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The Anatomy of Hope

“Hope” is not one of those words I’ve ever particularly resonated with.

This is probably because hope has always felt rather passive – like wishful thinking rather than wishful doing (which I much prefer).

Reframed in the context of “faith” (another process that remains very much a mystery), hope makes a bit more sense, since faith implies that at least someone or something else (assuming the entity or concept one has faith in) is taking action towards what is being hoped for.

But recently I read a brand new take on hope in Brene Brown’s new book, “Rising Strong.”

She writes:

Hope is not an emotion: It’s a cognitive process – a thought process made up of what researcher C.R. Snyder called the trilogy of “Goals, pathways, and agency.” Hope happens when we can set goals, have the tenacity and perseverance to pursue those goals, and believe in our own abilities to act.

Snyder also points out (as conveyed through Brown) that “hope is learned.”

At this point it occurred to me that I probably haven’t learned it.

But I do really like this new way of approaching hope – as an active process, not passive wishing or waiting.

Brown goes on to mention that the development of hope is a by-product of struggling in life. Adversity, failure – this is the stuff hope is born from.

Oddly, I have had plenty of both of these, and yet I didn’t learn hope from them. 

I learned hardship instead. I learned to expect more adversity and failure. I learned to be even harder on myself than others around me, because that way a) they would eventually back off and leave me to my own tender mercies, and b) I knew anger IS an effective motivator for me (even if hope has not as of yet been).

Looking back on my life to date, I see how I have accomplished a great deal through the strategic channeling of anger. Anger is a very potent fuel. Anger makes taking action not just easy but sometimes nearly effortless.

Oddly, I learned early on to channel my anger inward first (to avoid a revealing explosion of it) and then outward again towards a goal (usually one that would “show them,” whoever the “them” of the day happened to be.

One of the best examples of this from my past is the week I entered sixth grade. In that same week, not one, not two but three people close to me told me I was too fat to be socially acceptable.

That all changed three months later when I returned for seventh grade after summer break….and an epic two-decade battle with an eating disorder had been launched.

So sometimes in the past I have misdirected my anger towards the wrong goal. But let me also say that, once I realized I preferred getting better over staying sick, I then channeled my anger towards that goal and achieved it as well.

Today I no longer feel angry every time I set a goal for myself. For this reason, when I achieve a goal I’ve set, I also no longer feel vindication so much as validation.

I am now realizing my new method of goal-setting-and-achievement rather resembles Snyder’s definition of hope (as passed along through Brown):

Set a goal – persevere towards that goal with tenacity – achieve the goal.

In fact, it could be hope’s twin….and, in this way, a mentor I can really appreciate and benefit from as well.

Today’s Takeaway: What is your relationship with the word “hope?” Is it an inspiring, motivating word to hear? Do you ever wonder if you understand what hope really means or what it really feels like? (I do, all the time!!) What is your take on Snyder’s definition of hope – do you agree or disagree?

Woman runner photo available from Shutterstock

The Anatomy of Hope

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2016). The Anatomy of Hope. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Sep 2016
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