Activities: Hope and Optimism

Personal Development Interventions

1 Cultivating optimism

One of the ways we can build and cultivate optimism is by engaging in the Best Possible Selves exercise (Sheldon and Lyubomirsky, 2006). Sit, undisturbed, in your favorite writing space. Do this exercise, for 20 minutes, for three consecutive days.

Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.

Now reflect on your future goals and list several ways to achieve them. These larger goals can be broken down into smaller, more achievable subgoals. Finally, keep motivating yourself to pursue your goals and reframe any obstacles you meet as challenges to be overcome (adapted from Boniwell, 2008).

2 Increasing self-esteem

This exercise is designed to help enhance your self-esteem. Based on Nathan Branden’s sentence-completion exercise, you are asked to conduct the following exercise for the next week. If you relate to this task, check out Branden’s 31-week self-esteem program in his book, the Six Pillars of Self-esteem (Branden, 1994).

For this task, set aside 2–3 minutes in the morning before you head off to your daily routine, and when you are alone, complete the following sentences. Make sure you do them quickly, without thinking too much, and try and come up with no less than six endings and no more than 10.

If I bring more awareness to my life today . . .

If I take more responsibility for my choices and actions today . . .

If I pay more attention to how I deal with people today . . .

If I boost my energy level by 5 percent today . . .

At the end of the week, reflect on the endings and try and see what patterns emerge. Once you have done this, complete the following:

If any of what I wrote this week is true, it might be helpful if I . . .

Measurement Tools

Life Orientation-Revised (LOT-R)

(Scheier et al., 1994)


Please be as honest and accurate as you can throughout. Try not to let your response to one statement influence your responses to other statements. There are no ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ answers. Answer according to your own feelings rather than how you think ‘most people’ would answer.

4  I agree a lot

3  I agree a little

2  I neither agree nor disagree

1  I disagree a little

0  I disagree a lot

____ 1. In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.

____ 2. It’s easy for me to relax.

____ 3. If something can go wrong for me, it will.

____ 4. I’m always optimistic about my future.

____ 5. I enjoy my friends a lot.

____ 6. It’s important for me to keep busy.

____ 7. I hardly ever expect things to go my way.

____ 8. I don’t get upset too easily.

____ 9. I rarely count on good things happening to me.

____10. Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad.


Items 2, 5, 6, and 8 are fillers and, therefore, should be excluded. Please add the scores for the remaining items to calculate your final score.


There are no ‘cut-offs’ for optimism or pessimism. Higher scores reflect higher levels of optimism.


The LOT-R is a revised version of the original LOT, which focused on differentiating optimists from pessimists. The newer version includes more explicit items regarding an individual’s prediction about the future. This test is quick, easy to use, and good for research purposes; many studies have used this scale.

Generalized Self-efficacy Scale (GSE)

(Schwarzer and Jerusalem, 1995)


Below are ten statements about yourself, which may or may not be true. Using the 1–4 scale below, please indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate number on the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your response. at all true Hardly true Moderately true Exactly true

____ 1. I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough.

____ 2. If someone opposes me, I can find the means and ways to get what I want.

____ 3. It is easy for me to stick to my aims and accomplish my goals.

____ 4. I am confident that I could deal efficiently with unexpected events.

____ 5. Thanks to my resourcefulness, I know how to handle unforeseen situations.

____ 6. I can solve most problems if I invest the necessary effort.

____ 7. I can remain calm when facing difficulties because I can rely on my coping abilities.

____ 8. When I am confronted with a problem, I can usually find several solutions.

____ 9. If I am in trouble, I can usually think of a solution.

____10. I can usually handle whatever comes my way.


Please add the item scores together and divide by the number of items to calculate your final score.


Overall scores can range from 10 to 40 points, with an average score of 29. There is no cutoff; however, you can determine where you fall concerning the group/median.

To see where you score in relation to others, an international data set as an SPSS SAV file includes about 18,000 respondents, available for free download at:


This scale has been translated into 30 languages and is based on very large amounts of data.

5.1 Activity

Consider the concept of “anticipation.” What are you either looking forward to or dreading right now? Perhaps it is a weekend dinner party, completing a work report, or a dentist trip. Whatever the case, try to determine what it is about the future event that leads to your positive or negative anticipation. Is it the likely pleasantness or unpleasantness of the event? With Gilbert’s research in mind, how accurate do you think your predictions are? Can you think of similar instances in the past and compare your current future prediction to those? Freely write your insights or answers:

5.2 Reflection

Consider the source of the hopelessness of someone you are working with or have worked with. If it was rooted in a perception of inadequate resources, what might you do (or did you do) to address this? How might exploring ways to increase resources help? How might exploring ways to use other resources to compensate for the inadequate resources help? Is there an advantage to one of these approaches over the other?

If the source of hopelessness is grounded in feeling overwhelmed, how can you work with the person to strengthen her sense of capability? Boost confidence? Break the task into smaller bits? Reframe the task? Point out overlooked resources? Is there an advantage to any of these particular tactics? Freely write your answers:

5.3 Activity

Consider one minor problem you are currently facing. For this exercise, it should be only a small hurdle rather than a major obstacle. Perhaps you are irritated by road construction, making your commute longer than usual.

You may have a tight deadline. Perhaps you are anxious about missing your child’s school play because of work obligations. Here is a great chance to practice pathways thinking by brainstorming. Write down 20 possible solutions to your problem! Feel free to be absurd, grandiose, and creative. If you want to include “build a robot to do my work for me,” go ahead. You may want to consider watching a funny movie or reading a humorous comic before you begin to put yourself in a good mood. Don’t get hung up on realism or worry too much about spelling and grammar. Just go for it. When you are finished, notice how you feel. Consider your attitude toward the problem. Examine your list to see which solutions have the greatest potential to work. Freely write your list:

5.4 Reflection

Think about two personally relevant short-term goals. One should be a goal that you feel fairly optimistic about, and the other should be one—perhaps one you have already discarded- that you are less hopeful about. As you consider these two goals, pay particular attention to your sense of personal control over them. How much do you feel you have some control over the outcome of the two goals?

Consider ways you might gain more power over the outcome of these goals.

How does this affect your hope for the goals? Freely write your answers:

5.4 Reflections

You have experienced many times when you have been optimistic. You have experienced the excitement and charge that hopeful anticipation can bring.

Similarly, you have first-hand experience feeling deflated, beaten, and pessimistic.

Taking time to reflect on these experiences in your own life can help you better understand the concepts presented this week and use them more effectively with the people you work with.

Think about an area in which you feel confident and capable. Perhaps you are an excellent public speaker, a strong tennis player, or a good mother. Try to identify which skills, talents, passions, and strengths lead to your feelings of confidence. Next, consider how this confidence affects you: how do you think about problems, setbacks, and hardships related to this domain of life? How is this different from how you approach similar problems related to domains where you are less confident?

5.5 Exercises

Although hope and optimism are a natural part of life, they are concepts that often slip under our perceptual radar or are taken for granted. Try these activities to raise your awareness of hope and optimism in yourself and others.

At work, pay attention to how your colleagues discuss future events, whether they are upcoming trade shows, team meetings, sales deadlines, or presentations.

Pay particular attention to their posture, facial expressions, voice, language, and energy level. Where would you place them on a continuum of optimism-pessimism?

Do they dread the future event? Are they anxious about it? Do they seem disengaged or uninterested? Are they eager or enthusiastic? What clues tell you this is the case?