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Got Hope?

by | Jun 30, 2023

When we’re going through some difficult times in our lives, whether they be as an individual, as a couple, with family or work, hope can sometimes seem pretty elusive. Ironically, it’s at these most challenging times when hope matters most! But how can it be that when you’re feeling hopeless that hope itself can come to the rescue?

What exactly is hope anyway? Hope isn’t an emotion. Rather it’s a state of mind. Moreover, hope is never actually absent. We can have levels of low and high hope. Quite possibly the best definition of hope comes from world-renowned psychologist Dr. Chan Hellman. He defines hope as, “The belief that the future will be better than today and that you have the power to make it so.” There are over 2,000 published scientific studies that show that hope is the single greatest predictor of well-being in both children and adults.

Hope and Redemption

Consider the main characters of Andy and Red from the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, bka The Shawshank Redemption. Andy and Red are both serving life sentences in prison. Andy wrongfully, for a crime he did not commit and Red for a crime he admits to committing. Yet it is Andy who maintains hope throughout his ordeal – despite unimaginably cruel treatment from fellow inmates and the prison warden. Meanwhile, Red, who has become in his own words “institutionalized” lives in a state of near apathy. Red proclaims hope to be a “dangerous thing” for a prisoner but Andy challenges him to hold on to hope stating that there in prison is where hope matters most.

Hope Theory

So how can we find hope during times when it seems so elusive? Look first to the positive psychology works of Charles Snyder’s Hope Theory. Hope theory utilizes a model where hope is comprised of three key elements – goals, pathways, and agency. 

Goals are as you would imagine, one or more objectives you have for yourself. The key with goals is taking the time to clarify them through very detailed descriptions. Goals should be your own and definitely not someone else’s goals for you. Often the best goals are ones where their realization leads to a transformation in yourself. You become a different version of yourself, in essence the person, couple, or family you want to become. Think: Transformational rather than concrete. 

Pathways are the various ways in which you can travel to realize your goal. Agency is your willpower, strength, and resiliency to achieve your goals. A hope without a pathway is simply a wish. Pathways and agency are the keys to achieving your goals. Hope theory states that when you have a goal and hope to accomplish that goal your brain will start working to create pathways toward that achievement. Furthermore, once you’ve identified your goal the more time you spend engaging in thinking around that goal, not only are more pathways created but they are also strengthened. 

You may find that some of your initial pathways to your goal are blocked. At these points your high level of agency will let you characterize these as challenges rather than obstacles. (See what I did there?)  Here is where one of my favorite concepts comes into play – equifinality. Equifinality is a term that has its roots in biology systems theory and later in family systems theory. It is the concept that states there is more than one way to reach a destination. If one pathway is not viable find another one!

Steps To Building Hope

When times are tough and you’re looking to rekindle your hope try these steps:

  1. Take some time to consider your goal(s). Describe them in rich detail – the more detailed the better. Ask what difference will achieving this goal mean to you? What will it say about you as a person/couple/family? 
  2. Next brainstorm for pathways to achieve your goals. Consider what challenges you may encounter and how you might address those. Think of as many pathways as you can imagine!
  3. Finally, spend a lot of time envisioning what success will look like! Hellman refers to this as “future memories of success”. Again, go into as much detail as you can. What will success look like to you? What will it look like to others when they see you successful in your goals? What will that say about you, the person/couple/family you have become? That transformation into the next version of yourself?

Going back to Andy and Red you can see how Andy’s perseverance is born of his agency. When one or another of his pathways were blocked he never lost hope and simply found another way. Even when he had a chance to have his case retried and the warden had his one viable witness killed, with his outlook about as bleak as it could be, he never lost his resolve and still found a pathway to his goal. A literal pathway tunneling his way out of prison to freedom!

Anne Lamott wrote, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” Solibe has been quoted as saying, “Sometimes we have to lend hope to others until they can find it for themselves.” Andy held hope for Red even when Red felt hopeless. It has been scientifically proven that if someone holds hope for you it will inevitably translate into a higher level of hope within yourself.

At the conclusion of the movie, Red discovered his own agency and a pathway to reunite with his friend. Paraphrasing Andy’s last letter to Red I say to you: Remember, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies. I’m hoping this article finds you and finds you well.

Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind by C.R. Snyder

https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/growplus/files/2020/02/Hope-Synder-paper.pdf

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About Morgan | View Profile

Morgan is a psychotherapist who specializes in working with clients to triumph over trauma, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, LGBTQI+ issues, couples, and stress. On weekends you can find him in his happy place tuning and racing cars at Road Atlanta.

We offer in-person and virtual services – contact us today to learn more!

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