Is Hope a Strategy?

Is Hope a Strategy?

I’ve got to admit, the whole Obama “hope” rhetoric never had me convinced. Hope never seemed a tangible, actionable strategy to me. As a coach, I see the essential value of tangible, actionable strategy every day. It’s all too easy for a person (or a nation, or an organization) to slip into platitudes and inertia. Hope felt to me an excuse for poor planning.

But an article in More magazine’s September issue has me reconsidering the hope thing. In the article “A Plan to Make Your Hopes Happen,” Judy Jones interviews Jennifer Cheavens PhD about her research on hope and mood. Dr. Cheavens is an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

Dr. Cheavens draws a distinction between hope and optimism. While optimism is a general expectation of good things, hope is defined as goal-oriented thinking. Hope, she emphasizes, is more than passive wishing. It requires a game plan. Now here’s where the coach in me starts paying attention.

As Dr. Cheavens defines hope, it includes two components: pathways and agency.

Pathways thinking reflects your ability to come up with lots of different ways to get what you want in the future. Agency is the amount of energy, will or motivation you bring to using these routes. A person can be high in both pathways and agency, or low in both, or high in one and low in the other.

In other words, it’s not enough to have lots of ambition without a strategy, and it’s not enough to have a strategy without the juice to run it.

How hopeful are you? Dr. Cheavens suggests you ask yourself these three questions:

1. Do I believe that I can get the things I want in my life?
2. Do I think I can come up with ways to get what I want?
3. Do I think those ways are things I can actually do?

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