Several years ago I made a New Year’s resolution which I have managed to keep ever since. I resolved never to make a New Year’s resolution again. It makes things a lot simpler and I no longer disappoint myself when inevitably I revert to my old ways after a couple of weeks.
At the New Year many people resolve to do something about their career — get out of that dead end job, find work that is more meaningful, make faster progress, etc. As a result we often see increased interest in our careers consultancy service, C2, in January.
How successful are such career resolutions likely to be and what could give people genuine hope for the future?
The success rate for New Year’s resolutions is not particularly impressive. A recent study of 700 people by Professor Richard Wiseman found that only 12% of them managed to achieve what they wanted. When it comes to health related issues, people report making the same pledges for several consecutive years before achieving any long-term successes. Certainly, many of the clients I have seen who want to change their careers have been promising to do something for quite a long time before they take the step of seeking out a career consultant. Even after a consultation, during which they seem clearly motivated to make a change, some clients slip back into the habit of frustrated inactivity. Many leave hopeful, but hope doesn’t always translate into action. Can hope be made more lasting and more concrete?
Hope Theory tries to explain what makes people hopeful and how important hope is in achieving life goals. According to the theory, there are three levels of hope:
- Global hope — How generally hopeful is an individual in all areas of life. How optimistic are they about their ability to achieve whatever they want?
- Domain-specific hope — How hopeful is an individual about a specific area of life, e.g. social relationships, romantic relationships, family life, education, work, and leisure?
- Goal-specific hope — How hopeful is an individual about achieving a specific task within one of the life domains?
These levels of hope influence each other. If someone is generally hopeful at a global level then they will tend to approach new domains with an optimistic attitude and vice versa. If someone experiences failure in a specific goal this may influence their hopefulness in relation to the wider domain or even globally.
The theory further suggests that hope is made up of three elements:
- Goal thinking. What targets do you set yourself?
It is important to consider the level of challenge in a specific goal. Goals that are too easy or too difficult are unlikely to sustain motivation. Having some idea of an individual’s levels of global, domain-specific and goal-specific hope could help to determine the appropriateness of particular goals. Low hope individuals may choose goals that are less demanding and less risky and therefore less likely to reap great rewards. They may need help in choosing goals that are appropriate to their desires and breaking those goals down into sub-goals. They may also need help with goal flexibility — seeing alternative ways of satisfying their preferences or adjusting their requirements if particular goals prove difficult.
- Pathway thinking. Can you see a realistic way of getting to your goal?
Hope is more likely if you can visualise the steps you need to take in order to move from the present into the future. Individuals with low hope may need more help in identifying possible ways of making progress. They may need the journey described in more detail, with smaller steps. It may also be necessary to spend more time thinking about how to deal with potential obstacles or discussing alternative routes.
- Agency thinking. Do you believe you will do it?
The way you think and feel about yourself can influence your hopefulness about specific goals. Low hope individuals may engage in negative self-talk such as ‘I’m no good at making decisions’ or ‘I’m not very good at pushing myself forward’. It may be necessary to find positive examples from past experiences or other life domains in order to try to counteract these limiting attitudes.
Although many of the concepts in Hope Theory are similar to those in other approaches (e.g. self-efficacy in Social Cognitive Career Theory), I like the way it breaks down hope into goal, pathway and agency thinking. I think this could be a useful framework for helping clients to think about making the most of their dreams. Perhaps it could bring a new hope in the New Year.
- To what extent do you address the likelihood of clients following through on action plans made in individual or group sessions?
- Have you worked with particular clients who experienced hope-related issues? What did you do with them?
- How good are you at pursuing your career-related resolutions?
- Do you like Star Wars?
- Polivy, J. & Herman, C.P. (2000) The false-hope syndrome: Unfulfilled expectations of self-change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(4), 128-131.
- Polivy, J. & Herman, C.P. (2002) If at first you don’t succeed: False hopes of self-change. American Psychologist, 57(9), 677-689.
- Snyder, C.R. (2002) Hope theory: Rainbows in the mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 249-275.
- Snyder, C.R. et al. (2002) Hopeful choices: A school counselor’s guide to hope theory. Professional School Counselling, 5(5), 298-308.
Related post: On your best (planned) behaviour