“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.”
This may sound like good advice, but research suggests that it’s not quite right.
In 1996, psychology researcher Charles Synder set out to test a theory.
As a teacher and psychologist, Synder had spent a good part of his life observing the behaviour of students. What motivated them? Why did some students achieve success? Can academic success be predicted in advance?
So he conducted a long-term study.
Synder and his team assessed the personality profile of 213 university students, fresh out of high school, interviewing them to measure a particular psychological trait. This trait, measured over six years, consistently predicted academic success. And people with this trait were far more likely to achieve their goals.
What do you think they were measuring? Intelligence? Positive values? Self-esteem? Nope. Synder and his team were researching the phenomenon called hope.
What is hope?
Hope is important but hard to define.
According to Rick Synder, the psychology of hope involves three essential factors:
Let me explain in more detail.
Goal-directed thinking is the ability to create clear and meaningful goals. People who are goal-oriented can clearly communicate where they are heading and are more likely to fulfil their hopes and dreams. Clear goals create momentum. You need to be clear about what mountain to climb if you want to reach the summit.
Will-Power is about grit and determination. It’s an internal thing. People who are internally motivated and demonstrate a can-do attitude, consistently outperform less motivated peers. Belief is important to grow Will-Power. As people experience small wins in life, belief and self-esteem grows. They become more confident in their ability to tackle bigger goals, leading to more belief and greater hope.
Way-Power is somewhat harder to understand. It is the ability to imagine and trial different strategies to achieve a goal. Even though some people are more strategically minded than others, way-power is a skill that anyone can develop with practice. People with Way-Power are more likely to achieve their goals across multiple spheres of life. By learning to consider alternatives, identifying multiple solutions to complex problems, they overcome roadblocks and experience greater hope across work and life.
My Car Has Broken Down
Let me give you a scenario to demonstrate how Way-Power works:
It’s the morning of your daughter’s wedding. The time is 9am and you’re set to walk her down the aisle in just 3 hours.
Yet there’s a problem…
Your car has broken down on a small country road (possibly out of petrol) and to make matters worse, you’re at least an hour drive from your destination.
What do you do?
- Strategy 1: Call a roadside mechanic to help you out.
Barrier 1: Good idea, but you have no phone reception.
- Strategy 2: Walk up a hill to find phone reception.
Barrier 2: Damn, it didn’t work.
- Strategy 3: Walk to the nearest farmhouse to beg for petrol.
Barrier 3: You score a jerry can full of petrol but the car still won’t start. This must be a mechanical problem.
- Strategy 4: You ask the farmer for a lift to the main road to hitch-hike.
Barrier 4: You’re now visible but no cars are stopping to give you a lift. Maybe it’s because you’re wearing a tuxedo?
- Strategy 5: You take off your jacket to look a bit less formal.
Barrier 5: Well THAT didn’t work.
- Strategy 6: This sounds crazy, but you’re gonna try standing in the middle of the freeway to physically stop a car.
Jackpot! You look so desperate that someone decides to give you a lift to the wedding. It was a close call, but you made it on time because of Way-Power.
The Way To Hope
Way-Power is the foundation of strategic thinking. It is the ability to identify “if this happens, then I can do that.” Without Way-Power, people struggle to have hope because they cannot find a way to progress their goals.
Also described in the research as pathways thinking, this mindset enables people to:
- Think of multiple ways to reach a goal; not just plan A or B, but plan A, B, C, D and E;
- Switch strategies whenever they hit a setback or obstacle, as opposed to giving up, or trying harder to get better results from the same strategy.
- Breakdown big stuff into small steps so it’s not so overwhelming.
Bottom line. Way-Power allows you to think outside the box, trial multiple strategies and map out a path to reach a desired end.
Way Power In Real-Life
Not many of us need to hitch-hike to save the day, but there are hundreds of real-life situations where Way-Power is valuable.
- A staff member resigns from your team and you can’t backfill for at least three months. How do you deliver your project on time without killing yourself in the process?
- Your doctor informs you that your heart is a ticking time-bomb. You need to lose weight, eat better and work less. You know that she’s right but how do you make a start?
- You are single and getting older. It’s hard to meet a nice (single) guy in the places you hang out. Maybe you need to rethink your approach and try multiple strategies?
- You want to build an extra room on your house because your children share a bedroom and need more space, but council regulations are a nightmare to navigate. What are your options?
- You hate your job but don’t have any experience outside of your industry. You’d love to study, but how will you pay your mortgage? What options do you have?
We all face changing situations across work and life. The more novel a problem, the more important it is to practice pathways thinking. To consistently experience hope, we need to clarify our goals, be internally motivated, and employ a number of different approaches to get things done.
If At First You Don’t Succeed …
Trying hard is important, but effort and perseverance is not enough. To achieve your goals across work and life you need different strategies.
Here’s a better mantra for those who master the skill of Way-Power:
“If at first you don’t succeed, try a different strategy.”
So next time you get stuck in a rut, change your thinking.
Identify new solutions. Break things down. Try a new approach. Eventually you will attain your goal and experience more hope.
What is one area in life where you could make progress towards a complex goal by switching strategies?
If you need help developing these skills, check out our List Assassin and Priority Samurai courses. We teach you how to breakdown large projects into manageable next steps, including others skills to help you unlock your goals.
Curry, L.A., Synder, C.R., Cook, D.L, Ruby, B.C. & Rehm, M. (1997). Role of Hope Theory in Academic and Sport Achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73 (6), 1257-1267.
Synder, C.R. (2005). Teaching: The Lessons of Hope Theory. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24 (1) 72-84.
Snyder, C.R, Harris, C., Anderson, J.R., Holleran, S.A., Irving, L.M., Sigmon, S.X., Shinobu, L.B., Gibb, J., Langelle, C., & Harney, P.(1991) The Will and the Ways: Development and Validation of an Individual-Differences Measure of Hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60 (4) 570-585.
Snyder, C.R., Shorey, H.S., Cheavens, J., Pulvers, K.M., Adams, V.H., & Wiklund, C. (2002). Hope Theory and Academic Success in College. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94 (4), 820-826.