A New Hope

Hope by Ernesto Lago

How big is your hope

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?

Further reading

Related post: On your best (planned) behaviour


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  1. #1 by Vinny on 7 January 2010 - 14:35

    I do indeed like Star wars, and think that it can show us how to improve the likelihood of clients following through on action plans.

    Look at the following quote:

    Luke Skywalker: You know what’s about to happen, what they’re up against. They could use a good pilot like you.
    Han Solo: Attacking that battle station ain’t my idea of courage. It’s more like… suicide.

    Here Luke fails to pursuade Hans Solo to follow through with any action because Hans is lacking in hope that it can be achieved. But how could luke have pursuaded him?

    Compare it with this next quote fom later in the film:

    General Dodonna (general of the rebel forces): An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station. But the approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It’s a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station. Only a precise hit will set off a chain reaction. The shaft is ray-shielded, so you’ll have to use proton torpedoes. Man your ships. And may the Force be with you.

    Here, by setting clear, specific and achieveable objectives, the General has improved the goal thinking, pathway thinking and agency thinking of his pilots by structuring the action plan more concretely and making it more SMART. (specific, measurable, achieveable, relevant and time bounded)

    So Star Wars teaches us that we need to be more SMART when helping them with their action plans. This can help to make a positive impact on the hope of our clients and increase their likelihood of following through with the plan. (and also possibly prevent them from joining the dark side).

    I think that there is definitely scope for a whole series of Star Wars related posts on this blog. For example there’s all sorts of Happenstance coming into Luke Skywalkers career, and Yoda is great at trying to facilitate insight in others.
    Even Darth Vader can teach us a few things, as throughout the films, you can track the relative importance of his life roles, from student to employment “I was but the learner; now *I* am the master.” and in later life his family roles take on a greater importance “I am your father.”
    What do you think David? Would anyone but you and I find it interesting?

  2. #2 by Vinny on 8 January 2010 - 16:28


    I’d like to give another answer to David’s first question regarding how we can address the likelihood of clients following through with a change in career. This reply has nothing to do with Star Wars. It is all to do with Jam.

    Yes. Jam. (Sorry David, I always seem to be dumbing down your blog!)

    In 2002, some clever academics set up a tasting booth in a store in California. On some days they put out six kinds of jam, on others 24. When the booth had 24 types, it was mobbed – there was more colour, more excitement. But the sales figures told a different story: with six jams on show, 30% of customers bought a jar; when 24 were out, only 3% did. Jams are hardly complex things, but people saw 24 stacked together and thought: ‘I can’t cope with this!’ and didn’t buy.

    (you can read more about this at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2008/may/20/consumeraffairs.economics)

    This concept doesn’t just apply to jam. Research has been done on all sorts of things including more complex choices such as choosing the right type of pension.

    In terms of the Hope theory, it probably confuses their “Pathway Thinking”

    So if we have someone coming to us wanting to change careers, maybe we should be thinking about the number of choices we are leaving them with at the end of the session. They may appear happy with all the exciting options, but if there are too many, then they are much less likely to go ahead with any of it.

    • #3 by David Winter on 8 January 2010 - 17:11

      There’s probably a bit of screwing up the Agency thinking too in your example – ‘I’m never going to be able to choose between all those flavours, so I won’t bother trying!’

      P.S. You’re not ‘dumbing down’ the blog, or if you are it’s what I want you to do anyway.

  3. #4 by David Winter on 18 February 2010 - 17:18

    A classic study on goal setting:

    Locke, E.A., Shaw, K.N., Saari, L.M. & Latham, G.P. (1981) Goal setting and task performance: 1969–1980. Psychological Bulletin. 90(1), 125-152.

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