Hope shifts focus from the present moment to action paths (“pathways”) required to achieve future goals and motivation to follow these goal routes (“agency”).
Some advocates of mindful attention to the present moment question cultivating hope because it focuses on the future instead of the present, despite abundant empirical evidence that hope is positively associated with academic achievement, health outcomes, and more.
Buddhist thinkers argued that hope is illusory and prolongs human suffering and even America’s sage, Benjamin Franklin, noted that one who lives on hope will die fasting.
In contrast, hope investigator University of Kansas’s Charles “Rick” Snyder substantiated the health and performance benefits of hope and distinguished hope from learned optimism, self-efficacy, and self-esteem.
He developed and validated measures of hope as a trait and as a state, evaluating “pathways” and “agency” beliefs, with collaborators Cheri Harris, John R Anderson, Sharon A. Holleran, Lori M Irving, Sandra T. Sigmon, Lauren Yoshinobu, June Gibb, Charyle Langelle, and Pat Harney.
Snyder and team reported that children and adults across ethnic and gender groups who scored higher in hope demonstrated:
- Better coping with injuries, diseases and physical pain
- Greater self-reported satisfaction, self-esteem, optimism, meaning in life and happiness
- Superior sports performance, even when controlled for natural athletic talent
- Higher academic performance from elementary to graduate school, even when controlling for measured intelligence
- Decreased depression among older adults and survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
He offered tips for setting goals and enhancing “pathways” and “agency” toward goals, including:
- Prioritizing self-selected goals
- Developing multiple paths for each goal
- Expecting positive outcomes while designing ways to remove potential obstacles.
One practical application of Snyder’s Hope Theory is Re-Mission, a video game for cancer patients, developed by HopeLab’s Pam Omidyar, Pam Kato, and UCLA’s Steven Cole.
Adolescent patients in remission with acute leukemia, lymphoma, and soft-tissue sarcoma are required to continue daily chemotherapy treatments for up to several years.
Those who miss even 20% of their daily treatments increase their mortality risk by 200%.
Kato collaborated with Cole, West Virginia University’s Andrew Bradlyn and Brad Pollock of University of Texas to evaluate video-game interventions to improve young people’s medication adherence.
They conducted a randomized trial with baseline and 1 month and 3 month assessments at 34 medical centers in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
Volunteers were 375 males and females between 13 to 29 years old undergoing chemotherapy for at least 4 months.
Participants in the video game tailored to young cancer patient increased adherence to chemotherapy by 50%, and showed increased self-efficacy and knowledge, compared with those who played commercial video games or no video games.
fMRI studies showed that their brains were most active when they played the game instead of observing the game interface.
Most active areas were:
- Limbic structures including caudate, putamen, and nucleus accumbens, measuring anticipatory excitement before securing a reward
- Thalamus, “the internet of the brain”
- Hippocampus, the link between experience and long-term memory
Cole further evaluated Re-Mission and Zamzee, a motivational system to promote physical activity among young people, and now leads HopeLab’s Re-Mission 2 to further amplify positive health behavior and resilience.
-*How do you leverage hope to improve your work performance and health behaviors?
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