A few relationships have been found between personality characteristics, life events, and financial success. Some are obvious. For example, the life event of graduating from college correlates very well, and positively so, with financial success.

Others make sense, but are not so obvious, such as whether or not a child feels loved by his or her parents — also a good predictor of financial success. But no matter a person’s personality or circumstances in life, hope is a prerequisite for financial attainment.

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The Dimensions of Hope

Hope is two-dimensional, consisting of a component of expectation and a component of desire or want. Desire or want is fairly obvious — we don’t hope for what we don’t want or desire.

Want and desire should really be viewed along a spectrum. There are things we do not desire and even strongly prefer that these events or situations do not occur. There also are things we want or desire very much. We exhibit an extremely strong preference for certain outcomes.

These two sentiments bookend the spectrum of desire, with many things falling between the extremes of what we don’t want and what we strongly prefer.

Expectation is the more abstract component of hope. At the lowest end, we cannot have hope without at least having an expectation that our desired outcome is possible. If we can't conceive of the possibility of the desired outcome, we refer to the situation as hopeless, or not possible. That gives us one end of the spectrum.

The other end is also abstract. It’s unlikely that we hope for that which is assured. That’s more anticipation than hope. Hope applies when we're uncertain of the outcome.

This uncertainty doesn’t have to apply only as the binary possibility of an outcome happening or of it not happening. It's often is based on the degree or extent of a particular thing happening. For example, we may hope that we can afford to retire comfortably, even when a retirement of some sort is quite reasonably assured.

Our hope isn’t really rooted in the basic outcome — it's more a hope that the outcome is achieved to a degree that is very favorable to us.

Maximum hope doesn’t then occur when the two dimensions are at the endpoints of the spectrum. It occurs when desire is at its maximum, and the expectation is that the outcome is at least possible, but somewhat short of assured. In short, hope occurs in the realm of uncertainty.

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Hope, Motivation, and Willpower

Hope correlates with the size of the goals that people aspire to. Those with a great deal of hope aspire to larger goals than those who have less. It's hard to feel motivated to achieve something you don’t believe is possible.

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You see this in sports all the time. Blowouts occur not because one team is so much better or wants the victory more.

A small success early in a game may propel a team to believe a win is more possible than it had thought. A small setback may likewise reduce the hope of the opposing team.

These moments quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies. The expectation is moved, and one outcome becomes far more possible without yet being assured. That fuels the motivation.

Willpower is discipline in the absence of motivation. Highly motivated individuals don’t rely on willpower unless they’re going through a rough stretch when their motivation wanes. High levels of hope create motivation, and willpower can keep things moving forward when motivation is lower, but hope is still present.

Stories: Providing External Hope for Financial Success

We don’t have to know every turn between the Atlantic and Pacific to know we can drive successfully from one shore to the other. We know it’s been done. It’s been done so many times that we accept it on face value — it’s a given. The story is part of our very fabric. We don’t even know it’s a story.

Other stories show us other paths. This is true for many things we aspire to — things we hope for.

Many first-generation college students, for example, lack personal knowledge of being a successful college student. But they know the stories of other first-generation students, from their friends, extended family, or others. Where they come from doesn’t really matter. The stories make the abstract real.

This is true for our financial lives, as well. We have a lot of financial firsts — first job, first car, first house, first credit card. Whether they’re milestones or losses, they have one thing common: Others have traveled the road before.

While we may not have the experience to know we can do something, stories provide us the experience of others in a context we can adopt as our own. In showing us the road that others traveled, these stories increase our expectation of being able to do the same things.

And we already saw that expectation is one of hope’s two dimensions. Stories help us to see the hope for our own situations. They're our road maps and guideposts.

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Choice Theory

Choice theory (as described by William Glasser in his book of the same name) posits that we can, in fact, act ourselves into new ways of thinking. We can exercise control over our thoughts and our actions. By doing so, we will improve our physical and mental health. This effectively becomes a cycle, improving our thoughts and actions leads to positive outcomes that help make it easier to further improve our thoughts and actions. A virtuous circle rooted in hope.

Hope as a Tool to Achieve Financial Success

Certainly, some successful people are not beacons of hope. We have all run into a dour CPA or lawyer or some other such person who’s so negative that it's hard to imagine he or she even has a speck of hope.

But we also don’t know how much this has held the person back. If such a person has a degree of success despite a sense of negativity, just imagine where he might be if he instead sounded hope’s siren.

We're in control of our own stories. We can choose our outcomes to a degree. For example, we can embrace positive change by influencing our chances. Or we can embrace financial literacy and begin to educate ourselves by reading books and taking advantage of educational sites. This increases the likelihood of financial success, fueling hope and further raising the bar that we shoot for.

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Hope is the seed of thoughts; thoughts beget actions; actions beget results. For a more positive financial future, cultivate hope. It is the prerequisite of financial success.

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