The psychology of hope is a relatively recent area of research. Traditionally psychology has focused mainly on people's weaknesses and problems - on what was wrong, not what was right. As Martin Seligman, founding father of positive psychology put it, psychology has been too preoccupied with repairing damage and disease when our focus should be on building strength and resilience, especially in our students.
Hope is essential to resilience, and survival. Although most positivity arises when you feel safe and secure, hope is the exception. If everything were going your way, if life were without challenge, then there would be very little that you would need to hope for. Hope really comes into play when circumstances are dire or when there is considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out.
Hope is not just an emotion. It’s about having a plan and the self-belief that you can see this plan through. In your role as a teacher or parent you are tasked with helping the young people in your care to envision their futures and encouraging them to strive toward their goals. The psychology of hope is critical in helping to motivate students in terms of their short-term academic goals but also in helping them to achieve their wider dreams and ambitions. By cultivating hope in these young minds we can help them to reach their full potential and build their resilience and wellbeing.
Hope involves much more than is commonly thought. It is not simply an unfounded wish that things will turn out fine. Psychologist Charles Synder, who developed Hope Theory, describes hope as consisting not only of goals, but also agency and pathways. To have hope involves the will and resolve to fulfil your goals and coming up with various different ways to reach them. Research tells us that even if an individual has a wealth of natural skill and talent, if they lack a strong sense of hope they are less likely to reach their goals.
In this hectic world of ours we come up against innumerable obstacles to our plans. Without hope and all that it encompasses, when our dreams reach an impasse we may simply give up. Hope allows us to tackle our problems with a positive mind-set and enables us to make realistic plans to overcome them and generate alternative strategies to reach our goals. Hope is a dynamic cognitive motivational system. From cognitive psychology we now understand that the way we think shapes our emotions ( not the other way around) and hopeful thinking is what keeps us going, it enables us to problem solve and fuels persistence and determination. Hope matters even more to academic achievement than IQ or conscientiousness according to studies of college students. It predicts graduate school results and also long- term life satisfaction.
Having hope helps students to set and achieve mastery goals – these goals are challenging and involve effort and the risk of failure. People with such goals tend to be more engaged in their learning and aware of their own progress. They interpret failure as a sign to work harder and see competence as the outcome of practice and effort. Students who adopt mastery goals tend to experience greater success in life more generally.
In contrast, students with little sense of hope are more likely to adopt performance goals, they focus on the result, rather than the learning involved and typically choose easy tasks that provide little challenge or opportunity for self-growth. When such people come up against failure, they pack it in instead of trying again with a different approach. They feel helpless and see themselves as having little ability to build the futures that they want.
The great news is that we can actually teach the skills of hope to our students. Some useful techniques include helping students to articulate their dreams and set achievable goals, encouraging them to plan the steps that they must take to reach these goals, and inspiring in them the self-belief and agency needed to take the first of these steps. Of course, a person’s existing or natural ability in a given field has an impact on their level of success in that field. However, it is hope and the self-belief and critical thinking strategies that come with it that really make the difference between success and failure. Having hope means having the will and determination to pursue your ambitions while also recognising that there are numerous pathways leading to these goals. By nurturing hope in our students we open their eyes to a world of opportunity and equip them with the tools needed to overcome, and even thrive in, the face of adversity.
About The Author:
Dr Deirdre Mac Intyre is a Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Institute of Child Education and Psychology ( ICEP) Europe. Teaching Hope and Optimism, one of ICEP Europe’s positive psychology courses, is open for enrolment now and will be available online until April 15th. For more information click on the 'CPD COURSES' link at the top of the page or email firstname.lastname@example.org