Make Hope a Habit

A famous 50-year-long study of nuns produced a remarkable finding. Namely, the nuns who possessed a more hopeful, optimistic outlook on life lived on average, 10 years longer than those who had more pessimistic or negative outlook.

Several years later, Dr. Charles R. Snyder of the University of Kansas sought to examine the significance of hope in young people. Assessing 3,920 college students, he found that a freshman’s level of hope was a more accurate predictor of their college grades than either their SAT scores or their high school grade-point average.

What both of these studies confirm is that hope plays a surprisingly potent role in giving people measurable advantages in realms as diverse as professions, academic achievement, and in virtually every element of our lives. So much so, in fact, that psychological research shows people who choose to adopt a more optimistic, hopeful outlook more effectively cope with difficult jobs, handle tragic illness and painful losses, and avoid the paralyzing influence of depression and other potentially debilitating disorders.


What Is Hope?

It’s been said that hope is the first of our “emergency” virtues. Specifically, hope is a virtue that keeps us going through difficulties. It is a life raft we cling to when all seems lost.

Under the influence of hope we can think in terms of possibilities, answers, and solutions. Instead of remaining fixated by problems, constraints, fears, and losses, this positive orientation helps us to lean into the need for change in all facets of our lives, giving us the confidence, courage and commitment to face our fears head on. Hope also gives us resilience—the ability to bend but not break--when we find ourselves facing the inevitable heartaches and headaches life throws our way.

History repeatedly reminds us that a leader’s ability to generate hope is one of the greatest force multipliers known to mankind. Be it on battlefields or in boardrooms, classrooms or emergency rooms, it is hope that often spells the difference between success and failure, between achieving an acceptable outcome and an exceptional performance, and sometimes, it may even prove to be the difference between life and death.

The dictionary tells us hope means “to look forward with confidence or expectation.” From such a view, hope encourages us to adopt an optimistic vision of the future that is much better than the status quo. It enables us to claim our power when we feel powerless, just as it empowers us to transcend our limitations when we feel we don’t have what it takes to grow into our fullest potential. Thus, in simplest terms, hope helps us defeat mediocrity by pointing our imagination in a positive direction.

Of course, this does not imply hope is a denial of reality. Nor is it an elixir to cure all of our ills. We can, after all, hope for a job, for success for our family, for recovery from illness, for a better, safer world. But hope certainly comes with no guarantees. Rather, hope is, in the words of author and activist Joan Chittister, “…a series of small actions that transforms darkness into light. It is putting one foot in front of the other when we can find no reason to do so at all.” Hope then, is what we have when we have no sure answers but still expect a better end. It is hope which allows us to overcome hurdles we could not otherwise endure and, in doing so, moves us into a space where healing and growth can begin to occur.

So what can we do to build hope into our lives and in our surroundings? We can begin by making the six following choices a normal part of our daily routine:

  • Choose to think in terms of possibilities and solutions, rather than being paralyzed by a sense of your limitations;
  • Choose to focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot do;
  • Choose to invest your time, talent and ideas in areas you can effect rather than spending needless energy on what you cannot control;
  • Choose to operate from your strengths, while remaining realistic about your shortcomings;
  • Choose to build on the positive aspects of your life in the present rather than fixating on all you wish were different in the future; and finally,
  • Choose to be a light instead of a judge; an encourager instead of a worrier, and watch as your positive example inspires those around you to begin to do the same.

Remember, hope, like our hearts, is a muscle that needs exercise. We must choose to give hope a fighting chance. So let hope play a meaningful role in shaping your responses to whatever life brings your way and watch how it will guide you in the direction of your goals, ambitions, dreams and desires, each and every day.

Allow hope to put wings on your performance and discover for yourself how it will heighten your happiness, elevate your effectiveness and make you the kind of leader you want to be and others deserve to see.

Why not start today? 


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John E. Michel is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. An accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster, he has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts and his award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible. You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website,