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How Hope Breeds Success

E. Forrest Christian Motivation Leave a Comment

People who have always been fully employed often pooh-pooh the idea that simply being unemployed can have detrimental effects on people, especially men. Even though they have never struggled to find work, usually moving seamlessly from one position to another, they have strong opinions on the laziness of the long-term unemployed.

Studies in unemployment show how a long-drawn-out idleness affects all parts of a person’s life. Thrown out of a job, the individual tries to keep hoping. When he finally gives up, he frequently restricts his action much more than he has to. Even though he hasplenty of time, he begins to neglect his home duties. He may cease to leave his immediate neighborhood; even his thinking and his wishes become too narrow. This atmosphere spreads to his children, and they, too, become narrow-minded even in their ambitions and dreams. In other words, the individual and family as a whole present a complete picture of low morale.

An analysis of this behavior shows the importance of that psychological factor which commonly is called “hope”. Only when the person gives up hope does he stop “actively reaching out”; he loses his energy, he ceases planning, and, finally, he even stops wishing for a better future. Only then does he shrink to a primitive and passive life. [p. 103]

[Lewin, Kurt (1948 [1942]), “Time Perspective and Morale” in Resolving Social Conflicts (New York: Harper & Brothers), pp. 103-124]

This hope isn’t simple Pollyanna-ism, insisting that only the best things are going to happen.

Real hope is much more complex than that. David Copperrider, creator of the Appreciative Inquiry methodology, reported during a conference talk (Chicago, 2003) how this works for people with possibly terminal diseases. The patients in the study with the highest survival rates had a particular kind of hope: their rosy pictures of the future outnumbered their bleak ones 2 to 1. Those who had even numbers fell into despair. Those who had only rosy pictures also died, at similar rates.

Hope is not being pollyanna-ish, or even even-keeled, but more hopeful than bleak in one’s imagination of the future.

Lewin also discusses M.L. Farber’s work with prisoners. Farber measured inmates’ felt sufferring against an “objective” measure of their prison work. The correlation between the “objective” measure and their felt suffering was .01 (that is, none at all). However, when inmates felt that their lot was going to improve — that they would leave prison early or simply had a just sentence — Farber found a strong correlation with your level of suffering.

The actual length of the sentence and the length of time served do not correlate strongly with the ammount of suffering; however, a marked relationship does exist between the suffering and a man’s feeling that he has served longer than he justly should have served (r=.66). [pp 107]

Lewin then moves on to point out how success will breed success:

Experimental data show that although past successes are most effective if they have been won in the same field of activity, nevertheless “substitute successes” and, to a lesser degree, mere praise and encouragement still bolster persistency. An individual may likewise be taught to be more persistent and to react less emotionally to obstacles if encouraging past experiences are built up. [108]

Of course, Lewin was writing 70 years ago. Contemporary research on motivation shows that praise can be self-defeating. You have to be careful what you praise someone for. If you praise them for being something (“You are so smart!”) you actually undermine their potential persistency. If you praise them for working hard, you increase their persistency.

Image credit: Graphicstock.com

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps individuals and companies find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants, both as individuals and as leaders of organizations at least as diverse. [contact]

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