Thursday, May 13, 2010

Now Blogging on Hope at Psychology Today

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hopeful Words on the First Day of School

Imagine that your future can be better than the present and believe that you have the talent, support, and responsibility to make it so. I wish I would have heard this speech ( when I was a kid. Here is an excerpt.

Portion of Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama

Back to School Event

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country. 
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in. 
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse. 
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right. 
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying. 
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future. 
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America. 
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall. 
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same. 
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it. 
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things. 
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK.  Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." 
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying. 
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in. 
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals. 
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best. 
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?  
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

HopeBanks Bailout America's Youth

When I was 20 years old I was determined to go to a good graduate school (out of Louisiana) and get a PhD in psychology and then a great job. I had good grades, adequate test scores, and strong letters of recommendation. Trouble was, I did not know how to type (makes filling out 15 applications challenging), I was a poor writer (my essays were atrocious), I had rarely been out of Louisiana, and I had never been on a plane. To make my dream come true, I had to take a risk and let lots of people know about my goal. I had to ask folks to invest in my goal by sharing their resources with me. People stepped up by typing my applications (while I was learning to type), helping me answer questions about myself and my future (and proofing and reproofing my essays), giving me the confidence to apply far and wide, and donating an airline ticket.

I was lucky to be surrounded by people who believed in me and in my goal. Over the years I have wondered how other young people with big goals get people to invest in them. It just might help to have a formal way to connect young people with big dreams with the resources from caring adults. What would happen if we opened a HopeBank in every community?

Local HopeBanks would create opportunities for community members to invest in the future of local youth. A HopeBank links young people with clear goals for their future with the resources from community members. Community members invest in young people and their ideas by linking personal resources (specifically time, talent, knowledge, and skills) to the needs of the youth. As a member of a HopeBank, an individual or a small group of committed adults open a HopeBank and solicit investment ideas, or goals for the future, from youth through schools and youth organizations. A representative of the HopeBank works with youth to refine these goals to make them specific and additive, with very clear markers of progress and an attainment timeline. The goal and a list of resources needed are then posted on the HopeBank website which is reviewed periodically by members.

Imagine that a company of 2000 people opens a HopeBank in their community. 50 employees sign up as members of the bank and they solicit investment ideas from youth in schools within a few miles of the workplace. Dozens (maybe hundreds) of accounts are opened by youth by submitting goals that are then refined with the help of the bank manager to make them more attainable; the revised goals are then posted. At that point, bank members (i.e., the investors) attempt to match their resources with the needs of local youth. For example, imagine if a student submits this proposal, “Soon-to-be first generation college student needs help preparing for entrance exams and writing college essays.” The HopeBank manager would help the student clarify the goals, the timeline, and the assistance needed. Upon posting, members could work through the bank manager to offer time, talent, knowledge, and skills needed to help the student get into college. Accounts would be updated online (for members and account holders to see) and return on investment in youth will be tracked over time with updates from young people and members.

Open a HopeBank in your community. Find local kids with big goals and invest in them.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Our Next Big Hope Moment

We were at out best. We made the world a promise and delivered. We lassoed the moon 40 years ago. 500 million people watched and celebrated. On July 20, 1969, we had our last big hope moment.

4 out of 5 people alive today were born after the moon landing. They, I mean we, have lived our whole lives without a big hope moment. Yes, we did get a good bump in the 1980s; we got to “tear down that wall” and yes, we do “believe in miracles.” But, neither the fall of communism nor the defeat of the Russian hockey team made half the population excited about the future. The 1990s, well, they were ok, but not great. From 2001-2007, we were very, very scared, then we were euphoric, and then the free money ran out.

Now, we are due. We need that moment that brings us all together and makes us believe in each other and in the next 10,000 tomorrows. This big hope moment won’t create itself. We need to call our shot, whether it involves education, technology, the environment. Frankly, I really don’t care what it is; I just want one billion people to get behind something positive and meaningful.

 “Oh boy!” That’s what Cronkite said when man landed on the moon. Aren’t you ready for an “oh boy” moment?


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Hope Lessons

Most of what I know about hope, I picked up from other people. In April 1997, I learned two lessons about hope. With my coursework behind me, I was wrapping up my last few months of clinical training at the Eisenhower VA Medical Center. The staff psychiatrist popped into my office. He had a case for the soon-to-be psychologist. Dr. McNutt (real name…couldn’t make that up) threw me several softballs during my time in the clinic. The case of Paul Carlson (pseudonym to protect client confidentiality) was not what I expected.

Paul was a full-bodied 63-year old veteran who had spent his life in the farm fields of Kansas. He was a pragmatist, from his work boots to his flattop to his no nonsense approach to life. In shock from a diagnosis of kidney failure he had only one fix – suicide. See, Paul had never heard of a farmer running a farm while on dialysis, so that treatment option did not make sense. Not getting treated would leave him too sick to work the fields. Get treatment, lose the farm. Don’t get treatment, lose the farm. Lose the farm, lose all sense of meaning. Paul wanted to avoid losing the farm, by any means necessary. That day, Paul and I completed Lesson #1: hope depends on the quality of our relationship with future.

Though few of my clinical techniques worked with Paul that first day, he did get to the point where he was no longer a danger to himself. With the help of his family and friends, we made sure that Paul had a safe home to return to and plenty of support.

The next day, he came back to the clinic and started Lesson #2 with a question, “What’s my story?” After fumbling a bit, I was able to grasp the full meaning of what he was asking. Paul wanted to know how talk about being ill, going to treatment, and getting better or getting worse. He hated the question, “How are you doing?” and wanted to have a go-to answer. We spent the next two hours talking about hope as an active process that requires constant attention. At the beginning of the next session, he told me, “I got it. ‘I am working on it’ When people ask me how I am doing, I tell them, ‘I am working on it.’” Lesson #2: hope is active and it fueled by the language we use.

Now, the two lessons Paul shared with me add to my book learning about people and hope.

Hope Lesson #1: We are the only creatures on the planet that truly think about the future. The quality of our relationship with the future determines our hopefulness. Future thinking at its best gives us high hope.

Hope Lesson #2: Human language makes hope infinite. Hope is brought alive by the stories we tell to ourselves and about ourselves. These stories live on, as does our hope.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hope for America's Students

Hope is a better predictor of future achievement than standardized tests and GPA. And, hope is probably as important as intelligence when taking an exam ( Hope plays a role in every person’s life, and it determines the academic trajectory of every student. Shouldn’t we know more about the hope of America’s students?

Measuring Hope with the Gallup Student Poll

Over the next 10 years, the Gallup Student Poll will measure the hope of every 5th through 12th grader in America. The inaugural poll surveyed 70,078 students from 335 schools and 59 districts located in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Here is a summary of the hope results from the poll.

Half of students are hopeful; these students possess numerous ideas and abundant energy for the future. The other half of students are stuck or discouraged, lacking the ideas and energy they need to navigate problems and reach goals. Hope varies little across grade levels.

Most students (95%) agree or strongly agree with the statement: “I know I will graduate from high school.” The belief that a student will graduate from high school is positively correlated with student responses to the following items: “There is an adult in my life who cares about my future” and “I can find lots of ways around any problem.” Unfortunately, there is a slight disconnect between this expectation for graduation and the potential outcome suggested by data on the dropout crisis. While 95% of today’s students say they will graduate, fewer than 75% of students will receive a high school diploma.

See for a brief video describing poll results.

Doubling Hope

Half of the young people in America need more help to develop skills for hopeful thinking. Doubling the number of hopeful kids will yield America’s Most Hopeful Generation. So, help a student in the pursuit of an important goal and teach her how to hope for a better future.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hope for Today, Hope for the Future

(originally posted on

What is Hope?

Watching children on a playground tells you all you need to know about hope. A child’s vision transforms a series of obstacles (tall ladders, hard to reach monkey bars, wobbly wooden bridges) into limitless opportunities for fun. Goals become very clear (“I am going to swing across all the monkey bars.”), the plan develops (“I am going to climb the ladder, grab the bar, and swing from the first one to the second one.”), and support is requested (“Can you help me up?”) while confidence grows (“I think I got it. Yeah, I am doing it!”).
Hope happens when we focus our thoughts on clear and meaningful goals. We concentrate on the future we want, reflect on our goals, and think about all the ways we can make our vision of the future a reality. When we put our thoughts about our goals together with ideas and energy for the future, we are most hopeful. Ideas are shaped into pathways to a goal and the energy, or personal agency, is built up over time. So, the statement “These are the many ways I can get there from here” reflects the ideas or pathways of hope. And, “I am excited and confident about getting there from here!” captures the energy of agency. Contentment, pride, and joy come about when we use our hopeful thinking and overcome obstacles. Frustration, sadness, and anger bubble up when obstacles wear us down.
The essence of hope is having the drive to set and pursue goals, to take risks, to initiate action. Hope fuels problem-solving and it helps us develop personal strengths and social resources. More specifically, having hope makes us more likely to do well in school and to take good care of our health.

Why Hope is Important?

Whether your child is experiencing good times or bad times, hope can help. During a good day, when a child is thinking about a bright future, hope helps him persist on important tasks, create challenging stretch goals that foster growth, and build new resources through successful experiences. On tough days, ones that involve failure or illness, hope helps a child overcome major obstacles. For example, if a child receives a poor grade on a test, she revisits her goal for that class, adds or modifies the pathways to achieving that goal, and searches for more support and confidence. In short, she makes hope happen when she is under pressure. When facing more serious problems in life, like chronic pain and illness, hope works to make situations more bearable or makes the recuperative process more productive. Specifically, high-hope people can tolerate pain twice as long as people with low-hope. And, high-hope people are more likely to do what needs to be done to bounce back and become healthy again.

What Does a High Hoper Look Like?

A high-hope child has the ideas, the plans, and the motivation to make things happen. These youngsters are energetic in the moment and excited about the future. Hopeful children are not sitting on the sidelines. They are busy creating pathways to achieve goals and they are filled with the determination to succeed, thereby actively engaging in life and all its possibilities. Through interacting with the world, they are able to acquire the tools and resources they need to successfully navigate their lives. They may even create a hope domino effect that gets their friends and family members involved in hopeful goal pursuits.

Teaching Hope

Getting children talking about hope is as easy as asking them a few questions and discussing the answers:
1. What are your hopes and dreams? Which one is most important to you right now?
2. What are all the ways you can think about to make your most important dream come true?
3. Who makes you feel like you matter? How will their love and support help make your dream come true?
When helping your child become more hopeful, keep in mind that that you are teaching a set of skills that build on what children do naturally, thinking about the future. With a little help, children can learn how to describe important goals in terms that are clear and specific and add something to their lives. Ideas grow as children generate more and more routes that will take them from Point A to Point B in the short term and long term. Finally, with some love and caring and a short track record of personal success, children can stay energized and motivated when pursuing goals.