So when we say hope – what do we mean? This isn’t the hope that is expressed when looking for a car park or trying to win a lottery. This hope is all about having a goal, working out how to achieve it and staying the path until you get where you are going. Hope Theory developed by Prof CR Snyder shows us how to develop this capacity within ourselves.

Coming out of the positive psychology domain, Hope Theory is a cognitive theory developed over the last 30 years by Prof CR Snyder. It has been rigorously and widely tested all over the world, and has been shown to positively affect life and health outcomes in children, adolescents and adults. “Hope is an active, learned process – a way of thinking that activates an ensuing set of behaviours.” (p3)

Hope Theory outlines a goal setting process that includes evaluating pathways thinking (‘waypower’) and ‘willways’ or levels of empowerment to reach those goals. High Hope thinking will result in better outcomes than will low Hope thinking. Hope levels can be influenced by ‘learning Hope’.

In developing images of the future, we are asking people to develop goals, either at their individual level (personal futures) or at a societal level (social futures). This goal setting is best done when buttressed with pathways and willways thinking. Those studying Hope Theory have developed a number of processes through which this type of thinking can be supported.


Once shared images of the future have been developed by a group, especially those which are reflecting a preferred future, a number of questions can be asked about the image and action plan to ensure that it is a ‘High Hope’ image.


  • Is the goal (image) clear and well-defined?
  • Is it a long or short range goal?
  • Is the goal large or small?


  • Can the goal be broken down into small steps?
  • Can the person (with or without help) identify the large and small steps to the goal?


  • How much does the person really desire the goal?
  • Can the person imagine themselves achieving the goal?

Having the participant answer these questions will help them tease out the differences between the image (goal), pathways to achieving it and the level of empowerment they feel.

If the goal is ill-defined, focus can be put towards re-defining or better explaining the goal which has been set. If it is too nebulous or difficult to attain, then small sub-goals should be set.

If pathways thinking is lacking there are a number of strategies that can be used to build it. Knowing what to look for is important, hence high ‘waypower’ in  characterised by:

  • Breaking large goals into small parts
  • Asking for help
  • Self initiated skill building
  • Being willing to bend
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Willingness to rehearse

If these pathways thinking skills are not evident, they can be learned through behaviour modelling.

If willways thinking is missing or weak this can be tackled through a combination of praise and empowerment techniques. Issues such as a person’s family environment, health and self confidence will affect their ability to feel empowered about achieving goals. Negative self-talk is one of ways that willpower is destroyed, so teaching people to identify and combat negative self talk will help them build their willways levels.

One of the main ways Hope can be taught is through stories and narratives. These can be done either through the way in which goal selection and setting are done, and the language used by people when working together, or by utilising stories written for the purpose of illustrating High Hope behaviours and thinking.

Source: McDermott, D and Snyder, CR (2000) The Great big Book of Hope, New Harbinger Publications, Oakland.