Positive Interventions Part 3: Hope and Goals Intertwined

A successful positive intervention requires a merging of the essential principles of goal theory and hope theory.  A positive intervention is an intervention intended to increase well-being in either or both of the following ways: increasing well-being away from zero and/or increasing well-being by cultivating pleasant affect, strengths, and/or meaning (Pawelski, personal communication, September 7, 2008).  A positive intervention is, inherently, a goal.  Goal theory states that action is caused by an intention (Locke, 1996).  Similarly, a positive intervention is action caused by an intention.  Essential elements of hope theory are also present in a positive intervention.  According to hope theory, hope reflects people’s perceptions of their abilities to conceptualize goals, develop strategies (pathways thinking) and initiate and sustain motivation (agency thinking). (Lopez, S. J., Snyder, C. R., Magyar-Moe, J. L., Edwards, L., Pedrotti, J. T. Janowski, et al., 2004, p. 388). The principal components of hope theory personified in positive interventions are:  agency thinking, pathways thinking, hope finding, hope enhancing and hope reminding (Lopez and colleagues, 2004).  As I discuss the two readings more extensively, I will elucidate more fully the connections between goal theory, hope theory (agency thinking & pathways thinking) and positive interventions.

Goal theory finds its roots in Aristotle’s final causality where action is caused by an intention.  This theory assumes that introspective reports provide valid statistics for “formulating psychological concepts and measuring psychological phenomena” (Locke, 1996, p. 118).  In order to study goals directly, T.A. Ryan suggested to Locke that he ask individuals about their immediate objectives.  Ryan and Locke chose this method because it was philosophically sound, consistent with evidence that human action is normally purposeful and the approach was successful.  The studies conducted by Locke, Gary Latham and others reinforce the connection between goal theory and hope theory, specifically agency thinking and pathways thinking.

There are clear links between the findings of goal theory, agency thinking and positive interventions.  Locke and Latham discovered that the more specific or explicit the goal, the more precisely performance is regulated assuming commitment and ability (synonymous with agency thinking).  High commitment to goals is attained when the individual is convinced that the goal is important and attainable.  In addition to directly effecting performance, self-efficacy influences the difficulty level of the goal chosen and the commitment to that goal (Locke, 1996, pp. 118-122).  Goal theory and agency thinking are essential to successful positive interventions.

There are also direct links between goal theory and hope theory’s pathways thinking.  Locke and Latham found that self-efficacy influences the response to negative feedback or failure (an example of pathways thinking), and the right choice of task strategies.  Goal setting is most effective when there is feedback showing progress in relation to the goal (an opportunity for redirection of the pathway).  Goals also stimulate planning in generalWhen people strive for goals on complex tasks, they are least effective in discovering suitable task strategies if they have no prior experience or if there are high levels of performance or time pressure.  Goal-setting and goal-related mechanisms can be taught and/or adopted in the absence of training for the purpose of self-regulation (Locke, 1996, pp. 118-122).

Goal theory and hope theory both include goal pursuit components but treat them differently.  Goal theory, optimism, self-efficacy and problem-solving give different weights to these components while hope theory equally emphasizes all of them (Snyder, 1994 as cited in Lopez and colleagues, 1994, p. 389).  With hope theory, a goal is anything that an individual desires to experience, create, get, do or become (Lopez and colleagues, 2004, p. 388).  Similarly, a positive intervention is anything that an individual desires to experience, create, get, do or become that increases well-being away from zero.

Hope theory has four components:  hope finding, hope bonding, hope enhancing and hope reminding.  Hope finding strengthens a clients’ expectations that the therapist can and will help them.  Hope bonding is the creation of a healthy and hopeful therapeutic relationship that grounds them in a hopeful therapeutic context…  Hope enhancing strategies involve enlisting clients in tasks that conceptualize reasonable goals more clearly, produce numerous pathways to attainment, summon the energy to maintain pursuit and reframe insurmountable obstacles as challenges to be overcome.  Lastly, hope reminding is the feedback loop that promotes daily use of hopeful thoughts (Lopez and colleagues, 2004, p. 390).  Three of these four elements are essential to positive interventions.  (Hope bonding is specific to the therapist-client relationship and does not apply to positive interventions.)  Hope finding is the central element of a positive intervention (what is the goal of the intervention), while hope enhancing and hope reminding are useful in long term positive interventions but not necessary for all of them.

As I have illustrated, a successful positive intervention requires a merging of the essential principles of goal theory and hope theory.  A positive intervention necessitates the participant to have:  a specific goal for the intervention, hope that the goal will be achieved, strategies to reach those goals (pathways thinking), and sustaining inspiration for using those tactics (agency thinking).

“The Grand essentials of happiness are:  something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” – Allan K. Chalmbers




Locke, E. A. (1996). Motivation through conscious goal setting, Applied &             Preventive Psychology 5, 117-124.

Lopez, S. J., Snyder, C. R., Magyar-Moe, J. L., Edwards, L., Pedrotti, J. T. Janowski, K.,            Turner,            J. L., & Pressgrove, C. (2004). Strategies for accentuating hope. In        Linley, P. A. &           Joseph, S. (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 388- 404).  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.



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About Shannon Polly, MAPP

Shannon M. Polly is a corporate communications trainer, facilitator and speaker and founder of Shannon Polly & Associates, a leadership development company in downtown D.C. Shannon works with executives, managers and employees of Fortune 500 companies in two areas: executive presence/presentation skills (based on over a decade of experience as a professional actor/singer in New York) and positive psychology. Shannon is one the first 100 people in the world who have received her Master in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) degree from the University of Pennsylvania under Dr. Martin Seligman. She also holds a graduate degree from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in classical acting and a B.A. with honors from Yale University. She also holds a coaching certificate from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program.

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