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How Hope Theory Explains Thought and Emotion

September 10, 2021 by Coach Training EDU

We’ve all had that day. The one where the universe seems to be unraveling at the seams. You wake up late and find out you forgot to set the coffee the night before – a trip through the drive-through just leads to a lap-full of coffee on your way to work. Once you finally arrive, you notice your usual parking spot is taken, and you have to park a block down. At work, you’re bombarded with questions and meetings before you even notice your shirt is on inside out. When you think it’s all over, you get a flat tire on your way back home.

On days like this, a meltdown is looming. Forget about goals, hopes, and dreams – it’s just about survival. Negativity has you spiraling.

This is a small-scale example of how thoughts, emotions, and hope can all interact. The relationship between the three concepts is complex and dynamic, and it becomes even more complicated on a larger scale. However, taking the time to understand your thoughts and emotions through the lens of hope theory is the first step in managing your behaviors – as well as your overall outlook.

A Recap of Hope Theory

The idea of hope theory is foundational to learning how hope, thought, and emotion relate to one another. Developed by positive psychologist C.R. Snyder, this theory defines hope as a “positive motivational state” about what a person is capable of achieving.

The two main components in hope theory are pathways and agency (https://www.jstor.org/stable/1448867). Pathways are about finding ways to reach your goal, and people who can think of multiple pathways toward achieving their goals are more likely to feel hopeful. Agency is about believing you have the internal resources to create and follow these pathways. People must have enough agency to feel as though their goals are actually attainable.

In short, hope theory states that hope comes from a type of goal-oriented thinking. It lives in thought processes, but these thought processes can be heavily impacted by our emotions.

How Do Thoughts and Emotions Affect Hope?

Many life coaching clients experience a state of stuck-ness, and they’re searching for ways to step over the obstacles between their goals and themselves. Sometimes it’s a negative thought pattern at play, and sometimes a perfect storm of emotions is causing the block. The life coaching process is all about asking powerful questions to get to the root of these issues.

Discovering whether thoughts or emotions are the basis for your client’s struggles can feel like a chicken and egg scenario. But through powerful questions, you will likely discover that consistent negative emotions are housing a false belief about the self.

Dealing with both the thoughts and emotions is critical. While a person’s beliefs about pathways and agency are fundamental to hope, it’s also important to recognize that our feelings can also inform our thought processes. Our emotional state can impact many parts of our cognitive functions, from perception and attention to problem-solving and memory.

Because of this, negative emotions can be detrimental to our thought processes. Feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety can limit our attention span and make it difficult to think clearly. As a result, clients who are in a negative emotional state may not feel capable of discovering new pathways toward achieving their goals, or they may not be able to believe in themselves enough to feel hopeful.

Conversely, uplifting emotions of happiness, joy, or elevation can prompt creativity and self-belief. A positive emotional state can encourage clients to think in a way that generates good self-image, hopefulness, and enthusiasm.

How Does Hope Affect Thought and Emotion?

Though the cycle of hope begins with our thoughts and emotions, our level of hope can also profoundly impact how we think and feel – particularly over a period of time. Hope theory argues that higher levels of hope and motivation can lead to more optimism, creativity, and happiness.

This idea doesn’t stop in theory, though; several studies also indicate that hopefulness is correlated to higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Higher levels of hope and motivation are connected to positive emotions, heightened self-belief, and contentment. 

If we are hopeful, we have more motivation to achieve our goals, leading us to persevere through difficult situations. Encouraging clients to keep their goals at the forefront of their minds can help them feel a sense of purpose or pride in their work, which can help build motivation even when things get tough. 

Can You Use Hope Theory to Control Your Thoughts and Emotions?

Hope Theory is one of the pillars CTEDU has built its coach training model on – it’s a powerful way of capturing what is possible for a person. Understanding how thoughts and emotions, both in the moment and long-term, impact our level of hope (and therefore our level of happiness and ability to accomplish our goals), helps us recognize that our outlook and outcomes are sparked in our mind and receive their fuel from our emotions.

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