Hope Theory excels in its ability to explain the efficacy of the coaching model from the coach’s and client’s point of view.
Several theories have had a profound influence on the ideas that form the foundation of coaching. Drawing from pieces of humanistic psychology, the number of theories about human decision-making and goal achievement is vast. These elements offer a strong foundation for the efficacy of coaching.
The model also aligns neatly with the Learn-Be-Do categorization of questions that has been a key concept Coach Training EDU has woven throughout its coach training courses for the past decade.
C.R. Snyder offers the following definition of Hope Theory: “Hope is a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful (a) agency (goal-directed energy), and (b) pathways (planning to meet goals).” (p. 287)
He split motivation into four different aspects: agency, pathways, goals, and obstacles.
The first aspect includes the assumptions you have about who you are and what you can learn. In terms of Hope Theory, this aspect is called agency. One of the characteristics that distinguish a seasoned coach from an inexperienced coach is the degree to which the coach uses challenges and setbacks to explore what the client is learning about themselves and what character traits the challenge is addressing. In other words, an experienced coach asks about a client’s agency.
In Hope Theory, agency is defined as one’s belief in learning the required knowledge and using or gaining the required skills to achieve a goal. Many life coaching exercises, from the Future Self to the Inner Critic, apply tools to help clients take different approaches and develop a deeper sense of agency.
The second aspect is what action plan you think is worth the effort to achieve the goal. In Hope Theory, this aspect is referred to as a pathway. Pathways are the routes you map to reach your goals, and time is the landscape on which you map your pathways. Snyder explains that time is a continuum of past, present, and future, and we tend to think about time as a line. To construct a pathway, someone links sequential actions from their present toward their cognitive construction of a future goal. Hopeful people tend to be confident in their pathways, and their pathways tend to be well-articulated. If one pathway doesn’t work, hopeful people can construct another one to reach their goal.
On the other hand, people with low hope levels struggle to identify clear pathways. Because the pathways aren’t clear, it is hard to commit to them fully. If they don’t work, it’s easy to throw in the towel.
The next element of Hope Theory is goals. This includes three different stages. The first stage is the preliminary decision-making process of which goals to consider and the value of the possible outcomes. This stage includes the learning, assumptions, and past experiences mixed with hopes, dreams, and fears of the future. The next stage occurs during the action steps. During this stage, actions are measured by the degree to which they achieve desired results. This leads us to stay engaged, increase our engagement, take a break, or disengage.
The final stage is reflection and learning, and it is marked by the absorption of experiences that happen when the results tumble in. This final stage feeds back into ideas and assumptions about agency and possible pathways, completing the cycle and starting it anew.
Goals can range from lofty (such as introducing and cultivating coaching concepts in the way we learn, work, and live) to simple (such as completely cleaning the office desktop). We can consider goals through agency, pathways, and the value of the outcomes over decades or in the blink of an eye.
The final element of Hope Theory is the obstacle. Borrowing from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory, obstacles are necessary for the process of optimal experience. Without some kind of challenge, one can’t slip into the optimal experience (“flow”), where one’s skill set matches the challenge at hand, envelops awareness, and is intensely satisfying. When obstacles confront us, Hope Theory helps us look at how ideas and emotions about our agency and pathways interplay to increase or decrease our engagement.
The magic begins when you consider the interplay between agency and pathway in all stages of motivation and coaching elements. Coaching excels at helping clients make better decisions and improve the quality of the decisions they consider. Clients explore their ideas and assumptions about their expectations, perspectives, skills, limiting beliefs, and mindsets during coaching sessions. They mindfully craft action steps and accountability. When working with a skilled coach, clients learn to address their empowered assumptions about agency and clarify options and insights about possible pathways to reach their goals.
Over the past decade, Coach Training EDU has adopted a Learn-Be-Do model of categorizing questions, giving coaches-in-training a framework for the kinds of questions that are useful while coaching. This framework aligns well with the aspects of Hope Theory. Indeed, each framework gains depth when combined with the others.
Learn-Be-Do is the coaching model CTEDU uses to remind coaches how to balance learning, being, and doing questions.
Learning points primarily to the insights clients have about what they are capable of achieving and the strategies and action steps required to achieve a goal.
Potential Learning Questions include:
Being refers to the characteristics your client already has or wants to develop. Being also includes the energy a client brings to a project, assumptions about their abilities, and assumptions about what new achievements mean to their identity. When meshed with Hope Theory, Being lines up with agency, goals, and obstacles.
Potential Being Questions Include:
Doing refers to the action steps taken toward the goal and the systems a client puts in place to work toward it. Usually, toward the end of a coaching session, a client will design an action step to implement before the next coaching session. The coach and the client then co-design how best to help the client stay accountable and incorporate the insights gained from the coaching session into their implementation of the action step(s). When applied to Hope Theory, Doing lines up with pathways, goals, and obstacles.
Potential Doing Questions Include: