Don't Make a Wish - Try Hope Instead

By Michelle McQuaid

Two-thirds of the population has no idea what their strengths are, research estimates. That sounds like a lot, but when I ask people to share what it is they do best and actually enjoy doing, the number of people left scratching their heads suggests this number might be conservative.

Tools like the VIA Survey have made it easier for people to discover their strengths. This simple act alone has been found to boost productivity and confidence. But teaching people how to apply their strengths can be a little more complicated. This has a lot to do with the difference between wishing and hoping.

Wishing Isn’t Hoping

The problem with a wish is it makes us passive and less likely to reach our goals. For example, researchers have found 89% of people believe the future will be better than the present, but only 50% of us believe we can make it so. Scientists are adamant that both beliefs are required in order for us to ignite enough hope to move from where we are to where we want to be. To make sense of this, it helps to understand what exactly hope is.

What Is Hope?

Professor Rick Snyder and his colleagues found hope requires three elements:

1. Goal thinking: Having clearly conceptualized goals that excite you and fill your mind with pictures of the future.

2. Pathways thinking: The ability to seek out and identify multiple pathways to your goals, pick the most appropriate routes for your situation, and monitor your progress over time.

3. Agency thinking: The ability to motivate yourself and to build a capacity for persistence and long-term effort in the face of obstacles.

Why Hope Works

Researchers have found that hope plays a central role in driving persistence, motivation, goal setting and innovation at work. In fact, other things being equal, hope has been found to lead to a 14% bump in productivity.

To put that into context, it means hope is worth about an hour a day, so completing a strengths Hope Map is actually likely to save you time in the long run.

Research also suggests that no other workplace measure, including job satisfaction, company commitment and confidence to do the job, counts more than hope in determining whether we’ll show up. So surely it’s worth a try.

How to Make a Hope Map

One of my favorite approaches to helping people turn their wishes about using their strengths into hopes, especially in the workplace, was created by Dr. Shane Lopez. It’s called a Hope Map, and it’s easy to make your own:

  1. Take a piece of paper and place it horizontally on your desk.
  2. Fold the paper into three sections, and open it up once more.
  3. On the far right third of the page, write “Goals” at the top. Under that, write down a goal for using your strengths more in your work.
  4. On the far left third of the page, write “Pathways” at the top. Under that, write down at least three different pathways you’ll need to take to reach your goal. You might identify how specific strengths or a cluster of strengths will make these pathways easier.
  5. In the middle third of the page, write “Obstacles” at the top. Under that, write down at least one obstacle for each of the pathways you’ve identified. One of the things researchers have uncovered about achieving our goals is we’re more likely to succeed when we plan for possible obstacles at the outset. This way they don’t send us into such a spiral.
  6. Around the edges of your page, write down what you can do to maintain your motivation and will power to complete the pathways and achieve your goal. How will you make the journey enjoyable? Who will encourage you? How will you measure your progress, and your success?

Once your map is complete, your hopes are clear and you’re ready to get on with it.