Standing at the Gates of Hope

For Christians around the world, it is week one of the Advent season, a week focused on hope. If there was ever a time when we needed hope, this is it, right? While the last few weeks promised progress toward getting a vaccine, addressing the climate crisis, and fixing the economic destruction wrought by the pandemic, we have the long, dark winter and many storms to get through first. We are, to quote a poem from the author Reverend Victoria Safford, “standing at the gates of hope.”

My favorite definition of hope is “to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence.” I think it captures what distinguishes hope from wishful thinking. Hope has a pragmatic aspect to it and an action orientation. In the field of positive psychology, hopefulness is a life-sustaining human strength comprised of three distinct but related components:

  1. Goals Thinking – the clear conceptualization of valuable goals.
  2. Pathways Thinking – the capacity to develop specific strategies to reach those goals.
  3. Agency Thinking – the ability to initiate and sustain the motivation for using those strategies.

According to psychologist Charles Richard Snyder’s theory, “Hope does not necessarily fade in the face of adversity; in fact, hope often endures despite challenges. While no one is exempt from experiencing challenging life events, hope fosters an orientation to life that allows a grounded and optimistic outlook even in the most challenging of circumstances.”

There is even an index that can assess the strength of your hope pathways and agency thinking. I laughed out loud when I took it. My hypothesis is that most entrepreneurs will score high on hope indices. Not surprisingly, “high hope” scores are also positively correlated with superior academic and athletic performance, greater physical and psychological well-being, improved self-esteem, and enhanced interpersonal relationships.

So, are some of us simply born hopeful? Can you strengthen your levels of hope? The research shows that we can cultivate hope. Likewise, sometimes habitually hopeful people may need a “hope intervention.” For example, when they have had a failure or experienced a loss of control. Researchers found that hope interventions improved quality of life when people faced a recurrence of cancer and helped struggling students get back on track.

I am thinking we all need a hope intervention right about now. What would that look like? There are a number of exercises, but one of the simplest is to answer three questions.

  1. Plan: What is one goal you hope to achieve in the future?
  2. Act: What small actions can you take that will start moving you closer towards this goal?
  3. Believe: Write down three short sentences that will help remind you of your capabilities. For instance, “I am resourceful.”

I found the hardest part of this exercise to be choosing which hope to start with. Should it be personal? Work? This is where the framework from The One Thing is useful, where you think of your life as a pie, with slices for spiritual, physical/health, relationships, business, job, finances, and personal interests. You can set a goal for each. For example my personal goal is to dance at the Willie Clancy Irish Music Festival. My business goal is to grow WeSpire’s sales and marketing team. Each goal has actions I can do this month to make progress. Even if attending the 2021 Music Festival is unlikely or completely transforming sales and marketing next year is not in the cards, each goal has actions I can take this month to make progress.

I found the most important part of this exercise the Believe part: writing down three sentences to remind us just how capable we are. It is those very capabilities that we will rely on to get through these dark days and that will, ultimately, lead us through those gates of hope.

Quote of the Week: We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Martin Luther King Jr.

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