The substance of hope

The Substance of Hope

This article was last updated on November 1, 2014

I’ve always wondered about hope. Is it an intangible warm fuzzy nebulous feeling that has no bearing on our behaviour? Does hope, and the expectations it carries, truly change the outcomes of our reality?

Neuroscientist Sara Bentsson devised an experiment where she manipulated the positive and negative expectations of students while their brains were scanned and tested their performance on cognitive tasks. A key takeout from her study was the fact “expectations become self-fulfilling by altering our performance and actions, which ultimately affects what happens in the future” In her experiment she merely used positive or negative words to induce a change in someone’s behaviour – how much more so can the things we believe influence our actions and therefore outcomes?The substance of hope

The substance of hope

If hope is nothing more than an emotion, then it can have no substance in so far as its ability to cause long lasting change in our lives – as we mostly subscribe to the notion that emotions are fleeting. Jennifer Cheavens is an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University. Through research with Laura Deer of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, they have already been able to show how hope is an effective means to battling depression. In the research, hope is measured in a 12-item questionnaire which essentially splits hope into two components: a map or pathway to get what you want, and the motivation and strength to follow that path. Simply put: “If you feel you know how to get what you want out of life, and have that desire to make that happen, then you have hope”. Hope is different from optimism, which is a generalized expectancy that good things will happen – hope involves having goals, along with the desire and plan to achieve them.

James Averill, a social constructivist, believes that hope does fit an emotional model. Averill bases his conclusion that hope is an emotion on the findings of a study that compared hope to two other emotions (love and anger). Averill and his colleagues found that subjects rated anger, love, and hope as all having the same five features: 1) all are difficult to control, 2) all affect the way you think or perceive events, 3) all affect the way you behave, 4) all motivate behavior, increase persistence, enable one to go on (even in the face of adversity), and 5) all are common universal experiences.

If then hope has the power to affect the way we behave, motivate our behaviour and extend our ability to push through the trials of life, how do we consciously and deliberately harness this power? Well, very simply we hold on to HOPE:

H: Have a plan

Everything rises and falls on your ability to be crystal clear to yourself about what you want and where you are headed in your life. Having a clearly articulated plan becomes the compass you use to navigate the inevitable challenges that will make your life seem like its losing ground.

O: Organize your life around that plan

It sounds almost obvious right? Without being deliberate about how you structure your life to work towards that plan, your plan is nothing more than a well thought out wish list. How do you plan to reach that weight goal without being intentional about scheduling time for your gym visits? How will you achieve your financial objectives without the rigour of a regular budget review? Be unapologetic and selfish about the time you’ve set aside to do those activities because without those important chunks of time – you, and only you, stand the most to lose.

P: Plant relationships that nurture your hope

Very rarely are we able to accomplish things by ourselves. Having family and friends that support your plans will be key to giving you that boost when you’re feeling like you’re in a slump. Secondly having people on board will help keep you accountable so you your plans never become a wish list that never gains traction.

E: Execute and Enjoy

Well after all that – go out there and do the damn thing! Do so with an open heart, knowing that you will make a few mistakes, be put in situations that stretch your comfort zones but remember that you’ll always be better off than where you were before you started. Enjoy the journey and keep the hope alive!


Photo credit: Massimo Valiani

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