What does hope have to do with a positive attitude towards error?

Hope is a central concept of positive psychology

I’ve just spotted this brilliantly titled blog on the WordPress Dash and landed on a post about hope, made topical by the man-of-the-hour, Barack Obama. I also believe that hope is key to wellbeing. Without hope, we are so miserable.

As a concept, it is tricky to handle though. In English, hope is often used ironically and so much so, we think of hope as pie in the sky as in “I hope so”.

Hope is seeing the way ahead

Hope is more about seeing the way ahead. And seeing the way ahead depends on your knowledge, both academic and real-world, your ability to bring different bodies of knowledge together, and your knowledge of your own abilities.

Showing the importance of hope in a lab

Two psych experiments are very important.

If I put you in a room with a boring and unpleasant task to do, you will persist longer if I also put a button for you to call me when you have had enough.

I don’t have to connect the button to anything (sigh, psychologists!) because you are never going to use it. Just having it there is enough for you to think you have an ‘out’ that is under your control!

I spotted a post yesterday, but didn’t hang on to the link, about someone who gave up his family wealth and went downtown with 25 bucks in his pocket. In 9 months, he had demonstrated the American dream by building up to an apartment and vehicle. Not to be down on this guy, but he hasn’t really worked his way up. He always knew he could opt out, which is what he did eventually. Working your way up without the opt-ut button is much harder because it is scary.

The morale of the story is keep your contingency fund. Keep your social support. And provide that life line for others too!

You must see the way ahead in our mind’s eye. They must see the way ahead in their mind’s eye.

The second interesting experiment is the famous marshmallow experiment.

We put a little kid in a room with a marshmallow and tell him or her: if that is still there in 15 minutes when I come back, I will give you another one. Kids that wait to get two (delayed gratification) do better in life.

Now let’s try a thought experiment. Say the kid knows I cheat and I am not going to deliver. Or worse, when I come back, I will take the first one away as well. They’d do better to scoff the first marshmallow in an instance.

The world must also work for us and we need to know it works for us.  Hence we plan but don’t overplan. We bring things under our control but leave enough room to adapt to circumstances as they unfold. Michael Frese of Giessen University has shown this with entrepreneurs all over Africa.

The key: be realistic. Hope is not pie in the sky. It is built on a realistic understanding of what we are doing and for most of us, that gives us a very real pleasure.

Hope and the entrepreneur or creative artist

Will your relatives and friends undermine your entrepreneurial efforts, or your dreams to be an artist, or your determination to do something different?

Sure they will. They don’t know what you know.

So you must help them. Give them some time lines. Give them some concrete markers. Don’t expect them to see the world through the same lens as you. Your lens is your knowledge of the situation, your knowledge of the way ahead, and your knowledge of your skills.

That is hope, and it is delicious and self-affirming and encouraging and magnificent and even miraculous.

Learning about hope through movies

To explore hope further, try contrasting these movies:

Shawshank Redemption for knowledge and intricate planning.

Polyanna (is it called Tomorrow?) for optimism and infectious cheerfulness (for those doubting Thomas’)

The Legend of Bagger Vance for accepting social support and trusting to the coherence and timeliness of your ideas

Hope and Mistakes

And what has any of this to do with making mistakes? What will seem like a mistake to others is simply a learning curve to you (at least most of the time).   We are positive about errors when we trust the task, ourselves and the partners in our adventure.

Thanks for the stimulating post. For more ideas on entrepreneurship, go here.