishful Thinking
So it’s important to realize that hope isn’t the same as wishful thinking. Wishful thinking suggests that a person would like or prefer a certain outcome, but doesn’t really expect it to be possible. Hope, on the other hand is more active. Not only is it about being able to imagine a preferred future situation, it includes a certain degree of belief or expectation of that possibility coming to fruition.
Hope is not Passive
From this definition, we also see that Hope is not a passive thought pattern. When we dig a little deeper, we find that Hopeful thinking actually sets the groundwork for creating the particular outcome we desire. Specifically, when a person practices Hope, the probability of achieving a particular goal (or goals) becomes much more likely. Because the first step in achieving or creating a particular event or situation, is envisioning what that would look like. A person who actively practices hope can more easily imagine and envision a future event, life, or situation that is better than the present moment.
Hope Doesn’t have to be Blind
Hope doesn’t deny that, on occasion, life can be difficult or even painful, and we don’t always get what we hope for. In fact, the mere existence of hope presumes that the alternate outcome could still happen. For example, when you say `I hope I am successful in that job interview´, it means you realize that you might not be. Hope acknowledges that there is a desire to move from Point A (which may indeed be painful, miserable, fearful, boring, or less than ideal) to Point B (less or no pain, misery, fear, boredom, etc).
The Man Who Defined Hope
One man who had a better idea of what hope is and, having studied it extensively, was Charles Richard Snyder, an American psychologist. When well understood and used correctly, Snyder realized that hope could be a powerful force for human change. Indeed, a generation of “high-hopers” was born based on his work, individuals who put hope to work in their lives to affect positive changes and attain their particular goals.
Below we’ll take a closer look at the three components of Snyder’s Hope Theory, as well as benefits everyone, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, can receive from practicing hope in their life. Plus, we’ll give you 5 Strategies to bring hope back into your life and reach your goals.
Benefits of Hope
Especially when things are looking grim, Hope is critical to our wellbeing, and even our survival. In fact, if a person loses all hope that things can improve, they can find themselves in a very dangerous predicament indeed. That is why, we know hope can be a lifeline for people when times are tough. The good news is, only a small window of hope is needed. A glimmer of an opportunity, that things can change. And that´s the good thing about life – it always changes.
In mental health, studies conducted with people who have recovered from severe mental health problems, reveal that one of the major factors, often a turning point in their recovery journey, was when they discovered and began to build hope for a better future. Because from hope, we become motivated to take positive actions, that can make all the difference.
The same if true for everyone – we must have some degree of hope in order to take actions towards our goals and dreams. And in doing so we discover that there is more within our own power and control than we ever thought previously.
And there are other benefits to Hope too. For example, Hope:
- Improves your immune system to help you stay healthier.
- Can increase your self-worth and, with it, your confidence.
- Reduces sadness, anxiety, stress, and many other negative emotions.
- Creates new opportunities in life that may not have been there previously.
- Improves both your physical and mental well-being.
- Encourages you to get up off your behind and take positive action rather than wallowing in self-pity.
The Three Components of Snyder’s Hope Theory
Snyder’s Hope Theory has three major components, all of which must be realized in order for hope to be achieved. Those three components include:
- Goal thoughts – A person must be focused in their way of thinking. They must have some goal or target to be hopeful for.
- Pathway thoughts – Strategies need to be developed and put in place to achieve that specific goal or goals.
- Agency thoughts – People have to have motivation, hope, or confidence in their own personal capacity to follow the pathway identified to achieve the goal.
Component #1 – Focusing on the Goal
It makes sense doesn’t it? In order to have Hope, you have to have something to be hopeful for. WHAT is the target of your hope? What do you want to have happen?
Getting clarity on the preferred outcome is a critical first step in building Hope.
Sometimes when we are not in a very hopeful place, we can resist thinking about the preferred outcome. You might have heard people say `I don’t even want to think about it – I don’t want to get my hopes up!´. In reality, they do know what they are hopeful for, they just want to avoid potential disappointment of not getting it, so they try to distract themselves. But the key to achieving any outcome is to get really clear on what is the outcome that you want.
For example, if you are hopeful for a successful career, it makes sense that at some point, you are going to have to focus in on the goal – what particular career would I like to have? What profession would I like to pursue?
The same goes for a successful relationship, health goal, or in any other area of life. To have hope that it can be created, you are really going to have to focus in on what that successful relationship would look like for you, or what that health goal is.
Component #2 –Pathway Thoughts
This is where the ´rubber hits the road´, as they say. In order to have Hope for a certain outcome, you need to have some idea of the pathway, or the steps involved in to get there. It´s no use just knowing WHAT you want, you probably won´t be very hopeful about it if you have no clue as to HOW to get it.
This doesn’t have to be an especially specific plan. You don´t need to know all the minute details for every point in the journey. But in order to have hope, you do need to have a general idea of the direction to head in, and some of the things required.
So at the very least, it can be a helpful question to ask yourself ´what is the very first, smallest little step towards that goal I am hopeful for?´. And if you don’t know, then finding out is usually the first step!
Once you’ve completed the first step, the next one often becomes apparent, and so the pathway unfolds in front of you. And keep in mind, the pathway may not be a direct journey, you may come across some obstacles dead ends, and need to reroute, or get back on track, but that´s all part of the process. Where there is momentum there is hope.
Component #3 –Belief in Your Own Agency
The third essential component for Hope is thoughts about ´Agency´. Agency means the capacity to act, or exert power or influence. In this context, it means your own self belief or confidence in your ability to do the steps on the pathway to achieve the thing you are hopeful for.
You can have a goal or a desired outcome, you can know how to get there, but if you don´t believe that you can get there, or if you feel it is completely out of your hands, then it´s unlikely you will have much hope for it.
There are some things you can do to build agency, or belief in your capacity. One is to start small, get some small wins on the board. That´ll give you confidence to take bigger steps. Another is to find people who have been in your shoes, and who have overcome whatever obstacle was holding them back. Ìf they can do it, I can do it´. You can look to what you have accomplished previously. Even if you don’t think you´ve done much (and when we´re feeling down, we do tend to forget about or minimize what we’ve actually accomplished), sometimes the accomplishment is simply making it through a tough time.
And sometimes, we need a cheerleader or a coach. Sometimes when we don’t believe in ourselves, when we can´t see the forest for the trees, we need someone else, someone we trust, who can hold that hope for us. If you´re in that space, go and find that person.
For those things that are truly outside our sphere of influence (perhaps things on a global scale, like international politics or the economy) then the trick is to focus on the elements that ARE within your control. For example, I may not be able to control the global economy, but I can make sure that I have done everything in my power to best manage my own personal finances, protect my individual economy, or prepare for the future. I may not be in a position to influence global politics, but I can register to vote, advocate for issues that are important to me, or get involved in charity, if I want.
5 Strategies to Regain Hope and Reach Goals
In addition to the strategies identified above, there are several other excellent methods you can use to help regain and build Hope. Some are easier than others, and you may need more assistance with some. Still, all the strategies will allow you to regain hope, improve your life and reframe a negative situation that you may be dealing with to one more positive.
- Learn a new skill, talent, or craft. When learning a new skill, your mind stays active and positive. It’s hard to feel helpless or hopeless when learning something new that gives you joy or pleasure.
- Create a daily routine and stick to it. It’s difficult to stay positive when you wake up in the morning with no plans or no meaningful way of spending your day.
- Start exercising. You don’t need to go to a gym, although that’s not a bad idea. Instead, do active things like walking, swimming, or bicycling. Over time, you will see positive gains, reinforcing that change is possible.
- Be careful with your diet.We really are what we eat. Poor quality food is a fast track to negativity, and it´s hard to be hopeful when you´re in a negative mood
- Choose who you spend time with. As they say ´misery likes company´. If you want to feel more hopeful and positive, then hang around with people who are hopeful and positive, and limit time with those who drain your energy or have a victim mentality.
In today’s world of ever-increasing tension, millions of people are over-stressed, unhappy, depressed, and feel helpless.It’s easy to feel hopeless when so many things seem to be stacked against you. Issues and challenges at work, home, and relationships can often seem overwhelming and unsolvable.