Cultivate Hope: Create Your Own Reality

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This article originally appeared on the website of our friends and colleagues at the Center for Scholars & Storytellers and was originally created to support the John Templeton Foundation and Baylor University in hosting its Technology Innovation Request for Proposal: Improving Character Strengths of Adolescents through Technology Innovation.

We have all heard the phrase “have hope.” Is it simply a feel-good emotion thrown around, just wishful thinking, or is there some truth to the statement?

Growing up in a conservative Middle Eastern country in a somewhat traditional Sri Lankan home, I was always hopeful of realizing my goal of becoming a journalist — preferably a political reporter using my pen as my tool to change the world and make the invisible visible. When my peers were taking the conventional route of getting married young for stability or choosing financially viable careers, I never lost sight of my goal, and with a great support system, I completed my undergrad education and landed a journalism gig straight out of school. I believe I achieved what I set out to do because I was always hopeful that I can create my own reality.

Youth and Hopelessness

I think of kids today and I worry because the news, so easily available at our fingertips, seems like an assault on the very notion of hope — school shootings, families torn apart at the border, trans rights under attack, climate change being refuted, etc. The content children are exposed to — including superhero movies — have the hero resorting to violence or killing the bad guy in order to come into power. This constant influx of negativity can result in the youth feeling hopeless that the world around them is beyond their control.

Yet, research has found that adolescents who are hopeful enjoy academic success, develop strong friendships, are more creative and better at problem solving, have lower levels of anxiety, are less likely to drop out of school, and do not give up when faced with obstacles.

Can We Learn Hope?

Thankfully, the work of American psychologist Charles Richard Snyder, a pioneer in hope research, shows us that hope can be learned.

He adopted a three-pronged approach to understanding hope, consisting of goals, agency, and pathways. According to this approach, individuals who are hopeful have the motivation and a clearly defined plan to achieve their goals.

It is not just a general feeling that good things will come; rather, it is the focus on goals, setting it apart from optimism and wishful thinking. Having hope is to imagine a happy ending and figuring out the means to get there. This is good news for anyone who has a part to play in shaping the next generation.

Barriers to Hope

In order to cultivate hope in the next generation, it is first important to understand some of the triggers of hopelessness.

We live in an age where we are constantly bombarded with information, from digital platforms to social blogs. It is no surprise that all ages are avid consumers of social and digital media, and this is especially true for preteens and teenagers. Increased exposure to digital information can have a positive impact on a teenager as it helps normalize diversity in the world around them, increases awareness on political and social issues that impact them (for example, the Parkland school shooting survivors were instrumental in increasing the number of younger voters in the 2018 midterm elections), and even encourages them to explore forms of self-expression such as creating blogs.

However, this increased exposure can also have a detrimental effect on cultivating hope.

Instant gratification is one of the downsides of the digital age. Teenagers today are no longer willing to follow the advice that slow and steady wins the race; rather, their short attention spans and their need for immediate results are affecting their willingness to work hard in achieving their goals. For example, gone are the days when teenagers pored over books to complete an assignment; now, they would rather get the CliffsNotes version on the internet to quickly put something together.

Peer acceptance is important for teenagers, as they are always worried about how they will be perceived by their friends. Teenagers today glean their approval rating from the likes and comments they get on their social profiles and spend a great deal of time trying to prune their online identity, which is sometimes a disconnect to who they are. The constant pressure to be someone you are not can result in not feeling good about yourself, leading to a lack of hope and self-doubt. British vlogger Dina Torkia, in her book Modestly, talks about how she stopped playing sports when she started wearing a hijab because she thought she did not look good playing soccer wearing it. This resulted in her developing body-image issues in her later teenage years.

Cultivating Hope

All hope is not lost, and there are some ways, research has shown, to cultivate it.

1Set Clear, Attainable Goals

Create a big picture of what is important to you and what you want to achieve. A great way to do this is by creating a vision board or writing a personal mission statement. Think about where you want to be in terms of academics, relationships, family, and personal interests. It even helps to add bucket-list items, like places you want to travel to. Then arrange your goals in the order of importance. This is helpful for adolescents with little hope, so they do not get distracted by trying to achieve everything in a short span of time, resulting in burnout.

2Set a Clear Task Plan for Achieving Goals

Someone with low hope thinks all goals need to be accomplished all at once, and this can be very overwhelming for them. By creating a step-by-step task plan, those with low hope can celebrate the completion of each task, keeping them motivated until they achieve their goal. For example, if you want to buy a new car, start by creating a checklist of tasks, beginning with narrowing down car options to checking details of requirements, such as registration and insurance.

3Visualize Different Paths to a Goal

If you suffer from low hope, chances are, one of your greatest challenges in achieving your goals is the inability to move past obstacles and abandoning your goal at the first sign of a hurdle. Visualizing different paths to a goal will help in overcoming obstacles that seem insurmountable, and will give you the motivation to take the road less traveled.

4Identify 'Hope Providers'

As you take on new tasks and dive into the unknown to achieve your goals, it is important to surround yourself with motivators. This can be parents, friends, your partner, or even a teacher — someone you can turn to when you encounter obstacles or just need reassurance that you are on the right track.

5Bombard Yourself with Stories of Success

Hopeful people are inspired by stories of success, especially when they are faced with obstacles. Make sure to capture the full story of a person’s success and the failures they had to go through in order to achieve their goals. Research has shown that seeing the underdog in movies attaining their goals against all odds can act as a motivator and make people more hopeful. For example, even seemingly innocent cartoons such as Mulan and Frozen show the main character going through hardship before achieving success.

6Enjoy the Journey

More often than not, the focus is on attaining the goal without focusing on the joys in achieving it. By creating a task checklist, this can be avoided by celebrating little milestones along the way.

Journalist-turned-marketer Yusra Farzan is a former project manager at the Center for Scholars & Storytellers, UCLA. Previously, she has managed strategic communications, content development, and cultural insights tracking for Fortune 500 and leading UAE brands. She is passionate about the empowerment of underprivileged youth of color and in increasing representation and inclusion in media and marketing. In her leisure time, she likes reading and traveling. Connect with Yusra on LinkedIn here.

Tags: Education, Developing Skills & Character, Grief

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