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April 26, 2022

Having Hope: Motivator, Comfort or a Curse? – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie

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Yolande Conradie

"The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we're brave enough to be it."

Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate

Generally, we know the word "hope" as a feeling that things will work out or that an event or experience will turn out for the best. Many people characterize hope as an emotion.

Hope, the concept of having hope and living in hope are also strongly represented in most major religions and holy books. Many teach their followers that there is always hope and the possibility that things will change when you call on a higher power.

A Story of Hope

I love stories about people who have overcome adversity or, against the odds, survived life-threatening situations. The common thread that runs through all these stories, is hope.

Recently, I heard the story of four American rock-climbers – Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, John Dickey, and Jason Smith – who were taken hostage in Kyrgyzstan in August 2000 while on a rock-climbing expedition.

During their six-day ordeal, the climbers thought during one incident, that soldiers from Uzbekistan saw them and their hostage-takers. Beth Rodden, only 20 at the time, was convinced that the soldiers had noticed her. She thought they'd realize that they were being held against their will, and would come and rescue them. That single moment gave Beth hope – and the strength to carry on when she was weak, dehydrated and numb with fear.

After the climbers had tried to plot an escape from their captors for days, two of the captors left to find food. Seizing the opportunity, Tommy Caldwell pushed the third captor off a cliff (he survived the fall), they escaped and were then rescued by Uzbek soldiers.

Our Relationship With Hope

During my post-graduate studies, I learned to use ecometric assessments as a diagnostic tool in therapy. Many people are familiar with psychometrics – the measure of personality for diagnostic purposes. Ecometrics has to do with the quantification of the degree of balance between people and their environment. It focuses on the way people adapt to their environments.

All elements in an ecometric assessment are measured on two levels: how a person feels about it on the inside, and what they display externally. One of the constructs we measure is the degree to which a person feels hopeful or hopeless, and how much it reflects in their behavior.

Balancing Hope and Hopelessness

Here's the interesting thing: there needs to be a balance between the two. If hopefulness (positive expectation) is absent or very low, we know that a person is in danger of becoming depressed and/or experiencing feelings of despair.

However, if a person's hopelessness (negative expectation) scale measures zero, it's very likely that the person has unrealistic expectations or that they've disconnected from reality.

One part of the equation keeps us grounded, the other gives us buoyancy. In the case of the rock climbers, having hope kept them going. Not having an unrealistic hope that they'd escape unharmed while being guarded by three armed men with nothing to lose, kept them alive.

Defining Hope

I mentioned earlier that many people understand hope to be an emotion. But is it purely something we feel? Or does it perhaps equal actions driven by certain emotions?

The concepts of hope and forgiveness intrigued the positive psychologist, C. R. Snyder (1944–2006). He published numerous articles and six books about the impact hope has on people's lives.

Snyder's Hope Theory posits that hope consists of three parts, namely: goals, pathways, and agency. These parts all have one thing in common: an element of doing. Let me explain:

  • Setting a goal means deciding (not wishing) to achieve a particular desired result within a certain time frame. It usually entails writing it down in detail, drawing up action plans and deciding how to measure your progress.
  • Pathways refer to figuring out different ways to achieve your goals. This implies having a flexible mindset so that if one way doesn't work, you'll think of and develop an alternative way of reaching your goal.
  • The ability to make choices that will help you to achieve your goals and feeling that you have control over your actions and their consequences, gives you agency.

Although this shows that hope is mostly a cognitive function, there is also a part of hope that can't be boxed and labeled so neatly.

I've often described the intangible feeling of hope as "the champagne bubbles in my heart." There's nothing logical about that! That has, in part, been learned, and I'm probably also genetically programmed to be hopeful and optimistic.

The four rock climbers had to have had the feeling of hope. However, they did not sit back and just hope that a miracle would happen. They had a goal, pathways and agency – even in the face of a situation that they had little control over.

When and Why We Need Hope

In life, all of us will experience two types of events: situations we can control and situations we can't. We mainly become acquainted with hope through adversity – we get to know it intimately when we struggle. But that doesn't mean that it has no function in good times.

When things are easy and we feel in control, having hope increases our intrinsic motivation, enhances our performance, and helps us to view setbacks as temporary challenges, not permanent roadblocks. It also has a positive influence on our overall life satisfaction and general wellbeing.

Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor imprisoned in four different death camps, wrote about his relationships with hope in his book "Man's Search for Meaning."

One of the messages I took from this book is that in difficult and desperate times, you must find a) something to focus on that will help you feel purposeful and, b) something you can control. Having purpose gives you hope, and having hope increases your will to be purposeful and your ability to make meaning of what is happening to you.

If you don't have hope in difficult times, there's a real danger of moving into a zone of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair. If today is horrible and you believe that all your tomorrows will be the same as today, what's the use of trying to think or do differently?

Hope will make you look for a way to overcome this despair and escape the bad situation you find yourself in. What, for example, would have happened to the four climbers if they sank into total despair and had no hope? Would they even have tried to make a plan?

Bad Hope

Hope is to the heart what oxygen is to the lungs, so how then can there be "bad" hope?

"Good" hope is a realistic feeling of belief and optimism. "Bad" hope is an unrealistic, broken crutch that supports magical thinking.

Giving another person false hope because you don't want the truth to hurt them or giving yourself false hope by being in denial will only cause more hurt and confusion down the line.

In his book, Viktor Frankl wrote about prisoners who believed that the war would end at a certain date – without any logical reason or evidence. They gave themselves and others false hope. He witnessed, more than once, how the passing of these mystical dates and the continuation of war, caused some people to give up all hope and die within a few days.

Giving and Getting Hope

We give others hope by sharing the good parts and difficult parts of our own stories and how we overcame adversity. We gain hope by listening and understanding what's possible for ourselves.

Offering your support and letting a person know they're not alone is another way of giving hope. You gain it by showing vulnerability and allowing yourself to rely on others' support.

Sometimes, simply holding space for someone and sitting with them in their pain, will give them hope. You can gain hope by accepting the connection and space that you're being offered.

Giving hope can be taking one step at a time to achieve a goal. Gaining hope can be completing that next step you need to take to achieve your goal.

What Hope Means to Me

Hope is the first drops of rain on parched earth after a searing drought.

Hope is having a head full of ideas – it's making plans, asking for help, learning new skills.

Hope is smiling through my tears.

Having Hope – Motivator, Comfort or Curse?

During Friday's #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed how hope can make a positive or negative impact, depending on how you use it. Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:

Q1. What do you see in your mind's eye when you hear the word "hope"?

@SoniaH_MT When I hear the word "hope", my mind's eye sees someone gazing up toward the clouds in a wishful manner.

@Midgie_MT I see smiling faces, twinkling eyes, sunshine and happy faces, or at least the anticipation of being happy.

Q2. How does hope motivate you?

@MindfulLifeWork Hope motivates me, as it inspires a vision of possibility... it acknowledges the truth that not all potentialities are actualized. When engaged with skillfully, hope for me is a call to action to get to work in the here and now.

@SarahH_MT Hope motivates me by keeping me in a positive frame of mind. Even in challenging times hope serves to remind me that "this too will pass."

Q3. How does hope comfort you?

@CaptRajeshwar It's like a farmer in the desert after seeing few black clouds in the distance...

@MikeB_MT I associate hope with another "h" word, humanity. I'm comforted by the humanity, grace, and joy I see and experience in the world. This gives me hope and comforts me.

Q4. What are the dangers of hopelessness?

@HloniphileDlam7 Failure to try. Being dead while alive.

@Yolande_MT Hopelessness also points to a lack of purpose and meaning. Your days become endless, relentless deserts of nothing.

Q5. In your opinion, why is too much hope unhelpful?

@lg217 Too much hope is unhelpful because then you believe that in time everything will be ok and feel that you don't have to do anything and just let time pass by. The problem with that is you could be waiting a very long time and as a result, your life will pass you by.

@hopegovind Too much hope makes you dependent on things. It will not force you to do your duty.

Q6. Why shouldn't you give someone false hope? Or is it sometimes justified?

@ColfaxInsurance False hope is kind of like lying. There are situations where telling someone the truth (no matter how painful it could be) is better than trying to give them hope for something unrealistic or too out of reach

@MarkC_Avgi Giving someone false hope, particularly in you or what you may do for them, is almost being deceptive, particularly if you know that their hope is them counting on something to happen, when it actually may not.

Q7. Which people, places, or things give you hope? Why?

@Midgie_MT People who give me hope are those friends who have had their challenges and come through them. Places are when I swim in the sea because afterwards I have the feeling that everything is all right in the world!

@SoniaH_MT Watching children ages 2-8 interact purely with each other without toxic, preconceived notions gives me a regular reminder that there's hope for the world.

Q8. What has made a difference for you: feeling hope, or taking action because of it?

@Yolande_MT Taking action because I have hope. However, sometimes I find/ get/ gain hope because I took action. Chicken or egg much?

@JKatzaman Hope without action is a spectator sport.

Q9. How does sharing your hopes with others help build relationships?

@MindfulLifeWork Sharing our hopes makes them social and relational, and doing so is an act of courage, of vulnerability. This creates bridges to others, but also a bridge to ourselves regarding our accountability to our own dreams. Build lots of bridges!

@llake There's a community in collective hope. Also, what you hope for may not be the right thing in the perspective of what someone else needs.

Q10. How might you help yourself or others reframe a situation to have hope?

@Dwyka_Consult Be open-minded, "open-hearted" and present. Give the gift of acceptance. Ask gentle questions.

@SarahH_MT Bringing positivity to the relationship can in and of itself make other people feel more hopeful. Helping people put their thoughts into perspective, asking them what they are hopeful about and thinking about tangible actions can all help.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.

Coming Up

Have you ever been unhappy at work and hoped that things would get better? Our next chat is about fitting in vs. belonging. In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know how you feel about fitting in or belonging in your current workplace.


Note that you will need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.

The ABC Model


Top 10 Personal Morale Boosters

Managing Post-Traumatic Growth

Gable's Four Responses to Good News

Managing Your Career

Dweck's Fixed and Growth Mindsets


Rethinking Positive Thinking

Ben-Shahar's Happiness Model

Intentional Change Theory

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2 comments on “Having Hope: Motivator, Comfort or a Curse? – #MTtalk Roundup”

  1. Wow, this is such a thought-provoking blog. I can't wait to share thoughts on hope in all its guises at the #MTtalk.

    Mind Tools Coach

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