Research over the past 30 years has shown that hope, not skill mastery or optimism or grit, is the most important determinant of success. Ability and skill mastery are important, but the psychological vehicles are what actually get you to where you want to go, and hope is one of the most important vehicles of all.
Not convinced? Read on to learn more about the importance of hope and it’s effect on life:
Hope is the Will, and the Way, to Success
Researchers Joseph Ciarrochi et al wrote in their paper on the effects of hope in adolescents: “People with high levels of hope possess a capacity to implement goals for themselves (agency) and are adept at discovering how to achieve them (pathways).”
In their six-year-long study on over 975 adolescents, Ciarrochi and fellow researchers learned that the higher amount of hope that an individual has, the more likely they are to succeed, especially in times of transition. Outcomes we more positive and achievement in both academics and sports was greater when the adolescent had higher levels of hope.
Previous research found that having higher levels of hope indicated greater psychological flexibility and the ability to adjust goal implementation strategies and goal-related efforts when thwarted by obstacles in life. Translation: the more hope you have, the more ways you tend to look for new solutions to problems.
Dr. Charles Snyder and colleagues, in their famous study of 3,920 college students, found that the level of hope among freshmen at the beginning of their first semester was a more accurate predictor of college grades than were S.A.T. scores or grade point averages earned in high school. “Students with high hope set themselves higher goals and know how to work to attain them,” Dr. Snyder stated. “When you compare students of equivalent intellectual aptitude and past academic achievements, what sets them apart is hope.”
Hope does not just pertain to academics. Another recent study found that most athletes have higher levels of hope than non-athletes. And, among female cross-country athletes in particular, researchers found that having hope predicted positive athletic outcomes beyond just self-esteem, confidence, mood and training.
Hope Trumps Its Cousins Optimism, Positive Explanatory Style and Self-Efficacy
Hope has three psychological-attribute cousins that many people credit success to: optimism, positive explanatory style and self-efficacy. While all four are incredibly important expectancies and help contribute to reaching goals, they are subtly and importantly different from one another.
Optimism is a belief that everything will just “be alright”, that positive events are very likely to occur in the future. An optimist believes that future outcomes will be positive, but they have no personal control over that outcome.
Explanatory style is a psychological attribute that shows how people explain to themselves why they experience an event. When something happens in our lives, our explanatory style is part of how we process it, the meaning we attach to it, and how we assess it as a threat or a challenge. Someone with a positive explanatory style will tend to attribute positive elements to why things happen to them and minimize the severity of the stress – things seem like they are not such a big deal, they will be over soon, and are not our fault.
Self-efficacy is the belief that you can master your domain through your own ability to complete tasks and attain goals. This belief determines how you approach goals, tasks and challenges. It’s you confidence in the ability to exert control over your own behavior, motivation and social environment.
Hope, according to researchers Philip R. Magaletta and J.M. Oliver, stands head and shoulders above its cousins above. People with hope have both the will and the means (pathways and strategies) to achieve their goals. Hope encompasses the ability to generate and implement plans for the future.
Optimism believes that there will be a positive future but, unlike hope, does not offer a means to get there. Positive explanatory style attributes positive attitudes toward events but does not provide the will or the means to reach goals. And self-efficacy has the ability to reach goals, but not the willpower to get there. Hope encompasses the will and the means to reach a goal.
In a study conducted by Kevin Rand and colleagues, hope was found to predict grades in law school above and beyond LSAT scores and undergraduate grades. Optimism did not correlate to grades and performance, nor did LSAT scores. Those students with high hope levels performed better in law school than those with lower hope levels.
Hope Leads to Better Health Outcomes
People who score high on the hope scale are better able to endure dire circumstances, researchers have found. In a 1990’s study of 57 people with paralysis from spinal cord injuries, those who reported having more hope had less depression, greater mobility, more social contacts and more sexual intimacy than those having little hope.
Randolph C. Arnau and colleagues conducted a study in 2006 to look at hope’s connection to depression and anxiety. They surveyed more than 500 students, measuring levels of hope, depression and anxiety. Several months later, they repeated the survey. The researchers found that students who had higher hope at the beginning of the study showed lower levels of depression and anxiety than those who had lower hope levels. In their findings they concluded that hopeful people have a greater sense that life is meaningful.
And a study conducted by Dr. Lori Irving of the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Hospital in California showed that women who had viewed a video about cancer with a hopeful scripts did more to change their health habits in a positive way than women who saw a video with the same information minus the positive wording.
Other studies have been conducted showing that patients in mental health therapy have more positive results in a shorter time when they exhibit high levels of hope than those who have lower levels of hope.
Hope Leads to a Positive Life Outlook
Through research, hope has been found to provide a more positive outlook on life. People with high levels of hope have more positive emotions of greater intensity. This aids them in feeling more in control of their lives and more flexible in reaching their goals.
Hope helps you generate and implement plans for the future and is focused on what you can do to achieve those plans. Shane Lopez, researcher and author of the book Making Hope Happen, identifies three basic ways to build hope to achieve more:
- Engage in “futurecasting” – envision a specific future goal in a way that makes it come alive for you.
- Work towards your goal – create pathways that will lead you towards your goal.
- Plan for contingencies – Hopeful people tend to see multiple solutions to a problem. Have many ways to overcome obstacles.
Hope can be a powerful ally in your mental health toolbox. By having and increasing your hope levels, you can improve your chances of succeeding in therapy, with your family, in your job, and all around in your life.