What is Hope & Optimism?
You’re in charge of your mind. You can help it grow by using it in the right way
— Carol Dweck
Understanding what hope and optimism is and how it relates to your learning can open up new possibilities for growth - and how to harness them
Definition of Hope & Optimism
How are these universal and vital life assets best understood?
Your hope and optimism creates an internal climate for learning because you know that you can and will ‘get there in the end’. This hope propels your forwards and gives you Confidence that you can achieve your goals by trial and error when the going gets tough.
This is also sometimes called Self efficacy, and can affect the smallest of tasks, through to how we Choose and navigate a career path. We do better in learning when we can Attribute the location of failure and success in a balanced way - as both within and without of ourselves, have a realistic idea of how much is within our control to change - and that causes of things can also change over time.
Hope and Optimism doesn’t mean pretending to feel more confident in your abilities than you are, or trying to psych yourself up into a state of self-belief that gives you brief bursts of energy when its just dark and shadowy. It’s about knowing Deep down that you can achieve your purpose - that failure is universal and an important part of learning.
Hope and optimism requires your deeper awareness that you’ve got the ability to learn and harness the opportunities that mistakes and dead-ends can provide - with the help of the support you can find in people and places around you. You can see evidence of the sun’s energy in all matter surrounding you. In the same way, you can see evidence of how much you have mastered and grown when you survey your learning: even if you feel disheartened by your performance right now. Knowing that the fact that you keep moving forward is more important than performance, is essential. Hope and optimism also means knowing that you are a valid part of things; just as you are – including your mistakes.
Your hope and optimism has a positive impact on the Development of all your other learning skills, as you take to your goals with the graspability and power to reach for them, that this awareness can give you.
When can hope and optimism get discombobulating?
We’re probably all familiar with how exhausting ‘putting on a brave face’ can be - or perhaps keeping up appearances for our friends’ Instagram feeds, or having to do too much small talk at a family occasion. There might be many things which make us feel under Pressure to pretend we’re happier than we really are. These are the everyday - but nonetheless dangerous perils of when hope and optimism is imposed upon us; or when we impose them on ourselves.
A person might be called overly optimistic, or perhaps even suffering from Delusional optimism if they are too hopeful for something in the face of setbacks or unlikely odds. As a common human trait this has been called Optimistic bias; we tend to overestimate the likelihood of positive things happening to us, and underestimate the negative, as compared to others - especially if we are making comparisons from a distance. Optimism bias can have Problematic consequences such as taking unhealthy risks or creating false hope for oneself and others - the consequences of which must be coped with later.
While some say Being overly optimistic is good for business, we have a variety of economic case studies - from The elite festival that never happened to the more widely impactful Banking disaster of the last decade, to warn us of certain extremes.
In spite of reasons to tame our hopes for unrealistic (and perhaps unhealthy) goals, it might be argued that we can never be too hopeful or optimistic about the most essential virtues of life, if we’re willing to be guided by them. As climate activist Greta Thurnberg has pointed out with equally hopeful and devastating realism: The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.
Am I hopeful and optimistic?
Everybody’s ability to be hopeful and optimistic and take this into their learning, varies greatly across the lifespan, and depends on a multitude of factors. The good news is that we can all do something about it, through various ways of embracing ourselves and things around us, just as they are – enabling real change; rather than trying (and failing) to superimpose a better frame of mind, which can make us feel worse. If you’re reading this and you’re particularly low in hope and optimism, you might already be feeling defeated in the knowledge that you just don’t contain this ‘deeper awareness’ about yourself or the resources that your context affords you. If this is so; read on.
There are a collection of strategies that you might find helpful as you progress A little further through your learning journey. We call them ‘pathways’.
Barriers to Hope & Optimism
What gets you down enough that it causes problems with learning? - Answering this will be unique to every individual, but we have strong shared experiences.
If hope and optimism in learning is about feeling and believing that we can learn and develop, what are the things that cause us to doubt it?
We doubt ourselves - continually, and in alsorts of ‘creative’ ways. We doubt our intelligence, our skill, our knowledge, our ability to network, our ability to be heard, our creativity, our plausibility, our Ability to be disciplined - our very ability to succeed; and we think we are boring. Far from it. These shame-games keep us locked away from each other and from reality. We believe that others are better than ourselves - always more interesting, more likely to win prizes. Sometimes this is even a reason to fly higher, try harder, get faster - but often more out of anxiety, than a deep enough belief in our own capacities.
We doubt the world: with a tendency to see the dark side of things. Even the sunniest disposition is up against a universal human vulnerability to having our thinking tainted by negative events. The influence of disappointment or pain is to prepare us for more of the same. This was wired in for our own good by evolution, when we were still primarily reliant on the adaptive quality of our brains, to survive real, physical threats. But when survival in the 21st century is usually more a psychological than physical concern, these mechanisms can debilitate us, rather than serve us.
We fear failure. Fear is another influence we are hard wired to respond to. Success - (though the popular perception of what this actually is, has radically shifted throughout culture and time), is still an evolutionary marker of social acceptability to our very primal minds - because for millennia of our ancestors, it meant literal survival. We therefore find ourselves genuinely afraid of missing this target; on a daily basis. This occurs no matter how good we are at rationalising it away, or admonishing ourselves for it. In fact - this can make it worse. Perfectionism can result, and make our field of expression much tighter, less creative and less interesting - causing us to ‘miss the target’. And then of course; becoming even less disposed to hope and optimism.
We can also fear success - not something that is often talked about. Especially not in polite company, when it is much more socially ‘adaptive’ to deny you have anything remotely to praise yourself for. You are probably racking your brains right now, to search for traces of a fear of success. And it isn’t an easy one to locate - but it is there. Because humans are naturally glorious; and that quirky glory exposes us to attention; something we both crave, fear we might lose again if we got it, or fear might also expose our inadequacies alongside our best bits.
Success can also lead to a change in our roles and responsibilities: such as leadership, the necessity to speak out more, becoming a spouse, parent or somebody’s boss, and ultimately - to let go of the familiar terrain of where we have got to so far in life.
We reinforce our pessimism through our own actions. Our doubt, shame and fear naturally cause us to behave in particular ways. We inhibit our efforts and responses: talking lower, talking more rarely, answering less fully, avoiding fancy words, or holding back from really, fully pursuing what interests us. In short: we hide. And sometimes we can hide behind a facade of confidence. Or knowledgeability. Or false humility. They all keep us trapped - stopped in our tracks and stunted in our growth. But the effect isn’t just static: worse than this is the confounding force of our own actions on the very doubt, shame and fear, that we seek to avoid. By hiding, pretending and playing small, we invite narrower opportunities, patronising treatment, and - failure itself. And so the cycle is formed; and is how it gathers momentum against us; ongoing until something can intervene.
Our pessimism is reinforced by the wider social world which is also subject to these self-fulfilling forces, but on a grand - and sometimes momentous, scale.
Your Learning Journal
Something highly recommended as you’re travelling this journey, is keeping a journal. Whether a paper journal, a scrapbook or a virtual space to record your thoughts and experiences chronologically; this provides a crucial reflective tool for you to clarify thoughts through creative expression, prompt and remind yourself of important learning, and track your progress as you look back on it. This will be a space for recording your responses to questions or Paths you encounter here, but it may also include much of your own ad-libbing and anything else that is helpful to you.
You’ll notice pointers along the way to encourage and remind on the use of your journal; but this can take whatever form you like.
What do I think that hope and optimism is?
How do I feel about the ideas I’ve found out about here?
Do they fit with my previous ideas?
What do I want to know more about hope and optimism?
What have I learned about hope and optimism that I didn’t know before?
Do I feel any kind of identification with either of the case examples? How does that feel?
Try a mind-map to represent my knowledge about hope and optimism so far
Choose an image or an object from the space around me that reflects something about me and hope and optimism
Try some free-association writing to express some key words that have resonated with me about hope and optimism
Re-write one of the case examples with an ending I’d prefer
How does hope and optimism affect you when learning?
Generate as many questions as you can, about something you’re interested in but perhaps been too self-doubtful, or too nervous to find out about.
Quiz to assess your mindset: is it fixed, or for growing?
Carole Dweick on her Growth Mindset model
TedTalk - 10 mins
How a growth mindset improves performance
Online academic article
Career Decision Self-Efficacy
Low self-efficacy and procrastination
Online academic article