Hope Letters: Are They More Effective Than New Year Resolutions?
hope letter

Hope Letters: Are They More Effective Than New Year Resolutions?

January 16, 2017


Writing a “Hope Letter,” instead of making New Year resolutions, could offer you a better way to reach your goals, argues professional coach Margaret H. Greenberg in this article that she’s kindly shared with Mind Tools readers. 

I try to avoid making sweeping generalizations but, guess what, I’m going to make one right now. From my experience, you can pretty much lump people into two distinct groups: those who set New Year resolutions, and those who don’t. But, maybe there’s a third way – writing a Hope Letter at the start of the year, to act as an ongoing inspiration to yourself.

If you don’t set resolutions, congratulations! If you do set them, you’ll most likely ditch them at some point in the next 12 months.

According to a recent study, nearly half of all Americans regularly make New Year resolutions (incidentally, just over a third never do), but only about eight percent of people are successful and achieve a positive end result.

So, how are we supposed to reach our dreams, and set achievable goals?

The Hope Letter

Well, here’s the alternative I can offer you: a Hope Letter. I’ve been testing it with my coaching clients for the past 10 years and it works. And here’s why.

Drawing upon extensive research, just over two decades ago, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, C. R. Snyder, wanted to figure out what role hope played in reaching one’s goals. He found that having a goal, though very important, was not enough on its own. We need two other ingredients: pathways for achieving our goals and a belief in our ability to reach them.

Easy Process

So, the process of constructing a Hope Letter is relatively easy. First, date the letter one year from the day you sit down to write it.

Second, write it as if everything in your life (career, health, relationships, finances) has gone the way you hoped it would. Write about all aspects of your life and what specifically you did to have such a fabulous year.

You can write a letter anytime. You don’t have to wait for the start of the New Year or your birthday. You can write your Hope Letter whenever and wherever you want. Just set yourself a reminder to look at it again in exactly one year. Better yet, share it with someone close to you and ask them to mail it back to you.

Surprise Yourself

We always feel better when we’re planning a positive change in our lives1. It’s a proactive act, something we can control and guide. And, as our lives move on and we get older (and hopefully a little wiser), the desire to take steps to “make things happen” can strengthen.

But, always remember that some of what you write in your Hope Letter will not come true. But I think you’ll be surprised by just how many things do. So, who has the courage to write a Hope Letter?

Margaret H. Greenberg is an executive coach and international speaker. She is co-author, with Senia Maymin, of “Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business,” and Mind Tools club members can read our review here. She is also co-founder of a Certificate Program of the same name. This blog has been adapted from one originally published on February 26, 2015, under the title “Be a Positive Deviant – Write a Hope Letter.”

1 Mind Tools’ Life Plan Toolkit is available for $19.00 from the MT store.

3 thoughts on “Hope Letters: Are They More Effective Than New Year Resolutions?

  1. Judy Krings wrote:

    Well said, Margaret. And your article reminds me of the meta-analysis done by Scott Barry Kaufman. He enlightened that gratitude, love of learning, and hope, are the most independently powerful as strengths that contribute most to well-being. Many thanks.

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Thanks Judy for sharing your thoughts and the connection between the ‘hope letter’ with gratitude, love of learning and hope. I certainly agree with you about them being powerful strengths that positively contribute to our well-being!

  2. Yolande Conradie wrote:

    I must say I’m not in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions; I’m much rather in the habit of setting goals.
    I’m curious to try the “hope letter” as it’s something I haven’t really done. Let’s see where this goes…

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