Hopeful for our future?

What are you hoping for? The end of the pandemic? The world to become a more positive place? Global warming to slow? Racial bias to disappear? World Peace?

These are lofty goals, not hopeful goals

We can be passionate about lofty goals (Who doesn’t passionately want world peace or for the pandemic to end?), but it is hard to figure out what steps an individual can take to get there. Hopeful goals have the passion but they are also specific, have a pathway (concrete steps) to reach them, and like everything worthwhile have obstacles in the way. Creating and pursuing hopeful goals takes some practice, but certainly is worth the effort. The science of hope and Hope Theory (Yes, it’s a thing.) with it’s approximately 1000 studies show that pursuing a hopeful goal will increase your life satisfaction, give you a sense of purpose and even improve your physical health. Things we all need in 2021. 

What does it mean?

My whole life (maybe yours too), I didn’t really think about the definition of hope so when I read The Oxford English dictionary’s, it seemed right: “Grounds for believing that something good will happen.” Turns out the science shows that the definition is incomplete. Hope Theory says: “Hope is the belief that your future can be brighter and better than your past and that you actually have a role to play in making it better” (Gwinn & Hellman, 2019).

Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and…

In spite of Dusty Springfield’s old hit, there is a difference between wishin’ and hopin’ and we often unknowingly use the word “hope” when we really should use the word “wish.” Hope involves doing something, but to wish only implies the desire for something positive. Wishes involve genies popping out of lamps and magically (and effortlessly) granting things. Hope involves actual effort. 

Want to make your future brighter and better than your past?

If you want to increase your own feelings of hope and life satisfaction get yourself a pen and paper or pull out your computer. Together let’s apply some Hope Theory. 

Pick a lofty or even an unrealistic goal just be sure it is something you feel passionate about. Write it down.

Magnetic powers

To spark hope and persist, according to Shane Lopez, one of the main authors in the field, says the goal needs to be like a magnet that pulls you towards it. Lofty goals may have magnetic passion, but are not specific enough and offer no realistic path to reach them.  We need to convert our lofty goal into a S.M.A.R.T. Goal. It needs to be Specific,Measurable (so you can tell when you have reached it), Achievable (something you can do), Realistic (e.g., ending the pandemic is not achievable by just you), and be Time-bound (in other words have a deadline). It will take some effort to convert your broad and passion filled lofty goal into a smaller S.M.A.R.T. goal (Helpful hint, your goal might be one step toward or a part of the broad lofty goal.) By way of example here is my process:

Make the world a positive place

I wish with all my heart that our world was a kinder more positive place, but I do not have a working magic wand, nor a genie filled lamp.  None the less, this lofty goal fills me with passion, something you might have guessed from the name of our website, ThePositivityCompany.com. There is nothing SMART about my lofty goal. It’s not Specific, maybe it could be Measurable by someone, but it certainly is not Achievable or Realistic by me, a psychologist living in rural New Hampshire. As far as Time-bound: A deadline? Are you kidding me? If I stopped here, my passion for a positive world would likely fade into cynicism and hopelessness with every news program I watch. But I’m still a believer in the motto: “Think globally. Act locally.” What local thing could I do towards the global goal of making the world a positive place.

To change my positive wishful thinking into hope I needed to create a hopeful SMART goal. Long story short you are reading the result, a blog about hope. And maybe other blogs aimed at ways to make the world more positive. My hopeful goal of writing a positive blog was Specific (a blog), Measurable (I can tell how it’s progressing and know when it is done), Achievable (If I can write a book The Invisible Classroom: Relationships, Neuroscience and Mindfulness in School I can write a blog) Realistic (I can find the time to write 2000 words), Time-bound (you are reading this so I completed blog, but the deadline needs some work because it was December 1, 2020,)

What is your SMART and Hopeful Goal?

Write it down.

You can always edit it later. Once you have a working SMART goal you are ready for the next step.

What’s stopping you?

There are always obstacles involved in reaching a hopeful goal. After all, if you were 100% certain to reach a goal you would just do it, no hope needed. Also, if you had no chance of attaining the goal whatsoever, you would not even bother trying. All hopeful goals involve overcoming obstacles.

Shane Lopez developed a helpful worksheet he called a Hope Map. We can use it now to plan how to overcome your obstacles. Divide a piece of paper into three vertical columns with the headings:   Pathways  –   Obstacles   –   Goal.

Write your goal in the column on the far right of your page.

Now, think about your obstacles: What do you imagine might stop you? Money? Time? Your brother-in-law? Write each one in the obstacle column.

Now draw an arrow from the left across the paper to the obstacle then on to your goal.  Your arrow represents one pathway to reach your goal, the obstacle is something blocking your way. What might help you overcome it? Think about ways to go over, under, around, or through each obstacle. Write your ideas along the arrow.

Once you’ve made your list of obstacles with the arrows, your paper will look like a happy mess.

Step back to see the big picture. Some obstacles may be external like money, others internal like my cringe worthy memories of my ninth grade English teacher’s criticism of my writing. You may be able to complete this part all by yourself, but some obstacles may involve talking to friends or professionals (e.g., bankers or grant writers for money). Your passion to reach your hopeful goal will help keep you going.

Here is what stopped me: When? Who? Why?

Yours’ will be different, but here is a shortened cleaned up version of some of my obstacles and my Hope Map:

When? As you can see, I worked around the time obstacle by looking at my calendar and finding that I could set aside Monday mornings for writings, maybe there will be other times during the week, but at least I would have Monday mornings.

Who would bother to read anything that I wrote? After some thought I realized friends were more likely to read my blog than random people out there in the universe. So, I made an email list to include friends, maybe they will pass the blog on to others.

Why would I want to subject myself to writing a blog in the first place? During the classes my wife Sher Kamman, PsyD and I teach to health care professionals we help them (and ourselves) create personal mission/vision statements. It takes time and effort, but I refer back to mine when I’m making decisions. Mine is, “live with integrity while being a positive contribution.” It helped me realize why I would want to engage in the sometimes painful internal creative struggle that all writers and artists know well.


“Regoaling” is not even a real word, it’s one of those scientific words researchers make up. It doesn’t matter. It appears in books about hope and peer reviewed research papers on families of terminally ill children. “Regoaling” helps us face reality. Sometimes we need to adjust our goal because of an obstacle. For me, after many months of having the goal of writing a monthly blog, but actually writing nothing, I had to face reality and “regoal.” I made my new goal to write this single blog about hope. Next, I’ll create another SMART goal for another blog. Perhaps, the one-blog-at-a-time goal will lead to a monthly blog.

Hopefully you will become hopeful

My wish is that you will use the process described in this blog to take your passion filled lofty goal, convert it into a hopeful SMART goal, anticipate and plan around the inevitable obstacles, and achieve it. You’re reading this now so you know it worked for me. It can for you as well.

Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [he/she] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance – Robert F. Kennedy June 6, 1966

Want to dive deeper? Try any of these

 C. R. Snyder (1994). the Science of Hope: You can get there from here. New York, Simon & Schuster. 

Shane Lopez (2013). Make Hope Happen: Create the future you want for yourself and others New York: Simon & Schuster.

Casey Gwinn and Chan Hellman (2019). Hope Rising: How the science of hope can change your life. New York Morgan James Publishing.

“Where there’s hope, there is life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Anne Frank – The Diary of a Young Girl