How to build hope and find a fantastic future me

There exists an often ignored psychological construct that, when boosted, can add a full day of productivity over a 7 day work week, a 10% increase in well being and can also improve a young adult’s performance in school and university by a full grade. It can even lead to a decrease in cardio vascular disease.

And that construct is hope.

Shane J Lopez PhD is a researcher, academic and expert on the topic of hope and why hope matters.

Lack of hope linked to suicidal thoughts

When working as a clinical psychologist early in his career, Lopez identified an absence of hope in many of his suicidal patients. This led him to question whether it was possible to boost hope.

In his research, Lopez found that hope peaked at grade 6 (approximately 10 years old) but then gradually declined until the time of entering high school at age 15 when only half of young adults were hopeful about their future.

By aged 15 half of us don’t know how to engage in hopeful thinking

These young adults had lost the capacity to think about their future, to describe it, to communicate it and to pursue it. Which all impacts motivation and engagement with life .

Snyder and his colleagues set about undertaking research to identify if and how hope could be boosted. In so doing he built on Rick Snyder’s work. Snyder defined hope as a cognitive process comprising three facets:

  1. Goal directed thinking – creating positive targets or goals to work towards
  2. Pathways thinking – the capacity to find routes to their goals
  3. Agency thinking – the motivation and energy to use those routes to get to their goals

He applied a series of brief interventions on graduate students ranging from 90 to 200 minutes across the three facets with some interesting results. Results delivered improvements in life satisfaction and overall well being, changes which were sustained beyond a 6 week period (Feldman, Dreher, 2011).

Another intervention, the fantastic future me at Omaha Children’s Museum, utilised an interactive exhibit where younger children envision themselves in a future role.  Children take a selfie and email it to their parents thereby creating a dialogue at home about their hopes and dreams for the future.

Hopeful thinking is not wishful thinking but being realistic

Hope matters to employers because hopeful employees are more likely to be the most motivated at work. Testing out pathways means people have better clarity about what works and what doesn’t and, as a result, hopeful people are not just motivated but also the most realistic.

So if we think it’s useful to have hopeful employees, how do we go about increasing levels of hope in our workforce?

Work at your passion

1. Career counselling: If half of us have lost the capacity to create a vision of our future then career advice to ‘follow your passion” is flawed or even dangerous. Much better to encourage individuals to create a passion for their work whilst on the job by finding something they are passionate about and do more of it. This is something much touted by Angela Duckworth in her excellent book, Grit.

Encourage people to ‘prospect’ and think about the future

2. Coaching: As human beings we have a tendency to day dream about our future (Seligman et al). As coaches we have a role to help facilitate that day dreaming and patiently shape that into a future vision which then becomes a positive future goal. Building various options or pathways to the goal and addressing each obstacle along the way helps to boost pathways thinking. At this point it might be too obvious but worth mentioning Sir John Whitmore’s GROW model is perfect to enable this.

Look for hope in your employees

3. Selection: We could also consider ‘hard wiring’ hope into our selection criteria by asking individuals about their hopes and dreams for themselves and for the role in question. Asking for examples of getting things done and overcoming obstacles helps identify agency and pathways thinking. As hope is a single construct, this should add to rather than replace existing role specific selection criteria.


Being hopeful is not wishful thinking. It is active engagement in goals, route planning and engagement with the future.