This is a transcription of a short clip in which Dr. Hellman shares more behind his research on Hope, including as it applies to well-being and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). You can watch the video here.

It’s important to recognize that both willpower and way power (pathways) are required to be hopeful. The idea is, I may be highly motivated for a goal, I just don’t know how to get there from here – I don’t know the strategies or the pathways to achieve my goal. In this case, we would be lower in hope. Alternatively, I may have the pathways available to me, I’m just not motivated to do that. For instance, studying for an exam, working with a tutor, and joining a study group are all pathways to achieving a better grade, but if I’m not motivated to do that work, I would be a lower hope person. You have to have both willpower and way power (pathways).

I want you to reflect for a second and think about all of the times and all of the ways you use the word hope. Even today when you’ve used this word, what are some of the ways that we use hope in our everyday language. For instance, “I hope that you’re well.” “I hope that you have a great day.” In Oklahoma, we’ll typically say at this time of year, “I hope there are no tornadoes today or this week.” What I want to do is make sure that we understand that when I’m talking about hope, I am not referring to a wish. In fact, a wish is when we have desire for a particular goal, but we have no pathways. We have no control over that. Hope is about taking action to pursue your future. A wish is passive in the way we think about the future.

I want us to do this real quick experience of understanding the interplay between goals, pathways, and willpower. With this particular slide, there’s going to be about four really key takeaways on hope and I’ll point them out as we as we go along. What I’d like for each of us to think back in our youth and think about how many of you know how to drive a stick shift car or a manual transmission vehicle. I want us to think back when to that first opportunity that we had to drive a stick shift car. That first very first time, our goal is we want to drive the pathway that we have available to us. If we’re going to drive, we’re going to have to figure this pathway out. We have the car started, we have the clutch depressed, and we’re in first gear so as we’re starting to let that clutch out for the very first time. As you’re starting to let that clutch out for the very first time, what is your goal in that moment?

Answers from chat: “Not to jump it.” “Not kill the car.” “Not let the engine die.”

I want to highlight that a lot of those are avoidant goals. Often times, when we’ve got these new pathways that we’re experiencing, we’re going to be in this framework of avoidant. The reason that I think this is so important is because all of us set avoidant goals in our life and all of us set achievement goals in our life. What we’ve learned is that high trauma children are more likely to set avoiding goals across their opportunities. We let that clutch out and in fact we did kill the car, we stalled the car. What I would like for you to think about is when you killed that car for the very first time in this scenario, what was going through your mind? What were some of the things that you were saying to yourself in your mind? Often times, especially in this avoidant framework, we’ll say things like “I’ll never be able to do this.” “I can’t do this.”

With high trauma kids, what we learned or what we’ve we found is that the self-talk becomes very harmful. It becomes things like “I’m so stupid.” “I’m a loser.” and it is this way of self-evaluation that prevails about who they are they are filled with the ‘I can’t’ and lower hope children have this history of failed attempts at their goals. They’re coming at any new goal from a framework of failure and negativity. Here’s one of the key takeaways: when you stalled the car that first time, if you did not quit and I ask you why did you not quit, what is the reason that you did not stop this pathway? Here’s the key takeaway: the more you desire the goal, the more likely you’re going to face adversity to try to achieve it. This really highlights the importance of that goal how desirable the goal is and when we’re working with children or adults, we have to remember it’s their goal, not our goal. They have to desire the goal.

So we start the car up, we’re still in first gear, we let that clutch out, and this time when we let the clutch out we lurch forward but we’re driving! We’re driving around third time we get in the car we let that clutch out we stall it. But what I want you to recognize is that this time when we stalled the car after that previous successful attempt, the way that our self-talk starts to change. Our self-talk is now “Hey, I did this before I can do this again.” Here’s the takeaway: hope begets hope. What we’ve learned is that that opportunity for success made the future possible and once the future is perceived as possible then the hope starts to build, their will power starts to build, and pretty soon they’re driving. We get that process. This is the pathways component. What I want to ask you now is how well can you manage your willpower while you’re going through this new pathway experience. Think about how much of your willpower, how much of your attention, is required the very first time you let that clutch out – and the answer is all of it! Now, compare that to how much of your willpower is required today when you let that clutch out and the answer is “I rarely do I even think about it.” We’ve got that process now.

What we also know about willpower is that it’s finite. We only have so much mental energy to give every day and we have to recognize that while we’ve got this pathway we have to learn the rest of life is going on, too. So if we have a child who is in the classroom trying to learn new lessons but they’re wondering where they’re going to eat tonight or if they’re going to be safe at home or they don’t know if ‘good dad’ or ‘bad dad’ is going to show up when they get home, and on, and on, and on – all of these things are demanding their willpower and keeping them from focusing on the pathways of school. We’ve also learned is that unmitigated trauma is not an attention detractor it’s a hope robber. Trauma robs children of hope at a very young age.


Hope Rising SEL’s curriculum is based on Dr. Chan Hellman’s definition of Hope, and it is making a difference in many schools and communities across the country.

If your school isn’t using My Best Me yet, we would love to help you bring Hope to your school. Our sales team is ready to answer your questions and demo My Best Me for you. Contact us to start spreading Hope in your school.