Understanding Hope

Setting Goals For Your Future

By Louise Lubin, PhD.

What does HOPE mean to you? Did cancer change any of your goals for the future? How can you adjust goals and maintain hope while living with, through and beyond cancer?Finding Hope Dr. Charles Snyder one of the first developers of positive psychology created a “hope theory”.  “Hope is the sum of the mental willpower and waypower that you have for your goals”. Goals are the future events, objects or outcomes that you imagine and desire in your mind. “Goals involving hope fall somewhere between an impossibility and a sure thing.” Willpower (Agency) is the driving force in hopeful thinking. It comes from focusing on your desired goal as well as the mental energy you put towards this focus. Waypower (Pathway) reflects the mental plans or road maps that guide your hopeful thinking. Take Snyder’s scale to help you evaluate your thoughts about future goals. (from Snyder et al, 1991)

The Future Scale

Directions: Read each item carefully. Using the scale shown below, please select the number that best describes YOU and put that number in the blank provided.

1. = Definitely False 2. = Mostly False
 3. = Somewhat FalseFuture Ahead 4. = Slightly False 5. = Slightly True 
 6. = Somewhat True 7. = Mostly True 
 8. = Definitely True

___ 1. I can think of many ways to get out of a jam.

___ 2. I energetically pursue my goals.

___ 3. I feel tired most of the time.

___ 4. There are lots of ways around any problem.

___ 5. I am easily downed in an argument.

___ 6. I can think of many ways to get the things in life that are important to me

___7. I worry about my health.

___ 8. Even when others get discouraged, I know I can find a way to solve the problem.

___ 9. My past experiences have prepared me well for my future.

___10. I’ve been pretty successful in life.

___11. I usually find myself worrying about something.

___12. I meet the goals that I set for myself.

The Willpower subscale score is the sum of items 2, 9, 10, and 12. The Waypower subscale score is the sum of items1, 4, 6, and 8. The Future Scale Score is the total of these two scores. Scores range from a low of 8 to a high of 64.

What was your score?

What can you learn from this brief questionnaire? How much energy and focus do you have to drive your goals forward? What helps guides you towards your goals?

Some of Snyder’s suggestions for enhancing HOPE are :

  • Identifying your self talk about succeeding
  • Think of goals and setbacks as challenges not failures
  • Recall past successes
  • Look for stories of others successes
  • Find friends with whom you can discuss your goals
  • Find role models you can identify with
  • Do what you can to maintain your physical strength (through activity, sleep, nutrition)
  • Reward yourself for small goals you achieve
  • Establish new goals in the face of goals that are blocked or not attainable.

Hope is a state of mind—a dimension of the spirit and soul and does not just depend on the present situation. It is NOT the same as optimism or joy that things are going well. Hope is not dependent on any particular outcome.We can, however, not survive without hope.

Life is constantly changing and as it does, goals have to change. What you hope for must change as the events of your life (and illness) change. If you live with cancer, you must define goals for yourself that have a future focus. Although the future is unknown, your goals can adjust and change as your life does. Your focus could be living more fully each day . You can put your energy into seeking deeper connection in your relationships, managing physical pain more effectively, staying well to attend an important event, growing in your knowledge or skill in a particular subject.

Whatever is important to you now should be the focus of your hope and your goals. Life can shrink as we become more physically limited. Even when someone is nearing the end of life, they can and must maintain some goals. Hope and goals at the end of life must be expressed in terms other than the length of time one has left to live. The focus of hope at the end of life can be directed toward any goal that is meaningful at that special time.

Hope is even more basic to human nature than faith. Some have said faith is based on hope. Your faith beliefs or formal religious practices are as individual as each of you. Hope has been said to be a prayer without the formality. Hope is in the realm of spirit and a dimension of the spirit anchored beyond the horizon. It is vital to seek ways to nurture your hope and have future goals. Hopelessness leads to helplessness.

What brings you Hope?

  • Where do you feel the energy of hope and from whom do you receive it?
  • What situations or relationships drain you of hope? Can you in any way alter your time with those people and seek out those that build your hope?
  • Do you find hope in prayer, meditation, inspirational reading, writing, being in nature?

Use this information in any way that will help you begin to focus on your future goals. We know that trying to live with a sense of energy and focus and defining future goals is vital to the healing process.

Clinical Psychologist

To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil on it.

Mother Theresa

When the world says “ Give up” hope whispers, “ Try it one more time”.


There is no hope unmingled with fear and no fear unmingled with hope.

Baruch Spinoza

Hope is the power that gives us the power to step out and try.


Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without words and never stops… at all.

Emily Dickinson