Thus far, 2020 seems to have been some sort of cosmic clerical error.
All around the world people are falling ill, everyone’s afraid, and the economy, well… Let’s just say I’ve never heard the word “trillion” used so often and it certainly has not been in a good way. In the United States, some bad actors are exploiting peaceful protests of noble intent to loot and cause mayhem.
Times are tough so, of course, people will become cruel and selfish…
Or maybe not.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit the US and 80% of New Orleans was flooded. Literally, 90,000 square miles were declared a disaster area. Of course, the news was saturated with stories of widespread murder, rape and gangs running amok.
But after subsequent vetting, it turned out the majority of those stories were untrue. Just rumor and media sensationalism.
Yeah, there were gangs, but what were some of them doing? One woman Denise Moore, recounted her experience.
From A Paradise Built in Hell:
“[The gang members] got together, figured out who had guns and decided they were going to make sure that no women were getting raped… They were the ones getting juice for the babies. They were the ones getting clothes for people who had walked through that water. They were the ones fanning the old people, because that’s what moved the guys, the gangster guys the most, the plight of the old people… We were trapped like animals, but I saw the greatest humanity I’d ever seen from the most unlikely places.”
The cynics will say this is just one person’s recollection. The exception to the rule…
Uh, actually, no. That’s not the exception — that’s the rule. Looking at the research we see that during disasters, altruism is the rule. Selfishness is the exception.
From A Paradise Built in Hell:
Studies of people in urgently terrifying situations have demonstrated—as Quarantelli puts it in the dry language of his field—that “instead of ruthless competition, the social order did not break down,” and that there was “cooperative rather than selfish behavior predominating.”
To what degree? So much so that during a disaster, there are more people heading toward it to help than actually running away.
From A Paradise Built in Hell:
Charles Fritz had identified the phenomenon of convergence in 1957, writing, “Movement toward the disaster area usually is both quantitatively and qualitatively more significant than flight or evacuation from the scene of destruction…”
Thomas Hobbes needs to update his theory of human nature, stat.
From A Paradise Built in Hell:
Many fear that in disaster we become something other than we normally are—helpless or bestial and savage in the most common myths—or that is who we really are when the superstructure of society crumbles. We remain ourselves for the most part, but freed to act on, most often, not the worst but the best within. The ruts and routines of ordinary life hide more beauty than brutality.
Yes, things are bad. But it shouldn’t make us fear that human nature is bad or that our problems cannot be overcome.
Over the longer haul, kindness and cooperation are often the odds-on favorite, even in the worst of times. So there is good reason to have hope right now in our time of need.
“Whew! Good. Everything’s gonna be fine, Marge. Back to Netflix…”
Hold on. I’m not here to get you high on blind optimism. That’s what Instagram influencers are for. This is not the time to buy into dreamy wish fulfillment. (But if you do, make sure to use my promo code “DENIAL.”)
Seriously, we can’t just fantasize our way out of this one. Fantasies are not the kind of hope we need right now. (Being long-term optimistic while delivering a short-term, tough-love-kick-in-the-pants is 280% on-brand for me and you know that.)
Blind optimism and wishful thinking fade quickly. We need some action and accomplishment here to actually improve our lives and the world around us. Then we’ll feel better and it’ll last. Human nature is on our side but we have plenty of work to do. Planet ain’t gonna fix itself; grab a shovel.
You’re dealing with life and death, financial concerns, issues of justice, and the safety and sanity of those you love. We have to get all that back on track in a world where clear answers are less than forthcoming.
We don’t need wishes. We need active hope. The kind of hope that comes from a good plan, one that you are confident you can execute.
And that’s where the science of hope comes in. (Yes, there is science to hope. And thank god because otherwise I’d have nothing to write about — and yours truly would never hack it as an Instagram Influencer.) Scientific hope is much different than the hope you’re used to but it’s more proactive and effective. It’s more than a wish, and that’s exactly what we need right now. So who has the info we need?
Before his passing, Charles Snyder was a professor at the University of Kansas and editor of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. His books are Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, and Applications and Psychology of Hope.
He’s got answers on how we can do better so we can live better — and then, yes, we will feel better. And we can rebuild our lives, this world, and help those we love.
Suit up. We’re going in…
A New Hope (Not The “Star Wars” Kind)
Hope isn’t just crossing your fingers, covering your ears and insisting all will be well. That’s a dream. Reviewing the literature on disaster scenarios people actually had to get stuff done to improve their lives. Hope isn’t just passive wishful thinking. It’s also inextricably tied to action — helping others and turning an upside down world right side up.
According to Snyder:
Hope is the sum of perceived capabilities to produce routes to desired goals, along with the perceived motivation to use those routes… According to the theory, people who are hopeful believe they are good at generating goal thoughts, creating effective pathways leading to goal attainment, maintaining agency thoughts to provide enough motivation for the goal pursuit, and handling barriers that arise.
Snyder studied “high hope” and “low hope” people and there were stark differences:
From Psychology of Hope:
As research shows, as compared to lower-hope people high-hope persons have a greater number of goals, have more difficult goals, have more success at achieving their goals, have greater happiness and less distress, have superior coping skills, recover better from physical injury, and report less burnout at work.
What’s interesting is that hope correlates with grades in school — but not with IQ scores. It’s about what you choose to do, not any innate ability.
And being scientifically hopeful isn’t a new way of thinking you need to learn. You already do it in some areas of your life; it’s just usually unconscious. That’s why this post is titled “3 things the most resilient people do every day.” Super-resilient, super-hopeful people just do these things more often and more deliberately.
Okay, here’s your handy-dandy simple formula for the type of hope that gets stuff done. Just remember that you need to “fill the GAP”:
Goals + Agency + Pathways = Hope
When you have goals (knowing what you want) and agency (the drive to get what you want) and pathways (the ability to generate methods to achieve what you want), you get hope.
With this type of hope, you don’t wish things will work out; you know deep down in your bones they will. You never doubt it.
Okay, we know what hope is but how do we fill that “GAP”? Well, first, we’re gonna need some…
Asking yourself “What are my goals?” is an excellent way to make your mind go blank.
Instead, list out the major areas of your life (“career”, “family”, etc.) and beside each one simply write “I want…” Then finish the sentence. Be specific…
No, even more specific…
Sorry, still not specific enough…
Okay, that’s better. Don’t say, “I need to find a new job,” say “I’m going to spend one hour every morning job-hunting on LinkedIn and reaching out to contacts.”
If the “I want…” question isn’t working for you, the problem might be that you’re ruling stuff out as unrealistic before it even reaches your forebrain. We get around this by finishing the sentence “There’s no way I could…” Trick low self-esteem into helping you figure out what you need to do.
Snyder says you want “Specific, growth-seeking, performance-based, moderately-difficult goals.” We’ve covered the specific part. What’s a “growth-seeking” goal?
From Handbook of Hope:
There is evidence that people who set validation-seeking goals are more prone to depressive episodes and self-esteem loss than those who set growth-seeking goals (Dykman, 1998). Validation-seeking goals are strivings to prove one’s self-worth, competence, and likeability through attainment of a goal. In contrast, growth-seeking goals are strivings to learn, grow, and improve.
Performance-based goals mean you’re competing against your previous performance as opposed to competing with someone else. And “moderately difficult” goals are best because you want a balance of winning and losing. The research literally says you want a 50% probability of success. Constant failure is disheartening; winning every time means you’re setting the bar too low.
Oh, and no “dead person goals.” What’s that? A “dead person goal” is anything a corpse could do better than you. They usually take the form of “I need to stop…” Dead people are excellent at not doing things, far better than you are. So transform dead people goals into something more prescriptive like “When I notice myself procrastinating I will do easiest thing on my to-do list.”
Once you have your goals, prioritize. Look at how you’re spending your time and cut back on your not-goals and allocate more time to the first goal on the list.
And having lots of goals is good. Gives you more options and you don’t get as devastated if things don’t (initially) work out.
(To learn the most fun way to make your life awesome during the pandemic, click here.)
Okay, you have a lot of specific goals. But now we need the drive to complete them. This is the tricky part in general, even moreso when you’ve been in lockdown for a few months. Many of us are emotionally numb and long ago forgot how the shower works.
So how do we get the oomph to make these goals real and build some Tyrannosaurus-level scientific hope energy?
Agency is the “perceived ability to begin and to continue moving along a pathway to your goals.” This is why specific goals are so important. Vague goals crater agency. If you don’t have a crystal clear idea of what to do next, it’s hard to get motivated.
To find your goals we completed a sentence starting with “I want…” Now we’re gonna switch to completing a sentence that starts with “I choose…”
From Psychology of Hope:
… the “I choose” exercise adds a sense of conviction to the goal selection process. The motivation to reach a goal is enhanced by active choice. If you find yourself wavering in determination, you can say to yourself, “Well, I picked this goal, so I better get on with it.”
Research by Teresa Amabile at Harvard has shown that progress in meaningful goals is the most motivating thing there is (well, short of having a Bengal tiger chasing you).
So to create that feeling of progress, think about your past successes. Bootstrap momentum. The more relevant those achievements are, the better, but they don’t have to be a perfect match. You just want the feeling that you are the kind of person who has done this before and you can do it again.
You’re a talented chef with a new recipe. A great athlete trying a different sport. You’re doing something new, but you have what it takes.
(To learn the two-word morning ritual that will make you happy all day, click here.)
Goals and agency are great but you can’t just blindly bust through obstacles like the Kool-Aid Man and think that’ll bring you all your life’s dreams. We’re gonna need a plan to get where we want to go…
Definition? “The ability to generate plans to achieve goals.” Think of it like resourcefulness. You need the capacity to produce workarounds that still get you where you’re going when setbacks make your original plan problematic.
What does this involve? Mental rehearsal.
From Handbook of Hope:
Another pathways-producing strategy that cuts across differing psychotherapeutic approaches involves teaching clients to mentally rehearse important upcoming events (Snyder, 1994). Although mental rehearsals were first examined in the context of athletics (see Mahoney & Avener, 1977), this approach to enhancing pathways thinking has yielded beneficial outcomes in several domains (Markus & Ruvolo, 1989). Such rehearsing enhances pathways thinking by allowing the client to anticipate potential blockages and to visualize workarounds to those problems (Bruce & Newman, 1978; Carbonell, 1981; Wilensky, 1983).
Everybody has heard of visualization. Problem is, you’re probably doing it wrong.
You don’t want to use it to dream and feel good — you want to use it to anticipate problems and to break the process into steps that form a plan. When you visualize, spend most of your time thinking about the middle of the journey.
The beginning is predictable and the end is the fun part when you’re victorious. The middle is where things get confusing and ugly and some extra preparation can really help you out a lot.
Brainstorm multiple routes. If you’ve already thought about different paths, you’re less likely to quit when frustrated because you know there’s another way. Doing this increases agency because now you can follow a flow chart, step-by-step, as opposed to feeling like you don’t know what’s next.
Now things can still go sideways. Unpredictable stuff can happen and make your plans unworkable or irrelevant. (Heck, I’m writing this during a global pandemic, in a state of quarantine lockdown. None of my life plans thus far ever accounted for that possibility.) Given you don’t have control over everything, what do you do when plans break down? Blame yourself?
Remember this phrase: “I’m not bad; the plan was bad.” We tend to beat ourselves up and that’s when we lose hope. When you focus on pathways, it’s just a matter of tweaking and improving the plan. Setbacks are not a reflection on you, they’re just sign that the plan needs improvement.
(To learn the secrets to how to have more grit during the pandemic, click here.)
Fill the GAP. Deep, scientific hope comes from goals, agency and pathways. We build a plan and create a deep optimism and confidence that is more fact than wish. And what happens when we assemble all three of those?
Let’s round it all up and find out…
These are the 3 things the most resilient people do every day:
- Goals: Have some. Think about the key areas of your life and finish the sentence, “I want…” Then get specific. Oh, and no “dead person goals.”
- Agency: Switch from “I want..” to “I choose…” And remind yourself of relevant past success to increase that feeling of progress.
- Pathways: Play your “mental movie.” Focus on the middle of your journey. Anticipate obstacles and find multiple routes to overcome them. When plans fail, remember: You’re not bad; the plan was bad. So improve it.
What happens when we assemble the three? An upward spiral.
“Fill the GAP” and hope improves. With hope you know you can do it. Your confidence improves and so does your performance. This lets you set new goals and achieve them. With new memories of success you increase your agency. With added agency you look for more effective pathways and become more resourceful. And you just keep spiraling up.
In Dante’s “Inferno” there is a sign before the entrance to hell:
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
Quite simply: hell is a place without hope. But there’s another sign I want to tell you about that’s more relevant for us…
For 99 years the 1906 earthquake was the worst natural disaster in US history. The quake itself was bad but the resulting fires were even worse — incinerating five square miles of downtown San Francisco, and destroying structures for 100 miles, all the way from San Jose to Santa Rosa. More than 3000 people died.
But yet again, hope reigned. And it wasn’t just blind optimistic thinking. People took action. They got out there and helped one another. Dorothy Day was only 8 years old at the time but she later recounted her memories of the aftermath.
From A Paradise Built in Hell:
“What I remember most plainly about the earthquake was the human warmth and kindliness of everyone afterward. For days refugees poured out of burning San Francisco and camped in Idora Park and the race track in Oakland. People came in their night clothes; there were newborn babies. Mother and all our neighbors were busy from morning to night cooking hot meals. They gave away every extra garment they possessed. They stripped themselves to the bone in giving, forgetful of the morrow. While the crisis lasted, people loved each other.”
Amelia Hoshouser fed people from a tent, creating a makeshift soup kitchen. And outside that tent she hung a sign:
One Touch of Nature Makes the Whole World Kin
Just as all of us are now. And we’ll make our lives, our societies and our world better than it was with our efforts today.
Amelia’s sign is our sign. Dante’s isn’t.
Because we have hope.
This article first appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree.