Thinking about Feeling by James Woodworth

Stress, anxiety and low self-esteem are massive barriers to learning.  Lacking in self-belief, optimism and hope seriously hamper the development of those skills and abilities needed to live a healthy, happy and successful life.  The ability to bounce back from adversity, the determination to keep going in times of hardship, having a realistic, optimistic and hopeful view of oneself, others and the world we occupy are, by comparison, amongst those qualities most likely to lead to the satisfaction, fullfilment and sense of achievement we all seek, need and desire.

Our psychological and emotional well-being is, therefore of critical importance.  The development of cognitive intelligence, though undoubtedly necessary, is not within itself enough.   We also need to pay attention to our emotions and the role our emotions play in the process of continuous on-going learning.

Emotional intelligence is critically important not least of all for the way in which it breaks down many of the most damaging barriers to learning, personal growth and development including negativity, helplessness and despair.

Research shows that those who achieve the most in schools, colleges, universities, and in the work-place are not necessarily the brightest but they are the ones who are the most optimistic and hopeful (Goleman, 1996).  Research on mind-set (Dweck, 2006), attributional style (Weiner, 1992) and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986) confirms the importance of having the right mental attitude including good emotional awareness, good emotional management, determination and resilience.

Psychologist Rick Snyder and colleagues (Snyder, C.R,, 1991) put the following proposition to college students: ‘Although you set your goal of getting a B, when your first exam score, worth 30% of your final grades is returned, you have received a D.  It is now one week after you have learned about the D grade.  What do you do?’

How the students responded was a reflection of a how optimistic and hopeful the students were.  The students who recorded a high level of hope tended to work harder and considered a wide variety of ways to improve their final grade.  Those with a moderate or low level of hope showed less resilience, less determination, became more demoralised or simply gave up all together.

The exercise, as Snyder and his colleagues showed wasn’t entirely theoretical nor were the results limited to this one particular task.  The researchers looked, for example at the relationship between the students level of hope and their overall academic success rate and found that hope was a more accurate indicator of potential success then were the usual methods of assessment used to predict success including SAT test scores.  Emotional intelligence competencies including hope were more valuable in predicting academic success rates than a SAT test or an assessment of IQ alone.

Students with high levels of hope, according to Snyder; “… set themselves higher goals and know how to work hard to attain them.  When you compare students of equivalent intellectual aptitude on their academic achievements, what sets them apart is hope” (Snyder quoted by Goleman, 1996).

Hope, as an emotional intelligence competency is closely related to, but is not the same as optimism. According to Snyder, hope represents our ability to consider and set ourselves goals, determine the process to achieve them and find the motivation needed to keep going until the goal is achieved despite any barriers that may get in the way.  In summary, we are hopeful if we are able to say what we want, can think of ways to get what we want, and can keep going until we’ve achieved what we want.  We are hopeful when we believe, in other words that we have both the will and the way to achieve our goals.

Hopeful people, according to Snyder reveal a number of positive character traits – they are resilience, self-determined, resourceful, flexible and able to solve problems in original and creative ways. They can appreciate the big picture while also being able to break down tasks into manageable chunks.

As Goleman (1996) says, from the point of view of emotional intelligence, people who are hopeful; “…evidence less depression than others as they manoeuvre through life in pursuit of their goals, are less anxious in general, and have fewer emotional distresses.”

Academic, intellectual learning is clearly of value but so is emotional learning – the learning that engages the emotions.  As the research shows, we need to focus our attention, not only on our thoughts but on our emotions if we are to achieve our potential in both our intellectual as well as our emotional lives.


Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.

Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional Intelligence: Why it Matters More Than IQ.  London: Bloomsbury.

Snyder, C.R. , Harris, CAnderson J.RHolleran, S.AIrving, L.MSigmon, S.TYoshinobu, LGibb, JLangelle, CHarney, P. (1991). The Will and the Ways: Development and Validation of an Individual-Differences Measures of Hope, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 60, (4).

Weiner, B. (1992). Human Motivation: Metaphors, Theories, and Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

This blog post was contributed by James Woodworth, Licensed Thrive Consultant.