Failure is never fatal; success is never final. It is the courage to continue what counts.[1]

Hope has been one of the key topics within positive psychology. Considerable research has been dedicated to examining this important subject but for the most part, the results remain limited to a few interested academics. Among the general public, the scientific understanding of hope is still absent. Many people would find it difficult to explain what we mean by hope. How is it different from a daydream, a myth, or an illusion? One common idea is that hope is synonymous with wishful thinking used by people in the attempt to avoid the harsh reality.   

The dominant theory within psychology sees hope as the perception of being able to create means to achieve desired goals and to motivate oneself to employ these means until the goals are achieved. Hence, hope is related to having realistic and specific goals, believing in personal agency as well as the ability and the possibility of creating several practical ways to attain the desired ends. To have hope means to trust yourself and appreciate your abilities based on facts, not self-deception.

As humans, one of our main strengths and weaknesses is motivation. It is the fire that keeps us going and makes life enjoyable. It is what makes us keep fighting and not give up. It is hard however, to remain highly motivated for a long time and against the obstacles. Hence, we need to find ways to maintain our interest and focus, without caving in to stress. In order to study for a major exam such as the medical board assessment, many doctors tend to create a complex system to stay focused. Some plan trips and vacations between the different sections. Some use different materials from which to study. Some create study groups that have similar interests. Some isolate themselves at specific times. Some convince themselves that they are qualified and would pass, while others remind themselves that the issue is serious and they need to work hard. Some try to reduce their stress, while others know that they perform best under pressure. Many implement a combination of various techniques to stay motivated and hence hopeful that they would pass this difficult, long exam.  

In order to have hope, we need to find goals which we desire. Then, we need to find methods to achieve these goals, and afterward, we need to figure out ways to maintain our interest in carrying on with it. Many people have failed to achieve their aims because they lost interest halfway through. Many could not even create pathways to attain their desires. Others quit just when they were about to reach the target.

In many cases, failure is the direct result of having fake goals. Before undertaking a vital project such as majoring in a specific subject at university, starting a business, getting into a relationship, we might forget to ask ourselves the essential questions:

Do I really know what this thing entails?
Do I really want it? Why?
How I am to achieve it?
Can I stay focused until the end? Why and how?
What are the alternatives?
What if I failed and what if I succeed?

Taking some time to think about these questions in a frank and comprehensive way is one of the secrets of success.



[1] A quote attributed to Churchill, however, no source is available.

For further reading, see  Handbook of positive psychology (2002) edited by C. R. Snyder and Shane J. Lopez, and articles by C. R. Snyder.