How Long Does One Stay Hopeful in Business?

Hope by definition is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. Now back to the point: how long does one stay hopeful in business?

How Long Does One Stay Hopeful in Business?

Before I answer this very individual and personal question, let me just say this: I cannot predict the future. No one can. And if someone says differently…then they’re trying to sell you something!

In any business, uncertainty and hopelessness is the elephant in the room. Hopelessness and despair are a daily battle for every one of us. I include myself, because I am also a small business owner trying to make it here in L.A.

There are so many opportunities here that your life can change tomorrow. Tomorrow! And I have seen it.

Real Life Example:

My next-door neighbor who I have known for 15 years, is in his 50’s and he just landed a regular role on a TV show last month. And his advice is… don’t stop. Don’t give up hope. Keep going and it will work out. But he is the exception, not the rule. But the one thing that I have noticed is that he was always hopeful about his future. He was always working at his craft. And this dedication constantly brought jobs, in both TV and Commercials. Now he has a family and a house to keep up…so this was always his reality check. This was the one thing that gave him hope and drive to continue in the face of overwhelming odds.

Different Theories:

There are many psychologists that have many theories regarding hope. I am going to go into a few of them here, in an effort to learn more about what is at the heart of hope and how to develop it like a huge set of biceps.

Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill argues that hope comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. Dr. Frederickson argues that with great need comes an unusually wide range of ideas, as well as such positive emotions as happiness and joy, courage, and empowerment, drawn from four different areas of one’s self: from a cognitive, psychological, social, or physical perspective. Hopeful people are “like the little engine that could, [because] they keep telling themselves “I think I can, I think I can”. Such positive thinking bears fruit when based on a realistic sense of optimism, not on a naive “false hope”. For instance, we can be encouraged when we get a new contract or we get someone who is interested in having us work on a project for them. This is a great sign that you are getting better at selling your services, your products or your ideas. Hope is an indicator that “things might get better”.

The psychologist C.R. Snyder, Wright Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Kansas, linked hope to the existence of a goal, combined with a determined plan for reaching that goal: Alfred Adler had similarly argued for the centrality of goal-seeking in human psychology, as too had philosophical anthropologists like Ernst Bloch. Snyder also stressed the link between hope and mental willpower, as well as the need for realistic perception of goals, arguing that the difference between hope and optimism was that the former included practical pathways to an improved future.

Three main things that make up hopeful thinking:
  • Goals – Approaching life in a goal-oriented way.
  • Pathways – Finding different ways to achieve your goals.
  • Agency – Believing that you can instigate change and achieve these goals.

In other words hope was defined as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways. Snyder argues that individual’s who are able to realize these 3 components and develop a belief in their ability are hopeful people who can establish clear goals, imagine multiple workable pathways toward those goals, and persevere, even when obstacles get in their way.

For instance, we can very easily accomplish the second point: Finding different ways to achieve your goals. With the Internet and with selling on the web, you can find an audience for your services in the blink of an eye. Using Google Adwords or Facebook Advertising, you can pinpoint your to audience down to a certain country, a certain age group, gender, age and what they are interested in. To look for new clients using these approaches can be an amazing experience.

Professor Fred Luthans, management professor specializing in Organizational Behavior has an approach that he calls (POB) Positive Organizational Behavior.

The 4 Goals of POB:
  1. Shift the emphasis away from what is wrong with people to what is right with people.
  2. Focus on one’s strengths, as opposed to beating yourself up due to perceived weaknesses or screw-ups.
  3. Be interested and increase your resilience, as opposed to ones vulnerabilities.
  4. Concern yourself with enhancing and growing one’s wellness, prosperity and the good life, as opposed to going into the dark side.

Making the leap to POB can have a remarkable impact on how we do business. It pulls the intense focus away from under-performing, and it puts the attention instead on high performance…asking “how can we create more of this?” Because when you can create high-performance on command, then things can really begin to occur in a positive way. High Performance can be used when dealing with problems or with customers that are confused…customers that don’t really know what they want. Because this method teaches you to become laser focused on solving problems and issues. It helps you to look in unorthodox ways at trying a new solution…one no one has thought of before. And people in business must begin to learn how to “Think Out Of The Box”. They must learn how to address issues in a new way, thus putting them at the front of the pack. And quite possibly making their company thrive and succeed. Not crashing and burning due to skills they just don’t have yet.

Luthans and his colleagues have identified four qualities as the critical component in Positive Organizational Behavior.

  • Self efficacy: having confidence to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks.
  • Optimism: making a positive attribution and expectation about succeeding now and in the future.
  • Hope: persevering toward goals and, when necessary, redirecting paths to goals in order to succeed.
  • Resilience: when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond to attain success.

Psychologists associate these four qualities with higher performance, commitment, and satisfaction. I think one of the most interesting and exciting things about these four qualities is that they are what’s called “state-like”. That means that all four of these critical qualities are malleable and open to improvement when incorporated into one’s life on a day-to-day basis.

How would this apply to business?

Well, I think that for most of us, we were never taught these basic qualities, as when we went to college, we were more interested in other activities or classes. Most of us never set out to be a small business owner. But for me, the good news here is that if these qualities are “open to improvement” as Professor Luthans suggests, then we can learn these and get better at them with practice.

Shaping people’s beliefs and expectations to be more hopeful and optimistic is an essential component of positive psychology. In general, people who possess hope and think optimistically have a greater sense of well being in addition to improved health.

Of the countless models that examine the importance of hope in an individual’s life, there are two major theories that have gained a significant amount of recognition in the field of Psychology.

One of these theories, developed by Charles R. Snyder, argues that hope should be viewed as a cognitive skill that demonstrates an individual’s ability to maintain drive in the pursuit of a particular goal. This model reasons that an individual’s ability to be hopeful depends on two types of thinking: agency thinking and pathway thinking.

Agency thinking refers to an individual’s determination to achieve their goals despite possible obstacles, while pathway thinking refers to the ways in which an individual believes they can achieve these personal goals. Establishing realistic and attainable goals in this situation is more difficult, as the individual most likely does not have direct control over the future of their career.

Instead, Herth suggests that the goals should be concerned with how the individual is going to personally deal with the rejections that business-people are barraged with on a daily basis. Instead of drinking to ease the pain of my rejection or unemployment… I am going to surround myself with friends and family. Or I am going to branch out into another product or service. Or learn a new service that you can offer. Or learn a new skill that will help you with your business.

The Division Between Hope and Wishing:

Those that are hopeful are actively trying to find the best path of action to take while delving into the daily obstacles. However, research has shown that many of those who have “hope” are in reality only wishfully thinking and passively going through the motions, as if they are in denial about their actual circumstances.

So, back to the original question: “How Long Does One Stay Hopeful in Business?

The only way to know if you’re on course is to perform a reality check every five years. That way, you can see if you’re making any real progress. And by progress, I mean genuine evidence you’re moving forward. That evidence can be in the form of:

  • Continually getting new clients
  • Growth in your company
  • Interested clients asking you for your expertise
  • Rave reviews from current clients

In other words, there has to be irrefutable proof that you have the skill and ability to achieve a long-term career as a businessman or businesswoman. If none of those elements are present, you can try waiting another five years for the next reality check, but it would be a mistake to go further than that. These are several key points that can help you to develop a better sense of resilience, a better sense of hope. Try them out…see if they work for you.

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

-Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

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