Snyder’s Theory of Hope

Snyder’s (2002) Hope Theory assumes human behaviour is fundamentally goal orientated. Hope is seen as arising from two components: Waypower, which is the perceived ability of the person to generate pathways towards achieving valued goals and Willpower, the motivation to initiate and pursue those pathways. Hope arises when both Waypower and Willpower are present. During progress towards goal achievement obstacles may be encountered. How such problems are dealt with and the associated thoughts and emotions feedback to promote or undermine hope. So, according to Snyder, Waypower and Willpower are the key elements of hope and these are closely linked and reciprocally influence one another.

But I thought Hope was an emotion?

When I first came across this theory I was not impressed. It seemed to me to miss  consideration of the emotional qualities of hope, it’s relation to interpersonal and social context and any conceptualisation of the role of faith and spirituality in the process.  Despite my reservations that Snyder’s theory was just glorified goal planning and had little to do with hope, I decided to put it to the test in practice.

A Weighty Issue

I set out on a project to see if I could increase my levels of hope in a domain where I  felt pretty hopeless. That is, my weight. I have always struggled with my weight but totally lost control of it after my children were born spiralling up into obesity. As my children are now teenagers this is not a short term problem! All my previous attempts at diets and weight loss regimes have ended in failure and self loathing, so this was not an easy task and I didn’t really think Snyder’s theory would help me.

Slimming World

I looked into various regimes to help me lose weight. I decided to join the local Slimming World group as I thought this program would fit best with my lifestyle. The structure of the Slimming World (SW) Food Optimising plan and the group meetings fit well into Snyder’s  Model. I had to overcome my horror (significant negative thinking!) at the prospect of attending a group but once there I found both Waypower and Willpower boosting strategies in abundance.


Waypower or promoting pathways to hope is encouraged by setting long, medium and short term goals, with a weekly target set by yourself each week. This target could be just to maintain your current weight in a week when you know things may be difficult. This breaking down of goals improves focus and is a key element emphasised in hope theory. The system of free foods, measured healthy extras and limited treats (syns) builds skills in terms of nutritional education and the SW website and apps provide excellent recipes. You learn to adapt your shopping and cooking in a way that makes it easier to eat healthily and enjoy it. Group discussions looking at anticipating obstacles also helped immensely to plan strategies for how to deal with that night out or other temptation.


Losing weight is not rocket science and although the Waypower strategies helped me on the right path it was always the Willpower I was worried about. There are a number of ways in which this is promoted in SW. What is known as Goal Contagion is a big factor. That is, associating with people who share your goals. The people in my SW group are truly inspirational, honest, kind and funny. Spending time talking with others sometimes struggling, sometimes succeeding literally allows you to borrow hope from other people and keep motivated. The food diary encouraged by SW and where/when plans for your eating all promote Willpower as do the intermittent rewards of certificates and applause for each step achieved.

Other Hope Strategies

I used a number of other strategies derived from the hope model not implicit in SW. The first of these was to reflect carefully on my goal  and transform this from an extrinsic one (“I’m so fat I need to lose weight”) to an intrinsic personally meaningful one (“It’s important to me to be healthy to be around for my children”). Personally valued goals are an important key to success. Related to this I also practiced “future casting” which is essentially imagining what life will look like when you achieve your goals. This really helps motivation as long as you are able to break goals down into small steps and not become overwhelmed by a long term challenge.

So am I more hopeful?

In short, yes. I’ve lost 2 stone 9 pounds in weight. I still have a way to go but I do feel very hopeful about long term success. While I still think Snyder’s model needs further development in terms of the emotional, social and spiritual factors, it’s goal orientated approach has much utility in promoting hope.

Slimming World.

Snyder, C.R. (2002). Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 249-275.


About the author: Sarah Monk is a student on the MAPP course at Buckinghamshire New University. She has a degree in psychology from Southampton University and an MSc in Clinical Psychology from the University of Surrey. She has voluntary roles with a number of charities and lives well with C.F.S.


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