By Lynn Sadlowski

A strategy to develop hope through goals, waypower and willpower

Positive psychology is a fairly recent branch of psychology to emerge. Using scientific understanding and effective intervention, this particular area of psychology focuses on building strength, resilience and a satisfactory life. While many other branches of psychology tend to focus on dysfunction and treatment, positive psychology is centered on helping people become happier, prosper and lead healthy lives. Hope is a relatively recent subject of research in the field of positive psychology (Snyder 2002).

Hope may be defined as an emotion, a feeling. It’s a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. It’s a feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. While it can be described as a feeling, it can also be characterized as a “thought process” and when seen this way, it becomes something that can be learned. As teachers and counsellors, we can encourage and model hopeful thinking. Hopeful people are optimistic and determined. They learn that they are not passive recipients of what happens, but active players in their future.

To be hopeful, Dr. Snyder, a pioneer in hope research and professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas says “a person needs three things: goals, waypower and willpower” (Gorenberg, n.d.).

At a very young age, humans exhibit goal-directed behaviour. An infant reaching out to grasp an object is exhibiting goal-directed behaviour. Throughout life, in order to achieve their goals, individuals must see themselves as capable of finding plausible routes to attaining their goals.

Waypower allows individuals to reach their goals, even when they might experience obstacles or unexpected hurdles. When faced with a barrier, individuals can either give up or create new routes to goal achievement. Low hope individuals are more likely to give up. High hope individuals view barriers as challenges to overcome and use their waypower to plan an alternative route to their goals.

Willpower is the “energy to pursue those goals” (Gorenberg, n.d.). Not only do individuals need to see themselves as capable of finding plausible routes to attaining their goals, those with high hope often produce several pathways and are very effective at finding multiple and alternative routes when faced with barriers. It is easier for individuals to harness willpower when they have a clear goal in mind. Therefore, being hopeful is aided by being able to clearly articulate one’s goals.

Strategies for enhancing hope in our clients and our students:

Individuals without hope may be less likely to be motivated to engage in career planning activities or on-going career management. With hope, people can expect good things in the future. We can apply hope theory to our work in career counselling and education by providing suggestions across three categories — those involving goals, waypower, and willpower.

Strategies for helping clients and students develop goals:

          • Encourage goals that excite the individual.
          • Calibrate goals to the individual’s age and specific circumstances.
          • Discuss and encourage goals in various aspects of their lives and help them rank them by importance.
          • Ensure clients and students select several goals. That way they can turn to another important goal when they face with an insurmountable barrier.
          • Teach those you work with how to set SMART goals.

Strategies for helping clients and students develop Waypower:

            • Goals established based on self-awareness and personal desire are more energizing than those imposed by others (peers, parents, or teachers).
            • Help clients and students to understand the importance of and monitor their self-talk. Encourage them to talk in positive voices (e.g., I can do this; I will keep at it).
            • Provide your clients and students with examples of how others have succeeded or overcome adversity.
            • Encourage everyone to enjoy the journey in reaching their goals as much as the thrill of achieving them.

Strategies for helping clients and students develop Willpower:

            • Ensure large goals are broken down into smaller sub-goals (step-by-step sequence).
            • Encourage clients and students to think about their goals (e.g. what will you need to do to attain your goal?) and to identify several routes to a desired goal (e.g. what will you do if you encounter a barrier?).
            • Support “keep-going thinking.” If one pathway does not work, try other routes.
            • People often need to learn that a barrier is not necessarily a lack of ability or talent. A new skill may be needed to help them reach their goal. Encourage them to learn it and then find a new route to their goal.
            • Remind them that they can always ask for help.

Over the last 25 years, high hope has been found to correlate positively with academic achievement and lower levels of depression (Marques & Lopez 2011).

Hopeful thinkers achieve more, and are physically and psychologically healthier than less hopeful people (Snyder, 2002; Marques & Lopez 2011). P.S. If you are working with high school students, introduce them to a variety of resources including ChatterHigh ( Used daily in career education classrooms, students explore all things positive about career planning, goal setting, figuring out pathways and being hopeful for the future.


Lynn Sadlowski currently works as an Education Consultant for ChatterHigh and as a Career Counsellor at Queen’s University. She can be reached at


Gorenberg, G. (n.d.). Raising a Hopeful Child: Why an upbeat outlook is the #1 secret to kids’ success. Retrieved from

Marques, S. and Lopez, S. (2011). Research-Based Practice: Building Hope in Our Children. NASP Communiqué, 40(3). Retrieved from

Snyder, C. R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows in the mind. Psychological inquiry13(4), 249-275. Snyder, C. R., Rand, K. L., & Sigmon, D. R. (2002). Hope theory. Handbook of positive psychology, 257-276.