Tag Archive: hope

I really like this cartoon from Zen Pencils based on a quote from Helen Keller. I think we often are focussed on the things that are ending rather than what could be beginning. There are many people who face the end of their current job due to the economic times we are living in, and for many of us the work that we do is our defining characteristic. Some people in this situation have an ability to pick themselves up and re-focus their efforts into other avenues. Others, like the man in the cartoon, ignore all the opportunities around them and close their eyes to what could be possible because they are unable to conceive of new futures for them, they literally can’t see them. Hope theory would say that people with high hope are able to re-goal and move on to other things and this is one reason why I use it in my work. It is an explanatory framework for why some people take a closed door as a challenge to move into new areas, while others stop and bemoan what has passed. This isn’t to say that those who move on don’t mourn the change – Kubler-Ross’ grief model is another useful explanatory framework.

So what has this got to do with the future? One of the things that can happen when doing foresight work with a group is that people can see closing doors in the future. Being represented is one requirement of becoming engaged in an image of the future – Can I see myself in that future? Do the things I value appear in that future? Many rejections of futures images are a reaction to not being represented. People can’t believe in the image because they do not align to it. Futures images, at their core, are representations of our aspirational values. It might be that the future direction doesn’t suit their values, or they are getting to the end of their career, or they may be feeling like the future being created just doesn’t include them. The reactions to this type of activity can range from disengagement to more active forms of undermining. When a person is resisting a future it is always a good idea to check in with them, sometimes best done in a light-hearted way, whether they are represented in that future.

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Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson

As outlined in a previous post, to have hope is to be powerful. Many wonderful things are achieved by people simply acting from hope. Hope can be seen in foresight workshops when people have the opportunity to envision their preferred futures, when they are still in the ‘what if’ phase, invigorated and energised by what could be. From experience, it is clear that to have a vision is not enough. Leadership and change require individuals to act in the present to bring about the future that is desired. A theory of Hope was developed over 30 years ago that aims to explain the agentic and goal directional qualities of hope through cognitive psychology. Though probably not the whole answer, it has been rigorously studied and appears to hold up under a number of different scenarios. According to this theory, Hope can be learned and its qualities taught to those who do not already have them, and it can be passed on to children. It is this ability to be learned, and the positive correlations with psychological health and enhancement, that makes Hope Theory such an attractive framework for futurists.

Futures Studies, especially when developing images of preferred futures, inevitably falls across the concept of hope. Part of the work futurists do is facilitating people, both individually and in groups, to develop positive images of the future that then move them to action. The conventional view of positive images of the future is that it is the image itself which harbours the agentic qualities. The well-trained futurist is expected to work with a client to generate such a compelling vision that the client will move towards it of their own volition; however this may only be half of the story.

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Victoria was inundated with water yet again, which is devastating for those who are in the thick of it and may have consequences for the State as a whole.

Traralgon flood (The Age 06/06/12)

The government has assured Victorians there is no threat to power supplies after floodwaters began spilling into  the Yallourn open-cut coal mine, forcing the adjoining power station to operate on a reduced capacity.

The Yallourn mine has suffered ”significant leakage” since the nearby Morwell River burst its banks, affecting a conveyor system used to transport coal to the Yallourn Power Station, which supplies 22 per cent of the state’s electricity supply and eight per cent of the national electricity market. Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/weather/floodwaters-pour-into-coal-mine-but-power-supplies-safe-minister-20120606-1zv5e.html#ixzz1wyzcuC5v

There are infrastructure shocks in all countries at all times. Some countries are better prepared than others, usually because they have patchy service delivery at the best of times, others (usually Western countries) come to a complete standstill. We were living in the UK during the 2000 driver’s strike in which they blockaded fuel depots and the populace panicked and bought fuel which in turn meant there was none to be had about three days into the strike. This affected food availability as people started to panic buy and it seemed to take a long time for the Government to control the situation or enact a rationing regime. Coming from Australia which had regular odds and evens days for fuel buying when I was growing up, this seemed ridiculous. We had gone on a driving holiday from York to Cornwall and so were holed up in the very south of the country which was not a bad place to be. This experience probably sensitised me to the potential for infrastructure disruption, as I had experienced problems with gas when a Victorian plant had exploded the year before which resulted in me having to take cold showers when 6 months pregnant in the middle of a Melbourne winter with no heating. Now for those of you who deal with infrastructure issues on a daily basis, these are small issues but as the French heatwave deaths in 2003 demonstrated, many people are not prepared for climatic extremes.

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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.