When nothing works and you feel helpless, try crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. That’s the advice one of my colleagues suggests I do since it has worked for her many times.

So, does crossing your fingers and hoping for the best really work?

“Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best” is actually good advice. Doing it combines the two components of hope – pathway and agency – that will improve your work performance.

Keep reading and learn how crossing your fingers can help you remember the two key hope components that will lead to better performance.

Hope leads to better performance

As a manager, you must have noticed that when hope drops, people’s efforts will most likely drop. When hope is up, many people tend to perform better. And research has found this to be true. Hope leads to better performance and much more.

The best way to understand hope is to understand the opposite of hope – hopelessness which is learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness

Learned helplessness is the belief that one’s behavior does not influence the outcome; therefore, one makes little effort to improve one’s situation (Maier & Seligman).

Ever seen that in your team members and colleagues that you work with?

Let’s compare learned helplessness to hope. With hope, you believe that you know how to reach your goals (pathways) and you have the motivation to use those pathways to reach your goals (agency) (Snyder, Rand, & Sigmon).

So, which do you want to see more of in your team or department? Hope or learned helplessness?


Hope is the instructional tool for improving effort and attitude. You can and you should build hope in your workplace.

There is a huge amount of scientific research done on the topic of hope. Scientists have defined hope, studied its components, and discovered what builds hope.

Why you need hope

Here’s what the research says about people with high levels of hope:

  • They perform better at all levels (Marques, Gallagher & Lopez).
  • They tend to be healthier (Kok et al.).
  • They have more job satisfaction and experience less stress at work (Abbas & Raja).
  • They report higher levels of self-worth, life satisfaction, and lower levels of depression (Marques, Lopez, et al.).
  • They are happier, more confident, and have better relationships (Satici & Uysal; Alarcon, Bowling & Khazon).
  • They handle stressors better and see them as a challenge (Rand, et al.).
  • They can use feedback to improve their future efforts (Reichard, et al.).
  • They tend to be more forgiving of others (Taysi, et al.).

If these benefits are important to you as a manager, you should find out what makes some people more hopeful than others, and how you can help your team members build up their hope to become “high-hopers”. Remember, high levels of hope come with better performance and a more positive attitude.

How to apply hope

Hope is more than just wishful thinking. Hope is more than an emotion. There is a cognitive/emotional structure to it as well. Hope is a way of thinking about a future event, goal, or action.

If there is little or no hope, most people will give up or quit.

Now that you know hope involves both the will (agency) to pursue a goal and the way (pathway) to do so, let’s look into these two areas.

Pathway thinking

Using pathway thinking, most people can come up with a reasonable route to achieve a specific goal. Also, most people with hope can usually create alternative plans in case their first plan does not work.

When you notice your team members are not putting in their best effort, is it possible that they don’t think they can be successful? So, they hold back and don’t work hard. After all, if you don’t think you will succeed, why do you want to waste all your effort?

Here’s how you can help your team members build pathways:

  • Mark out steps for them to proceed.
  • Teach them strategies, techniques, or processes that will improve their performance.
  • Walk them through examples so they know what to do.
  • Get them to practice as much as possible.
  • Give them opportunities to master their pathways.

Agency thinking

Agency thinking is the motivational component of hope theory. It involves your perceived capacity to follow the pathway you create to achieve your goal. It is the “I can do it!” attitude that propels a high-hoper along their constructed pathway.

If you see your colleagues or team members having a negative attitude or creating limiting beliefs in themselves, it’s time for an attitude upgrade. Be proactive and fill their minds with what you know that will help them become a better performer. Negative self-talk is a huge impediment to performance.

Here’s how you can help your team members build agency:

  • Use positive pre-framing: “I know we can do this. We did this successfully last year and I’m positive we can do it again.”
  • Boost confidence by asking key members to share their success stories.
  • Use positive affirmations like “I can do this!” or “I am ready for this challenge!” (Snyder et al.).

Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best

Use “crossing your fingers” as combining the two components of hope: pathways and agency. When you activate both these components in your team members, you are building a team that will deliver stronger effort with a better attitude.

Sometimes, you may want to consider which component – pathway or agency – to strengthen. Pick one of the strategies above to build that component.

“Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best” is actually good advice. So, cross your fingers, activate the two hope components, and hit your objectives.


  • Abbas, M. & Raja, U. “Impact of Psychological Capital on Innovative Performance and Job Stress.” Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 2015.
  • Alarcon, G., Bowling, N., Khazon, S. “Great Expectations: A Meta-Analytic Examination of Optimism and Hope.” Elsevier Science Digest, 2013.
  • Jensen, E. “Why Cross Your Fingers is Actually Good Advice.” Adapted with permission.
  • Kok, B., Coffey, K., Cohn, M., Catalino, L. “How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health.” Psychological Science, 2013.
  • Maier S. & Seligman, M. “Learned Helplessness at Fifty: Insights from Neuroscience.” Psychological Review, 2016.
  • Marques, S., Gallagher, M., Lopez, S. “Hope and Academic Related Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis.” School Mental Health, 2017.
  • Marques, S., Lopez, S., Fontaine, A., et al. “How Much Hope is Enough?” Psychology in the Schools, 2015.
  • Rand, C., Waters, D., Olson, A., et al. “Perceptions of Stress, Coping, and Intervention Preferences among Caregivers of Disadvantaged Children with Asthma.” Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26, 2017.
  • Reichard, R., Avey, J., Lopez, S., Dollwet, M. “Having the Will and Finding the Way.” Journal of Positive Psychology, 2013.
  • Satici, S., Uysal, R. “Psychological Vulnerability and Subjective Happiness: The Mediating Role of Hopelessness.” Stress and Health, 2017.
  • Snyder, C., Curry, L., Cook, D., et al. “Role of Hope in Academic and Sport Achievement.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1998.
  • Snyder, C., Rand, K., Sigmon, D. “Hope Theory: A Member of the Positive Psychology.” Oxford University Press, NY, 2005.
  • Taysi, E., Curun, F., Orcan, F. “Hope, Anger and Depression as Mediators for Forgiveness and Social Behaviour in Turkish Children.” Journal of Psychology, 2015.