Hope Theory

The power of hope in helping people achieve their goals is remarkable. Research shows that more than half the variance in performance by female athletes is attributable to the quality of hope they exhibit 1. People who have strong reserves of hope tend to be more proactive about their health and are more resilient in the face of diversity.

The proponents of hope theory2 point to two factors that enable people to be more hopeful: 

  • Waypower: being able to see or create pathways towards a goal. Being able to identify multiple possible pathways is often more effective than finding just one, as this may have insurmountable barriers placed around it.
  • Willpower: general belief in one’s ability to achieve goals. (Willpower appears to be related, in particular, to previous success in achieving goals.)

Coaches and mentors can help clients, who lack hope, by:

  • encouraging them to generate innovative ideas of how to work towards their goals
  • helping them recall and “anchor” themselves in times when they have previously been successful
  • building their self-efficacy by expressing belief in their ability

Recognising the client’s level of hope is an important first step, so the coach needs appropriate listening and observing skills – for example, to identify when a client talks about a goal with words of enthusiasm but with depressed tone and body language. 

By contrast, another sign to look out for is when the client appears overly optimistic in setting goals. High performers typically set themselves goals only slightly above their current performance, where they can see clear pathways to achievement; having achieved these, they set new goals. It is mostly poor performers, who set themselves very challenging goals, usually without a clear idea of how they are going to achieve them. They then get discouraged at their lack of progress and may give up3. Hence the coach or mentor can help by causing them to take a more realistic perspective, based on thinking through the pathways to their goals and building on genuine strengths.

1 Curry, L., Snyder, C., Cook, D., et al. 1997, ‘The role of hope in academic and sport  achievement’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,  73 (6) pp 1257-1267

2Snyder, C.R., Rand, K.L. & Sigmon, D.R. 2002, ‘Hope Theory: A Member of the Positive Psychology Family’ in Handbook of Positive Psychology, ed. C.R. Snyder & S.J. Lopez, Oxford University Press, New York.

3Latham, G. 2000, Motivating employee performance through goal setting. In:  E.A. Locke, (ed), handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior, Blackwell, San Francisco, pp. 107-119

© David Clutterbuck. All rights reserved

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