Grow your own…Hope Theory

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

How do we grow hope? The need for individuals and groups to increase their hope levels has never been greater than today.

Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash

The headline is that having high levels of hope is a good thing. Becoming a high Hope type can be learned, you get better at hope over time through practice and by improving your hope level you can lift the level of hope in those around you. All good news in our current pandemic world!

Hope Theory was developed by Professor CR Snyder in the early 1990s and he used it extensively in his research across the following two decades.

Hope Theory consists of three parts — goals, pathways thinking and agency/willpower. The thinking process is that an individual sets goals, determines pathways to achieve them and feels more or less empowered to act. Once a goal is achieved, you set a new goal and the process starts again.

Hope Theory

The Hope Scale measures your pathways and agency sub-scores with a higher score indicating higher levels of hope. As you set goals and achieve them successfully, your level of hope will improve, as will your store of positive emotions.

The benefits of being a high hope type are many, as compared to the average to low hope type, the high hope type:

− is more likely to have a consistent pattern of high hope thinking through time

− probably has had a major role model during childhood

− is certain of their goals and challenged by them

− is likely to consider relevant external standards, but attends primarily to their own standards in setting goals

− values the process of goal pursuit as much as the goal itself

− easily establishes friendships

− enjoys interacting with and listening to the perspectives of others

− has win-win relationships

− is more likely to have higher levels of academic achievement

− is less anxious − is higher in well being, self worth, self esteem and confidence

− exhibits better recovery from physical injuries

− is less likely to have thought about suicide.[1]

People with high hope will still experience disappointment, but instead of focussing on failure they tend to look for the lessons they can learn, view obstacles as challenges and re-goal as often as necessary.

Developing high hope

To improve your Hope score you need to learn three things: right sized goal selection, the ability to imagine multiple pathways and belief in your own agency.

Goal achievement — successful goal achievement is often linked to the size of the goal, people with high hope learn to break own large or insurmountable goals into smaller chunks and then work out how to achieve each of these and take the positive emotional boost as you go.


− Make certain the goals being set are important to the you rather than something set by others.

− Ensure your goals are prioritized from least to most important in order to focus your effort and ensure that enough time is allotted to focus on the important goals.

− If a goal is truly blocked, switch to a substitute goal which is more reachable.

Pathways generation — this skill is the one I have noticed most often marks out those with high hope. For every goal, can you imagine a number of different ways you might achieve it? This is the key to becoming an adaptable pathways thinker.


− Use a mental road map and include alternate routes to the goal in case of blockages or challenges.

− This mental rehearsal of successful attainment can help you anticipate blockages.

− Realise that self-reliance can stifle pathways thinking, and remember to ask for help if it is needed as you may not have all the answers you need at hand.

Agency — this belief, that you are able to achieve your goals, in central in Hope. Referred to as willpower, you must feel that you have the ability to achieve the goals you set yourself. This belief will increase each time you successfully achieve a goal, so if you are a bit low start small succeed and build up.


− Use positive self-talk, and try to think of any problems that arise as challenges.

− Remember past experiences to inform present challenges, when did you do something similar and what worked in that situation?

− Cultivate the ability to laugh at one’s circumstances — especially useful at times when blockages appear.

Most importantly, learn to enjoy the process of goal attainment, and not just focus on the goal itself. The aim is to learn and improve, if your goal pursuit is not successful, review your actions and see where your approach may need to improve rather than landing on self-blame and self-doubt.

Making hope viral

There are a couple ways hope can be transmitted — the first is to work with people who have high hope and you will learn through doing.

The second is to involve other people in your goal setting, pathways identification or agency determination. As we agree on shared goals, workshop various ways to achieve them or talk to each other about the ways we might achieve something, we help increase our levels of hope.

Developing and maintaining your level of hope cna be challenging in times like these, but it is possible and will benefit you in the present and future.

About me — I have written about the mechanics of Hope Theory since the mid-2000s but most of that work has been aimed at academic publications and is in formal language. This piece is a quick summary in plain language because I am being asked about Hope Theory at this time. I have used Hope Theory as one of the foundations of my foresight and transformation practice in my work and consulting roles. I will publish some more pieces over the coming days outlining how I have used hope and images of the future with groups to assist them to be different.

More resources

Hope Theory chapter

The Psychology of Hope by CR Snyder


[1] Snyder, CR; Tran, T; Schroeder, LL et al (2000) ‘Teaching the Hope Recipe: Setting goals, finding pathways to those goals and getting motivated’. Reaching Today’s Youth. Summer. pp46–50.

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