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Cultivating Hope

Hope is an asset that perseveres through the darkest hours. It’s the belief that tomorrow or the future can be better.

The whole world is in turmoil as a result of the coronavirus. Closer to home, the extended lockdown has added incredible uncertainty that can be felt by most South Africans. The anxiety continues to rise as we wonder what life will look like after the isolation and, most importantly, how will our individual circumstances change as a result. An undeniable fact is that change is the only constant and it, therefore, follows that we must adapt to our new circumstances. But how do we adapt while staying positive and optimistic throughout this tough period?

Snyder’s Hope Theory

If we have hope, we can be unhappy with the way things are in our lives yet remain hopeful that our actions today can make a difference tomorrow. Snyder, an American Psychologist, understands hope as an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of future positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. His concept of hope gives practical ways in which hope can affect long-term wellbeing and provides strategies for nurturing this. 

Hope thrives when the following 3 conditions are met:

  • Having a goal and something to hope for. This could be anything you desire to get, to be, to do, experience or create. It can range from being small and taking a few minutes to achieve, to being large and taking years to achieve, and involve any area of your life. Think career objectives, social and even spiritual goals. The best goals are usually those that are personally meaningful and provide a sense of purpose.
  • Having a pathway, strategy or plan to achieve your goal. While pathways can be simple or complex, the important thing for nurturing hope is to choose to do something that will positively contribute (even in a small way) to achieving whatever goal you have decided on. Goals are rarely achieved all at once but rather one step at a time. Of course, life often throws curveballs and at least some of our pathways will become blocked. For this reason, hopeful people often produce multiple pathways or strategies in order to circumvent possible obstacles to reaching a goal.
  • Nurturing personal agency. Agency refers to the motivation or sense of empowerment that pushes us to strive for our goals. Agency comes primarily from positive beliefs about ourselves and our capabilities, and these beliefs fuel our hope and motivate us to act.   

Even though the three conditions are distinct from each other, they interlink and constantly influence each other. If you can develop a goal with high agency but fail to develop pathways, your initial high agency thoughts (e.g. I can do this) can quickly turn bad as hope stagnates (e.g. I don’t think I can do this). Similarly, if you have generated multiple pathways to a goal but have insufficient agency, you are likely to reject them, believing that they will not work. Lastly, if there is no goal at all, then there is no opportunity for developing agency and multiple pathways. Hope cannot exist until all three conditions are met. 

Given the challenges we are facing right now, most people are having to adapt their way of living as a response. We require multiple pathways to rethink our health, education, financial and social domains. Having multiple goals encompassing various domains of our lives is good for our wellbeing. As not all goals are realised, failing in one area is cushioned by the success from another area.  From that experience of success, agency is increased which can help motivate goal pursuit in another potentially more difficult domain. So, allow yourself to hope and get excited about your goals, as this is the very essence of agency which will provide the motivation necessary to keep you going and sustain hope.      

Read More:

What is Snyder’s Hope Theory?

Nurturing Self-control and Will Power

Silindokuhle is an Industrial/Organisational Psychologist registered with the HPCSA.  She holds a Master’s degree from UKZN and runs an independent practice specialising in psychological assessments, training and wellbeing.  

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