Cultivating hope to achieve goals

“Hope is not the conviction that things will turn out well, but the conviction that what you are doing is meaningful, regardless of how it will turn out in the end.” Vaclav Havel

I would like to say thank you to our Lauriston students, teachers and parents who are doing their best to move forward and remain positive in the face of Lockdown 6 which has been particularly challenging. In my recent conversations, we have all acknowledged that we feel tired and it is more difficult to remain motivated and hopeful.

Our young people, in particular, need to feel confidence that the future will allow them to live happy and fulfilling lives. They need to have hope.

Psychologists take the view that adolescents or indeed anyone has hope when they believe they can find ways to achieve their goals and motivate themselves to try and follow pathways that will lead to those goals. Hope theory suggests that to have hope there are three things required.

Three ways to have hope.

  • Goals – something we are aiming to achieve in the future. For adolescents it is important that they can identify the purpose and value of what they are doing and set realistic goals for themselves.
  • Pathways – identifying at least one way that we might achieve those goals. ‘Pathway thinking’ refers to the cognitive ability of adolescents to plan feasible ways that will meet their desired goals, and also being able to generate alternative pathways when they encounter obstacles in goal attainment.
  • Agency – the belief that we can actually make things happen along those pathways in order to get the goal. ‘Agency thinking’ refers to the ability of adolescents to give attention to their willpower and perseverance when moving along the pathways to achieve their goals.

Hope and optimism are about positive expectations for the future. While optimism is when people expect good things to happen more than bad ones, hope allows us to establish well defined goals, develop strategies for reaching those goals and maintain the motivation to use those strategies.

Hope can bring oxygen into our consciousness. If we generate hope, we are motivated to act because we feel that there is a possibility that the outcome we want might happen.

Three ways to help hope.

  • Build a future focus. Speak to your daughters about their possible futures. What do they want to achieve and why? Have them imagine their potential best selves. Talk to them about what they are looking forward to. Ask them what they want to have, do and be.
  • Work with them on plans or pathways. Encourage your daughter when they speak about their career interests. What do you need to get there? Discuss pathways, options and possibilities. Thinking about the future and making plans is central in fostering hope.
  • When they are stuck, rather than giving them the answer, ask them, ‘What do you think is the next best thing to do?’ ‘When have you overcome something like this before?’ These types of questions promote a sense of agency. Rather than having children rely on their parents for all the answers, they can rely on themselves, their resourcefulness and initiative. They can recall times when they have succeeded and use that to build hope that they can succeed again.

Young people are capable generators

Research tells us that adolescents are very capable generators of personal goals though there will be a difference in the goal content and pursuit between younger and older adolescents. The cognitive ability of adolescents enables them to conduct reasoning, test hypotheses, set personal goals and plan realistically which in turn allows them to play an active role in envisaging future possibilities.

The research makes sense and I can see that setting goals and having a path to the fulfilment of those goals does help individuals to maintain a sense of hope. If I put this in the context of young people, our current pandemic may have left them with feelings of despair about the future. There has always been some level of predictability about the future. For example, for a young person there was a level of predictability that they would be able to attend school for years 11 and 12 without interruption and then move on to tertiary education. During those years, there would be opportunities to make connections with peers and adults, participate in sport and recreational activities, travel in Australia and overseas and hold a part time job. There would be opportunities to socialize and celebrate milestones in their lives.

Where there is challenge lies choice

The philosopher Epictetus who was born more than 2000 years ago wrote ‘It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters’ and he also believed that while there were things that were not within our control, our actions and choices were.

And so, I would contend that our young people can have hope for the future, but they will need to be patient and continue to practice by setting goals, establishing pathways and believing they will achieve what they set out to do. While our vision of what the future looks like has become fuzzy, this is a more compelling reason to set goals and work towards them.

It has been a pleasure for me to interview many of our Lauriston Year 11 senior students for 2021/22 leadership positions during the last week. Each girl was able to articulate their goals for the year ahead and they were very clear in explaining to me that while our school year may not be predictable, there were always ways of doing things differently which would lead to the successful completion of their goals.

On a personal note, I take heart from our girls and feel confident that they will continue to have hope for the future. They will be instrumental in creating the future and their goals will be fulfilled if they remain positive and adapt to the changes that will occur in our society.

Susan Just
Principal, Lauriston Girls’ School