Snyder's Hope Theory

Cultivating Aspiration in Your Life

Snyder's Hope Theory - Cultivating Aspiration in Your Life

© iStockphoto

Hope puts the wind beneath your wings.

"The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination, and the energy to get started."– Norman Cousins, American journalist.

What do you do when you're faced with an obstacle? Do you soon give up, or do you persist, and actively look for ways to work around it? If you can usually find another path to your goals, you probably have a hopeful outlook on life.

According to positive psychologist Charles Richard "Rick" Snyder (1944-2006), hopeful thinkers achieve more, and are physically and psychologically healthier than less hopeful people.

This article looks at Snyder's Hope Theory, and how it can help you achieve your goals. It also explores strategies that you can use to take a positive approach when times get tough.

About the Theory

Snyder was fascinated by the concepts of hope and forgiveness. Throughout his career, he published six books about Hope Theory, and 262 articles about the impact that hope can have on aspects of life such as health, work, education, and personal meaning.

Hope Theory argues that there are three main things that make up hopeful thinking:

  1. Goals – Approaching life in a goal-oriented way.
  2. Pathways – Finding different ways to achieve your goals.
  3. Agency – Believing that you can instigate change and achieve these goals.

Snyder characterized hopeful thinkers as people who are able to establish clear goals, imagine multiple workable pathways toward those goals, and persevere, even when obstacles get in their way.

The Importance of Hope

It's a simple fact of life that even the best-laid plans can go astray. Whatever talent or skill you may possess, hope is the state of mind that helps you navigate life's twists and turns, and keeps you moving forward when times are tough.

What's more, as we shall see, hope isn't simply a happy feeling – it's a human survival mechanism, and we couldn't thrive without it.

Our capacity for hopeful thought begins to develop in early childhood. From birth, we start to piece together correlations (what goes with what), until we begin to develop an understanding of causation – or the notion that one thing can lead to another. This is the foundation of the "pathways" thinking that forms one element of Snyder's Hope Theory.

At around one year of age, "psychological birth" happens, and we develop a sense of identity. It is also the time when we realize that we can make things happen. This is "agency thinking."

Together, pathways and agency thinking give us the tools we need to pursue our goals. According to Snyder's 1999 research, people who scored highly on the Hope Scale tended to be more successful at achieving their goals in athletic and academic arenas than people with low scores. This, he argued, contributed to their greater levels of self-esteem and well-being.

Applying Hope Theory

You can use Hope Theory to help your people make best use of opportunities, put their talents to good use, and become more fulfilled in life by setting and vigorously pursuing meaningful goals.

In the sections that follow, we'll look at each of the three elements of Hope Theory in detail, and we'll explore strategies that you can use to help people achieve their goals.

Step 1: Encouraging Goal-Oriented Thinking

Goals, and goal-oriented thinking, are the foundations of Hope Theory.

Goals can be long-term or short-term. They can be statements, such as "I want a promotion," or they can be mental images such as picturing yourself hitting the perfect volley, or hitting that high note in your choir solo.

When he interviewed his research subjects, Snyder found that they reported feeling the most hopeful when their goals were attainable, but also contained some degree of uncertainty.

Think about your own goals. Are they attainable, yet challenging? Use the SMART mnemonic to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. You can also use Success Programming to envision what you want to achieve in your life, and imagine future success.

If you're in a leadership role, encourage your people to set their own goals using the methods mentioned above, or work with them to write a Personal Mission Statement that defines what they should achieve.

Our Bite-Sized Training session on Setting Goals for Members of Your Team has tips and strategies that you can use to do this.

Step 2: Finding Pathways to Achievement

"Pathways thinking" refers to your belief that you can find a workable route to your goals. The more creative and determined you are about finding paths, the more hopeful you are likely to be. If something beyond your control gets in your way, you find another route!

Look at a goal you'd like to work on first. What would it take to turn this vision into reality? Make a list of the steps you need to take to make it happen.

Now identify any barriers, complications or risks that might arise on this path, and create a contingency plan to prepare for the most likely ones. (Our problem-solving and creativity sections will help you find ways around these problems.)

Step 3: Instigating Change

"Agency" is your persistent belief that the pathways you've identified will eventually lead to your desired goal, if you keep moving steadily along them.

Free "Build a Positive Team" Toolkit

When you join the Mind Tools Club before midnight PST September 27

Find out more

Agency thinking is especially important when the path you're on becomes blocked. It gives you the flexibility and willingness to move to a different, more successful pathway.

Often, the biggest barrier to goal achievement is a lack of time. Our article on Finding Time for Professional Development has tips and strategies that you can use to make time for pursuing your goals.

Take time to develop good habits that will allow you to keep moving forward. For example, you might need to get up earlier to have time to study for a distance-learning course, or you could stop watching television to make extra time for fitness. Give your most important goals the time that they need by blocking out a regular slot in your schedule for them.

If you feel your motivation waning, create a treasure map, or vision board, to act as a constant reminder of what you are working towards.

Long-term goals require even greater perseverance. Learn how to develop long-term focus so that you can stay motivated, even when the end isn't yet in sight. Give yourself extra staying power with strategies like visualization, affirmations and positive thinking.

Allow your team members autonomy to decide how to pursue their goals, and make sure that there are resources in place to support them on the way. Then, set up some quick wins for yourself and your team to build confidence.

Take our Locus of Control quiz to understand your own attitudes towards agency.

Key Points

Hope is our belief that we can change the future for the better, or reach a desired goal. It is what keeps us moving forward when the going gets tough, and it helps us to "get back on the horse" when we fall off.

According to positive psychologist Charles Snyder's theory, hopeful thinking is made up of three key elements:

  1. Goals – Thinking in a goal-oriented way.
  2. Pathways – Finding different ways to achieve your goals.
  3. Agency – Believing that you can instigate change.

Snyder found that hopeful thinking is one of the biggest determinants of success – more so even than intelligence, skill or previous success – so it's an attribute that we could all benefit from having more of.

The best thing about it is that it is a learned response, so anyone can improve their hopeful thinking by using the right goal setting, planning and motivational approaches.