Cultivate Hope; Grow Resilience
By NATURAL HIGH STAFF
Young kids are notorious for having big dreams and ambitions. Whether it’s for a new hamster, a trip to Disneyland, or a kickflip on a skateboard, kids spend a lot of time imagining and planning for their future.
Of course, sometimes their dreams are outlandish — think about the little kid who wants a farm filled with unicorns. Sometimes their dreams are unrealistic — the kid who wants to become a YouTube star, never hold a job, and live at the beach with all their friends when they grow up.
Dreaming, it turns out, is more than just a sweet thing kids do when they’re young — it becomes a critical part of overall wellbeing.
Hope, as defined by the researchers at Alliance for Hope, is “the belief that your future can be brighter than your past and you play a role in making it happen”.
In other words, when you’re feeling hopeful, you are confident that tomorrow will be better than today. Feeling hopeful makes whatever you’re going through today more tolerable, and the anticipation you feel for the future enables you to endure whatever challenge gets in your way.
Hope is a simple concept to understand, especially when you consider the opposite: hopelessness.
You know about hopelessness, right? It’s the feeling you get on Sunday afternoon when you know you’re going to spend most of your week in pointless meetings that you can’t get out of. It’s the feeling you get about your health when you don’t stick to your plans to exercise more and eat healthier foods.
Hopelessness translates into a desire for escape. It’s too uncomfortable to feel hopeless, and the emotions of regret, shame, disappointment, sadness, and anger can drive people to activities that will numb their pain.
The encouraging news is that hope is something that we can cultivate and encourage. It acts as a protective factor against harmful substance use and is a key indicator for wellbeing and academic success.
Kids who are hopeful about their future will do better in school, have stronger relationships, make the transition to adulthood more efficiently, and make healthier choices along the way.
HOW TO CULTIVATE HOPE
Feeling hopeless is a miserable experience. Whether you’re feeling hopeless about your relationship status, friendships, career path, or your health, most people would say it’s one of the worst experiences of being human.
The good news is that hope is like a muscle — it can be exercised and strengthened. You’re not born with a fixed amount of hope. It’s not given out in limited quantities, and it doesn’t evaporate over time.
Although some people are born with a more optimistic outlook than others, anyone can become a hopeful person.
Charles Snyder was one of the key figures in developing pop psychology in the 1970s and 1980s. He developed what’s known today as Snyder’s Hope Theory which includes a framework for understanding and cultivating hope, as well as measuring how much hope someone carries within themselves.
He distinguishes different parts of hope and explains the thinking that underlies each one:
Hope pathways are about seeing multiple pathways to achieve your desired future. In other words, believing deep down that your goal is possible and achievable.
Hope agency is about seeing yourself as a critical piece and driver towards your desired future. In other words, believing that you have the power and ability to make the steps and changes necessary. It’s saying to yourself, “I can do it — I have what it takes.”
When it comes to cultivating hope, Snyder’s theory creates the foundation for proper goal setting. It’s one thing to ask people to come up with things they want in life, but too often their desires are left as wishful thinking that lacks any real benefit.
To help someone cultivate hope, guide them to describe the type of future they want, and help them design the path to get there by creating specific activities they can engage in to make progress.
Here’s an activity to help kids with goal-setting called Designing Your Future: https://www.naturalhigh.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Designing-Your-Future.pdf.
Use the example of improving your health: it’s one thing to set a goal to become healthier, but it’s more powerful to help someone think through the different paths they can take in order to make healthier choices overall.
There are many factors that lead to improved health including exercising more regularly, eating a healthier diet, getting more sleep, processing feelings in productive ways, and spending more time outdoors, etc.
That’s a different process, and it leads to more resilience which is a key measurement to understanding someone’s level of hope. When someone can only see one way to achieve their goal or feels like they have no part to play in moving forward, then their experience of life becomes more like a victim than a participant.
Victims feel small, insignificant, forgotten, and helpless. Those internal states often lead people to make unhealthy and unwise choices.
People with high hope, though, respond differently to setbacks and challenges. They understand roadblocks as a part of the process, not the end of the story.
So, when it comes to working with kids, we can lead them to think through what they want, what they will do to get what they want, and alternative routes to getting what they want.
They will be clearer about their future, and they will see themselves as key actors in the story that’s unfolding, strengthening their motivation and resolve along the way.
HOW TO MODEL A HOPE-FILLED LIFE FOR KIDS
When it comes to making a positive impact in a kid’s life, there’s nothing more effective than what you model and demonstrate. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done!
You’ve heard the phrase a thousand times before, “It’s not what’s taught — it’s what’s caught that counts.” Kids watch and learn from adults, for better and for worse. In fact, if you’re going to err on one side, the evidence points towards emphasizing the example you give rather than the words and concepts you teach.
HERE ARE THREE SPECIFIC WAYS YOU CAN MODEL A HOPE-FILLED LIFE FOR THE KIDS IN YOUR WORLD:
1. Share Your Hope
Make sure you’re sharing about what you’re striving towards. Most of the time, kids aren’t going to care to ask you about your personal ambitions and goals. No surprise there —kids are more used to receiving than engaging. They also probably don’t care about you because they’re more focused on their own lives.
That’s why it’s important for you to take the initiative to share with them the goals you’re working towards. Don’t assume they know. Trust that it matters. If you’re working on an academic goal, maybe a graduate degree or a professional certificate — tell them about it and the work you’re doing to achieve it.
If you’re working on a personal goal, perhaps around your desire to give back to the community or a character trait— let them know what you’re working on and what you’re doing.
2. Divulge Your Setbacks
One of the most important examples you can offer is how you respond to setbacks and challenges. If you’re truly filled with hope, and you’ve anticipated multiple setbacks and routes to achieve your goals, then you should have no problem talking about them when they arise. When kids can see adults push through setbacks with creativity and resolve, then they’ll be more encouraged to face their own challenges in similar ways.
3. Celebrate Progress
Having a hope-filled life isn’t just about crossing the finish line of your goals and ambitions, it’s about recognizing the importance of all the little steps along the way. If you have a goal to publish a book someday, then celebrate writing a paragraph. Each paragraph is progress and a sign that you have what it takes to keep going.
Let the kids in your life know what you’re feeling proud of and grateful for. They will see behind the scenes what accomplishing a goal really looks like, and your enthusiasm to keep after it will be contagious.
By opening your life and sharing what you’re going through, you’ll make it normal for kids to see engaged, healthy adults who are moving forward on dreams and ambitions rather than accepting whatever life hands them.
Your life will be an encouragement to do the same: to pursue worthy goals, make progress each day, confront setbacks with tenacity, and celebrate the milestones to get there.